10/06/24 • Interview : Sofie B. Ringstad

On Stavanger Secession with Charles Teyssou

10/06/24 • Interview : Sofie B. Ringstad

On Stavanger Secession with Charles Teyssou

Interview: Following its 2023 prologue, the team behind the curatorial festival Stavanger Secession gathers disarticulated bodies, avant-garde histories and reflections on oil through June 21-22, 2024. CAS Editor Sofie B. Ringstad talks to the event's curator Charles Teyssou about Stavanger's particularities, internet connections, post-nuclear Japanese death dance and giant straws.

Sofie B. Ringstad: Tell me who you are in this context.

Charles Teyssou: Good question! I’m Charles Teyssou, I’m French, and I work with Alexandre-Pierre Mateos. We’re a Paris-based curatorial duo, and we’ve been working around ten years together.

SBR: How did Stavanger Secession come about?

CT: As all good things in life, it came surprisingly out of a dinner. My collaborator Pierre Alexandre met George Ghon (an art savvy data analyst based in Stavanger) during a social gathering in Oslo, and stated speaking about doing a project together in Stavanger. When he came back to Paris, we discussed it, and with very little time we decided to do it, because we wanted to do a prologue to this year’s event already in 2023. So, the idea of Stavanger Secession came together quickly.

Secession is one of the fundamental strategies of the avant-garde, when you think about the Viennese secessionism, the Munich secession and so on… the avant-garde wants to break free from tradition, conservatism. The first secessionists were against nationalism in order to invent new radical forms of art that were proportionate to the new century. Back then, secessionism was a Gesamtkunstwerk. We wanted to work around that.

And then, when thinking about secessionism in Stavanger particularily, we had two things in mind: First, Lars Hertervig, who spent parts of his life in Stavanger in partial self-retreat to be able to paint his eerie landscapes. And secondly another Norwegian reference was Peter Wessel Zapffe. Zapffe was a Norwegian philosopher and the father of deep ecology who, like Lars Hertervig, removed himself partly from society – in his case through mountaineering – to think about humanity. Zapffe has had a big influence on many of the artists we invited for both the prologue and for this year. We really wanted to have a Norwegian context as the base for Stavanger Secession.

SBR: But how did you end up in Stavanger in the first place? Was there an existing connection?

CT: Around ten years ago there was a show revolving around Lars Hertervig’s work in Paris, which I saw. This was the first time I personally heard about Stavanger. But George Ghon, who is based in Stavanger, was the one who told us about the contemporary conditions of the city, about it being the oil capital of Norway.

Through coincidence, George and Lukas Mosser, the team’s CTO, are two Austrians living in Stavanger. They work in the oil industry but love art and come from their city’s secessionist tradition. They said they would love to do something with us, so we came up with the idea to make a team. Today we are six people involved, among them Pernille Dybvig, George Gohn, Lukas Mosser, Rebeca Laliberte, Pierre-Alexandre and myself.

SBR: Stavanger Secession is a curatorial festival. With your background from the international art field, do you see the position of curating as especially interesting in Stavanger? Or is it more that the city is a stage upon which this festival takes place?

CT: Stavanger is a web of connections and solidarities and friendships that we are starting to grow now. We want to enfold the urban and architectural histories of Stavanger, and the idea is to start doing this by collaborating with several institutions. The more we grow, the more we want to do events in the region in general, and include sites that are – you know, up and done, unknown, and develop further alliances with institutions of different types, not solely in art and architecture. Stavanger is also interesting because we want to connect with past mythologies, figures and histories, in relation to present conditions. So, the city is both a stage, a partner – and a treasure, whose value is the stories we can build upon.

SBR: Indeed, Stavanger has the quality of being a bit fringe.

