Mats Hjelm, Simple Sabotage Field Guide, video installation, 11 November–18 December 2021

We are pleased to present Mats Hjelm’s third, and largest show to date at the gallery, Simple Sabotage Field Guide. The monumental, four-channel video installation may be seen as a series of meditations but is also a filmic journey recounting the trail of the pilgrimage road in Galicia, Spain, towards Cape Finisterre at the end of the ancient sacred route Camino de Santiago.

In the video installation, we are taken through a series of panoramic sequences of landscapes from the city to the end of the world projected on four screens. The journey is intertwined with a voice reading fragments of the Simple Sabotage Field Manual written in 1944 by the CIA containing disruptive tactics for toppling down “enemies” by infiltrating civil society. This document was originally intended to be used by CIA agents abroad to assist them in training “citizen-saboteurs” in occupied countries like Norway and France. The booklet contains instructions for creating organizational dysfunction and reducing progress and productivity by non-violent means. The manual describes, for instance, how one can interrupt a film using simple, yet effective means such as obscuring a screening by releasing moths inside a cinema, which remind us of dadaist actions.

Hjelm pinpoints the apparent naiveté and irony with which powerful agencies such as the CIA used to tackle complex questions in the past. In our present world, where we may be heading towards the end of civilization as we know it, the guide may metaphorically be seen as offering nature itself a means to interrupt the rampaging of mankind. Maybe destabilization is the only way for nature to reclaim its position? Hjelm’s work encourages us to meditate on how to meet the complexities of the present by way of an invitation to contemplate our place in the world, and asking what world we want to live in.

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