Reviews for Friends #19: A K Dolven and Nastio Mosquito at the Ikon

AK Dolven - please return

Both at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

There’s a lot going on at the Ikon right now.

The first floor is cast in a bubble of inward contemplation in an exhibition of works by prominent Norwegian artist, AK Dolven. Her exploration of vast landscapes and the marks she makes on them is realised in this collection of works, ‘please return’.

All is white - Dolven believes white surfaces to have “an emptiness that offers possibilities’. In the film ‘when I discovered I wanted to live really long’ (2013) she depicts the jerky movements of a freezing body in an arctic landscape. Positioned at the end of a long and tight corridor, the walls of which are painted in white gloss, the effect is claustrophobic and rather frightening. On closer reading around this piece, the rhythm of the body’s movements is said to be taken from Henry Purcell’s ‘Cold Genius’, an aria in the opera ‘King Arthur’ - ‘Let me, let me freeze again to death.’ Both the screen and the message are unflinchingly bright.

Other works, too, are heavy with death and the artist’s somewhat grim fascination with the unyielding force of the natural world is beautiful and arresting. My stand out piece was ‘vertical on my own’ (2011). Shot on 16 mm film, we see Dolven’s shadow moving horizontally against a stark snowy backdrop in a series of long shapes accompanied by eerie, alien-like noises. The artist’s full form never revealed - Dolven has said that ‘the vertical symbolises that which does not endure, such as human beings and architecture. The horizontal embodies the eternal, expressed in the landscape.’

Her works are accompanied not by plaques but by handwritten notes scrawled in pencil on the walls - touching and almost childlike, these notes give a warmth of sorts to the unforgiving white landscape that permeates the gallery.

It was also a treat to have the opportunity to be introduced to the work of Peder Balke, a renowned 19th century artist - a selection of his small landscapes have been integrated into this curation. Remarkable works, and an interesting move from the artist, this juxtaposition really enhanced the exhibition.

Rich in symbolism, this collection is sombre and profound and took me quite by surprise. Bleached and quiet it spoke of nothingness - but with what volume. I can still hear those alien sounds.

Upstairs, there are alien sounds of a different kind. On the second floor of the Ikon Gallery Nastio Mosquito is currently in residence - a confident and vocal multimedia and performance artist who’s work explores cultural stereotypes and tensions that exist within them through a kind of Pop Art for the Photoshop generation.

In this, the artist’s first solo exhibition, he uses images and sounds from popular culture to instigate debate, offering up an alternative dialogue around politics and modern life. The result is loud - you hear this exhibition before you see it. Echoing around the gallery is a babel of aggression and confrontation.

The artist himself features as a central figure in his works. Nastia, an alter-ego of sorts who’s presence looms large throughout the gallery, speaks - or rather, shouts - with a mock Russian accent. He is arrogant and aggressive. He is there to challenge. We are first confronted with him in ‘Nastia’s Manifesto’ (2008) - a series of ideas and slogans presented in snappy visual graphics, all based on the key message of ‘be Hypocritical, Ironic and Do Not Give a Fuck.’
Other, and for me very same-y, works include ‘3 Continents’ (2010) in which Mosquito delivers street speeches on Europe, America and Africa in a knowing politically incorrect fashion, and ‘Fuck Africa Remix’ (2015) in which another pseudo speech is delivered in the style of an MTV product.

In one of the more interesting works ‘Acts’ (2012) the artist, this time rendered in silhouette form, performs covers of songs such as ‘Purple Rain’ alongside monologues delivered in Portuguese. Set against another bold backdrop, this time one of block colours and distorted audio, this piece really grabbed my attention for its simplicity and humour. But, sadly, the collection as a whole did not.

Although immersive - perhaps best described as a sensual assault - it was ultimately vacuous and, for me, felt somewhat recycled. Saying ‘fuck’ for the sake of it may shock and amuse certain quarters of the art world and the wider public (does it?) but I found it overbearingly gimmicky and the rhetoric tired and un-engaging.

My visit was, however, the busiest I have ever seen the Ikon - clearly demonstrating a thirst for Mosquito’s brand of pop commentary. And kudos to Ikon for such a thought-provoking juxtaposition of artists.


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