A few weeks ago we paid a visit to one of this Supermarket 2019’s associate galleries Detroit Stockholm, just as the Iranian artist and sculptor Zahra Zavareh was busy preparing her video installation ‘Disjoint’ that revolves around the notion of detachment and death anxiety. Originally from Tehran, Iran, Zahra Zavareh joined Detroit in 2018. She moved to Sweden over a year ago after she was refused a residence permit in Norway, despite having a Norwegian husband. We spoke to Zahra about her artistic background, exhibiting at Detroit and how she expresses herself through different kinds of mediums. Her exhibition ‘Disjoint' combines art installation with technology as she explores the questions – What connections are real? Which connections are fake or augmented?
We then continued with a chat with Henrik Green, who is not only the current chairman of the board at Detroit Stockholm, but also one of Supermarket’s recurring volunteers for several years. We talked about different ways of managing and promoting an artist-run space in Stockholm and of his parallel activity of volunteering at Supermarket.
What is your artistic background, and what drew you to art?
I studied physics at the K.N.Toosi University of Technology in Tehran, and at the same time I attended art courses on the side. When I was finished, I started contemplating what career I wanted to pursue, eventually deciding that my future was in the arts. Art occupied my mind more than physics in the end, you could say.
What is the ‘Disjoint’ exhibition about?
When I moved to Stockholm about a year ago, I started having a recurring dream – that I was murdered. A kind of dream that I had never experienced before. What was it about? I believe that dreams are not just dreams but expressions connected to your unconscious mind. Maybe the dream reflected my feelings of detachment or loneliness. Both thoughts kept rushing through my mind, eventually becoming hard to shake off. Maybe it was simply about death anxiety, which I believe we always carry with us. As I could not let go of thinking what it could possibly mean, I decided to confront it by creating this installation. Death, birth and the cycle of life are all very general but consuming questions – yet here they are brought to the table quite literally and as seen from my point of view.
More specifically I have tried to recreate a hotel room environment, for the simple reason that you never stay in a hotel room for very long. It is a temporary dwelling where people come and go. The installation consists of all the basic traits of a hotel room, including two chairs and a table, an armchair, a mirror and a bed with a tv in front of it. Each with their separate functions.
What made you decide to join Detroit Stockholm?
I was not initially familiar with Detroit as a newcomer to the city. When I came here, I set out to become integrated in the local art community. As a consequence I went around all the Stockholm’s galleries during the first six months inquiring about a space that I could join and have a studio in. After some advice from the various galleries, I eventually approached Detroit and was accepted. It is a really cool place since it is so international and the people also truly cooperate with each other, and I really appreciate that atmosphere. This is exactly what you expect from an art community!
Was it important for you to join an artist-run space?
I prefer to be part of an artist-run space. I did not know anyone here and I just wanted to meet new people on a similar wavelength as myself. Being an art student or for example studying abroad tends to open the doors naturally in terms of meeting other artists and curators. However, I came here for other reasons and I really wanted to introduce myself and become part of an artist-run gallery. I was very lucky to find Detroit.
Can you describe the process of working with this exhibition? Do you have a recurring pattern or workload plan, or perhaps the exact opposite?
I do not have a special system. When I start working with an idea, I try instead to be open-minded and follow my current inspiration, without drawing any conclusions early on. I like to try different methods which aid me in realising new ideas. This is the first time that I work with a green screen for example – which is maybe a bit too ambitious. I had no experience with video editing when I made my first video in preparation for participating in a video art festival in Tehran. Learning by doing triggers motivation, even if that means a certain amount of pressure and stress.
What is the (best) way to approach anxiety and the existential dilemma?
Art for me is something to occupy my mind with. In many ways my art is a method of approaching and confronting the political or existential idea that I currently process in my mind. Being occupied by an idea for a while works fine for me, and I strongly carry the feeling of wanting to do something with the concept artistically, once the interest is sparked.
Do you think that the subject of death anxiety is satisfactorily addressed in art? Is that even possible?
