Nika Ham, SQUAT
Production: Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana, 2017
Squatting has a long tradition in contemporary art. Artists have often used occupation as a strategy, misusing things and placing objects and performing actions in places where they don’t belong. This kind of approach has to do with the need to explore the unexpected, build a different point of view and imagine new uses for old tools. Since the seventies and up to these days, several artists have also felt the urgency to free art from institutional spaces, and showed their work in unconventional settings like shops, libraries, schools, restaurants and of course the streets.
The work of Nika Ham follows this tradition but turns it upside down. In her case, the setting is, in a way, a conventional one (a museum), but her actions are unauthorized and unpredictable. She works as a guardian at Moderna galerija, Ljubljana’s Museum of Modern Art, and when no one is watching, she performs, using the space as if it were her own studio. Her actions are simple, repetitive and humorous, all centred around the idea of using the body to interact with public space: “the Museum of Modern Art is as familiar to me as my room since I spend the same amount of time in both,” says the artist, highlighting one of the most interesting aspects of the project: the merging of private and public spheres. “When there is nobody in the space, I appropriate it, so I can perform visual compositions, delineate the architecture, introduce a new logic of movement and seeing merely with my own body.” This kind of performance, which relies on the artist’s body to build a relationship with the space and with the viewer, is reminiscent of many works of the sixties and seventies. In particular, Bruce Nauman’s early videotapes come to mind, the ones in which the American artist measures the space of the studio with his steps, bounces repeatedly against a wall or spins around one foot in different directions. All these actions were captured in real time on a fixed camera. In Nika Ham’s work the camera is also fixed because the artist takes advantage of the museum’s surveillance system. The footage is then edited and converted into short videos or animated gifs, in order to be published on the Internet on different social media platforms: Giphy, Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr.
The artist here acts as a parasite: she exploits the location and its infrastructure to build a whole new narration. A story made of inappropriate behaviours: she lies down on the floor, runs around the room on a chair with wheels, jumps up and down, wears masks and hides inside cardboard boxes. The actions are short and repetitive and make the artist similar to a pixelated character in a vintage videogame. The dissemination of Nika Ham’s tiny subversive actions trough the web is the logical culmination of the project: something that was enacted in total solitude, far from human eyes, is then poured inside the place of visibility par excellence, closing the (short) circuit. From the public to the private and back.
– Valentina Tanni