Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art

Housed in a maze of rooms at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Lights On is a bewildering group show of Norwegian contemporary artists. This confusion seems to have infused the art on show. Thora Dolven Balke’s OH GOD NO leads the viewer into a room where frightening sounds interact with deliberately obscure objects – a spot-lit dead ferret on a camp bed. Similarly Ingvild Langgård’s The Beast combines the sound of screams, growls, and ripping flesh with stuttering video images of salivating animal jaws interspersed between long periods of darkness. Both sound installations rely heavily on disorientation and confusion to create a sense of alarm but the feeling soon becomes one of bland disinterest. Like a horror B-movie, the scare only works once.

Elsewhere a glut of works about oil and Iraq populate the space. This preoccupation is exemplified by Ida Ekblad’s monstrous Political Song for Jessica Simpson to Sing. Here a blown up magazine image of the pop-princess resplendently undressed in army fatigues and a stars-and-stripes bikini is defaced by a pink blob of chewing gum on her eye. Looking at this I wonder if Ekblad could have picked a more obvious and banal topic for her work. Though it is imperative that artists explore political issues, I am beginning to feel as though culturally we are stuck in a post 9/11 rut of blame and cynical caricature. This sense of fatigue is heightened when I see Jan Freuchen’s relentless photographic series Twentysix Gasoline Stations. The collapsed canopies of these buildings are repeated in every frame; derelict, inevitable and immovable. I get the message, but is this all there is? How can we move on from here both politically and artistically?

There are of course some stand out works. Stian Ådlandsvik’s Some Remarks on Discardedness, a reconstruction of a working slide projector in wood, is a joyful exploration of redundant technology that neatly encapsulates our throw away society without relying on tired visual metaphor. It also should be noted that this is one of many works in the show made from wood. From the massive collaborative climbing structure Improvised Wall Piece by Lars Kjemphol and Espen Henningsen to Østein Aasan’s Display Unit sculptures and Ole Martin Lund Bø’s (deceptive outward appearance), wood as a media clearly looms large in the imagination of Norwegian artists with fascinating results.

Alongside these solid sculptural projects Hjørdis Kurås’s video work Liminal Inception overlays old and new footage to expertly explore the gap between a nostalgic past and a lived present. Meanwhile Jan Hakon Erichsen’s video Lights Out, depicting a variety of lamps being crushed by bricks dropped from a great height is refreshing in its use of visual humour. Only in the use of dynamic, less cynical, visual languages can new ground be broken and new answers found.