Behind the Scenes of Roskilde’s Ambitious Art Program With Head Curator, Mette Woller

Roskilde's head art curator introduces us the artistic vision of the festival. Naturally, it includes laser-shooting rectums.

So Mette, I know you started as head curator around August last year, taking over from Signe Brink who’s on maternity leave. How many years have you volunteered for the festival and how did you move on up?

I think I started in 2005 or something like that, but actually the job I have right now is not connected to anything I’ve done before. I just had kinda random jobs at the festival, like working at coffee bars and so on, and then I did an art project with a Danish artist. But it’s not like I worked my way up to the position I have now. I think it’s more about the fact that the exhibitions I’ve curated as a freelance curator are very much in the spirit of the Roskilde Festival. All the exhibitions I’ve done comment on the traditional white space, and I’ve implemented music in all my exhibitions. I’ve always worked with alternative exhibition spaces and constructed them, so very similar to the Roskilde Festival art scene.

Seeing as you are a curator in “real life”, are there any particular challenges or differences in your work for the festival that make it stand out or extra appealing?

Roskilde Festival always operates with alternative exhibition spaces with an amazing, eclectic team of curators who work on it together, and that makes it quite unique and interesting. You have to build them from scratch, which I find very interesting. We get to build the space we work with.

Can you elaborate on that particular process from empty field to packed art scene?

Yeah, we have a big project based on that idea; the oasis we built. We talk about how art zone is the epicenter of art at Roskilde Festival, but what is different about it? What is an epicenter? It has to be a special zone that’s very different form the rest of the festival site; an oasis differs from its surroundings by its vegetation, therefore we wanted to build an oasis where people can see and feel that they’re in a different area.

So I think it’s about looking at how you create a space and always thinking ahead about how the audience will interact with it. Everything we place is connected to how we think people will move in that space. For instance, we have this stage in the middle of the oasis so that people have to walk around it and are forced to interact with it in some way. It’s not levelled above the audience so hopefully everyone will feel welcome in this open and democratic space. Likewise, with everything going on all over the festival there’s a lot of competition for attention, but we wanted to create a welcoming space where people would want to hang out.

Last year with Edward Snowden and this year with Black Lives Matter, there seems to be a growing political aspect. How do you see that playing a role with art?

We have this overall social focus at the festival which is equality. Last year it was political equality, this year it’s cultural equality, and in 2018 it will be economic equality, and so we work with these themes in the art program. However, we also have our own independent theme; human non-human. But in terms of political art, I think it’s important not to put constraints on art. It doesn’t have to be political or have political messages, but art has the freedom and space to create an open dialogue about very important issues. We look for art and artists who have something important to say and share about these issues, and I think that is clearly shown with our ClubRaw initiative where music, art and social issues are fused to the audience an alternative experience. Art should aim to ask and raise questions, not necessarily answer them.

Ligia Lewis performing ‘Minor Matter’, 2015. Photo via ArtForum

In terms if what art is and isn’t, should and shouldn’t be. What do you see as your main role as head curator?

With over 91 artists, musicians, writers, biologists etc., divided between the various curators with their independent projects, my main job is to guide and secure an overall red thread for the art program with both established and up-and-coming artists. It’s about finding the balance between the unique, yet aligned message. Not saying the same thing over and over again, but staying within a theme. Cultural equality is a big theme, and for people to engage with that we need to guide them properly somehow.

Can you mention a few of the artists who will be exhibiting or already has exhibited to give an example of the diversity?

Yeah, one of the artists performing at ClubRaw is Ligia Lewis who is super interesting and works with ethnicity and race. She comments on the white man quite often and looks into her roots of being black. Her show is also very picturesque with water, and she looks at the female in relation to the animal, so she has this crazy performance where she stands in light with rain coming down.

We also have Barthélémy Toguo in the foyer of Gloria who has a project called Bandjoun Cafeteria, which is an art project he created in Cameroon where he activated the locals to create the coffee. So you can go there and have a coffee, which is an art project in itself. This is a piece which challenges people’s ideas about what art actually is.

And then we have Young Boy Dancing Group who definitely challenge people’s perception of sexuality and gender. They have a famous performance, ideal for Instagram, where they have lasers in their rectum.

Barthélémy Toguo’s “Exodus”, 2013. Photo via ArtMediaAgency.

Wait! Where and when is this?!

It was at ClubRaw last night around midnight.

And they actually did a laser show with their asses?!

Yeah.

I also received a question from some friends who wanted to know about the weird mud statues in front of Gloria. What the what?

That’s the human non-human spot and was created by Regitze Karlsen who made these sculptures out of soil and trash from former year’s festivals. It aims to stress the marks we leave behind at the festival, but also kinda break the earth up from the ground. And that goes well with our aim of getting people to not just look up, but also down. Likewise, Lisbeth Bank’s “The Portal” is filled with earth worms and they have created their own intestinal system and the audience can feed it with trash, which the earth worms then decompose.

Are you telling me there’s an art project out here that created an intestinal system of Earth worms?

Yes.

I don’t know what to do with that information. Slightly disturbing and disgusting, but very cool!

You should go and check it out!

Lisbeth Bank’s “Myrmecologi”, 2014. Photo via Kopenhagen Art Guide.

Moving along: Being a music festival, it’s nice to see how the art scene has grown exponentially over the years, and so where do you see it going? Do you see it growing even bigger or going even further?

Of course we can take it even further! The vision is to create an international art program on the same level as other art festivals around the world, and we’re gonna get there.

Thanks, Mette.