NORDIK in Copenhagen - scenography session ready

Videostill from Bro till bro, Rubicon - Stadens dansare 1987. Video credit Niklas Rydén & Lars Persson
Videostill from Bro till bro, Rubicon - Stadens dansare 1987. Video credit Niklas Rydén & Lars Persson

We are currently (August 2018) preparing our NORDIK XII conference session entitled "Untitled Spaces: Scenography and Nordic Art History" to be presented at NORDIK XII - October 25-27, 2018, in Copenhagen Denmark. 

The presenters are (see abstracts below): Viveka Kjellmer, Astrid von Rosen, Alda Terracciano, Alexandra Herlitz, Jonathan Westin, Greer Crawley, Harriet O'Neill, Hedvig Mårdh, Christine Sjöberg, Olga Nikolaeva and Katharina Alsen. 

Session abstract:

In addition to undergoing considerable theorization over the last twenty years, the concept of scenography has expanded beyond traditional theatrical settings to potentially include all environments (McKinney and Palmer 2017). As expressed by Sodja Lotker and Richard Gough, "we perform scenographies and they perform us" in a co-creative exchange (2013). Although the situation differs across countries and academic and practice-related contexts, these changes have clearly borne fruit in artistic or practice-based research in a globalizing context. Within art history in traditional western contexts, scenography for the theatre has been a rather small topic, and the expanded concept does not as yet have any significant presence within the field.

In a Nordic context, however, we have seen an expanded scenography emerge in recent years as an art historical and interdisciplinary concept, perspective and topic. Various applications of scenography are being used to address complex multisensorial features in time, space, and cultural and personal imaginations, as well as in social and other kinds of structures. Art historians have for example explored processes of meaning-making in areas as diverse as live concerts, interfaces in digital fashion magazines, dance in public spaces, and costume as an artistic device, as well as in more traditional objects of study, such as baroque architecture or theatrical performances.

The purpose of this session is to create opportunities for a critical and constructive re-imagining of the contact zones and crossroads linking art history and scenography. The presented papers draw on recent research making use of or examining scenography or related concepts, as well as historiographical explorations. Welcome to join us!


Dr Astrid von Rosen / Dr Viveka Kjellmer

"It's Showtime, Folks!" Juxtaposing Scenography and Nordic Art History by way of Recent Theory and Multisensorial Research Examples

"It's showtime, folks!" is a quote from Bob Fosse's film All that Jazz (1979). Here we draw on the quote to open up a visual, multisensorial and kinesthetic space of both magic and critical potential that can be termed scenographic. First, we introduce the most recent theoretical understandings of the concept of scenography in particular focusing on the ways it has expanded in recent years and how this produces new approaches and questions (McKinney and Palmer 2017). What does it for example mean to art history that scenography has expanded beyond traditional theatrical settings to potentially include all environments? In what ways can it be useful for art historians to think with the idea that every day and night "we perform scenographies and they perform us" in a co-creative exchange (Lotker and Richard Gough, 2013)?

In the second section of our presentation we will test to the limit the concept of expanded scenography by way of live demonstrations from our own recent research. We use various applications of scenography to address complex multisensorial features in the realms of dance archives and olfactory environments. The audience will be asked to participate in some co-creative activities, but it is of course voluntary to actively partake (people allergic to perfume might wish to be careful). Together we explore how scenography can help unravel and critically address often hidden yet powerful processes of meaning making in areas as diverse as dance in public spaces and scent exhibitions.

With this introduction we would like to start the discussion and create opportunities for a critical and constructive re-imagining of the contact zones and crossroads linking art history and scenography. How can scenography, as a way of thinking, acting, and creating, be used as a critical tool for exploring art and visual culture and understanding them in a digital age?

Dr Astrid von Rosen is Associate professor in Art History and Visual Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and a former dancer. Her research interests include activist approaches to scenography and dance archives in our digital age. Together with Kjellmer von Rosen is building a Nordic Scenography network. 

Dr Viveka Kjellmer is Senior lecturer in Art History and Visual Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She also holds a degree in economics and has previously worked in marketing. Her current research concerns costume, body and identity, as well as the relations between olfaction, architecture, and space.

Alda Terracciano

Memory Routes: People's voices, Migration and Intangible heritage

In this paper I will use the concept of scenography as a critical tool to discuss a heritage and digital arts project designed to engage with new ways of sharing knowledge on the intangible heritage of migration in Europe. Following McKinney and Palmer (2017) expansion of the concept, I will discuss a research practice framed along the lines of Harrison, Sengers and Tatar's Third Paradigm HCI (2017) and Haraway's standpoint epistemology (1988).

I will do this by analysing the design of the first iteration of the project in London, which focused on the living heritage of members of local Moroccan communities shared through the artwork Zelige Door on Golborne Road. I will then propose the application of my methodological approach to a new iteration of the project focusing of the history of Sillgatan in Gothenburg, renamed as Postgatan in 1895. Research has demonstrated how Sillgatan held a key infrastructural role in the great emigration from Sweden to North America from the mid 1800s to the early 1920s. It was this street that led nearly 1.2 millions of Swedish emigrants from Gothenburg's train station to the customs house at Packhusplatsen and so, from a historical point of view, the street played a key role in the flourishing and profitable emigrant industry that developed at the time.

