OPEN CALL is structured as an open submission exhibition – but without any jury. During autumn 2007, Röda Sten opened its doors to artists – irrespective of educational or professional qualifications – to submit a work of art in any media. The conditions for applying largely mirrored those set by another Swedish art institution, the Liljevalch Konsthall, whose open submission spring salon has been a regular feature on the Stockholm art scene since the 1920s. Röda Sten also has a past in inviting proposals and choosing by committee. This time, however, no jury had been appointed to choose the final artworks. Instead, a public selection process had been devised whereby 25 artworks were to be picked out at random and exhibited together:
- Each application is assigned a reference number.
- Five reference numbers will be selected at random by the Curator. The selections will be public; times and dates will be announced on the Röda Sten home page.
- The documentation of the five artworks corresponding to the selected reference numbers will be studied by the Curator until one factor common to them all has been discovered. This factor will be recorded.
- The process will be repeated for five days without ever repeating a reference number or a common factor.
- When twenty-five artworks have been selected, and five common factors have been discovered, the Curator will reduce them to one single common factor. This common factor will be the theme of the exhibition. The twenty-five artworks will be the content.
The selection method used in OPEN CALL is an appropriation of the artwork Time-Information Idea # 2 (1969) by the American Conceptual artist Donald Burgy (see page X). In Burgy’s work, a set of instructions forms a clearly defined structure within which the content is chosen at random. Burgy’s original instructions were altered to suit the conditions at Röda Sten, then used to randomly draw 25 artworks from the submissions, and systematically contextualise them in relation to each other. This publication is a documentation of that process.
Five days of repeatedly drawing submissions and searching them for meaning, led to five interim thematizations: 1) Between the self and the Other: states of alienation and affinity; 2) Boundaries – processes and passages; 3) Myth and Modernity; 4) Body Politics and 5) Kaleidoscopes. The final theme of the exhibition became Entropy. Entropy is a concept, taken from thermodynamics, which refers to the amount of uncertainty about, or disorder in, a system. It could also be understood as a measure of something that happens when one state is transformed into another. The game of Chinese Whispers can be used as a metaphor – entropy, in this case, is the difference between the initial message whispered, and the final message received by the last person in the chain of communication. In relation to OPEN CALL, the term should be understood as referring to the change a concept inevitably undergoes in the meeting with reality, as well as to all those elements – conceptual, material or otherwise – that were part of the exhibition’s conception, but remain invisible, unknown or uncertain. In relation to its thermodynamic meaning as “excess energy”, it could also be seen to refer to all that which is “left behind” in the advancement of a system – mechanical or ideological – such as art history, representative democracy, or a lottery.
OPEN CALL is a site- and context specific project in several ways. The exhibition has been conceived in a time when Swedish cultural policies are under review, and both art education and public funding strategies are undergoing significant change. More specifically, the project relates to Röda Sten, a cultural association positioned between public funding and grassroots engagement, which is currently changing its programming policy from a reliance on unsolicited artist proposals, to the initiation of in-house, curated exhibitions. As a freelance curator and new member of the Röda Sten programming committee, I felt that questions concerning notions of quality and ideology, subjective choice and the public sphere, and the division between “the professional” and “the amateur”, were important to ask.
Röda Sten is an organisation with a long-term commitment to “promote a broad understanding of art, and support a diversity of contemporary artistic practices”. I was interested in investigating the Röda Sten notion of “diversity” and decided to interpret their mission statement literally, making it the starting-point of my project. To invoke chance in this context was a way of leaving behind preconceived qualitative judgements – my own as well as those of Röda Sten – and in this way approach “diversity”. The choice of Burgy’s work, on the other hand, was informed by my personal circumstances and preferences, accentuating the tension between subjective and non-subjective choice within the context of a public art exhibition.
To use an artwork as a starting-point for an exhibition is nothing new. In OPEN CALL, the positions of artwork, artist and curator are shifted around, drawing attention to how those positions are traditionally defined, and instigating an alternative negotiation of responsibility between them. Art historically, OPEN CALL takes its cue from the Conceptual art of the 1960s and 70s, using the approach of Process Art to inquire if the process leading up to an exhibition should be considered as important as the exhibition itself. OPEN CALL is an attempt to disclose the process behind the making of one specific exhibition, with the aim to bring attention to conditions for public exhibitions in general.
Most importantly, OPEN CALL is an experiment; an invitation extended to what is commonly referred to as “the general public” without beforehand knowing what it would generate. I wish to warmly thank the 446 artists who participate in the project with their applications, as well as the 25 who have been randomly selected to exhibit their work at Röda Sten in February.
Lisa Rosendahl, Curator