Beware of the Holy Whore: Edvard Munch, Lene Berg and the Dilemma of Emancipation

Norwegian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale
May 24, 2013 4:57AM

Beware of the Holy Whore: Edvard Munch, Lene Berg and the Dilemma of Emancipation is a project organised by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) and Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa in Venice, as the official Norwegian representation at the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia in 2013. The exhibition, which includes a series of rarely exhibited works by Edvard Munch in addition to a newly commissioned film by Lene Berg, revolves around emancipation as an issue always vexed with contradiction—between the realm of freedom and the consequences of the isolation that often accompany the pursue of a qualitatively different, ‘alternative’ life. In his Essay on Liberation, Herbert Marcuse notes that the striving toward a ‘new sensibility’ involves a psychedelic, narcotic release from the rationality of an established system, as well as from the logic that attempts to change that system. Such new sensibility, which resides in the gap between the existing order and true liberation, might lead to a radical transformation—and in this shift art functions as a technique through which to reconstruct reality from its illusion, its imitation, its harmony, towards a matter not yet given, still to be realised.

The impulse to operate in the margins—on the outside trying to break in or on the inside redefining the context—is one of the key driving forces in the history of art, and is also at the centre of Beware of the Holy Whore: Edvard Munch, Lene Berg and the Dilemma of Emancipation. The exhibition, curated by Marta Kuzma, Director, OCA, Angela Vettese, President, Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa and Pablo Lafuente, Associate Curator, OCA, explores the relationship between art, its social context and changing gender relationships, both in the age of emancipation in which Munch lived and today.

At the beginning of the 20th century, sexual norms and traditional gender roles were questioned amid new psychological theories of sex and politics and a struggle for women’s equality. Challenged by such developments, Munch faced the alienation that characterised the Christiania Bohemia, a society bidding for emancipation but trapped in ‘reality’, struggling between two options: assimilating shared values, or going beyond them in order to construct a new frame for perception. Munch’s emphatic treatment of these themes from 1902 to 1908, before entering the asylum, reflected an internal ambiguity and anguish. Afterwards, his work moved to a more distanced treatment of subjects, in social caricatures in which he offers an ironic critique of an increasingly capitalist and permissive society.

These issues are echoed in Lene Berg’s Dirty Young Loose (2013), a film that concentrates on three characters who are interrogated about their roles as either victims or perpetrators in a complex situation. The film explores the interpretation of human behaviour based on preconceptions about roles and norms. Just like the exhibition as a whole, the film presents the deconstruction of an original scene which functions as a catalyst for a revision of the politics of liberation, of gender struggle and of internal conflict—the dilemma of emancipation.

Norwegian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019