Halloween was just around the corner and Tidens Krav, one of the many artist-run spaces in Oslo, invited the good people of the city to Hextacy, an exhibition by Anna Særnblom and Charlie Roberts, two artists based in Oslo. The two have previously collaborated as members of Freedom, an alternative country outfit, and now as Chopgang. The impromptu rap group performed at the opening of the exhibition, which might be dubbed a collaboration, but also a battle.
The two small rooms at Tidens Krav have very different forms and functions. One is an exhibition space, something akin to the white cube, the other a bar, clad in wood, which makes the room appear as if it was a cabin in the Norwegian countryside, or a run-down chalet in the alps. The exhibition space was painted black for the occasion and a single source of light, a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling, created an eerie environment; part forgotten museum, part ghoulish gallery. Two rows of five sculptures on each side of the room were facing each other, as if they were sizing each other up, one against the other, like a fight. Roberts’ row of five totem poles, tall logs of wood, carved with avatars taken from the lyrical world of Chopgang and painted in bright hues, contain references to the power of the totem and invoking spirits and powers, while at the same time reading as a sheet of lyrics to the songs the duo performed on stage the night of the opening. Særnblom and Roberts rap about a whole gamut of topics, from baseball players to wild women. And thus, the totem pole consists of the same, each member, representation, or apparition stacked on top of each other, carved out to create symmetry. On the opposite side are Særnblom’s five sculptures of a slightly different temperament. The plaster sculptures all sit on top of grey plinths and add to the museological take on the display. There’s a tower of babel, there’s a throne with two regents, a mask, a spoon and a pyramid with the letters CG –ChopGang. The sculptures also have a primitive feel to them, but also contain a certain playfulness. The emblem on the spoon might be the letter E, but also butt cheeks.
The primitive instinct, visible in the works on both sides of the sculptural rows, is not novel, but apt for an evening like the opening. The face-off between Robert’s totem poles and Særnblom’s sculptures might have a winner, or a final outcome, but in the exhibition they are waiting each other out, balanced and symmetrical. The organizing principle for the exhibition, taken from the museum world, also comments on how we present the other, the primitive, through dioramas, displaying artifacts that might have a certain power and symbolism in one context, but lost on the public in a museological context, but gaining the power of the exotic, the unknown and the other. At Tidens Krav, the blend between the symmetrical display in the gallery, the carefully organized muselogical display of the sculptural work, and the irreverent and appealing performance on stage in the bar, created a world of its own. This world, Chopgang, is probably inaccessible after the opening, where the crowds filled the two rooms to the brim. But such is the potent magic of the social art world. The potential in a show like this, a collaboration, a battle, a concert, is avoiding to focus just on the discrete works of art, but letting the artists be a rapping duo, a mythic entity and, while affirming and reproducing certain tropes of the art world, letting go of other conventions that tie and bind both work and artist.