Simple Sabotage at Kunsthal Nord / Aalborg

Simple Sabotage featuring artists Wisrah C.V. da R. Celestino, Sarah Dominique, Elizabeth Orr, Bat-ami Rivlin, and SUPERFLEX. Curated by Ilethia Sharp.

December 8, 2023 – February 10, 2024

Kunsthal Nord
Kjellerups Torv 5
Aalborg, Denmark

All images courtesy and copyright of the artists and institution. Photos by Simon Bendix & Bjarke Johansen.

Simple Sabotage features five international artists, including a collective, who present works exploring themes of hostile architecture, exclusionary design, and systems both seen and unseen. The curatorial concept originated from researching the impacts of formal governance and infrastructures designed to exclude. The exhibition draws its name from the declassified CIA Field Manual Strategic Services (Provisional)1, a training document intended for average U.S. citizens during World War II to undermine enemies in the event of invasion. Built architectural environments and governing procedures collectively control individuals and societies. Within these systems, both public spaces and domestic properties are governed by a combination of formal and informal rules. Under the guise of protecting and maintaining order, these concealed or invisible systems often employ restrictive models and structures rooted in colonialism and capitalism.Addressing the complex interplay of these systems and their effects, Simple Sabotage exhibits installations that represent artistic approaches through found objects, sculptures, installation, and film. 

In the entrance room, SUPERFLEX’s Beyond The End Of The World, (2021) fills the kunsthal with ominous water sounds. The two-channel film takes place at the former reservoir Cisternerne (The Frederiksberg Museums in Copenhagen). It portrays toilets covertly replicated from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, subsequently depicting them overflowing as a means to scrutinize public access to strategic power structures. Governmental decisions conducted in secrecy came to the forefront in 1982 when the mayor of Aalborg was exposed, revealing that he had accepted a green moss bathroom as a bribe2

A declaring statement by Sarah Dominique is repeatedly written on the institution’s windows reading: WE ARE UNDER A BROKEN SPELL. Dominique reflects upon her experience as a refugee in her artistic practice. In this exhibition the body is present as she marks the building where she is an artist resident (in the studios above the kunsthal). The work calls to memory Achille Mbeme’s Bodies as Borders, where the philosopher and theorist examines the process of screening the “unknown or potentially risky body” at border checkpoints3. Similarly, in a recent effort to address perceived risks, a large Danish political party unveiled a proposal aimed at dismantling “ghettos” where immigrant communities are perceived as not fully integrating.4 This concept bears parallels to historical practices found in racial segregation in the United States, where deliberate policies like low bridge clearances were implemented to prevent people of color from accessing specific neighborhoods.5 

RENTAL/FATHER, (2023) by Wisrah C.V. da R. Celestino is a three-part segmented gate positioned in the central division of the kunsthal’s tri-halled corridor spaces. The work is part of an ongoing research in which the artist proposes the rental of objects from their father’s yard in the drylands of upstate Minas Gerais, Brazil, where the artist was born and their parents lives. The gates’ aging metal curvatures, locks and arches date back to colonialist design or structures in the Americas, a topic Celestino often addresses in their practice. 

Untitled (lawnmowers, caution tape), (2023), Bat-Ami Rivlin’s formation of four lawn-mowers wrapped in red-and-white caution tape, takes over a room of its own. Rivlin’s practice utilizes locally sourced surplus and found objects, much like in Untitled (lawnmowers, caution tape). The lawnmowers are a common object in the local junkyards, owing to the current turnover of machines replaced by electric versions. The mowers’ function, to upkeep one’s extended domestic space of a lawn or yard, is converted into the demarcating of a literal territory, thus mimicking the process of boundary-making that extends into ownership. One keeps the lawn with the intent of keeping ‘civilized’, an extension of domesticity into public space. 

Using the warning sign color yellow and physical (U.S. standard, imperial) rulers or yardsticks, Elizabeth Orr bends and cuts standardized rulers to disrupt and highlight their design and intended purpose. Orr’s aluminum wall-hanging works visually resemble intentionally inaccessible blinds and windows. Orr’s work is modular, conceived of to fit within suitcases, offsetting the carbon footprint of the sculpture. One bent 72-inch Circular Ruler, (2023), fits perfectly into a standard-size suitcase, emphasizing the ruler as a guiding systemic principle. Orr challenges the non-pragmatic perceptions of formalist art, as articulated by Adrian Piper in Institutional Critique6, accentuating the radiators in with glass and the non-functioning industrial electric sockets with convex glass in Framed #1 – #4, (2023). 

1 Simple Sabotage, CIA Field Manual Strategic Services (Provisional), 1944 

2Da politiet så papiret om det mosgrønne badeværelse, rullede borgmesterens hoved”, TV2 Nord, 2023 esterens-hoved 

3“Bodies as Borders”, Achille Mbeme, From the European South Journal, a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities, 2019, 

4 Denmark Aims a Wrecking Ball at ‘Non-Western’ Neighborhoods”, The New York Times, 2023, 

5 Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation Through Physical Design of the Built Environment”, Yale Law Journal, 2015, 

6 Power relations within existing art institutions, Adrian Piper” (1983), Institutional Critique, an anthology on artists’ writings, 2009, 

Ilethia Sharp.