Momentum began as a miracle at the end of the 90s, as a way of confirming the undercurrent of Hans Ulrich Obrist's much quoted The Nordic Miracle, in order to demonstrate just how good we Scandinavian were at producing contemporary art. The first biennial even came close to being called Top of the Pops. It was a period in which the trend in Scandinavia to excel, to be among the best. In recent years this has changed dramatically and there are no longer any clear guidlines for categorizing art up here in the north. It's gotten to the point that the majority of artists in one country have no clear idea of what's going on in their neighbouring country, but carefully monitor what's happening in, lets say, Berlin. For this edition the curators took that into consideration, and allowed the geographical boundaries a bit of slack. The results were interesting.

The exhibition commences, as every large show does, with the catalogue. The slick and overly-cool cover design is by Turner nominee Mark Titchner. The inspired word play of the festival's name, Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better., is taken from Samuel Becket. I was curious to see if the title unintentionally framed the show in a Beckett-like way, since he often portrays people in situations that can be described as hellish, in a surrealistic manner; a hell that is not hopeless, just not good enough. There were a few pieces that took a metaphysical approach, on the level of trying again. For instance, Johanna Billing's remake of her best-know video from recent years. The video's sentimental mood is in some ways typical my previous encounters of Billing's work. Another Swedish artist, Kajsa Dahlberg, presented an interesting take on Virginia Woolf's illuminating essay A Room of One's Own. By borrowing the book from numerous different libraries throughout Sweden, and copying pages from different editions, she produced a piece in which every page is covered with underlinings and notes, thus showing the importance of the entire book.

The two Norwegian photographers Talleiv Taro Manum and Edvard Gran are both obsessed with the sublime, though in different ways. Gran's deicately obscured landscapes contain inherent qualities that are not immediately obvious. Manum offered a selection from his series of medium-size Polaroid prints, which conveyed a rather monumental quality since most of them are close-ups or half portraits of people. the beauty in everyday life is just... nice.

But there was one work at the biennial that stood out: Gerard Byrne's amazing piece that ironically engages the festival's catchy phrase. In 1984 and Beyond (2005 - 2006), he present a film of a round table discussion featuring famous science fiction writers speculating about the near future. Listening to their far from modest belief in modern progress makes you wonder about just how far into the future we are actually able to see. Byrne uses Dutch speaking actors (or so it sounds like, anyway) which lends an extra layer of mystery. The film is supplemented by beautiful black and white photographs (rare these days) of typical daily scenes from 1963. The piece is provocative, leading the viewer to wonder how we can be so estranged from our own near future, and also why this kind of optimism based on progress is no longer common.

Many might think that Momentum 06 failed. I received a text message from a colleague one week after it opened which said: "Momentum sucks... it SUCKS!" I disagree with this now anonymous assessment. I think Momentum failed better than it could have. But the question remains, what type of biennial does Momentum want to be in the future? As for the Nordic focus, I have seen much larger and more complex group show, and I've also seen worse biennials.

Participating artists:
Endre Aalrust & Thomas Kilpper, Lara Almarcegui, Johanna Billing, Gerard Byrne, Phil Collins, Copenhagen Free University, Kajsa Dahlberg, Edvard Gran, Tue Greenfort, Jeppe Hein, Knut Henrik Henriksen, Sergej Jensen, Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, Ragnar Kjartansson, Joachim Koester, Juozas Laivys, Camilla Løw, Talleiv Taro Manum, Michaela Meise, Rosalind Nashashibi, Romantic Geographic Society (Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen & Jussi Kivi), Michael Sailstorfer, Lucy Skaer, Egill Sæbjörnsson, Joanne Tatham & Tom O`Sullivan, Mark Titchner, Sue Tompkins, Lars Vilks.

4th Nordic Festival of Contemporary Art;
Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.
Moss Brewery Exhibition Hall and Galler F15
Moss, Norway.
Curators: Annette Kierulf and Mark Sladen.

© image: Mark Titchner and Momentum