December 19, 2011 Jong-Un
On a train between Skövde and Stockholm. I have made a brief visit to the litho workshop in Tidaholm. I delivered films for three new lithos and controlled and signed the edition of "Papunya". There are still two unfinished editions from this summer; "Nuakata" and "Berlin", they have been held up due to various technical problems. Nuakata was printed, but has to be re-printed. The huge press was not perfectly balanced. A mechanic has been working on the press and I expect I will soon see more of my work.
When I go online on the train (why can't Deutsche Bahn copy the system in use in Sweden, which offers w-lan connections on trains?) I see that Kim Jong-Il is dead! Kim Jong-Un, the mysterious son no one had heard of until fairly recently, is the new dictator of North-Korea. WHAT will happen now??? This is going to be very interesting, possibly very scary as well. The worst case scenario is so bad it's hard even to think about it. The best case... will still be very difficult.
It certainly is no kindergarten to be a world leader in these times.
Ever since 1993 (when I spent a lot of time in South-Korea) I have wanted to visit the North before it implodes. Will I ever do? For anyone with similar urges there are two books to read:
The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, by B.R. Myers (2010)
and Architekturführer Pjöngjang, edited by Philip Meuser (2011)
Brilliant stuff, both of them.
December 05, 2011 Zentrum der Welt
I have finally added documentation on two important sculptures made in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Both are called "Zentrum der Welt" (Centre of the Earth) with the street address of each sculpture's location added to the name. These pieces really celebrate their location: it's longitude/latitude coordinates form a sculpted relief on the surface of a sphere, one cast in bronze, they other in stainless steel. Because of the presence of these coordinates you can't move the piece without it losing its (conceptual) meaning. The opposite of music.
December 05, 2011 Gothic
A long time ago, in 1993, I was out one night in Stockholm. One of us suggested we should go see a showcase concert with some young bands. The concert was organized by a youth magazine: "Ultra". Why not? So we went to a theatre on Birger Jarlsgatan, right in the centre of town. As a band named "Yvonne" came on I was thunderstruck: now THIS was really good! Six musicians, still teenagers, nervous – yet they seemed to own the future. Theirs was a machinelike but fragile and very particular melancholy. Precocious, but that's how it is. The singer had a voice! I remember saying to a friend I was with that this is how I would have liked my band to sound like. Yvonne had not yet made a record, they were not signed. Over the next year or two I kept my eyes and ears open for news of when they would finally release a record. It finally came in 1995. It was just as good as I had hoped. I brought it with me for my residency in Berlin that year. Playing it over and over again in my huge studio in Künstlerhaus Bethanien. Later, back in Sweden I saw Yvonne play live a few times more, and I bought all records they made, four albums all very special to me. Sadly, Yvonne never got quite the success they deserved. They disbanded in the early 2000s. I wrote about them before, in my Building Chimneys book
The singer of Yvonne, Henric de la Cour, has just released a solo album, which I stumbled across recently. I play it the whole time. The music's brilliant, again, and it is melancholic and his voice is even better now. His singing you can identify in a second, and it makes you feel like coming home... (Anthony Kiedis' voice has a similar effect) Yet it's somehow sad too, because in 1993 Henric shocked by being so young, doing what he did, and now he's 18 years older and doing it still. It's not the same, but teenage melancholy at 19 or at 37 is quite a different thing. Perhaps the difference between non-figurative and abstract. Meanwhile, the four Californians I saw play yesterday had already been going for ten years, when I first saw Yvonne – and they seem to face very few contextual problems. The world of music and art is not easy to navigate.
December 04, 2011 Drum solo
Red Hot Chili Peppers in Berlin's O2 World. Bass solos, drum solo. A drum solo? I can't remember the last time I was present for a drum solo. My normal reaction would be to run. They get away with it all, nonetheless, thanks to a combination of fantastic songs and... joie de vivre. Very unusually for a band of this longevity the new material is as good as the classics. That's saying something. Delightful hints to Kraftwerk in the background video wall program. RHCP always had a good eye for art. Ask Erwin Wurm.
December 03, 2011 AATB in German and French
In Vienna yesterday, Gerald Bast, the rector of the Angewandte, told me that the University (in its cooperation with Springer Verlag) will publish a German translation of my "An Artist's Text Book". That's great news! All details yet to follow. First of all the question of who will be in charge of the translation.
There will also be a French translation next year, which I will work on myself together with Anne Bertrand. It's her idea that I should be involved. To make it very clear: Anne is able to make a perfect translation without any input from me – and I am thoroughly incapable of translating anything to French without her help in so many ways. However, we both love to work on text and translations together and this task has the promise of a real adventure.
I wrote AATB in my second language and now I will be involved in its transfer to my third and fourth (although in a much lesser way). What about my first? Swedish?
November 20, 2011 Zulassungsprüfung 2012
It should have become clear by now that I'm not going to use this space to report on daily goings-on either at the school where I now teach the "Angewandte" ( in proper English: the University for Applied Arts Vienna) or in my studio in Berlin. As regards the teaching there are many sensitivites involved. Teaching of art is above all a social process: you interact with other people on what in psychological terms can be a quite intimate level. As regards the work in the studio you interact with yourself, on an even more intimate level. It's a great advantage not to have to report on this process until the moment of exhibition.
Some things can always be reported without danger, that's obvious. Thus, I'd like to take the opportunity to announce that this week it has been decided to radically change the date of next year's entrance exams for the "Angewandte" (the University for Applied Arts Vienna). In 2012 they will take place between 20-24 February, and not in September. The new students will still start their first semester on October 1. Only now they will be able to properly prepare themselves, instead of having to change their life over a weekend.
If there is someone reading this who'd like join my "Klasse", you'll now have to be ready to prove yourself in February. Good luck!
(the link leads to a temporary website, which is not even updated at the moment of writing. This last week we have finally started to work on our new website, which we hope to have online in December)
November 12, 2011 Fredrik
It's both worrying and flattering when people start writing books about your friends, friends from a distant past, friends who have been gone for long.
When I made my first gallery exhibition at Engström, in Stockholm spring 1988, Fredrik Roos had already bought the main piece, a "photo-object" featuring an enlarged postcard cut-out of the Brandenburger Tor. He bought several pieces more and when I went to Paris that fall, to study at the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques, he let me borrow his newly bought apartment. I will never forget how it felt to walk home through the Marais on a cold and wet autumn night and open the door to your digs, a huge 17th Century apartment on the Place de Vosges, full with art (Twombly, Cragg, Gilbert & George, Schnabel, Starn Twins, Jenney it was indeed the 80s ). You're all alone and life is so full of promise.
Today, I received Karin Grundberg Wolodarski's biography (Den döende Dandyn om konstsamlaren Fredrik Roos, Natur&Kultur) for which I and many others have been interviewed.
I do want my memories to be enhanced, not disturbed.
