MAKING ROOM, Nordic Artists, Institutions and Artist Institutions of the Modern Breakthrough and Today
Published by Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen
211 pages + 6 m long scroll
ISBN: 978-87-997293-1-9
Edition: 300

Edited by Marie Thams & Hannah Heilmann et al.

Contributions by Hugo Hopping, Michael Bank Christoffersen, Kitty Corbet Millward, Kristín Scheving, Jan Cox, Mikkel Thelle, Sydhavn Station (Anne Skole Overgaard, Sonja Lillebæk Christensen, Jens Axel Beck and Thorgej Steen Hansen), Honza Hoeck, Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, and representing our partner institutions: Anna Scram Vejlby from The Hirschsprung Collection, David Jackson from University of Leeds and Kirse Junge-Stevnsborg from Den Frie.

Acquired by the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection (Chicago), V&A Museum’s National Art Library (London), the Oslo National Academy of the Arts Library and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA, New York).

MAKING ROOM Publication
More images below

Excerpt of foreword:


Let's think of it as actually making room - as a question of re-making, re-arranging, moving matter aside or discarding it, so that other things can come into play. To make new room and to invent other spaces, like adding a balcony to your apartment - making room without taking room - and at the same time gaining a better view.

MAKING ROOM, Nordic Artists, Institutions and Artist Institutions of the Modern Breakthrough and Today is a symposium, held between October 31 and November 1, 2013, and now also this publication, about the self-organised, about artists, institutions and artists’ institutions. The project came about as the result of a fruitful merger between two initially rather different projects:
1) on the one hand Marie was, on invitation from Den Frie, developing a project on expanded artistic practices, looking at present Danish artists who, among other things, organise, publish, edit, curate etc., as part of their artistic practice, and
2) on the other hand Hannah, who was looking at the free associations of the Modern Breakthrough, assisting David Jackson on the research and exhibition project Nordic Art. The Modern Breakthrough, based at The University of Leeds, but wanting to add a contemporary perspective to it. MAKING ROOM thus builds on an interest in continuations of practice and a historic outlook.

Recent years have brought about a renaissance of interest in artist-run and self-organised art institutions, both in the Nordic countries and internationally, often comparing today's smaller artist-run spaces with initiatives spanning from the 1960s to the '90s, waves of relational and social aesthetics and of institutional critique. However, many of the fundamental art institutional structures, which we still work within today, developed some time back, in the second half of the nineteenth century - particularly relationships between academies, collectors, museums and audiences, which acted as a catalyst for the artist associations and artist organisations both in the Nordic countries and in the rest of Europe.

It seemed to us that there was something to be said for the unlikely perspective of briefly forgetting the recent past, and connecting the self-organised landscape of today’s Nordic countries with an ontological institutional history of the late nineteenth century. Therefore the two-day symposium aimed to investigate and discuss the parallels and possible relations between contemporary artist-run spaces and the early artist associations and institutions of the Modern Breakthrough in the Nordic countries.

MAKING ROOM combines art historical research with the thinking of present artist-run institutions and their relation to the institutional landscape they operate within. Because of the project's interdisciplinary approach, the audiences it wishes to address and engage differs – lingering somewhere between the academic format of exchange of research for art historians and a history lesson for contemporary artists. Obviously there is the risk that each historical period may colonise, romanticise and simplify the other – but it is our hope that they can offer each other fresh vocabularies and perspectives, and that we can this way shed new light on certain dilemmas that art professionals face today, which may have been going on for far longer than we think. For instance: can the longings, drive and proclaimed lack of explicit strategy of, say, Sydhavn Station, give real insights to what went on in the minds of the artists that created Den Frie? The symposium and this publication also provide a reminder that some formats, which we take for granted, are in fact historic. Even a basic phenomenon such as ‘the exhibition’ is not an absolute, but emerged out of specific economic and sociological circumstances – and so who knows if the art exhibition is even a current format or will perish in the internet sometime in the future?

We have noticed that a common approach when looking at the self-organised is that of drafting a history of artists' breaks from their institutions. Looking at the motivations and terms of today's self-organised art spaces, surveys often question how the artist-run differ from other institutions, and how (if at all) they can and should be seen as a practice based alternative, a critique of institutions, or if they are rather strategic stepping stones for upcoming artists. We also went down this road. But the more we talked, thought and worked around these questions - through research and conversations with colleagues in the field and with the partnering institutions: The University of Leeds, Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art and The Hirschsprung Collection - we came to feel that just as much as having to do with breaks, alternatives and strategies, we were dealing with a history of how artists and art professionals interplay in shaping the art institutional landscape at large, constantly performing new rooms to work within, in mixed gestures of necessity and vision. That the ongoing practising of a micro-institutional landscape is a very natural form of artistic practice, and perhaps always has been?

This publication presents the reworked and edited versions of talks and papers given at the symposium. It is our wish to engage with what the artist is and has been doing to and within her/his institutional context – we wish to present first-hand stories, from a selection of the practising artists, together with art historians' perspectives, linking now and then. We wish to set special focus on artistic practice – and to look at how artists may or may not be performing their institutions as part of their work. So the reader will perhaps notice, that the invited speakers all are close to the practised, and as such we have not aimed to coin a theoretical understanding of self-organisation. Rather, we want to facilitate flashpoints and case studies that may work as peep holes into the motivations and terms of today's self-organised art spaces as well as their nineteenth century ancestors. Therefore the selection of papers also consider self-organisation in the widest sense and contextually.

Through the combination and interrelations of the texts in this publication, we hope to identify our aim and the many-facetted concerns in the questions asked when making room. It is our hope that we may contribute to an account and understanding of the self-organised art professionals in context, and as such the publication is intended as a means to redefine how we navigate and interact with existing structures; rather than taking them for granted. With MAKING ROOM we aim to create a platform for discussion, to provide a select history lesson for our fellow artists and to invite art workers, working artists, the interested public and new readers to look at and capture the artistic gesture and the need to make a room of one's own.

Hannah Heilmann & Marie Thams