In Search of an Author curated by Chiara Giovando and Andrew Berardini, takes as its starting point Luigi Pirandello’s 1921 play Six Characters In Search of an Author. The gallery becomes the set, the artworks the actors, the curators are authors. The cast is made up of comedian Kate Berlant, designer Neil Doshi, filmmaker Sara Eliassen, artists Alicia Frankovich, Roderick Hietbrink and Lucy Stein. We are told that the show is a play in 3 acts. Act 1: the show is conceived, the space found, the cast assembled. Act 2: The characters arrive. Intermission: The opening. Act 3 remains dependant on the activities of the characters in the space.
The gallery statement tells us:
“In Pirandello’s play, the author abandons the characters and their lurid, familial drama. The characters overthrow the author, setting out to find a director and actors to tell their tale. The actors dissatisfy the characters. The director is compelled but frustrated with the lot of them. It ends in tragedy, or comedy depending on your sense of the melodramatic. This dance is done to delight an audience, sometimes under the myth that they aren’t really there.”
The statement goes on to talk of the artists involvement in “a drama they make up as they go along”, bringing chance, change and co-authorship to create hilarity, tension and delight. My only qualm with this approach is that the show is so well put together that I find it difficult to believe; have the curators really relinquished all authority and then the 6 exhibitors from varied backgrounds worked cooperatively to put on this considered display with its firm aesthetic voice, or is this notion of ad-libbing between actors itself an added level of dramatic artifice aimed at increasing the spectacle? At no point does the Pirandello break the fourth wall; it is the characters, not the actors that rebel, and as such the author maintains control. As the curators are the authors here, it would be within the theme to maintain a conceptual conceit. Speculation aside, I don’t really mind where the power rested as the scene was set – I’m happy to be teased by this additional layer.
There is a generous range of media and approach on offer for the viewer to unravel and consider, and while each work has ample space to speak its own part, an engaging dialogue weaves between the actors. On entering UKS Neil Doshi’s re-authored stage directions lead us around the UKS lobby, past their secondary space which features Lucy Stein’s rhythmic, pagan Cornish mud and acrylic on wall mural, Widdershins, 2015 and Sara Eliassen’s Research video for A Blank Slate from which she created A Blank Slate’s central character by recording her experience of being isolated in a hotel room in a desolate Normandy beach town during winter.
The main gallery is initially held by two of Alicia Frankovich’s works quietly conversing amongst themselves off to one side. The Female Has Undergone Several Manifestations (2015, a shimmering sheer black-gradating-to-blue-to-red curtain gently undulating in the breeze of a stainless steel fan) is placed close enough to the chromatically matching Becoming Public: The Actor (2015, a c-type print protruding from the wall at a 40 degree angle) for me to initially think them one work. Another of Frankovich’s sculptures, Becoming Performer: Ladder with Numerous Artist’s Fees (2015, a ladder with various artists fees sellotaped to it) hangs from the ceiling just out of reach – a comic theatrical gesture underpinned by more serious and exhibition appropriate themes. Lucy Stein’s Didcot Crotchway (2014, mixed media painted on unstretched canvas, covered with finger painted and potato stamped women contorting in misshapen transformation) belligerently holds the end wall separate from the other actors, a usually closed door partially open to its left. Further investigation reveals that the usually off limits storeroom now houses Roderick Hietbrink’s HD video I’m working on it, (2015) in which six different Rodericks use an empty UKS to play all six characters in search of an author. The gallery washrooms and workshop play host to two more pieces by Hietbrink which document the destabilising role that he chose to take on during the installation.
In addition to opening up these usually off-limits spaces, the curators make a number of gestures aimed to better reveal the mechanisms in the space; a spot lit mini-wall takes to the stage, interjecting into the main gallery draped with Stein’s Petite Mortes (2014) as if shunning Frankovich’s anthropomorphic sculpture, The Blush (2015). A 25 cm wide section of wall between the projection room housing Sara Eliassen’s mixed media film installation Out of Frame (2014/15) and the main gallery space has been removed connecting the two, letting sound and light travel between. Eliassen’s Out of Frame was a particular highlight. We follow a lone female protagonist through a dialogue-light, atmosphere-heavy sequence. Made up of scenes repeating at random, the piece can be considered in terms of the subversion of the male gaze in cinema, but Eliassen’s strong cinematography and use of sound also convey an intense and moving narrative of memory and the aftermath of loss.
The whole show is intermittently subject to the sound of comedian Kate Berlant’s HD Video, Karen Does Oslo (2015), where varied projected slides are accompanied by a disembodied voice announcing self-helpish/TED-like aphorisms. This activates the space effectively, though a little extra volume could have turned up the friction.
Three handout publications elegantly designed by Neil Doshi accompany the exhibition. The first contains a play focused on a dialogue between the curators. The second a transcript from a pre-launch focus group. The third a complete catalogue collectively defined by the artists. These three take on the roles of the three acts of the play. Such gestures run the risk of coming across as trite, but here they are well conceived and work. The first offers strong insight into the curatorial approach and underlying ideas and helps the viewer enter the world they are presenting, and its consideration of the curatorial approach. The second records viewers responses. The third sees the artists take over.
This is the final exhibition at UKS’ Tullinløkka location, and so as the curtain closes I’m excited to see what their next stage will offer.
Curators: Chiara Giovando and Andrew Berardini
© UKS Oslo, Nicholas John Jones © All photos: Vegard Kleven
Courtesy UKS Oslo
Editing: Eloise Ghioni