November 11, 2011 Lectures
The last five, six weeks have been incredibly busy. I have had to get to grips with a new version of my working life. As always a multi focus version, this time with one leg in Vienna, another in Berlin and my thoughts racing between several places at once. I have fun though. I always enjoyed a certain amount of pressure.
In order to introduce myself to students and teachers in Vienna I have given a series of three very well prepared lectures: on my own work and background; on nine artists I find important; on printmaking as an analytical tool. These are my first full efforts at lecturing in German, and I was not sure how to handle it at first. The first lecture I actually wrote in English before translating it. This was too cumbersome, though. The second and third lecture I wrote directly in German, and directly into the powerpoint, in close relationship to the selection of images. Lots of images: I found I can run through up to 250 in a little more than an hour. I tested all three of them on Katrin, my wife, but I didn't ask her to correct the actual text, only comment on the delivery. It worked surprisingly well.
I will never speak perfect German, that's for sure, but after this month the language feels so much more natural and obvious than before. After more than fourteen years in Berlin! It's good when things change.
October 25, 2011 Memory cost
In a magazine sent to me, I read an interview with Swedish writer Åsa Linderborg, who has written an acclaimed memoir of her problematic childhood with her father. The following observation (in my translation) entered my head:
...using your own life story as material entails a personal cost. Memories change when they are written down and the original experiences have been weakened because of Åsa's decision to write them down. It's like they move out of the body. To some extent her father has now become a literary figure.
Before I wrote the book I could name all cinemas around Västerås. Now I can't remember a single one.
October 11, 2011 Obsolescence
I spent three days in London with E, my seven year old son. Tacita Dean's Turbine Hall project opened at Tate Modern. It's called "Film".
A film is projected vertically on a 13 m high white monolith. Tacita has done the opposite of what she usually does: this film is a quick changing montage, displaying all sorts of "special effects" but they are all analogue. Nothing has been added in post production, everything was made in the camera. Most of the time, the background of the film is the wall which is actually there, behind the projection monolith. In front of this wall or within it or behind it, different images appear and disappear in quick succession. Many hint at the film history, others at the history of the Turbine Hall exhibitions series. There's even a full scale chimney, but with smoke billowing, so not mine. The film is silent.
Many have wondered how Tacita would handle a space like this. Hers is not exactly an art of physical monumentality. But this works; it is monumental enough, and strangely intimate, happy and sad at the same time. Combined with the actual work is a catalogue with a long and hardhitting text by Tacita herself and a long list of invited guests, who all address the disappearance of a medium: analogue film. In every newspaper I opened, I found a full page interview with her, always on the same theme. Making 35 mm film is a collaborative effort: you can't make it alone. Now labs are closing, production of film stock is discontinued, everything in this realm is being switched over to digital. Tacita is in the midst of a battle which might be impossible to win but which is necessary to fight.
There were not many children present at the opening. When E. finally located R., a running battle of stylized kickboxing ensued. I photographed the proceedings with my (digital) telephone. Noise replacing grain, sadly.
October 6, 2011 Time limited
Arrive very early in my Vienna office. Check the internet. First story: Steve Jobs died. The spooky articles I read in late August that seemed like obituaries, they were only about a month off. He was only six years older than me. What a difference.
October 2, 2011 Making history
I'm working on a lecture, on artists who are or who have at some point been very important to me. Man Ray is the first one, and in terms of the effect he's had on me, the most important without a doubt.
When my big essay on Man Ray was published in the catalogue for Moderna Museet's exhibition in 2004, there was a number of my photographs from Man Ray's Rue Ferou studio included, taken in the late 70s and the early 80s. I felt rather proud at the time. I still do.
For visuals to my powerpoint now, I use Google Image Search first, because it's so much easier to "borrow" the pictures there than scanning from books... Just now I came across one of my own pictures, which lead me to this blog. I feel strangely touched by seeing my photos mixed up with Man Ray's own. It's all history now – and it's all for free, in contextless cyberspace.
October 1, 2011 8
It's a lazy Saturday in Berlin. This past week in Vienna we have selected 8 new students, based on the portfolios, 25 minutes long interviews and the result of three days of assignment work. The paperwork was signed at a formal meeting Thursday afternoon, but the list wasn't made public until Friday morning yesterday at ten. By then I was in Zürich, for another meeting. I came home late last night, feeling utterly exhausted.
On Monday my job starts officially. It will also be the first day for the new students not just at my department who all got the news that they have been accepted, only 72 hours earlier.
September 25, 2011 Marathon
3:47:50 in Berlin today, a disappointment but I developed pain in a leg.
The weather was fantastic and Patrick Makau set a new world record. Strange, isn't it, that we could all participate in the same race. Myself, Patrick and the other forty thousand people who are all very tired right now.
September 24, 2011 Portfolios
I'm back from working my first three days at the Angewandte in Vienna. My employment doesn't actually start until October 1, but the admission exams for the new academic year takes place now, during the last two weeks of September. For obvious reasons I need to be there and in practical terms I have already taken charge.
This week we (me, the teachers, a student representative) have been looking at portfolios. Yesterday, at around five in the afternoon, we posted a list of the 21 applicants we have selected for next week's "live" tests. On Monday they will be given three assignments which we formulated after having decided on the list. They'll need to finish these until Wednesday afternoon. During these three days we will also interview each one of the applicants. We will then make our final selection.
I have been involved in various admission procedures for art schools before. I always enjoyed it because of the unguarded insights offered. It's the first time that I am confronted with live testing, though. I'm very curious how it will play out.
September 20, 2011 Writing time
I received a first copy of the book "Que dit l'artiste? Tacita Dean", an anthology of Tacita's writings in French translation, edited (and partly translated) by Anne Bertrand and published by the École supérieure des arts décoratifs in Strasbourg (ISBN 978-2-911230-86-0). I have already discussed it here there's been a long gestation process, and still the book isn't officially published. It will be in early October, in time for Tacita's installation at Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, which opens October 10.
Finally having the book in my hand, I automatically started to read my own introduction essay, which is quite substantial. I couldn't stop reading. It's not always like this, when you have a first look at a text published. Often it makes you see weaknesses that you wish you'd have seen before, while now it is too late. For this text however, there is nothing I'd wish to add, subtract or change. It might have to do with the laborious way in which it was written. I first wrote a version in English, which Tacita read and proposed a few changes to. I translated it myself to French and sent it to Anne. Then we had a lively collaborative process of correcting and optimizing it. Her input is absolutely crucial, but she's not the translator, because my text original is and was always intended to be, the French version.
There is one aspect of the intermediary English version which simply couldn't be bettered. the title: "Writing Time". The double meaning of those two words was impossible to transfer. The title now, proposed by Anne, is perfectly good, but it's not the same: "Le Temps de l'écriture".
September 10, 2011 Foundation text
An artist leaves things behind. Stuff you have made is sold, bartered, lost, given away. Lost sight of.
