Ptarmigan at Supermarket 2012

posted: 05 March, 2012

Last month, Ptarmigan went to Supermarket, the artist-run art fair in Stockholm. Thanks to the KulturKontakt Nord Mobility Programme for enabling this to happen - Sari Kivinen, Andra Aaloe, Lewis McGuffie and myself all attended, which was 4/5 of the Ptarmigan staffers and in a way, our first collective project as collaborating artists (outside of the regular administration of Ptarmigan).

As Ptarmigan is emphatically not a gallery, nor did Tiib have anything for us to exhibit, we treated our exhibition booth as a mini-version of Ptarmigan itself. We constructed a theoretical replica of ourselves, dividing the booth into Finland and Estonia, with a small Baltic Sea in the centre. Across the centre we painted a blackboard (a reference of course to the blackboards in Ptarmigan Tallinn), providing an ongoing slate for us to write things, announce activities, and experiment. Throughout the 3 days (and the opening night on Thursday), we held an ongoing series of performances, actions, and activities, encouraging the 6000 attendees of the fair to participate as much as possible.

This was a bit mad, but indicative of what we do; projects rooted in the ephemeral, with a focus on inclusivity and participation, and a reinvention of what constitutes cultural production. Of course, lots of what we did at Supermarket was ludicrous and bizarre, as much of the programme consisted of improvised, impromptu actions:  'Lewis eats a Sandwich' and 'John stands in a bucket' being particularly dull points.

Some might ask why we even bothered going to an art fair when we are not a gallery and had nothing to sell or even really present. I believe that Supermarket is a great opportunity to meet others working in similar fields; sharing ideas and resources is important; and the reach of audience here is invaluable in attracting new people to Ptarmigan. We're always looking for new, worthwhile projects to attempt.

We met a lot of great people and had a lot of fun engaging others in our activities, which were sometimes extremely universal (such as the numerous games of mini-table tennis and paper American football) and some significantly more esoteric. 

We had a few proper performances throughout the weekend too, such as Sari's Textual Opera/Rations, where she actively filled sheets of A4 paper with texts constructed, overheard, misheard and reinvented. Sari's performed this before in several environments but at Supermarket she encouraged others to contribute; as the weekend progressed, pages slowly filled the walls.

Our former resident Ola Ståhl stopped by on Friday to do a reading of a textual piece called 'Black Box', and Helsinki friend Marja Viitahuhta re-performed her 'Spotlight' performance in our booth, attracting an entirely different audience than who attended when it was part of the official Supermarket programme.

Beyond this, we had our own improvisations, often marked on the chalkboard with arbitrary times to signify their beginning and ends. We played games, invented some new ones, talked with lots of people, and did a lot of completely ridiculous stuff. "Toss notes over the wall to the booth on the other side".  "Build a city out of paper". For an hour on Saturday, we swapped places with the ZET Foundation of Amsterdam, where we manned each other's booths in a game of impersonation. On Sunday we performed "Cling-wrap a visiting artist" with Edwina Goldstone (representing GalleriaKONE, Hämeenlinna). And in probably our most popular activity, we had an 'open haircut lab' where we invited strangers to cut our hair and offered to cut anyone else's hair. I now have a lovely but strange haircut that was the composite efforts of 6 different people, finished by an 11-year old.

Overall, the weekend was amazingly fun, and exhausting. There's more photos below, or you can check out the small Flickr set which has an overview of it all.



'Open haircut lab'.


Andra was keen to wrestle; she was almost undefeated though it never got any wilder than arm-wrestling.


Edwina Goldstone, who let us cling-wrap her to the table.