Referencing practises connected to participatory action research, archival activism and digital interaction design, the history of the place will come alive through the stories of Swedish emigrants re-activated by today's immigrants to Sweden. In so doing the scenography of the place will offer itself to a form of polyphonic engagement with its aesthetics, urban development and sociological settings in ways that aim to point to new directions in historiographical research practices.

Alda Terracciano is Honorary Research Associate at University College London and co-leader for the Centre of Critical Heritage Studies at University of Gothenburg. In 2016 she researched on digital economy at Queen Mary, University of London and was curator of the installation London's Digital Ecologies of Collaboration.

Alexandra Herlitz / Jonathan Westin

Staging Arosenius abroad - the use of digital scenographies for studies in critical historiography

Through the Arosenius Project, a three year endeavour to digitise the art and documents pertaining to the Swedish artist Ivar Arosenius at the National Museum in Stockholm, the Gothenburg Museum of Art and the Gothenburg University Library, a diverse material have been made available through which to deepen our understanding of the painter. In the project we seek methods and technologies through which to stage this digitised material in ways that push the digital archive beyond just being a collection of data and be a source of affect. Our purpose is to shake up the established image of Arosenius and his art and to provoke new narratives about his artistry. In doing so we are concerned with questions about the effects that archival material can have on a broader public and how we can utilise these effects. Some of our case studies focus on historical exhibitions of Ivar Arosenius that were held outside Sweden in the beginning of the 20th century. Little is known in Sweden about these exhibition activities in foreign countries, so by employing the digital archive we are trying to reconstruct these art shows in order to make their contents and the established image of Arosenius outside of Sweden comprehensible but also perceivable on a scenographic level.

Alexandra Herlitz is a senior lecturer in Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Gothenburg.

Jonathan Westin is a research fellow and co-director of the Heritage Visualisation Laboratory at the Department of Conservation at the University of Gothenburg.

Greer Crawley / Harriet O'Neill

Empty Niches and Ambiguous Iconography: Using Scenography and Art History to solve the puzzles of Royal Holloway's Chapel

In the 200 years since its completion in 1886, Royal Holloway's chapel has attracted curiously little scholarly attention. This situation is initially surprising given its finely carved Neo-Renaissance liturgical furniture, gilded wallpapers and the intriguing iconographic scheme contained in the apse and bas-reliefs. The lacunae in our knowledge regarding this architecturally and theologically important space (it was always conceived as ecumenical and multifunctional) can be attributed to both incomplete documentation and the inherent puzzles within. Amongst its most perplexing aspects are the 12-empty, shallow niches with saint's names above them which punctuate the nave. Did the architect intend them to be filled and if so, why do they remain empty and how would their contents have engaged with the rest of the chapel? Our paper would show how this art historical problem was partly addressed by a scenographic project bringing practice-based research to the discipline. Drama students specialising in scenography were asked to produce proposals to fill these niches. The combination of archival research, secondary reading on art and sacred space and the practical research needed to design their scenographic solutions bought new understandings of the performative aspects of the space and possible interpretations of the puzzling iconography to the fore.

Greer Crawley is a lecturer in Scenography at Royal Holloway, University of University of London and in Spatial Design at Buckinghamshire New University, UK:

Harriet O'Neill is Exhibition Curator at Royal Holloway:

Hedvig Mårdh

Staging Style - Art history and Scenography in Symbiosis

The discipline of art history and the practice of scenography have a long shared history, from the period rooms of the late 19th century, via the reconstructed historic environments of the 1920s and 30s to the numerous missing-person-displays in museums of cultural history. In this paper I argue that art historians should return to these scenographies in order to gain a deeper understanding of their own discipline and how research has shaped but also been shaped by different modes of display. This paper will focus on how the Gustavian period has been staged - using two different examples. The first example is the interaction between silent films and the discipline of art history in the 1920s. The film Två konungar (1925) portrays the life of Carl Michael Bellman, his relation to Gustav III and the murder of the king. The production involved two art historians as experts. The costumes were made from drawings by the professor of art history Sixten Strömbom. The art and theatre historian Agne Beijer oversaw the reconstructions of the open-air theatre at Drottningholm, which was reconstructed for the film. The second example is the artist Pehr Hilleström who still play an important role in the way Gustavian life and interiors are reconstructed and apprehended. His paintings are appreciated because of their ability to encourage us to step into the painting and "make space" and have been used because of their perceived matter of factness, their ability to create what we apprehend as a "snapshot quality". By studying these two examples we can learn more about the strategies used by film directors and exhibition architects when creating what is perceived as authentic scenographies. Strategies that were directly influenced by the development of the discipline of art history.

Hedvig Mårdh PhD, art historian focusing on design history, critical heritage and museum studies. A Century of Swedish Gustavian Style - Art History, Cultural Heritage and Neoclassical Revivals from the 1890s to the 1990s (2017) is her thesis. She works as a senior lecturer and researcher at Uppsala University.