Out there, in the world, these "things" have their lives and continue to be in various sorts of relationships with people. Most of the time without me knowing. It is very gratifying then, when every once in a while they call home and give me an idea of what's going on.
About a month ago I heard from relative in Uppsala, the town where I spent most of my youth. Inger said there had been an article about a work of mine in the local newspaper. We looked it up. It was a piece by writer Sebastian Johans about Uppsala's sole public work of mine. It's called "Fundament" (in English: Foundation) and is a left-over from an exhibition of outdoor projects in 1998. The production was paid, I wasn't, but now "Fundament" has been making its beautiful promise for the last thirteen years – and I hope it will continue to do so.
After checking with Sebastian, who I have never met, I added his insightful text to the site today. It's an unexpected reward for a work which has just turned teenager.
September 8, 2011 Last night
... I spent a very loud evening in a bunker in Hamburg. I'm so happy I went!
September 6, 2011 Shanghai/Berlin
Today opens an exhibition at the Shanghai Hongqiao Gallery where I have five prints from 1992, one from 2000 and three from 2009. It's called either "Central print exchange exhibition" or "Chinese-Austrian Print Exchange Exhibition". The translation from the Chines has caused some confusion, which I hope will be cleared up when the catalogue, which is in the making, arrives. It is an exchange between my university to be and the College of Fine Art Shanghai University. That's how I have become an "honorary Austrian", if indeed the second title is correct. We will see...
In Berlin, on the other hand, there is the Preview Berlin art fair. It opens on Thursday September 8 and I will have eight works on paper, made now in August, in Galerie oqbo's "paperfile" project. This continues for a month in the gallery, after the fair.
August 30, 2011 Professor
In May and in June I traveled to Vienna. During the first trip, alongside seven other applicants, I gave a brief lecture on my work and my ideas about art and printmaking at the Universität für angewandte Kunst. Afterwards, there were questions and an interview.
This was the first time ever that I had given such a "test lecture" and interview, so I had prepared myself carefully. I have been a professor twice before, in Gothenburg, at the School of Photography and Film 1996-2000 and at Kuva, the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, in Helsinki 2007-2009, but I was invited for both these positions (both on half time basis) and didn't have to prove myself in the same way. Six years ago I made a serious application for a professorship at the school were I had been a student myself: the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm but they didn't even wish to invite me for a lecture. I felt very put off. Disappointment soon led to its opposite, however. When Jan Kaila in Helsinki heard about my fiasco he invited me to the Post Graduate Department at Kuva instead, where I had a great time for two and a half years and got introduced to the complicated and dynamic field of Artistic Research. At Kuva I also got to write my book: An Artist's Text Book, which has proved to be a really important step in my development.
The Kuva job was for a limited period of time. At the beginning of this year, 2011, I decided that if I was ever going to take the plunge and assume the responsibilities of a full time professor (which still means spending half your time on making art, because your art is your research) then now was going to be the time. I sent in applications to three interesting positions. The first went nowhere, the second brought me to the lecture in Vienna, and the third I have cancelled. Because on October 1, I will start my new job as Universitätsprofessor für Bildende Kunst - Grafik, at the Angewandte, in Vienna.
August 28, 2011 Storage
Writing about Steve Jobs and the computer's impact on archives, two days ago, I left out all the others. I didn't mention Google, I didn't mention the inventors of digital photography. The field is too vast.
Below is a passage from an essay I have written for an anthology of Tacita Dean's texts. The book, called "Que dit l'artiste? Tacita Dean", will be published by École supérieure des arts décoratifs de Strasbourg in about a month's time. The finished text is in French; this quote is from an intermediary version in English.
A traditional photographic negative (or positive) can be stored without much thought about conditions and none about technology. It can lie forgotten for years and decades, then be found again and given new life. If you forget your digital archive for more than a few years, however, you're likely never to be able to access it again. Both software and hardware always needs to be maintained. Who will take responsibility for my computer when I die?
What will be the fate of our archives, when all communication has become electronic? What will be the function of libraries when books no longer are saved as physical objects but downloaded to little machines supposed to be upgraded every two or three years? What will be the role for future archivists and researchers and not the least: artists when there is no longer any chaos left, only billions of digital documents which all share the same characteristic: you can either read them or not. In the future, thanks to ever more precise search engines, we may always find exactly what we are looking for. Or not. Never anything else.
August 26, 2011 Jobs
For days Berlin has been too hot. Everything I do take longer than planned. Things are piling up. I feel uncomfortable, inefficient and slow. And here, on this page, I manage to avoid addressing so many issues that keep my thoughts busy. The big things, in the "real" world. But then, it's one thing to think about issues and talk about them with friends, quite another to write about them. It goes both ways. What's my field? Where is it? What does it include?
Two days ago Steve Jobs resigned, as CEO of Apple Computer, and the media is full of what sounds like obituaries for him as a person and wild speculation regarding the future of his company. Who cares? Well, many do. Myself included. The absurd hysteria regarding his resignation has everything to do with the importance of computers in our lives and the fact that Steve Job's Apple is the by far most influential trendsetter in the way we use computers and the role we allow them to play in our personal lives.
I think about the momentous shift in how archives function, a shift which has occcured during the very short time (in the wider perspective of human cultural effort) that I have been active as a producer of art. In the beginning, I collected all sorts of pictures and materials in boxes, today my most important archive is on harddisks and in my computer. Which is a Mac.
The material collected there is formatted according to various software standards, several of them also controlled by Apple. I've been using Apple computers for twenty years and this company is famously proprietary. This means that should they ever go bust and be broken up, I could loose control over parts of my archive. I might have to reformat it, according to some other company's standard. The smaller part of my archive which is still on paper, in different forms, can disappear in a fire, but it will never need to be reformatted or rebooted.
Over the last 13-14 years Steve Jobs has been active in changing a number of technical interfaces which control both how we consume and produce culture. His ambition seems to have been guided by a sort of perfectionism, which could even be likened to an artist's vision. Many have written about how he has ultimately been guided by "taste".
Steve Job's work has been outside of the white cube. The impact of his initiatives has been astonishing in scope and still the repercussions are impossible to measure. It's a lot of responsibility for one man's good taste.
August 18, 2011 Osaka Ramones
A whole month has passed. Summer is over now and I'm back working in my studio. I have produced eight small works on paper for a project called "paperfile" at the preview artfair in Berlin in September and I have sent nine prints to Shanghai for an exhibition there at about the same time. I sent them on Monday with Fedex and yesterday, Wednesday, they were delivered in the morning. Not bad!
Right now I am preparing myself for an important change in my working life, which has been in the making since the end of May and which will take place on the first of October, but that's not what I want to talk about today. I want to give homage to the Osaka Ramones.
