Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Sirkus at Frieze…

Posted in Reviews by berenicesaliou on October 22, 2008

The third week of October is probably one of the busiest in the British contemporary art world calendar. Frieze Art Fair, Zoo Art Fair and Scope take place in London, not to mention a dozen of other attractive events that give to the contemporary art aficionado an irrepressible impression of ‘missing something’…
Between hundreds of interesting artworks and a few glasses of champagne, one of Frieze Curatorial Program Projects is worth a special attention. It is the unexpected project by the Icelandic gallery Kling & Bang (K&B).

Those who in the past had the occasion to spend some time in Reykjavik would think they are victim of a hallucination as they wander within the fair’s lanes.
In front of them is Sirkus.
For most of the visitors, Sirkus is just a colourful and noisy café located at a corner of the fair. Even though they will notice that the place is crowed with outgoing people talking, or rather, shouting with a pronounced Icelandic accent, nothing can really let them know what the place really is.
Because for the visitors who know Iceland, this is the tiny crazy bar where they have been partying, drinking and dancing. This is the quite unique place where they have met outstanding people during one of those odd Icelandic sunny nights. This is Sirkus, the most famous bar in the whole country, the symbol of the underground music and art scene of Iceland.
But despite this background and the offended screams of thousand of desperate clubbers, Sirkus closed last January in order to make space for more profitable real estate investments.

In Frieze, Kling and Bang’s artists decided to recreate the bar to the last detail, from the sticky floor to the small graffiti on the wall, not to forget this baroque mix of posters, postcards and kitsch souvenirs.
By doing this, they created a spatial and temporal displacement and a very bizarre experience specifically designed for the privileged viewer who used to know the place. But the project, also and rather unexpectedly, highlight the disappearance of a cultural landmark at a very specific moment in the life of Iceland and in its political relationships with the UK.
In fact, the 9th of October, that is to say just one week before Frieze, the country lived the darkest hours of its economic life.  Three of its most important banks collapsed leaving the island (whose currency has lost 60 percent of its value in less than a year) totally dazed.
And as several UK citizens couldn’t access the money they had invested in the banks in question, the UK government immediately decided to protect British depositors by freezing the assets of collapsed Icelandic banks. Then, Britain also threatened to sue Iceland to recover the lost deposits of Britons who hold accounts with the online arm of one of the collapsed banks.

This paradox is quite relevant.
Iceland, a country emblematic of ultra-liberal politics is on the verge of going bankrupt.
Meanwhile, the ghost of its cultural landmark has been rebuilt for a few hours in the place of a lost friend, where millions and millions of pounds are at stake.

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