12 December

Critic and writer Nicholas Norton proclaims his three favourite exhibitions of the year.

Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme, May amnesia never kiss us on the mouth. Installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar.

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, An echo buried deep deep down but calling still, Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo

As I write this, the news is full of reports of Israeli military forces storming the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. The attack is a brutal escalation of Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinians and its attempt to displace them. When will this violence end? In Palestinian artist duo Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s exhibition, visitors were constantly silhouetted by images projected onto a teeming wealth of screens and onto the walls of the Astrup Fearnley Museum, an effective reminder of the psychological burden of living under a constant threat of violence. To my mind, the exhibition oscillated between optimism and pessimism regarding the Palestinians’ hope to maintain their national identity and connection to historical lands. Undoubtedly, my favourite among all the contemporary art exhibitions presented in Oslo this year.

Aura Satz, Warnings in Waiting, 2023. Still from video.

Aura Satz, Warnings in Waiting, Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo

In Aura Satz’s installation at Kunstnernes Hus back in the early summer of 2023, the sound of screeching sirens was followed by low-frequency electronic noise. In an accompanying video sequence, Satz lets the camera rotate above a large circular siren installation, presumably a warning system created to sound the alarm in case of war or natural disaster. In other video clips, we come across scrap heaps full of sirens in various configurations: oblong cone shapes, tubular horns, and large clustered batteries of horizontal speakers unfurling like metal flowers. The sirens come across as sculptural objects, while also appear menacing, disturbing. Perhaps this sense of threat stems from the fact that once the alarm goes off, the disaster has often already happened. All alternative solutions have failed.

Doris Guo, all sounds flash, 2023. Tre, maling, projektor, glass, dukke, variable dimensjoner. Photo: Christian Tunge.

Doris Guo, disorientations, VI,VII, Oslo

In Doris Guo’s sombrely evocative exhibition, a series of images of everyday objects – a coffee maker, a doll, a drop of red wine, and Christmas decorations (Merry Christmas!) – were projected onto the walls of the darkened gallery space. The images were “live” in the sense that the objects shown were placed inside the sculptures of which the projectors were a part. For example, the small doll was hidden inside a sculpture of a yellow staircase, the latter apparently a reference to a Chinese medicine that is supposed to counteract upset stomachs in children. Being among these works felt a bit like rummaging through someone else’s memories of childhood and youth, with all the discomfort and confusion such an ability would entail.

– Nicholas Norton (b. 1989) is an art critic and writer based in Oslo and a regular contributor to Kunstkritikk.

For this year’s contributions to the Advent Calendar, see here.