I first heard the (New York) Ramones in the summer of 1977 after having returned from a school trip to London where among other things (like getting the idea of contacting sir Roland Penrose in order to speak to him about Man Ray, a story which is part of this essay) I bought a 12" single (Sheena is a Punk Rocker) with a band, which at the time I had not yet heard. Once I did, I was hooked. One year later I saw the Ramones play live, in Stockholm. At about the same time began a few years of my own intense attempts at music making. This period ended, but my interest in music continued, and so did my attraction to the Ramones. At the Art Academy in Stockholm I even made a series of photo-works dedicated to five of their songs. These works are not available on the site :) With a wink of the eye to a discussion below, one could say I early on took a (private) position regarding the Ramones: I liked their work. I even continued to like it when they were not very good. There was a deeper sense of sympathy at play.
A similar sense of sympathy is in play between me and a few other artists, both musical and visual. One of these being the Japanese pop group Shonen Knife, which I discovered in 1993, while listening to the radio in my then studio back in Stockholm. Three girls from Osaka, playing raw pop-punk with "cute" (and very Japanese) texts about food and toys and strange things deliberately lost in translation(?). I still can't put my finger exactly on what it was that from that very moment made me into a fan, which I have remained ever since. I have all their records. There are long periods when I loose interest, but then for some reason I pick it up again and experience an exhilarating revival. Naoko Yamano formed the group with her sister and a friend in 1983. These two left some years ago, but Naoko soldiers on, with new members, who could be her daughters I suppose.
One year ago they played in Berlin. I couldn't believe my luck. I had never managed to see them before. A club in Kreuzberg. Small stage, not a big crowd. Waiting for them to begin I felt a little sad. Then two people show up on stage tuning guitars. Roadies? No, too tiny, and girls. It's Naoko and Ritsuko, the bass player. Fiddling unselfconsciously with their gear, like we used to do when I was in a band, eons ago. They finish. Leave. Lights go down. They come back, now all three, with new drummer Emi. Lights up. Sound on: concert! And it's utterly great, superb, beautiful. I feel completely happy. I still feel happy just thinking about it: there was something important in the air that night, something that has to do with what can not be communicated through words only, and which is in the essence of what is necessary to make forms of art worthwhile.
Shonen Knife has a new record out, about their twentieth. It's called "Osaka Ramones" and it consists of thirteen covers of Ramones originals, beginning with a brilliant version of "Blitzkrieg Bop", which is played note perfect from beginning to end. In fact, all thirteen tracks are played exactly like the originals, with no improvisations, no rearrangements or flourishes. At first listen it's bewildering: why? Obviously, the end result can't be mistaken for the Ramones, because Japanese females (all three takes turns singing) will always sound differently than Joey Ramone, but the overall impact is very close. Why not be more expansive, when you have recorded twenty albums prior, of mainly your own material, like Naoko Yamano has? After a few more listenings, I no longer ask this question. Naoko knows what she's doing. She loves this material, she always has and now she wants to inhabit it. She wants to live these songs, inhabit them and coming from an Asian artistic tradition, she doesn't need to self consciously paint herself on top of them she can paint herself inside them. I think it is very beautiful. And it resonates with me. After all: I have made a number of projects based on copying procedures. Naoko speaks about the project here (scroll down).
Right now Shonen Knife is touring Europe again. I'll see them in Hamburg, in a couple of weeks. I can't wait!
July 12, 2011 Wordplay
On page 23 of "Forms for a Public Address", I have written:
In stereotypical German art-speak, artists are assumed to stake out ‘eine Position’ for themselves (as soon as possible!), and to be always ready to defend it (much like the quintessential German tourist with his towel on the beach). This territorial idea always irritated me immensely. I became an artist to explore my freedom, not to imprison myself.
In one of the first reader's reactions to the book, a close friend objects to this passage on several grounds: that this type of territorial thinking isn't a German innovation; that the use of "Position" in German language equals "brand" in English the German use of language is just more straightforward than the English. My friend also objects to my use of the beach metaphor. On that latter point (which was indeed light-hearted in intent) I'd like to note what my wife (also German) said: "But we saw it!".
The interesting conversation concerns the word "Position", as does the book as a whole. It's a difficult discussion for me to control, as it involves linguistic nuance in two languages, none of them my mother tongue. I'm aware of stepping on thin ice. Nevertheless, years ago I began to notice how in a typical press release for a group show (in German language) the artists participating are referred to as "Positionen". An example from a quick and dirty Google search:
"Werke aus der Städtischen Sammlung im Dialog mit drei Positionen aktueller Kunst", followed by the names of three artists (unknown to me). The sentence translates roughly as "Works from the municipal collection in dialogue with three positions of contemporary art". As the three artists referred to are all relative unknowns (below 30.000 on the artfacts ranking) I think it is quite clear that they have not been able to create what could reasonably be called "brands". An artist with a brand, in my view, is someone who has established him/herself at such a level that the artist matters more than the work. Andy Warhol was a prime example. Today we have, for example, Damien Hirst of Tracy Emin. Their works are first and foremost products of the Hirst and Emin brands, reflections of the fame and charisma attached to theses artists' names and personal stories, and are discussed in such terms. This can hardly be claimed for works of the tens of thousands of artists exhibiting here and there.
We can be called "Positionen", instead. Ignore for a moment that the word has become common usage in German art lingo, and think about what it really implies. As for every word, there a several meanings attached to it. There is the hierarchical meaning (like on a vertical scale), but that's not what's referred to in the typical press release. It's much closer at hand to understand the three "Positionen" referred to in my Google find as points on an horizontal scale, or better, as points on a field, defined by coordinates.
So, what's the problem? Myself, when I work, I am always very aware of what I feel I can do and what I feel I can't. That there's a certain place where I am, at any given moment. That certain things are within my grasp, and so many are not. Every now and then I try to stretch beyond the border which delineates where possible becomes impossible for me and if my attempt works out, my field of possibilities suddenly becomes larger. If it doesn't, the temporary border is confirmed. What's important to me, is the feeling that I have a field, an area of possibilities, which at any time can change its shape and size. I react against the notion that my activities can be reduced to, can be represented by, one point on a field, a "Position". I think that to embrace this understanding of your own activity as an artist is to reduce it to an intellectual commodity.
In 1993 Kay Heymer ended a text with the following sentence:
Es hängt alles davon ab, wie oft man die Perspektive wechselt.
(It all depends on how often you change the perspective.)
July 08, 2011 Summer, animals, islands
There's been a longer break than usual. Either I was too busy with work: I have been back for several days in Tidaholm, continuing to work on lithos and I have paid a visit to the "Y" Institute for Transdisciplinarity in Bern, led (until now) by Florian Dombois or I have tried to be not busy at all, because it is the middle of summer, after all.
