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Food making and serving at the end of the day at Obscura Tbilisi, photo by author

A report on this year’s fair for artist-run spaces which was held at a deserted Cruise Terminal. Even though Covid still was hindering some participants to travel freely to Sweden, the fair managed to include spaces from all around the world.

In a cold Stockholm, a year and a few months later than originally planned, the Supermarket Art Fair takes place. Starting as a reaction to the commercial art fair ‘Market‘ by local galleries, the previously named ‘Mini Market‘ aimed to give space for less commercial expressions and experimental presentations. It grew over the years into a fair that brings together independent, artist-run spaces from all over the world.

This year this different art fair is different. Unfortunately, understandably because of the tail end of Covid, the fair focuses more on the Stockholm based galleries than usual; for example the Japanese space ‘Niigata Eya‘, and the South African and Zimbabwean collective ‘Artcollab Studio‘ were unable to send representatives due to the strict entry barrier into Sweden from these countries, and had to install their booths remotely with help from the Supermarket organization.

In an impressive feat of serendipitous poetry, the fair is, this time around, located in a former cruise ship terminal. The Stadsgårdterminalen is complete with customs offices, the signs of its previous life are still on the walls: ‘Intra community travelers only, nothing to declare’. Hidden between the makeshift walls of the booths in the back a row of entry gates leads to a dead end. 

Dead end gates, at the cruise terminal, Stockholm, 2021, photo by author

Sometimes it can feel like art fairs exist to facilitate quick encounters, a speed that after Covid seems like something we need to get used to once again. I personally experience a certain anxiety in places like this, emanating from both my conversational partners and (especially) myself. Yes we’re talking right now, and yes it is interesting, but I just might be missing someone important right now. In that sense this fair is no different from the regular art fair. But instead of the economic opportunities of the commercial fair the valuable moments exist in the possibility for collaborations and mutual support. The format might be the same, the means of survival are very different.

Slowing down the fair

On Friday I attended a talk by the initiative Ephemeral-Care, a collective of writers and curators that are invested in ethics, diversity, inclusivity and access to independent artist-run spaces. They echo my initial thoughts when I was asked to write something about my experience at the fair; independent art spaces sometimes have the tendency to seem like einzelgängers, lone-wolves, an appearance probably stemming from their often subversive attitudes. How do initiatives all over the world organize differently? And how can they connect and support each other?

It is a concern I heard more often this edition. I feel that more than before Covid there is an outspoken wish to stay connected beyond the limits of the fair. Is it possible to turn this moment of presentation into fertile ground for collaboration and mutual support among independent art spaces? And how do the slow matters of caring for each other contrast with the buzzing, quick social life on fairgrounds?

In lieu of trying to write a review of the art fair, I wanted to focus on some of the spaces and presentations which I think try to slow down the fair. Slowness being the opposite of the bustling social life of the commercial fair, I hope to find in it what it is that makes this fair different and the kind of infrastructure such a fair requires.

Among the examples are Obscura from Tbilisi. They aim to create a support structure for artists by connecting different generations of professionals and narrowing the gaps between groups through conversations. Their presentation consists of photographs of this changing Georgian city presented on sculptures reminiscent of billboards and informational signs and a daily meal cooked and shared within their booth. Sharing a meal manages to break open the hectic social structure of the fair. People sit down and stay for a long while and engage in elaborate conversations with each other. I strongly suspect the amazing smells of Georgian food to not only have an attracting but also a soothing effect on the visitors and exhibitors.

How do initiatives all over the world organize differently? And how can they connect and support each other?

Food making and serving at the end of the day at Obscura Tbilisi, photo by author

Food making and serving at the end of the day at Obscura Tbilisi, photo by author

I sense another way of slowing down in the presentation of Medrar, a collective operating in Cairo, Egypt. Their presentation consists of an archive of past projects, accessible through stories told by Dia Hamed, their project director, or alternatively through, an online video archive that seeks to document Egypt’s independent art scene. Focusing on stories, the collective’s past and  conversation rather than a more traditional visual presentation is a matter too slow for the commercial fair, but something well-paced in the context of Supermarket. The embodied archive of Dia, who has been around since Medrar’s insurrection, places emphasis on the narratives, resistances and struggles that the collective (like many others) had and has to endure.

Art collab is one of the collectives forced to install remotely. Its zoom talk on the final day of the fair, was a sobering reminder of the privileges we have in the Global North. While we could move around untethered by Covid restrictions (Sweden doesn’t use any kind of corona pass, and facemasks seem a relic from the past), the reality of doing everything online or at least hybrid is for the Global South still present-day reality. For the northern exhibitors slowing down is a welcome change of pace from commercial art fairs; for those from elsewhere it is a necessary consequence of distance and crisis management.

Art Colab at Supermarket 2021, photo by author

Their presentation is the outcome of a collaborative practice between South African and Zimbabwean artists, in which they discussed the notion of land ownership related to gender. This film is a feminist reclaimation of the history of queen Lozikeyi, who led her people as the British colonial power occupied her country. The story of this Zimbabwean queen has faded into the background of popular discourse. Unable to find information about this narrative in Zimbabwean archives the collective had to go through the slow process of going to the library of Oxford to access this history. The week of shooting the film, amidst the global pandemic, was underscored by riots following gender based violence and xenophobia in South Africa and the death of president Mugabe in Zimbabwe, ushering in the promises of a new political era. “Zimbabwe has the right to their own stories.” Zandile Vanessa Masuku says in a powerful conclusion to their conversation.

Cristoph Draeger and Dorit Chrysler’s lecture performance ‘At the gravesite’ connects the fair through a live whatsapp connection to Berthold Brecht’s gravesite in Berlin. They have the audience reflect on our times and crises by employing common brechtian performativity. Using the human microphone known from occupy wall street we amplify the past words of Brecht which still resonate in the present; the audience repeats after Dorit the words of Brecht: “In the dark times will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”

On the other side of the river, the attraction park Gröna Lund’s rollercoasters and revolving chairs spin and move endlessly.

Other impressions:

Supermarket Art Fair took place from 14th till 17th of October 2021, at Stadsgårdterminalen, Stockholm

Stefan Cammeraat

is kunstenaar en student aan MAFA HKU

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