On creating an institution within an institution

The arts offer a deeper dive into our inner landscapes

Danish curator and art historian Mikkel Elming is the curator of WAMx’s exhibition series The Institute of Coexistence. As of 2022 he will be the director of the glass art museum Glasmuseet Ebeltoft. 

– I have been working at Kunsthal Aarhus since 2016 where I have curated a lot of different projects. I am interested in the curatorial possibilities of long-term institutional thinking, Elming says. 

Elming has been co-creator and director of the organizations Regelbau 411 and the Association for Contemporary Art. Regelbau 411 is an international art centre for sound, light, and video art in two World War II bunkers in north western Jutland. The Association for Contemporary Art is an open voluntary organization with over 130 members that serves as an experimental and project-driven platform for young artists and curators. 

– My curatorial preferences are characterized by collaboration, experimentation, site specificity, performativity and interdisciplinarity, he states.

Mikkel Elming is currently the director of Glasmuseet Ebeltoft in Jutland, Denmark.

Performance artist Gry Worre Hallberg has carved out a new practice at the intersection of performance art, activism and research unfolded in different large-scale projects including for example Dome of Visions and Sisters Hope. 

– I founded the performance movement Sisters Hope with my poetic twin sister in 2007. I have also developed The Sisters Performance Method – Sensuous Learning through which I teach a whole new performance artistic approach based on sensuous and poetic modes of performing, creating interactivity between audience and participants, and intimate exchange based on contact, eyegazing, touch, strong visual expressions, immersive performance modes and space-creation. The first artistic researcher that we have curated to inhabit the space, Rob Hesp, has among other been trained in this specific performance method, Worre Hallberg tells us. 

Worre Hallberg recently defended her artistic research PhD titled Sensuous Society – Carving the path towards a sustainable future through aesthetic inhabitation stimulating ecologic connectedness:

– I argued for the necessity of practices and spaces for aesthetic inhabitation in order to transition into a more sustainable future. 'Inhabitation' is introduced as new artistic paradigm where the arts are not just spectated or participated temporarily in – but rather permanently inhabited. 

The Sensuous Society manifesto was written by Gry Worre Hallberg in 2008 as a response to the financial crisis and to the ongoing ecological crisis. The manifest suggests a potential future world rooted in the aesthetic dimension and thus a more sensuous and poetic approach to life. This could reshape the way we create societal institutions, our modes of being and being together, Worre Hallberg suggests: 

– Over the last decades I have aimed at enriching environments with an aesthetic dimension through interventionist, interactive and immersive performance art strategies. I have completed several projects, articles and publications on intervening and relational performance art and new societies.

Gry Worre Hallberg is the creator of the concept for The Institute of Coexistence. Photo: Diana Lindhardt. 

You have prepared the new exhibition series Institute of Coexistence together. Can you describe what the series is all about?

– For me the project is an experiment of creating an institution within an institution: Institute of Coexistence within WAM. I love to explore the constellational nature of curating. By that I mean that I like to facilitate processes between artists and institutions that can help to develop a curatorial framework that is designed to fit specific forms of art, Elming tells us.

Institute of Coexistence is a soft space created in the aesthetics of Sisters Hope, which again are created to explore new ways of handling society at large. Through the Open Call, artists were invited to consider this as an opportunity to do and present research into different ways of living together with all the connotations that the word coexistence brings to mind. 

– The topic of coexistence is relevant today in so many ways. It is about society and how we want to live together as humans, but it is also about how we want to live with nature, meaning everything from bacteria to galaxies, Elming says.

Worre Hallberg’s current artistic research has unfolded how the sensuous, intensified and thus accessible within the arts, stimulate a deep sense of connectedness at all ecological levels, which is pivotal in order to transition into a more sustainable future. 

– This links to Gregory Bateson’s argument that wrong ideas have dominated for centuries and it is now time to breed new ideas, that will ultimately cultivate an ecology of mind in humans, which understands the deep interconnectivity of everything, Worre Hallberg reflects on the institute.

Gry Worre Hallberg says that the Institute of Coexistence very much is about nurturing this deep sense of connectivity and exploring multispecies aspects of being and being together. 

– The arts offer a deeper dive into our inner landscapes, while the focus on coexistence also allows us to travel into the outer landscapes and re-connect at a potentially deeper level. The longer-term inhabitation of WAMx allows for this deeper, more vertical approach as well, she expresses.

The Institute contains a ‘Lab’ and a ‘Report’. In the Lab artists selected through an Open Call will conduct artistic research on coexistence. In the Report traces of this research and sensuous in situ ‘data’ from the explorations will be exhibited. This allows for The Institute to accumulate ongoing findings on coexistence and for the involved to create a symphony of ‘voices’ of coexistence.