I'm Swedish. In Sweden, traditionally, one of the most important days of the year is Midsummer Night's Eve. You can't ignore it. People make huge plans. There's a collective trauma of making sure you party at the right place and in the right way, on this night. It's a huge responsibility. As a Swede living abroad it's easier for me to escape this madness. But still, I have always been aware. Until now. This year I completely forgot the great day. It passed without me noticing until two or three days later. I didn't even know which day it had been, at first. I had to check. I then found I had spent the day and evening in Bern, with Florian. In the morning we saw a performance on the subject of "What is Art": a live piglet made a cameo. In the evening, at an event at Kunsthalle Bern, unrelated but with exactly the same theme, I suddenly found myself sitting right next to a live cow, for exactly three minutes.
The following day, in Berlin, in Berlin I saw Brad Haylock from Melbourne. He came by the way of Prato, where Monash University has a dependency and where he was teaching a summer course. Brad is both artist, graphic designer and publisher. Most importantly right now... he is the publisher of "Forms for a Public Address", which I have written together with Tom Nicholson. Brad brought copies to Berlin: finally I could lay my hands on it. It's always a great feeling to hold in your hand for the first time the printed result of your thoughts (combined with so many thoughts by others: no book is by one man alone or, to paraphrase John Donne: no book is an island). "Forms" is small in format, but it has been very carefully designed by Brad who is both careful and cool. Before the design stage we had the very valuable help of Roger Averill as a copy editor, a process which for me has brought repercussions of a surprising sort. Roger doesn't know it yet, but one of the lithographs I have been working on in Sweden relates to his work.
June 19, 2011 Augarten
I added to the list of the Individual Works index the very first of all the photo-objects that I produced, this one at the end of 1986. The inspiration for it, and those that followed, came from visiting a museum in Vienna in September 1986 and finding myself much fascinated by the frames around works by Klimt (in particular) and Schiele and others. It occurred to me that the frame could be more important than the image, that the frame could direct the image. When back in Stockholm (I was beginning my third year at the Academy) I started experimenting with making deliberately expressionless photographs in the dark room, in order to place these in frames which would be more powerful than the images. I soon realized that such a thing as "expressionless" doesn't exist, at least not for the artist, but I had found an idea to work with and was on my way.
The first photo-object used a photo exposed in Vienna's Augarten, on Sunday 14.9.1986. I still remember rushing thorugh this remarkable park just before closing time, in fading light, then suddenly standing before a most peculiar tower, which I took for a water tower (I just looked up an old diary). It was in fact an air defence tower, not that different from the bunker in Hamm! I made two exposures and continued on my way. The second exposure ended up in a photo-object the following year.
Last Thursday I was again in Vienna and returned to my tower in Augarten shortly before closing time, trying to repeat my 1986 shots with my iphone... It wasn't easy, not just because of my stupid choice of gear... the surrounding trees had grown higher.
June 14, 2011 Crowds
"Spiele im Park" the exhibition with my (suspended) reconstruction of the First Chimney was opened Sunday. It was very crowded. Many friends came and mixed with a crowd I'm less familiar with.
I'm happy to be in this show: it's a very good group of artists and I think I have taken an interesting new step with my installation, which is now documented here. Should you go there (the show is on until October 2), don't miss my Project Image, which is installed inside the museum, opposite of the stairs.
June 11, 2011 Forms
Many things going on at the same time now. Yesterday Tom Nicholson sent a text message from Melbourne. Our book "Forms for a public address" has finally been printed and he was holding the first copy in his hand. I told him to send me a photo, and this morning when I woke up: there it was!
I will still have to wait a little while to hold the book in my own hand, but Brad Haylock, its designer and publisher (he's the man behind surpllus) is on the way to Europe and he will pass through Berlin at the end of the month. I'm impatient!
June 10, 2011 Weeding
I took the S-Bahn to Potsdam in order to weed (parts of) my Villa Schöningen sculpture, before the press view. It's an interesting first. I never weeded any of my works before today.
June 10, 2011 FotoGrafik
Yesterday was the opening of the exhibition "Neue Realitäten – FotoGrafik von Warhol bis Havekost" at Berlin's Kupferstichkabinett. I was pleased to see all three of my (photo-mechanical) woodcuts hanging on a wall next to two works by Bernd & Hilla Becher. The museum own my prints, so I didn't know in advance if they would hang one, two or three.
I made those woodcuts in 1996-97. One day I wish to make more... I will need to have lots of time to spare. Somehow this never seems to be the case.
In the interesting catalogue all three prints are reproduced, each one on a full page. Not bad!
(Standing between the first and the second woodcut is Katrin von Maltzahn. She recently launched a complete re-design of her website.)
June 8, 2011 Product
The other day I had a visit from two representatives of a biennale in Asia. We met at home. It was evening and I was alone with Edvin, just turned seven. He went early to sleep, it had been an exhausting day. A thunderstorm was looming. My name had been suggested to them by a mutual acquaintance of high repute. They didn't know me in advance and I didn't know them.
It's quite a special situation to be in. In a brief moment of time one is supposed to communicate a highly condensed but contagious version, in words mostly, of what one's work is about. Or what oneself is about. Even though this was a very relaxed and friendly meeting, I can't ignore the fact that I am, in some way, engaged in trying to sell something. But what? What is, in the end, my product?
Is it work I have already made? Or work I could make?
A reputation I have? A reputation I could gain?
Is it a way of thinking?
Friends, networks, social competence, myself?
I sincerely don't know. And I prefer it to be that way. Being an artist is no easy job, but one of the (many) reasons it is so attractive is the aspect of surprise built into it. Mystery, even. You never really know. You don't know exactly why you do what you do, and you can't know where it will take you. Should you know, exactly, you're probably not going anywhere.
Our meeting ended with carefully looking through one of the greatest art books I have: "Beyond Sacred", second edition, by Colin and Elizabeth Laverty. I believe this was an unexpected turn of events for all three of us...
May 28, 2011 Two upcoming exhibitions
I will be in two exhibitions which opens in June, here in the Berlin-Potsdam area. Villa Schöningen's announcement for "Spiele im Park" came online yesterday. I already wrote about the project I'm making there. The opening is on June 12 and it will be on until early autumn. There are plans for a catalogue, to be made later. Hopefully this works out.
I will also be in a show at the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin: "Neue Realitäten – Fotografik von Warhol bis Havekost". It's about the "diverse use of photographically produced and reproduced images in artistic prints from 1960 up to today" and it will be up between June 9 - October 9, 2011. My photographic woodcuts from 96-98, which they own, will be in it. A catalogue is being printed right now. A flyer with an extensive presentation of the concept is here.
May 24, 2011 An Austrian level II
For the exhibition at Villa Schöningen in Potsdam, which will open on June 12, bricklayer Jürgen Totzke and I have been working on a recreation of the First Chimney. It's located in the garden, next to the Villa's west wall. So far we have reached 4 meters. There are many interesting aspects to this project, but today I want to focus on a key tool: the spirit level which Jürgen has been using to get the right inclination for the chimney's brick wall. The ground level diameter of this construction is 140 cm, at 10 meters the diameter should be 100 cm. In other words, the chimney narrows with 4 cm per meter. This inclination factor has been constant in all my chimney constructions. I have always made them 100 cm diameter at the top. Consequentially, the base has become wider and wider.