I never strive to evoke divine philosophical questions, but rather metaphysical ones. I believe that all the different domains in culture work with death anxiety; from cinema to literature or art. For me as an artist I would like to suggest that death is taboo. You want to be immortal, and as an artist you tend to create art not only for yourself but for an audience now and in the future. The question is both wide and broad, as one aspect I decided to focus on loneliness. In your own way, you are always alone, even when surrounded by others. I am not seeking answers to profound questions like the meaning of life, but I approach the themes nevertheless and present my perspective on this perpetual cycle.
You have used many different mediums in your work over the years. Do you prefer any medium over another? Why is it so crucial for you to have a versatile approach to your work?
I would like to experience many different mediums; by nature I am curious to know a lot of things. My main motivation is to learn more in order to establish a good strain of communication with my audience, and I see it as important that in addition I am updated on new techniques. I am fond of the medium of sculpture – something that I believe stems from the fact that I like to make things with my hands. You get so into it when you work in a tactile manner with your hands. It could be that the final product is a video, but even so I try to incorporate something made with my hands. If I want to show something soft and delicate I use fabric; if I want to show something rigid and artificial I use metal instead.
In this exhibition I investigate which connections are real and which ones are manipulated. For my installation at Supermarket 2019 I use augmented reality, which means that if you wish to see the video you need to use a device, such as your mobile phone. I could just show it on a screen, but it serves my idea better to go with augmented reality.
Tell us more about your background. You divide your time between your art practice and working as an engineer?
After high school, I just wanted to move away from the city I grew up in and become someone new, so I went straight into studying engineering.
Although I felt at home with the maths and technology, I had the feeling something was missing. A few years before moving to Stockholm, I had taken up painting, and I started looking for different ways to connect with other people with the same interest. I took art classes during the evenings and through a workshop series at Moderna museet I came in contact with Detroit. One of the members here was in charge of the workshop, and one thing led to another. At first I shared a studio, and now I have my own. Art complements my technical side – it provides a space to deal with the existential, the impractical and other sensations rarely addressed in my engineering profession. It is always a struggle to find time, especially when you are in a creative phase and have lots of ideas and still have to be somewhere else for nine hours every day.
How did you first come in contact with Supermarket, and what made you come back and volunteer again?
H: Someone shared a post about Supermarket on Facebook and I remember thinking: that’s a perfect place for meeting other people with an interest in art. I think that in Stockholm there are extremely specialized communities, like small compartments, and when you work with people as intensely as during Supermarket, you get to know people much faster than what is usually the case.
Do you have any suggestions or words of wisdom that you would like to share with Supermarket’s new volunteers?
H: Try to be there from day one, to take part in building the exhibitions and greeting the galleries. The more time you spend at the fair, the more people you will get to know, and as you get to know more people, you will have more fun.
Was becoming a board member at Detroit something you had in mind from the start or did that happen spontaneously?
H: At first I thought I just wanted a studio space. But somewhere along the way I realised that someone has to take care of Detroit to make sure the opportunity to be here and work isn’t lost. That's why I applied to be on the board. Until now, I've been a secretary at Detroit, and for the coming year I will be chair along with Åsa Ekman. So I can’t say that I planned it, but I think I'm quite good at organizing things.
Z: Even your artworks are well organized :)
Can you take us through the process of deciding which artists are to be featured as part of Detroit’s exhibitions?
H: For the last couple of years, we have had a small group of artists who volunteer as a kind of jury. After an open call for proposals among the members, the jury chooses which artist gets to represent Detroit at Supermarket.
What are your thoughts on staying in your own gallery space as opposed to exhibiting in a booth at the main art fair venue?
H: It's both exciting and feels a bit risky. Only a small percentage of the people going to Supermarket will find their way here. On the other hand, if people do come, it will be unique, because we have more room and therefore we can do more. When I think about presenting artworks and visiting galleries, I always feel that it's much easier to experience art with fewer people around, and the fair is quite busy. So there are pros and cons.
Supermarket 2019 revolves around the theme of ’Temporary Moratorium’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What would you say is controversial and taboo in contemporary art?