Mikkel, how did you end up contacting Gry? How was your collaboration and how did you split the work?

As the curator of the project, I had the role of crystallizing the artistic ideas into the institutional reality of WAM

– I have been an admirer of Sisters Hope and Gry's work for many years and I knew that I would love to work with her at some point if she wanted to. When you invited me to curate WAMx, I knew right away that I wanted to take this possibility to create something that could develop throughout the whole year, and Gry's practice came to my mind. Luckily, Gry's respond to my invitation was very positive and I feel that we trusted each other after a very short time of having known each other. The idea of The Institute developed in an organic way over time as the deadlines became more pressing. As the curator of the project, I had the role of crystallizing the artistic ideas into the institutional reality of WAM, Elming describes the backgrounds.

Worre Hallberg continues:

– What I brought into our dialogue and collaboration was the ideas and approaches that have now come to constitute the artistic framework for The Institute. I currently work with a visionary outset in the Sensuous Society Manifesto, theoretical outset at the intersection of aesthetics and ecology, and a certain immersive rich performance installatoric style, and this was what I wanted to bring into WAMx. Also, I have experienced how this can operate as a supportive artistic framework for other artists to explore within.

Artistic research is foundational in Worre Hallberg’s artistic work:

– I understand the artistic processes to contain important information that can be perceived as tactile research and unpacked as such. In Sisters Hope we have built a performance archive over decades. Different participants, like visiting artists and researchers, have donated objects, writings, drawings etc. from their explorative sensuous and poetic processes, she says.

The exhibitions were chosen through an open call. What did it bring to the process?

– ’Democratizing the aesthetic’ is important notion in my work and central to the Sensuous Society Manifesto. The argument is that the sensuous and poetic lives inherently in everyone and everything. However, circumstances might not have allowed for these modes of being to emerge. Art institutions granting access is very important in my thinking and work. One way of doing that is through Open Calls, where everyone gets the possibility to respond, Elming reflects on the process.

All the selected art works will bring artistic impulses and responses that will breathe life into the space in different ways. Together these impulses will present a sort of catalogue of very different ways to explore, embody and research coexistence, according to Elming.

What do you expect of the series?

– Unfortunately, due to practicality, I will not be experiencing most of The Institute's practice. However, I expect to have some interesting conversations with the artists. More importantly, I expect that the audience will get a lot of great art and immersive experiences. Hopefully, it will also help some to broaden their sense of coexistence and the significance that this concept has to the times we live in, Elming tells us.

Many express their longing to re-enter and immerse in the sensuous and poetic

For Worre Hallberg, the hope is that over the course of the year that Institute of Coexistence will inhabit WAMx, it will allow for access into more tactile and embodied ways of exploring and experiencing coexistence. 

– The sensuous is a very important, however often overlooked, element of the carving of a path towards a more sustainable future. The deep sense of interconnectivity is a healing experience to the vast majority of people whom I have seen engaged in my practices. Many express their longing to re-enter and immerse in the sensuous and poetic. Thus, a question for further explorations is, how to create permanent spaces for ‘constant belonging’, in which the sensuous and poetic can always be accessed and inhabited. These can remind us of such inherent potential in all life, including our own, which stimulates the ecological sense of interconnectivity, and ultimately transport us into a more sustainable future. I hope that the year-long Institute of Coexistence will be such a reminder, Worre Hallberg sums up our conversation.

Main images: The Institute of Coexistence is a red space within the museum. Photos: Sisters Hope, I diana lindhardt.

The Institute of Coexistence

  • WAMx -konseptin vuoden 2022 näyttelysarja etsii vastauksia nykyajan ekologisiin, sosiaalisiin ja biologisiin kriiseihin. Tavoitteena on löytää yhteiselon tapoja, joiden avulla voidaan luoda parempi maailma.

  • Näyttelysarjan fyysiset ja teoreettiset puitteet on luonut tanskalaistaiteilija Gry Worre Hallberg. Näyttelysarjan neljä taiteilijaa valittiin syksyllä 2021 järjestetyn avoimen haun kautta. Näyttelyt ovat valinneet kuraattori Mikkel Elming ja taiteilija Gry Worre Hallberg yhteistyössä WAMin kanssa. 

  • Lue lisää

Näyttelysarjan taiteilijat

Rob Hesp 17.12.2021–6.3.2022
Tiio Suorsa 18.3.–5.6.2022
Kim Laybourn 10.6.–28.8.2022
Georg Jagunov 9.9.–4.12.2022