Knut Åsdam

27 February 2003 - 5 April 2003
Opening Reception 27 February 2003 8pm

Front Gallery:

Scenes 1 / Psychasthenia 10 series 2

Knut Åsdam (b.1968 Trondheim, Norway) He was educated in London, UK at Wimbledon College of Art (1988-9) and Goldsmiths College (1989-92). Åsdam represented Norway in the 1999 Venice Biennial and the 1999 Melbourne International Biennial and has exhibited extensively in the USA and Europe, most recently with solo exhibitions at Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, NY, USA; Galleri Tommy Lund, Copenhagen, Denmark; School of Architecture, Oslo, Norway; Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo; Kunsthaus Glarus, Glarus, Switzerland; Galeria Sonia Rosso, Pordenone, Italy; and Tate Britain, London, UK. Feature articles on Åsdam’s work have been widely published internationally, including the cover article of Artforum, in February, 2000 on the work, Untitled: Pissing and a recent article in the journal Grey Room. Åsdam utilizes sound, video, photography and architecture to work with the politics of space and the boundaries of subjectivity. Often these concerns are related to themes of dissidence, remnants of utopic practices, and an analysis of space in terms of desire, usage and history. Åsdam currently lives and works in New York. This is the first presentation of his work in Canada.

Brochure Text, Psychasthenia Citizen

An interview with Knut Åsdam conducted by Janna Graham

JG: Your show at Mercer Union brings together two works, Psychasthenia 10 series 2 (2001) and Scenes 1 (2003). In the first work, you refer to a term used by dissident surrealist Roger Callois, in a 1935 essay in which he describes the loss of definition between self and physical surroundings often experienced by schizophrenics, as psychasthenia(1). You have explored this idea in your work over a number of years. What is so engaging about psychasthenia?

KÅ: Psychasthenia is interesting to me in relation to a whole host of contemporary phenomena that disrupt the relationship between personality and space: drug culture; the supercharged spatial sophistication of contemporary electronic music and its alteration of both the thresholds of the body and the psychology of the listener; contemporary high capitalist architecture with its fractioning, repetition and ultimate absorption of the gaze of the external subject; and temporarily and repeatedly appropriated spaces like the city park at night.

JG: How is this concept explored in your work for Mercer Union?

KÅ: In Psychasthenia 10 series 2, slides of modern and postmodern apartment buildings photographed at night are shown within a curtained space. Here, psychasthenia exists in the blurring between the buildings and their surroundings in many of the images. The buildings and their environments seem to capture an urban, socio-economic psychology of space. There is an assimilatory movement in the pictures—from the specific (the knowledge we have of these building in our own lives), to their place in the narration of the social, the personal and the political imaginary. There is a tension in the pictures that relies on this double-sided movement—from actual conditions to the way we imagine the city to ourselves.

JG: In the more recent series, Scenes 1, the camera has left the distance of the park at night and taken a step closer to examine the way in which citizens (in this case, two young women) form relationships with these kinds of architectures. Did you encounter these scenes or were they constructed?

KÅ: These photographs are staged with actors and are photographed using the conventions of film where one scene is narrated from a few different camera angles. I did this to engage how we think about that space and the two women—and their interrelationship—through small alterations and repetitions in the images.

JG: These subtle movements articulate such a range of interactions with and within the architecture—from alienation to intimacy to assimilation and back. The young women produce spaces as much as they are the subjects within one. Assimilation and appropriation have a complicated relationship here, offering the possibility of agency, of small freedoms, within such dominating structures as the architecture, the camera’s gaze, the narrative constructed by the viewer.

KÅ: Yes, but these contradictions and temporalities are not necessarily a problem. It is always necessary to think effect and change in terms of temporality, and it is also important to use whatever structures are there—to infiltrate them and use them for other means than what they were designed for. In terms of assimilation, the disruption of the boundaries of the individual is used by progressive forces, or in transgressive experiences, but it is also a mode of capitalism itself—in late capitalism we are already supra individual and fragmented. Within capitalism, it is important that this fragmentation is somehow adapted as a tool or experience for the renarration of the individual.

JG: What do you think that the conventions of film lend to this renarration?

KÅ: I see the impulse to make works that articulate a very singular statement and experience as a great limitation within contemporary art. It is too far from how experience occurs or is built. This demand would never occur in film where people have no problem seeing a film that is about post-Second World War Belgium, that is also a film about the relationship between mother and son, that is also a film about the growth of a workers’ union… and so on.… You get my drift. Narrative form was also such a-no-go when I went to art school that it made it irresistible as an area to look into. This cinematic quality is more evidently at play in my narrative video/film work than in these slide pieces.

JG: In Scenes 1, as in many of your works, assimilation and appropriation takes place in the time/space of leisure. Henri Lefebvre describes leisure as the ultimate in contradictory space(2). This contradictory quality of leisure is very present in your work. How does this relate to the situations in which your work is actually located— i.e. the cover of Artforum, the Venice, Sidney and Istanbul biennials, festivals, etc.?

KÅ: Many of my works deal with residues of practices or places that were at one time progressive or politically pungent as form—i.e. youth culture dancing, street protest, modern apartment complexes. In many ways, I relate to the exhibition context much the same way. We are dealing with a commercially saturated and assimilated stage for our work, narrated from the residues of countercultures and “alternative” cultures that still precariously linger as, if nothing else, its own imaginary.

(1) Callois, Roger. “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia.” Translated by John Shepley in October: the First Decade 1976-1986 edited by Anette Michelson, Rosalind Krauss, Douglas Crimp and Joan Copjec. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999.
(2) Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. English translation by Donald Nicholson Smith. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1991.