H: I have some difficulties with this year’s theme. Of course there are taboos, but if that becomes the main point of making art… Also, it depends on the audience, one person might say oh this is very controversial, I don't even want to enter this gallery and someone else would say, oh, it's just a performance.
Z: Exactly, we can't talk about it in general way because it's really different from place to place and from culture to culture. I think Confucius said that we should respect culture, because it defines ourselves and our identity. I don't know, I think it's personal, it depends on the artist as well.
H: Also, sometimes people are thinking very hard on whether things are taboo or not, or how to present things or how to include different people, which is good, but that's not the topic. You need to have a topic and then think about how it can be presented and reflect over how different people will react to it - not the other way around.
In a way, I think caring about your work and taking it seriously can be taboo. To be completely open and sincere with how very important the ideas I present are to me. I can miss sincerity in art. When I get the sense that works presented doesn't really affect the artist, I feel why should I be affected?
Would you say that Detroit works to promote the artist-run scene in Stockholm?
H: I don't think we have talked about it explicitly. We've had some exchange exhibitions. One of the members here also runs a space in Ireland and she makes works there and presents them here, and we have had guest exhibitions with artists from other artist-run spaces as well, but we don't see ourselves as big organizers on the artist-run scene, but more as part of an eco-system.
Detroit Stockholm is an artist-run collective that provides a free platform for artists from various disciplines. From nomadic performance art festivals, music and art happenings and various multimedia exhibitions. Read more about Detroit Stockholm here.
Ormston House is a meeting place for the arts in the heart of Limerick City, Ireland. First opened in 2011 as a Cultural Resource Centre to welcome audiences seeking more maverick and experimental projects. However, recent history has come fringed with obstacles, as the organisation may face losing their space as the property was unexpectedly put on the open market. In the summer of 2018, following a tweet displaying the window sign advertising the space as for sale, the already crucial part of Limerick's cultural and social life gained great support off and online – sparking new hope for the space’s future. We spoke to Niamh Brown, the Co-Director of Ormston House about the threat to the space, future plans and of course this year’s Supermarket.
For SUPERMARKET 2019, Ormston House present works by Joy Gerrard. Drawing on themes of protest and urban space, Gerrard remakes media-borne crowd images from around the world. Recent work documents Brexit protests in the UK and the Repeal the 8th movement in Ireland.
2018 was a particularly difficult year for Ormston House. Would you say that you entered survival mode at some point during that turbulent period? Has it affected your work in any way?
2018 was a difficult year, but it was great to see the situation become part of the public discourse and create an urgency in securing our home, both with citizens and public figures alike. We have been working on long-term tenancy since 2015 and it can be disheartening to have the situation drag on. What has kept us going is the incredible outpouring of support from the local communities in Limerick and further afield. Having that kind of validation means so much to a small grassroots organisation.
I don’t know if we would call it ‘survival mode’, we had already been quietly working towards solutions for almost a year, but last summer it became very public. There is an element of self-care needed in those situations, we were very aware of that and (as always) needed to support each other as a team. We also have a responsibility to the artists and communities we work with and we had to make sure they felt supported by us.
Has it changed your approach to future projects?
Our tenancy situation has changed our approach to projects in the short-term. Until our tenancy has been resolved we are focusing on the professional development and training aspect to our programme, as well as international projects. During this time, we will not be running an exhibition programme and are only hosting a small number of one-off events. This will allow us to focus on securing long-term tenancy, which is key for our future sustainability.
What are you most looking forward to at Supermarket 2019?
We are most looking forward to working with Joy Gerrard for Supermarket this year. She is an incredible Irish artist, who has been documenting and recreating protest crowds from key global events for the last number of years. We will be showing new and archival works with a focus on Brexit protests and marches during the campaign for abortion rights in Ireland. Both are hugely relevant and important issues globally, but especially for Ireland.
We are also just looking forward to being back at Supermarket in 2019! We really missed it last year – it has become such important part of our calendar.
Given your recent experience, do you think that Supermarket, as an artist-run intersection, can help bridge some of the financial hardships that many of our exhibitors face? For example by facilitating new contacts and possibilities for international collaborations?