I'm not immune to worrying, and from the early days of building these "towers", I always put in a lot of thought and effort to the system used to make the construction perfectly vertical and with the right inclination. Originally, in the First Chimney, the two bricklayers Seth Hellstadius and Janne Nordin, measured with a folding rule towards a steel pipe in the centre, which was there only for them to have something to measure against – and which I worried would not be exact enough. This turned out not to be a problem, but on the other hand: the First Chimney had a pronounced "bump" on one of its sides.
The Korean bricklayers came up with an ingenious system of strings, distributed by a wood construction which was moved upwards step by step. In Kotka, Drewen and Norrköping instead, we used wood constructions inside the chimney, which allowed for high speed bricklaying – but didn't allow any steel reinforcement on the inside, only within the wall itself. Ever since the Sixth Chimney in Münsterland however, I have used a system of strings distributed by a circular sheet of plywood fixed in the scaffolding, on three or four subsequent levels. See image from Hamm 2008, here below.
The year after building the Ninth Chimney, I had my exhibition at the Museum für Baukultur Neutal, in Neutal, Austria. This place has been a centre for chimneybuilders since the 19th century. Even today many people here travel all over the world in order to build chimneys. But no longer in brick. At the opening of my exhibition I was introduced to two older men who turned out to be the first professional chimney builders I have ever met. That is: these guys had actually done for "real" what I (and the building professionals who help me) do for art. So, naturally, my first question to them was: how did you get it straight, with the right inclination? "Oh, that was easy, we just used our spirit levels with the right inclination built in". Nothing else? No strings, no plummet? "Not at all", they told me, "when you're working on a 100 m high chimney, you don't have any scaffolding above you: nothing to fix the strings in. The scaffolding is moved up below you as you continue upwards. We only used our levels with built in inclination". I had a hard time believing them at first, but I realized they were not joking.
After my return to Berlin, I received a package from the curator Susanna Steiger-Moser: it was my own chimney builder's spirit level! What a great gift! And now, in Potsdam, is the first time it's been put to use (I had to change it's inclination somewhat). It has worked very well – and Jürgen and I have taken one step in the direction of blurring two realities: that of art and that which is for real.
May 24, 2011 An Austrian level
I've just returned from two days in Vienna. I went to make a presentation in a situation I cannot speak about, now. I stayed in a hotel I had found on the internet: "Urania". My room, which didn't cost much, was an extraordinary creation in strong colours, cracked glazed tile, rustic wood and rag rug. The bed frame was covered in rag rug. My first impression was rather confused – this is not my style, exactly – but then I had to spend quite a bit of time in there, working on my preparations, andI found it was just very pleasant to be in there, very calming. Coming back to the hotel to grab my bag in the afternoon today I asked the man behind the counter (who I hadn't met before) whether all the rooms where made in a similar style? "Oh, no", he answered, "all rooms are different". So I told him I was most impressed with mine, No. 25. "That's one of the last works by Hundertwasser. He was my friend and used to live around the corner".
Not bad. Not bad at all. Back in Berlin I realize I have mislaid the little old camera I had brought with me, with my photos from the room, but there are photos on the hotel's website, which unfortunately don't communicate so well, but you get an idea.
In Vienna I also saw Tacita Dean's exhibition "The Line of Faith" at MUMOK. It's very good, although the complete opposite of my hotel room, because this exhibition has a stark, austere visual impact, very black and white. Almost minimalist in feel. The entrance dominated by a series of five giant, black photo etchings which sets the tone. The overall look contrasts with the fragile messiness of life present in some of the films, especially "Edwin Parker". It's about Cy Twombly in his American home town, waiting for something to happen, very far from his Roman palazzo... It stays in your mind, this artist's waiting business. I had never even seen a photo of Twombly before yesterday. Somehow I had magined him quite differently. Probably less humble.
I started writing this by deciding on the title: "An Austrian level". I'm talking of a spirit level, given to me at the opening of my exhibition in Neutal, two years ago. It's a very special level, but now I'm tired and want to close the shop for today, so I will have to come back to my level tomorrow.
May 11, 2011 Potsdam
The concrete foundation for my sculpture in Villa Schöningen, Potsdam, has now been cast. The exhibition "Spiele im Park" will open on June 12, but brick layer Jürgen Totzke and I have already started construction of what will one day (sic!) be a reconstruction of the "First Chimney". The original work (10 m high) in Stockholm was destroyed in 1994. Jürgen is the first bricklayer who's working on a second chimney project for me. This is not because of a one-time-only policy from my side, the opposite is true: I'm delighted it finally happens. Jürgen's employer, Heins Baugeschäft in Hamburg, was the contractor also for the Seventh and the Ninth Chimney, with different crews, however. Jürgen was master bricklayer for the Ninth Chimney, in Hamm.
May 5, 2011 Translation/Illustration
Related to yesterday's thoughts about translation I'd like to note that when in 1999 I "published" my Swedish translation of Hebdomeros, I had also illustrated it, as well as designed (and produced) the "book". Illustration could be seen as a sub-genre of translation, but the demands are obviously less precise, or at least: more difficult to define.
One year later, in 2000, I illustrated a book I couldn't read: Finnish writer Olli Jalonen's yhdeksän pyramidia (Nine Pyramids). I still haven't read it, as the text has not yet appeared in another language than Finnish. Nevertheless, while updating the corresponding pages in the site recently, I thought my work had been most appropriate...
May 4, 2011 Vegetable Gardens
I had forgotten to look up the English translation of the passage I quoted ten days ago, from Giorgio de Chirico's novel. Here it is:
(...) Hebdomeros is in love with Louise, the maid from the house opposite; he has put on his new suit; the bells are ringing in the parish church towers and spring smiles on the vegetable gardens. Spring, spring! Funeral procession, gruesome spectacle. Corpses in tuxedos, lying in their open coffins, are lined up on the beaches in the south; the air is filled with the obsessive smell of lemon, which, like garlic and onions, makes food indigestible; and here are oranges (...)
This is taken from the translation which first appeared in an obscure edition of Hebdomeros published by the Four Seasons Book Society, New York, in 1966. It is anonymous, although I have very good reason to believe it is actually by John Ashbery. It was republished by Exact Change, Cambridge 1992. As I write, I get the idea to compare this to the translation by Margaret Crosland which was published in London in 1964, but to my dismay I can't find her slim volume on my shelf. It should be there. There might still be a continuation to this matter.
I really like the Ashbery (assuming I have got this attribution right, but that's another story) translation very much, but when I make a direct comparison between the French original and the English, there is something to the argument that a text can never really be translated. To me, the French words sing differently; because of sounds, but also because of contextual references. Replacing "midi" with "south" for example, you miss out on something which has to do with the French concept of holidays or so I imagine, being neither a native French nor English speaker. There's also something about the different ring (tone? the word I'm after is the same in German and Swedish: "Klang") of the words "printemps"/"spring" and the question of whether spring is smiling "on" the vegetable gardens, or in ("dans") the jardins potagers...
