Johanna Billing:

Each Moment Presents What Happens

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    Johanna Billing, Each Moment Presents What Happens (Video Still), 2022. Image courtesy the Artist and Hollybush Gardens, London © Johanna Billing.

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    Johanna Billing, Each Moment Presents What Happens (Video Still), 2022. Image courtesy the Artist and Hollybush Gardens, London © Johanna Billing.

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    Johanna Billing, Each Moment Presents What Happens (Video Still), 2022. Image courtesy the Artist and Hollybush Gardens, London © Johanna Billing.

Past Exhibition

This exhibition was on 11 Oct 2023 - 4 Feb 2024

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Johanna Billing: Each Moment Presents What Happens

Each Moment Presents What Happens is a new moving-image work from artist Johanna Billing (b. 1973, Sweden). The film continues the artist’s long-held interest in improvisation, collaboration and education. Billing’s work explores chance strategies to consider the affinities between past and present, documentation and event as well as individual and collective performance.

Realised over several years, the film was produced in association with Bristol City Council and commissioned by Bristol Grammar School (BGS), a fee-paying independent school.

The commission was established to mark the opening of BGS’ new performing arts centre, a space designed to have a public function for the wider community in Bristol.

Billing worked with students from BGS and other Bristol state schools, as well as other external guests to develop the project.  Collaboratively, the participants developed a new work in the theatre space, inspired by the American composer and music theorist John Cage’s radical 1952 performance piece Untitled Event (Theater Piece No. 1). Billing’s film shows the process of students engaging with Untitled Event and Cage’s methodology, as well as wider ideas around educational practices.

The project sets up a dialogue between BGS, the participants involved and Black Mountain College, the experimental liberal arts school in North Carolina USA (1933 – 1957), where Untitled Event (Theater Piece No. 1) was uniquely performed. Cage’s work was the first of its kind; a performance consisting of simultaneous improvised solos by artists from different disciplines such as dancer Merce Cunningham, visual artist Robert Rauschenberg, and poet and potter MC Richards. It is widely regarded as the first artistic event known as a ‘happening’ and paved the way for the emergence of new, collective, multimedia art forms.

Despite its cultural significance, Untitled Event was not documented and lives today only through the memories of the participants and the audience who were present. The lack of material evidence adds to the work’s mythical status but also means that it is impossible to recreate. Instead, Billing’s film shows the students imagining what could have happened, reinterpreting the event to make it their own, and experimenting with various methods and media, including spoken word, dance, drawing and DJ-ing.

These activities are shown against the backdrop of daily school life. As in Cage’s original work, all experiences — on and off stage — are considered a vital part of making art. To reflect this holistic focus, and in reference to the centrally seated audience of Untitled Event, the participants filmed the activities using a camera on a circular track. The track has a central role in structuring the film and provides the audience with a 360-degree viewpoint, capturing the peripheral alongside performance.

Each Moment Presents What Happens encourages learning through process, chance and failure. This is further exemplified by the students’ engagement with Cage’s Prepared Piano Pieces (1938 – 1954). The students performed collectively, attaching objects found around the school to a piano, thereby changing the instrument’s sound. The incorporation of Cage’s exercise into the project provides a poignant message following its recent removal from the A-level music syllabus.

This presentation marks the film’s first showing in a public gallery space and raises important questions about artistic freedom, experimentation, and imagination at a time when these seem under increasing pressure and scrutiny. Within the project, the students were given time, space and agency to focus on process, rather than outcome, testing what qualifies as knowledge in today’s educational system. Each Moment Presents What Happens sheds light on the growing focus on professionalisation and evaluation in schools and reminds us of the necessity of cultivating creative and collective forms of learning.

Commissioned by Bristol Grammar School to commemorate the opening of the 1532 Performing Arts Centre. Produced by Josephine Lanyon in association with Bristol City Council. Supported by the University of the West of England.


About Johanna Billing

Johanna Billing (b. 1973, Jönköping, Sweden; lives and works in Stockholm) has been making video works since 1999 that weave together music, movement, and rhythm.

Her solo exhibitions include, Each Moment Presents What Happens, Hollybush Gardens, London (2023); Each Moment Presents What Happens, Jan Mot, Brussels (2022); In Purple, Riksidrottsmuseet, Stockholm (2021); I’m Lost Without Your Rhythm, Trondheim Kunstmuseum, (2017); Keeping Time, Villa Croce, Genoa (2016); I’m Gonna Live Anyhow Until I Die, The MAC, Belfast (2012); I’m Lost Without Your Rhythm, Modern Art Oxford (2010); Moving In, Five Films, Grazer Kunstverein, Graz (2010); I’m Lost without Your Rhythm, Camden Art Centre, London (2009); Taking Turns, Kemper Museum, Kansas City (2008); This Is How We Walk on the Moon, Malmö Konsthall (2008); Forever Changes, Kunstmuseum Basel (2007); Keep on Doing, Dundee Contemporary Arts (2007); and Magical World, PS. 1, New York (2006). Her work has been included in, World Classroom, Contemporary Art through School Subjects, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2023); Seoul Mediacity Biennale (2021); MOMENTUM 10, 10th Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art, Moss (2019); It’s Time To Dance Now, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2010); Documenta 12, Kassel (2007); 9th Istanbul Biennial (2005); and 50th Venice Biennale (2003).

Her work is held in numerous museum and public collections including, MOCA, Los Angeles, United States; Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, United States; SMAK, Ghent, Belgium; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands; Julia Stoschek Collection, Dusseldorf, Germany; Muzeum Sztuki, Łodz, Poland.