That is a good question and I think every exhibitor would have a different answer. We have certainly made incredible connections through Supermarket and look forward to making more. Supermarket Meetings can be a great place to discuss funding opportunities in other countries and gain advice from other organisations who have gone through similar struggles. Depending on the funding structures in each country, international collaborations can be difficult to realise. Public funding rarely covers the full cost of projects and artist-run initiatives seldom have the reserves to fund that type of activity. Personally, I think that real collaborations form better over time, and with a longer period of time dedicated to new projects it can be easier to apply for funding to cover costs.
Supermarket 2019 revolves around the theme of ’Temporary Moratorium’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What do you see as controversial or taboo in contemporary art? Perhaps even forbidden?
That is a big question! I think every artist and arts worker will answer differently depending on their own beliefs and/or background. It also depends on ethics, as well as the social and political views of individuals and countries.
Leading up to the abortion rights referendum in Ireland last year, some artists and arts organisations felt that their voices could not be heard or they had to remain neutral or silent on the subject. This questioned not only the role of art during political and social movements in Ireland, but also highlighted the possibility of censorship and threats to those in receipt of public funding. This was a hugely emotive and divisive issue in Ireland, and for some, making art about abortion and bodily autonomy was taboo.
Patara (meaning 'small' in Georgian) is an artist-run gallery in a tiny shop window beneath one of Tbilisi's many underpasses, surrounded by small kiosks and Persian night clubs. In 2017 Gvantsa Jishkariani and Nata Kipiani turned one such underpass shop into a space for experimental art that searches for the real: honest or political, sweet or rude, cheerful or unconventional, stupid or wild, they give artists the chance to create installations that people can stumble upon. We spoke to them about the consequences of establishing the gallery space in the underground, controversies in art, and their participation in Supermarket 2019.
What can we look forward to seeing in your exhibition stand at Supermarket 2019?
We are going to bring all the freedom we give to artists back home to Stockholm too! Each of our four artists will have their own wall and floor space where they will make installations of their work – so each side of our booth will be extremely different (as the artists are) – a big-big party from Patara gallery!
Supermarket 2019 revolves around the theme ’Temporary moratorium: all allowed’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What is controversial or taboo in contemporary art, or perhaps even forbidden?
Mistakes are forbidden. Feels like you, as an artist, have neither the right nor the time; no opportunity and no money to make mistakes. ‘Doing nothing’ or ‘being bored’ is also a NO-NO in contemporary era where we all ‘should’ be busy and entertained all the time.
How is the situation for non-governmental artist-run art spaces in Georgia?
A year ago, there were only a couple of such spaces in Georgia except us, but this year few new ones have started. That makes us feel that art life will be booming soon in Tbilisi!
First established in 2017, your space interacts with a certain mix of ‘unpleasantness’, furthermore laying the groundwork for reality-seeking art. How would you describe the ‘reality-forged’ art resulting from your location?
Because it is not a regular gallery space, the work is inevitably shaped by the space – a box that is being viewed from one side, its size, location and audience. That means that art needs to communicate from behind a glass door, and with a specific and quite random audience – anyone who passes by. Because of that, some of the artworks try to engage with the viewer, interact and involve them in the process and thus become interested in the art.
But also as much as it is ‘reality-forged’, the art shown in Patara gallery is also more straightforward and does not compromise on being misunderstood or not seen as art. It tries to be pure and honest with the people who might not yet recognise it as art. It appears there as it is, and all that is left for the viewer is to accept its existence.
Being situated in such a dynamic location, was that something you actively looked for when starting out? Or would you say your current focus grew from the more or less unexpected consequences of establishing your space where you did?
When we decided to open a gallery, we wanted to find a non-traditional place that would be more open to public. Something transparent, so that people would not have to go in to see the shows. The underground passage where we are located at the moment is in the very centre of the city, though with a bad reputation because of local Arabian night clubs and bad smell. But that was no kind of obstacle for us to open our gallery right there. On the contrary, we liked it more being empty, so that the only shiny and clean place you focus on while crossing is Patara. We also did not expect to have such an impact on the shop owners – ladies who run one small shop in the underpass. At first, they were opposing our presence as they could not understand what we were doing and why (without having any income from it). So that was a challenge for us to continue running the gallery and change their mindset towards us. I believe we succeeded after some three or four shows. Now they look forward to each new exhibition.
