Ericsson, Lars O. "Jan Svenungsson - Galleri Engström",
in: Art Forum, February 1990
Photography's double nature means that it can represent such disjunctures as the monster and the myth. The monster is, according to René Girard, not only a combination of already distinct elements, but it is a new unity, threatening order and differentiation by affirming the irreconcilability of these elements. The "monstrosity" of photography - art and nonart, subject and object - makes it a perfect symbol of dissolution and crisis, not only in art but in society at large. On a fundamental level, this explains the central role of photography in post-modern discourse. The photographic image is the symbolic counterpart to the deconstruction of traditional categories, oppositions, and hierarchies. Photography threatens the established values of art. Nomadically, it moves between art and life, between high and low culture. But above all, it has created an awareness of the world's status as multilayered representation. For the photo is just this: an imitation of something that already is a mimetic representation, namely our visual perception. The photograph is, one could say platonically, a translation of a translation of a translation.
In Jan Svenungsson's art the problem of translation occurs on a number of different levels. His photographic objects - glazed and equipped with dark, almost black wooden frames - find themselves in a state of mourning; they look like a kind of epitaph. The catalogue functions as a graphic and structural translation of the exhibition itself. Walking through the various rooms corresponds to turning the pages of the catalogue, in which a short, ominous text fragment appears in German, Swedish, English, and French. Which version is the original? Which is a translation? Or is there an original?
Svenungsson also showed some photo-based paintings that evince no realism. They are hazy, dreamlike, even enigmatic. He treats the medium of painting as if it were photography, for the paintings are almost "developed" - bit by bit - by means of a copying procedure in which he pays attention only to the detail, to the fragment. This gives these works an elusive and opaque character. They seem understandable, but they are inexplicable. Precisely this elusiveness and opacity create an intense feeling of contemporariness and actuality in the viewer. I get the same surrealistic, vertiginous feeling looking at Svenungsson's pictures, that I get when I try to focus on the political geography of Eastern Europe as projected in the media. However much I concentrate, the picture remains blurry. Perhaps it is because there is no clarity.
In these works the machinery of representation seems to have broken down. Possibly, they signify this breakdown. In some of them - especially in a series of framed photos of tall chimneys that are reminiscent of holocaust images - Svenungsson's ironic nihilism comes threateningly close to a disillusioned cynicism.
Lars O. Ericsson