I love thinking about such matters. I also think that, at the core, the mechanisms driving cultural development are very closely associated with (mis)translations and (failed) copy processes.
April 27, 2011 Contrasts
In Tidaholm, between the great Swedish lakes Vättern and Vänern. Not spring but summer, according to today's paper... It's very idyllic here. Guided by master printmaker Sigrid Wallskog at Litografiska Akademin I'm working on lithographs. Three map like images. Right now trying to decide the best way to evoke Australian sand. Outside, it couldn't be more different.
April 24, 2011 Jardins potagers
In the countryside, South Sweden. It's finally spring. Not warm, exactly, but a glorious light; life, hope. Whenever I experience spring I tend to get one particular quotation echoing in my head, from Hebdomeros. So also now, this Easter Sunday morning. I don't have access to the English translation now and I don't dare to make one myself, but I do have the French original (my Swedish translation can be found here). I'll add the English version later.
(...) Hebdomeros est amoureux de Louise, la bonne de la maison d’en face; il a mis son costume neuf; les cloches sonnent aux clochers des églises paroissiales et le printemps sourit dans les jardins potagers. Printemps, printemps! Cortège funèbre, vision macabre. Des cadavres en smoking étendus dans leurs bières découvertes sont alignés sur les plages du midi; on sent l’odeur obsédante du citron qui, tout comme l’ail et l’oignon, rend les mets indigestes; voici les oranges (...)
April 17, 2011 Ignorance
The works appeal because of their novelty and the meanings attributed to them by the artists. But these meanings are mostly inaccessible to the non-Aboriginal viewer; the works are valued because of an authenticity that is testified to in the documentation and commentary that accompany many of them, even though few if any buyers are able to check the veracity of this documentation. It is as if the art market admired these works because of their enigmatic qualities, even though the recognition of their secret or sacred character may be made from a position of ignorance.
I'm finally reading Georges Petitjean's thesis “Where is the story?”: Paradoxes in Western Desert Art which he gave me (digitally) after we saw each other at his museum AAMU in Utrecht in December. The quote above is terrific. It's in the introduction (I just started!).
Play a game: change a few key words and you'll have a good opening for a text on a very different kind of art.
April 12, 2011 Wicked
I came across a text I wrote ten years ago which contains a short discussion regarding the different natures of problems. I had forgotten this thread.
There are three types of problems:
well defined problems
badly defined problems
Wicked problems are characterized as follows:
They cannot be clearly defined. New questions can always be posed.
There is no possibility of determining when a solution could be final.
Different solutions can follow from alternative definitions of the same problem.
The proposed solutions are not necessarily correct or incorrect and they may lead to a redefinition of the problem which, in turn, leads to further work on solving the problem.
Today, Fukushima was upgraded to the same level of catastrophy as Chernobyl.
April 5, 2011 Ai
Ai Weiwei is still missing. He was stopped and detained by police at the Beijing Airport on Sunday (today is Tuesday). Since then no one has heard from him. I heard about it on BBC World Service yesterday. It was at the top of the news: France's and Britain's governments had expressed their grave concern about the missing artist. Something about the way it was presented really caught my attention. Here was an artist who gets picked up by the police, and 24 hours later it is world news that he still has not been released. There was something remarkable about this, but at first I couldn't really put my finger on it.
Then I realized how rare it is, that an artist, a visual artist, who has achieved international fame and prominence – is using it, not to maximize profile and profit, but in order to play a serious role for change in the politics of their country. And here the country is China!
April 3, 2011 "Good"
Now also the Chimney Drawings are possible to see, in chronological order and side by side, as thumbnails. I'm aware of repeating a thought, but as with the TEST paintings it really is exciting for me, to gain, thanks to my own website, this new perspective on a large body of work made over many years.
I don't think every single drawing there is good, when I look at them now. Far from it. But it's a fact that for each one I once made the decision that it is "good" (whatever that means). I then signed it and gave it a number. It would ruin the integrity of the work, in a larger sense, if now I start making decisions about which ones to show here, and which not. And it would be a lot less fun! It's another situation when it comes to exhibiting. There is a number of Chimney Drawings which have never been exhibited. The main reason being that I changed my mind rather quickly, on what "good" means, in their particular case. There are others which have been exhibited many times. There are some which I have made in several versions, some which have been transformed into prints and others which are being used (although in a completely different way no chimneys!) in two new bodies of work, which are not yet public, called Trial Drawings and Trial Paintings.
It made me continue thinking on the peculiar intimacy of doing this kind of organizing work in public. When you're an artist... who do you really work for? It may be that ultimately I do this work for myself but I would never do it, if it wasn't for the fact that I am doing it in public. That is: for others to see and in order to have an exchange of ideas, eventually. Be influential. But how? And in what direction? To do what? To do "good"?
March 27, 2011 TEST archive
I finished the re-design of all the TEST paintings pages. All 144 of them are now accessible via a new index page with thumbnail image links for each one. Being able to see side by side all those paintings made between 1992 and 2009, gives me a whole new impression of my own work.
Organizing your own web archive can be not just about making your work accessible to the outside world, but to make it accessible to yourself.
March 24, 2011 Sonification
In his book "What Are the Places of Danger", Florian Dombois has published a text ("When to Hear?") which discusses science's relationship to hearing. He argues that scientists in Western culture have always given preference to sight over sound. There may be many reasons for this. Maybe the existence of music is one? Florian's (artistic) work, which always relate to science, aims, if I understand it right, to counterbalance this tendency.
Now Florian (together with Oliver Brodwolf) has published on youtube a sound document (although with a not insignificant visual aspect) which consists of the aural trace of the Tohuku earthquake (March 11, 2011). It's the actual low frequency rumbling of the earth, registered by seismographs, made audible to the human ear by having been speeded up by a factor of 1440.
If art often aims to condense and emphasize aspects of human experience, then this may be one of its most extreme expressions.
March 20, 2011 Emily & Oscar
These days, I keep thinking a lot about the role of story and narrative. My idea used to be that as far as my work is concerned it's all a question of projection. The viewer confronted with the work projects his/her own ideas onto it, and thus narrative happens. But my ideas may be changing. I'm not quite sure why. This "Talk" page itself is a symptom. I'm engaged in the weaving of a narrative web, around chosen tidbits from my life, ideas and random events.
During Margo Neale's skyped talk at the symposium in Cologne recently, I picked up a couple of quotes. I used them myself last week, in my Helsinki talk:
Emily Kame Kngwarreye:
Without the story the picture is nothing.