Pay them a visit during Supermarket 2019, 4–7 April, and read more about Patara Gallery here.
Centrala from Birmingham, UK is the only publicly funded gallery for Central and Eastern European art in the UK, and the only such space outside London with a national and international reach. We spoke to Alicja Kaczmarek, the founder and director of Centrala, about the space’s main concepts and her expectations of SUPERMARKET 2019. We also inquired about the collaborative exhibition that they are bringing to Stockholm in April which features a mix of artists from the UK and Sweden, working together with one of this year’s associate galleries, Studio44 from Stockholm.
Could you tell us a little bit about your space?
Centrala is a unique, multi-functional space consisting of a gallery, event space, café and meeting rooms. We are space for people to come together, be creative and engage with the arts, culture, history and social politics of Central and Eastern Europe.
We are the only organisation of our kind in Arts Council England's National Portfolio and the only gallery to focus on socially-engaged art and artists from Central and Eastern Europe. We are open and accessible to a wide range of audiences, providing opportunities to engage with Central and Eastern European culture as well as an eclectic array of art, music, talks and events.
What is your exhibition project The Digital Diaspora about?
The Digital Diaspora is an international exchange exhibition organised in collaboration with Short Circuit* and Studio44 from Stockholm. The exhibition is based on the topics of unity and division and the project lays particular emphasis on Europe as its arrival marks thirty years of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent overthrow of Communist rule. Providing an opportunity to reflect on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of Eastern Europe, the exhibition also takes place during the British Exit from the European Union. Through performative action and immersive and interactive measures, the artworks directly respond to the current socio-political climate of the continent by addressing key issues of migration, borders, territory, cultural identity, belonging and isolation. Most artists in the exhibition reveal a deeply personal connection to their work through direct associations with their cultural backgrounds, personal histories or relationships cultivated over many years of ethnographic research. Mirroring the physical movement of the diasporic communities, the artworks will also migrate in an attempt to bypass physical boundaries and establish more human and digital connections. This innovative structure requires artworks to arrive at each exhibition venue independently using the internet as a conduit.
Artists working with digital media and moving image have been selected as their interdisciplinary mode of practice produces work in a pre-digitised format. Artworks will be transported via the internet to re-materialise at the Studio44 exhibition space in Stockholm. This process aims to provide aesthetic cloning of the same grouping of works as they are received at both venues. It proposes a fluid, experimental approach of exhibition-making that allows the artworks to continually ebb and flow between physical and virtual forms and thresholds. This method enables the sharing of new ideas, draws connections between artists across geographical boundaries, attracts new audiences and allows for the diffusion of knowledge and local cultures. It meanwhile opens up a continued international dialogue between artists and curators and ultimately promotes transnational partnership and mobility.
You are participating in SUPERMARKET for the first time. What do you look forward to the most?
SUPERMARKET is an excellent opportunity to meet curators from galleries, project spaces and artists’ initiatives from all over the world. We are looking forward to building new networks on Central and Eastern Europe art scene, exchange our ideas and perception of today’s reality with people who are engaged in art. Now the most critical issue for us is socio-political climate, especially contemporary issues of migration, borders, territory, cultural identity, belonging and isolation. Taking part in Supermarket 2019 – Stockholm Independent Art Fair, we want to pay attention to all these issues, which play a vital role in social life.
* Short Circuit is an international platform for collaborative practices in digital art and moving image, developed and directed by curator and producer Aly Grimes.
During Supermarket 2018, Oree Holban’s colourful toy store ‘Boys “R” Girls’ lit up Nulobaz cooperative gallery’s exhibition booth, displaying the delicate balance between playfulness and austerity in gender transgressive art. For Supermarket 2019 (4–7 April), Nulobaz cooperative gallery once more presents a strong narrative with featured artists Elyasaf Kowner, Avi Levin and Rakefet Viner Omer who is returning again after having contributed to ‘Boys “R” Girls’ in 2018. This time they are joining together in the spirit of Josef Kowner (b. 1895) a prolific painter and holocaust survivor, who immigrated to Sweden after WWII.
