Symphony for 20 rooms @ Den Frie Udstilling, Copenhagen


Emoji summary: 🔊🐓💀

I have left writing this review til the last minute because I don’t know how to resolve my thoughts around what I saw in a gallery last weekend. (this sounds dramatic, and i guess it is a little bit). but honestly fuck it. am in a rainy and loud conservatory housesitting, sat across from boyfriend, splitting a Gregg’s chocolate muffin, and I’m just gonna see what the fuck comes out my fingers today as I type.

So my job is mad, we know this. being an art critic means i’m constantly taking my own temperature and figuring out if I don’t like an exhibition because of the mood I’m in, the weather, my own personality and interests, or because something about it feels morally wrong. face twists n gurning n making question marks with my expression; like wow they really went there, or they didn’t go there at all and I’m bored. The reason I didn’t like the subject of this week’s review is a mix of all these factors, but it’s like untangling headphone cables without looking, and writing through the knot. the more words I give to these feelings, the more they feel allowed. and then, the more I think about, the less it makes any sense.

Last weekend we got to visit Copenhagen for the first time after an invitation from literal broadsheet newspaper Politiken who wanted us to speak to a group of writers they were mentoring. it was swanky ~ and quick, and we ended up with the whole weekend to just play in the city and pretend to be our own Travel Man episode via Instagram stories. In between climbing up the astronomical tower, eating Danishes lol, stumbling upon a full blown bagpipe competition in the middle of a star-shaped fortress, watching Liverpool win the champions league and buying sunglasses in Weekday, we did in fact go to a gallery. There was also a good moment in Mcdonalds though when the food came via a magical hanging conveyor belt from the kitchen upstairs and it felt like it was the future. Anyway, back 2 our job. The gallery was called Den Frie Udstilling, out on the edge of the city centre (or you know, it was past where most of the shops were. i dunno the details). our visit coincided with a 4 day exhibition by a group called SCENATET who had recreated an installation by Nam June Paik called Symphony for 20 Rooms. I cba for the history of this, I don’t care; for me, the history didn’t come into it on the day so it’s not gonna change the way I feel in retrospect if i am bein honest. To quote love island 2019, ‘it is what it is.’ And what we walked into was a nightmare I think I’ve brought on myself, because all I’ve been calling for is exhibitions to have a bit of a kick to them and this one somehow managed to take it too far.

In the first big room there were a million instruments for anyone and their kids to pick up and start hammering. There were some professional musicians planted to kick it off or keep it going but also just random people. one woman was lying face down on the floor doing a bad plank, the weirdo. In the next room, there were two pianos and yet more instruments you could use to make big big noise. When I walked through, a few adults were drumming the top of one of the pianos and it sounded shit. Following on from that, and i mean ‘following’ because there were no doors between these spaces (which is important), was a room lit faintly red with a cage for tiny real songbirds who got flustered and flew from tree to tree anytime a visitor tried to instagram themselves posing in front of them. This room was also a bit #interiordesigned with a carpet, couch, statues, and telephone. As if the bad sounding music participation wasn’t enough, they had to throw little birds into the mix didn’t they. I could still hear the first room from where I was standing. stress. In the nextttt gallery space, was like, piles of materials. One mound of dirt, some chunky gravel slate, and a load of crispy sticks. Visitors could just do what they want with the contents here, so someone had planted a branch in the dirt like a flag. a kid was stamping on the rocks. Zarina climbed onto the twig mountain and jumped off. I felt too cynical to partake. We moved on. And second to last, was a room with firstly a shower cubicle with the door closed running fast with water and then beside that ??? a chicken coop with 3 actual chickens looking like they had no fucking clue what was going on ??? and a visitor walking after them trying to pick them up ??? On the wall opposite, tapes were moving and sound playing, but yeah. Shower chickens and more bad sound all in one room. I know this is the weirdest exhibition description but it was literally this. And finally, connecting the chicken room and the first awkward interactive orchestra room was a dark corridor with amps and sound mixers playing multiple different tunes and noises and I’m not gonna lie, I turned every single one of them off because I couldn’t see a security camera and I was losing my mind.

So, why did I hate this exhibition with all my soul, u ask. it might be something to do with the fact that in my wise old age of 24 I find participatory art confrontational and I want nothing to do with it. also, when it comes to music, I have no talent I can bring to the table so why would I want to ruin anyone else’s experience. Mostly tho, the fact artists had thrown live animals into a show where visitors could just grab them or murder a saxophone next to their cage felt so surreal and backwards. I’m not even a vegetarian so hello, fully aware I’m a hypocrite in eating the animal kingdom and moaning about this online but here we are. I wanted to wear noise protectors, and also I didn’t want to be there. I wanted the chickens to wear noise protectors and I didn’t want them to be there either. I can’t believe so much madness was brought into one gallery. And I know this is a recreation of a past artwork, but I can’t really see the need in bringing it back. You know that thing that happens at workshops or maybe university ice breakers or something, where an organiser puts out a huge blank roll of paper and everyone’s invited to draw on it? It’ll have some mindfulness purpose or a prompt like ‘what makes you happy?’ And you naively think, wow together we might be able to create something amazing. but no. it always ends up looking like shit. That’s what’s gonna happen when randomers pick up instruments and ‘have a go.’ As we were leaving and enjoying the quietness of the air outside, Zarina started a good rant about how fascism is the complete obliteration of an oppositional existence - and how participatory art obliterates any experience of the art beyond the experience prescribed by the artist. both insist on a singular interpretation, so therefore this exhibition was fascist. It’s a relief on the entirety of Denmark that this show was only on for 4 days. My poor ears! the poor chickens’ ears! (do chickens have ears? i dont know reader, but god bless them too).

tiny birds in grey and white sit in a cage on a branch together

lots of people in a room are sat at tables and chairs and lying on the floor
the gallery space is furnished like a little showroom with a big carpet, couch, armchair, and then a tall red framed cage with birds inside
there is a pile of mood, a pile of sand, and a huge pile of sticks, with images hanging in the middle of the space
Zarina jumps over the huge pile of sticks
small logs are dotted around the space like tiny seats, and then there is a shower cubicle in the middle of them

zarina sits on one of the small logs looking back at the camera with wide eyes, looking disgruntled, while behind her there is a chicken coop and real chickens walking around the gallery