Tensta Konsthall 2003
A case study for a subjective institution as conceived by the group Konst2
by Rodrigo Mallea-Lira
Konst2 was the name of an artist and curatorial group consisting of members Ylva Ogland, Jelena Rundqvist and me. Konst2 served also as the name for what we defined as a “subjective institution”, which in the beginning operated within its own scene in Skärholmen, a suburban area just south of Stockholm. Later, when Konst2 as a group became directors of Tensta Konsthall, in a suburban area north of Stockholm, the “subjective institution” continued to operate in Skärholmen for some time, with its base at the art centre in Tensta. Konst2, as such, was initiated in the summer of 2003; we were all unanimous on the need to establish a new kind of institution that could correspond more directly to the actual requirements of contemporary art practice and that the existing institutions, in our opinion, didn’t respond to.
Right from the very beginning, in our first meetings, the discussion of location of this new institution was a crucial topic. Previous to Konst2 we had all operated within the established art scene of Stockholm, as curators and artists, at commercial galleries like Gallery Brändström and Charlotte Lund, or public institutions like Moderna Museet and Kulturhuset, and artist-run spaces like Enkehuset. We had been exposed to media attention and critically acclaimed for our different projects, and when we established Konst2 in Skärholmen the attention increased, and we also started to be scrutinized in different academic studies.
The first interviews for these academic surveys took place early in the spring of 2004 in our new venue in Skärholmen, the great modernist project and communication node south of the city centre of Stockholm and very close to where the mother of all IKEA department stores is located. Our “subjective institution” was housed in the Swedish Migration Board’s former offices that had been abandoned for some time. There was an air of symbolism in the dislocation of our operations, moving out to a “suburban area” and these specific offices, which attracted a lot of media attention. Skärholmen had a bad reputation, in the minds of many, as a segregated area, home to many immigrants; however, at the inauguration of the modernist project in 1968, it was at the cutting edge of social planning.
Our decision to move out of the city centre came about as the result of dialogue with Klas Ruin, an architect based at the School of Architecture in Stockholm. We had just established Konst2 as a group and had an e-venue-less institution, and we had been offered an artist run gallery space in a very central location. However, we were hesitant as to whether this was the right venue and location for our new project. Ruin suggested we consider other geographic location for Konst2 rather than in the gentrified city centre, and when scanning the areas around Stockholm, scrutinizing the city of Stockholm at large, we decided to look more closely at Skärholmen. We contacted the local District Board in Skärholmen who put us in contact with the management of a company that owned most of the centre of Skärholmen. This company managed the vacant former offices of the Swedish Migration Board; it was a huge venue, which we were more or less immediately given access to and moved into. There was a double sense of meaning to the space – it was a former migration office in an area that was now distinguished by its migrant population. The location of the actual building was strategically extremely well situated, just across from the subway station on the modernist pedestrian square. There was also no traffic, lots of parking and loading docks situated underground. Skärholmen was and still is, despite its bad reputation, an active traffic node in a highly active commercial area. Right next to our building was an Ikea, which was surrounded by malls and entertainment areas. The flow of people moving on this square during office hours resembled a little the flows at T-centralen, the main subway station in Stockholm.
We rapidly established our “subjective institution” and carried on a series of experimental projects, changing the space at the same time as keeping memories of its past present. The architect and design group Uglycute covered the main hall with a wall of glass-desks and the floors and the rest of the walls of the former lobby with a grey needle carpet. In the various smaller office spaces we had studios of different kinds, where artists, graphic designers, fashion designers, artisans, writers, etc. had what we called production sites. We arranged seminars and lectures, open and informal ones, scrutinising and so on the institution, its roles and also its nature as a piece of art itself, related to the idea of the total work of art. We also showed historic art in this experimental context: historic art had not been exhibited in Skärholmen before.
Konst2 was an active place, and it felt dynamic. The cultural climate in Sweden was then, and still is, despite the image of Sweden as a progressive country, infected by a polemicised discussion and attitude towards migration, immigration and immigrants, and the fact that we moved our operations to this neighborhood raised a lot of questions and revealed issues to us that were not uncomplicated. As a consequence, facing this – for us – new situation, we decided to embrace it and include it in our discourse. So by moving the operation out of the gentrified city centre we had to deal with the broader public mindset to do with specific issues of integration; we were supposed more or less to carry on a mission, with the intention of facilitating integration through cultural education.
We ourselves saw things in a totally different way, in the dialogues with Ruin, i.e. the issue of ‘sprawl’ came naturally, and we were part of such a movement that not only defined geographic dislocation but also ideological dislocation. But it so proved that societal fear regarding these kind of ‘problematic suburban neighbourhoods’ carried within it unsolved and unanswered problems that were also related to aesthetic issues and the larger cultural body, i.e. how gentrified areas are more likely to be maintained whereas these suburban areas were – and are – more likely not to be. We are also interested in what these differences were – and are – based on and how structural and subjective decisions, with connotations related to socio-migrational issues, are made.
Moving out to this suburban context, we were seeking to break new ground for ourselves, and to expose ourselves to working conditions other than the ones we had been used to. We found more material than we had expected: the limited time we had in Skärholmen gave us substantial material and a set of tools that we later on continued to work with in Tensta.