While exploring Israel this winter, our press officer Felicia Gränd had breakfast with Oree Holban and Elyasaf Kowner on a sunny November morning in Tel Aviv – and seized the opportunity to ask a few questions.
1. Having taken part in Supermarket nearly a year ago now, what are your reflections today?
I think it was a wonderful opportunity to exhibit a project I had been dreaming of for a long time. I love the fact that it was in Sweden; it feels like a perfect place to initiate the first transgender toy store! But most of all I feel grateful to have had generous, funny and moving encounters with people – be it the staff at Supermarket, the participants, the visitors or just random people in the city of Stockholm.
2. Do you have any general thoughts on the format of the art fair? As a means for personal exposure, but also as an important artistic hub?
Perhaps more site-specific installations, or works that ‘take over’, spread across or in-between the various spaces, so that it is more like one big continuous immersive artwork, rather than the typical art fair white cube ‘boxes’.
3. Tel Aviv is a city that has a lot to offer to those looking to indulge in cultural activities. Are there any highlights especially relevant for art lovers that you would like to pinpoint?
Well, I guess I can not beat social media to that. But I would try to look at museums, galleries and music shows that are outside of Tel Aviv, because it's cool to travel and discover rural areas. Sure it can be fun to indulge and consume art in the city, but best is if one can combine it with some invaluable fresh air in nature.
4. Finally, the next edition of Supermarket revolves around the theme of ’Temporary Moratorium’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What do you think is controversial in contemporary art? If anything?
Delivering a message without falling into self-judgment, sarcasm or fake ‘new age’ smiles. It might even be about being happy, peaceful and innocent. :)
1. Your artistic practice centers around concepts such as transformation and the impact of creativity across the globe. With that in mind do you think there are more or less successful recipes for cultural exchange?
People tend to be very judgemental and I think that the basic ingredients in the recipe for cultural exchange are trust, kindness and respect for others. I have created art in NYC, The Hague, Tokyo and Munich but making art together with a fellow artist from Beirut and exhibiting it in Israel made a real difference in the scope of my existence and made me a better person.
2. Josef Kowner was not only a holocaust survivor and productive painter, but also your great-uncle. Has he served as an inspiration for your own art practice to some extent?
The question of what I leave after I'm gone has been following me my whole life. It is only now, sitting with Maya in Zorik café that I understand the connection between this question and my great uncle Josef. I've never met him because he passed away in 1967 which was three years before I was born. My parents named me after my grandfather, Eljasz Kowner, and his brother, Josef Kowner. They found a biblical name from the book of Numbers that contains both names within it. My grandfather did not survive the holocaust whereas his brother did survive. At my parents house hangs a self portrait that Josef painted during the time of Lodz ghetto. This portrait inspired me to become an artist. With the joy of art comes a deep sense of guilt and a strange notion of absence – what is art all about? What is the meaning of human interaction?
3. What are your expectations as we are slowly moving closer to Supermarket 2019?
I turned to art because I was seeking answers to questions related to human existence. In reality, creating art and living this sort of life can become a burden instead of a solution. I expect to represent Nulobaz gallery together with my artist peers. Hoping to find a flow of energy, meet beautiful people and experience bonding and connection between other souls that chose to walk the path of creativity. Let’s drink a toast to this wonderful celebration of art.
4. Finally, the next edition of Supermarket revolves around the theme of ’Temporary Moratorium’ and subjects shrouded in taboo. What do you think is controversial in contemporary art? If anything?
Anything and any subject could be controversial once we depart from shallow stereotypes and instead dig deep. The fuss around celebrities in mainstream media creates false identities. Let's accept that all of us are celebrities and at the same time observe the human facets in famous people's lives. Accepting yourself as celebrity even if nobody cares or knows about you, even if you are not hip or just an artist whose work is all over the place. Yes, it's true – the taboo is inside me and I must release it.