Christine Sjöberg

Fashion photographic spaces: Between action, interpretation and embodiment

Charlotte Andersen writes that fashion can be seen "as a playground where we each day practice to live with the challenging fact that we and our surrounding world are in constant change (2006: 8)." The designer Henrik Vibskov (2013) states that fashion absorbs the world as well as mirrors its condition. Fashion is not synonymous with garments and fashion photographs cannot be defined as something that showcase clothing. Instead, they make the things they (re)present to be felt in a certain way. In doing so they establish a relation to their beholder that demands something and that affects what is taking place in the fashion photograph. In this paper, I problematize this taking place through the prism of an expanded notion of scenography and its potential to critically engage with the relation between the photographic and the pre-photographic, semiotic meaning and embodied experience as well as the interface of the digital fashion magazine as a space of affordances and potentials that works both as a "space of action" and a "space of reception". With a focus on setting, light and the choreography of the fashioned body, I discuss how the fashion photograph can be seen as partaking in a performance that is being staged and restaged in front of the camera, as well as in the beholder's embodied relation to the photograph in a culture which embeds visual and photographic acts into everyday life. I argue that the notion of scenography opens up for an analysis in which this performance can be examined as taking place both within the photographs and outside of them, and that it has the potential to "reverse" the process of photography by turning something from two dimensions into three, offering a way of thinking that makes aspects otherwise hard to grasp more tangible.

Christine Sjöberg is a PhD Student in Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Gothenburg. She holds a MA in Aesthetic Disciplines with Specialization in Fashion Studies, a BFA in Photography and a complementary MA1 in Artistic Research with focus on photographic archives. Her main interests are in photography, visual culture and fashion theory.

Olga Nikolaeva

Audiovisual Glossolalia: scenographic evoking and the potentiality of meaning-making processes in a Sigur Rós' live performance

The main purpose of the paper is to explore the possibilities of scenographic evoking as a part of meaning-making processes in a live music performance. By investigating different aspects of the audiovisual presentation in a performance of the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós, the paper analyzes material relations that generate an affective performance, focusing specifically on collaborations between sound, imagery, body and light in the performance. The study is based on firsthand observation of the band's performance that took place on 5th of October, 2017 at Annexet Arena, Stockholm. The performance continuum presented an audiovisual journey through ghostly imagery, atmospheric music and grotesque interplay of the musicians' bodies and light, neatly packed into a cage-like scenic construction. As with many Sigur Rós' live performances, music and imagery played a more important role than the musicians themselves, generating an affective environment that evoked an ambiguous sense of something primordial and natural as well as industrial and man-made. Following the recent interest in "agentic capacity of materials" in scenography, the study explores how material relations between imagery, light and sound gradually transformed the stage into someplace else, with the musicians' bodies and the audience placed in affective exchange with the scenographic spectacle.

Olga Nikolaeva is a PhD student in Art History and Visual Studies at the Department of Cultural Sciences, University of Gothenburg. She holds a MA in Visual Culture from Lund University and a Specialist Degree in Art History from Russian State University for the Humanities. Her main interests are audiovisual presentation and scenography of live music performances.

Katharina Alsen

Immersive Aesthetics and the Promises of Expanded Scenography

The immersive paradigm follows the phantasm of complete absorption into a physical environment or an imagined fictional world. In doing so, the factual or virtual sphere is literally conceived as a fluid medium that the visitor plunges into, that (s)he immerses herself in. Recent scholarship has unmasked this illusion of 'pure' immersion in various ways. Adam Alston (2016) points out the potentially manipulative character of immersive aesthetics and the conceptual alliance with neoliberal experience industries. Still, Alston and other critics of the immersive paradigm (such as Rancière or Pfaller) unanimously refer to scenography as a fundamental, yet terminologically vague category for experiencing immersion. Scenography is, again, faced as "something to be experienced, something that one engages with" (Lotker/Gough 2013).

In this paper, I want to draw on the main case study of my recent PhD-research - the performance-installations by Danish performance collective SIGNA - and reprocess it through the spectrum of a scenographical view. SIGNA is known for durative site-specific works which conceptually refuse a distinct disciplinary classification within performance art and the performing arts. 'Spect-actors' are confronted with hyper-naturalistic and hermetic scenographies that revolve around isolated communities and their internal rule systems based on physical and mental violence. The multisensory experience opens up spaces of otherness, of undesirable bodies and social practices.

Questions to be tackled are about the correlation between scenography and the installative moment of SIGNA's works in the tradition of installation art, as well as the role of scenography for the much-debated techniques and aesthetics of immersion.

Katharina Alsen majored in history of art at the University of Oxford (M.St.), and studied literature, theology and philosophy at the University of Hamburg (MA equiv.). She was a scholar at the international network "InterArt" at Freie Universität Berlin and the University of Copenhagen with a PhD-project on "Staged Intimacy in Theatre in Exhibition Space".

Sadly Catherine O'Carroll had to cancel, but we hope that she will be able to talk on "Scenographic Thinking: Strategies for re-imagining theatre's 'hidden space' of back-stage work in the post digital" in a not too distant scenographic future.