CT: You know, Stavanger is really particular. Of course, it’s different than living in Paris, but the city offers a better internet connection than I have here. So, for sure Stavanger is more remote than Oslo or Paris, but at the same time, it’s incredibly connected. Which I think is a special condition for Stavanger. It’s also at the center of many geopolitical situations, so it offers a strike of balance that is unique to the city. Lastly, Stavanger is very international. I believe it has the biggest North-American population in Europe, proportionate to the number of inhabitants. It’s one of the most international cities in Europe actually.

SBR: I was reading the text you’ve put out in blocks on Instagram. It states that Stavanger Secession will “explore secessionism, the birth act of every avant-garde. At its core, it deals with transgression, deep ecology, sacredness, alterity and beauty.” I am curious about the program. Are there any specific works that you feel will highlight these themes? Or does the text function more like a guiding principle?

CT: OK, so the idea is to bring together people from Stavanger with international artists. There was one artist that we knew from before in Stavanger, Sandra Vaka. We love her work and she’s a personal friend. Her practice is interesting because her works can be both pop and carry political meaning at the same time. She’s obsessed with straws. Through art history, there are many examples of artists who obsess over one theme, exploring it from many angles. Maybe for Sandra the end goal will be to have a museum of straws by her!

Straws can be seen as an almost childish pop object, superficial and no depth. But Sandra made me think of Claes Oldenburg, Swedish-American sculptor known for his massive pop sculptures that holds the same type of complexity as Sandra’s works. Really pop on the outside, but in fact a political comment through how they were inserted into the landscape. Sandra’s practice is transgressive yet beautiful, just the type of ambivalence that we’re looking for in Stavanger Secession. A dream for the future is to produce one of her sculptures, but in massive scale, a giant straw coming out of the sea. It would be a commentary on the oil extraction, which is such a big part of Stavanger’s identity. It would also be relevant on the theme of sacredness, to have this new totem, new public sculpture. So that’s one local artist that touches on these themes we work with.

On the international side, I would like to highlight Blackhaine. He’s a performer based in Manchester, on one hand very avant-garde and niche, but on the other hand working for massive hip-hop artists such as Playboi Carti and Kanye West before his questionable extravagances. His dancing is a mix between Butoh – post-nuclear Japanese death dance – and the north of England social darkness embodied by the bodies in search of drugs wandering cities. Blackhaine works with these disarticulated bodies through a kind of pantomime. His dance is a commentary on bodies that stop being useful to capitalism, kind of robots without a mission. That is a different type of beauty and transgression that is interesting to us.

Manchester-based dancer Blackhaine is on the program for Stavanger Secession. Photo: Still from Blackhaine music video for 'Saddleworth'

SBR: What are your long-term plans for Stavanger Secession?

CT: We have a fantastic team; I cannot stress that enough. With them, our long-term plan is to develop a yearly festival that gathers two types of things: Niche, avant-garde artists, filmmakers, dancers and architects, and their connections to more known and famous pop figures. This way we can create a festival that is both popular – in the best sense of the word – and avant-garde, which can attract an edgy, professional cultural circles, as well as wider audiences. The idea is to have that base in Stavanger, and articulate it between talks, large scale installations and performance. We want it to be an important festival in Norway and hopefully also Europe.

SBR: Finally, what’s not to be missed at this year’s edition?

CT: I would say the main exhibition at TOU, and then the Blackhaine performance, which both happen Friday afternoon and evening. To wrap up the festival, we invited the Marcel Duchamp Prize winner Lili Reynaud-Dewar for a performance at Norsk Oljemuseum, which will be the last event. In other words, I recommend adding the beginning and the end of Stavanger Secession to your agenda!

Pierre-Alexandre & Charles Teyssou are a duo of curators based in Paris interested in urban myths, pulp avant-gardes and geography. They are the curators of Art Basel Paris Conversations series and Paris Orbital, a public program at the Pinault Collection Bourse de Commerce on Parisian mythologies. They are currently working on Cruising Pavillion, Architecture, Dissident Sex and Cruising Cultures, a publication on homosexual cruising published by HEAD (Geneva) and Spector Books (Leipzig).