It's only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
March 17, 2011 Fukushima
(...) The information is streaming in at us from all directions, at all times. It can be really hard to focus on work, whatever that is, at times. I suppose everyone here in this room has had moments recently when you question the futility of working on a picture or a text – when the world offers so much more omnious problems – and possibilities... This feeling of futility is inescapable. I believe artists have always had to do battle with it. It's a balancing factor to all the pretensions that we, as artists, also need to have. The pretension that art is important, that it can matter. Pretensions, questions and doubt, they are all necessary, together they are what can make art meaningful, if at all. (...)
"If at all".
The above paragraph is from the beginning of my lecture in Helsinki two days ago. When I begun preparing what I was going to say some weeks ago I decided it was necessary and good to begin by reflecting on what has been dominating the beginning of this year: the events in North Africa. Then just before I was about to leave Berlin, the earthquake and tsunami happened in Japan. I arrived in Helsinki Sunday night. The hotel had wifi. It wasn't until then that I begun to be aware of the extent of suffering caused in Japan – and since then it has only got worse, with a looming nuclear disaster. If it isn't already.
It was necessary to situate the discussion (my title: "What is it that makes a work of art important – and what can we say about it") in reality, which I did. But I did not give it up. I went on with my work. Trying to do the best of it, trying to do the right thing.
My talk and images featured the following artists: Yala-Yala Gibbs Tjungurrayi, Anatjari Tjakamarra, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Tony Tuckson, Jan Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, Yaoi Kusama, Sol Lewitt, Absalon, Vanessa Beecroft, David Hockney. The main discussion was centered on EmilyKame Kngwarreye and Jan Vermeer. I did not discuss or show my own work at all.
Just when I finish writing I receive an email from Florian Dombois, who was also in Helsinki, and who is both artist and seismologist: there's been a further earthquake, strength 7.6. It doesn't stop.
March 9, 2011 For the record
I already wrote about KunstWerke's Absalon exhibition. It's has ended now. Ten days ago the catalogue was presented, finally, with a lecture by one of the writers, Philip Ursprung. His talk rehearsed the theme of his text: Absalon's work in relation to depression. I found it quite interesting, both because I got some good ideas out of it, and because I find the basic idea wrongheaded. Ursprung even made a comparison between the state of mind expressed by Absalon's "Cellules" – and the loneliness and mental isolation experienced by Vanessa Beecroft's naked female performance actors. As a juxtaposition, that's quite daring!
The catalogue itself has the scope of the exhibition: it's huge and impressive. I'm disappointed with one thing though: ten of the photographs in it are mine, and they are not identified. No photos are credited, there's just a list of all the photographers at the end. I had actually demanded that my photos must be credited, but apparently there was a miscommunication. For this reason I will state here, which photos in the Absalon catalogue are mine:
page 256: both portraits (from a party with students of the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques, October or November 1988);
page 280: top of the page (Absalon and Lena-Kim in Atelier Lipchitz, October 1990);
page 328: Absalon's bookshelf 1992;
page 330: all four interiors and exteriors of Atelier Lipchitz (including the corner where the bookshelf was later installed – all four images from October 1990, not 1992);
page 332: Atelier Lipchitz studio interior;
page 334: installation view from our exhibition Atelier Place Beaubourg 1988.
March 8, 2011 Medellín
After writing my Nuakata post, I finally managed to get working on a painting, while listening to a BBC podcast: "In our time with Melvyn Bragg", this one about random and pseudo-random numbers. As so often happens in this situation, thoughts start racing around unconstrained. Eventually one thought more persistent than the others, land in Medellín, Colombia. Not because of a sudden craving for hard drugs, but because Jan-Erik Lundström is there to install his exhibition "The Map", which started its life as the Bucharest Biannual in 2008, and has since been travelling around a lot. My work "Psycho-Mapping Scandinavia" from 1996 is included, in the form of a fresh set of photo-copies.
The thought that's nagging me is: when is actually the opening of this faraway exhibition? I never noted it down. It takes a moment and then I have found Medellín's Museu de Arte Moderno on the net. And you guessed it: the opening is tonight, at 6:30. Of course!
Best wishes from Berlin!
March 8, 2011 Nuakata
The redesign work on this website proceeds in fits and spurts. Right now I'm quite behind the schedule I have set for myself. Rolf Maidhof has finished new CSS templates that I haven't even begun working with yet. I'm stuck with "translating" chimney drawings... My attention is taken up by other things. I'm writing text, for example my lecture for the symposium in Helsinki next week. I'm quite happy with the way that piece is going: I'm finding ingenious ways to delve into several of my favourite subjects and hopefully make them come out fresh. And there are new interests coming to use as well. I will be taking the talk to Nuakata. It's a small island that belongs to Papua New Guinea, where, in the early 90s, a young Australian couple; Shelley Mallett and Roger Averill; lived for close to a year while Shelley did the field work for a PhD in anthropology.
Three books have so far come out of this adventure, and I'm just now finishing reading the third of them. While on the island Roger, who I have met once in Melbourne and who has been doing superb editing work on Tom Nicholson's and my soon-to-be-published book "Forms for a Public Address", worked on what would become his debut novel, "Keeping Faith". It takes place mainly in Australia, but has some sequences situated in Papua New Guinea (although on the mainland, not on an island), which must have been inspired by his experiences on Nuakata – only that what takes place in this book is fundamentally different from what is related in the second book I read: Roger's memoir "Boy He Cry". This is Roger's straigthforward story about their time on Nuakata (published before the novel, although quite a long time after the story it relates). When I had read these two books I had to read Shelley's thesis as well it was necessary as I simply didn't want to leave the island it's called "Conceiving Cultures: Reproducing People and Places on Nuakata, Papua New Guinea" and it's been as great a read as the other two books, although different, because of the academic framework. I only have a few pages left. In fact, for a couple of weeks I have had only these few pages left to read. I've been stuck with other words to process, but it's also that I don't want my association to this adventure to end. It's been a strangely moving experience.
Given my interest in Aboriginal Art, I'm not a complete stranger to references to anthropology. It's unavoidable in that field, but usually my energy is used at avoiding such discussion rather than embracing it. Too much talk of anthopology destroys the art, at least the art that I'm interested in. For that reason it's been a positive that Shelley's and Roger's adventure on the island has been without any art focus at all. This fact has given me the possibility to actually come up with a number of reflections on various aspects of my relationship to art and now I'm talking about art in general, not just Aboriginal. I will use the island in my talk and I believe I will finish the book today, sadly. Now I will use the space here for a quote (of a quote):
"We will always be liable to be seen (correctly) as old colonizers in a new guise as long as we understand critical, emancipatory anthropology as doing our critique to help them be they the Third World, the working classes, the disinherited, women... Who are we to 'help' them? We need critique (exposure of imperialist lies, of the working of capitalism, of the misguided ideas of scientism, and all the rest) to help ourselves. The catch is, of course, that 'ourselves' ought to be them as well as us."
quoted by Shelley Mallett (p. 65) from Fabian, Johannes: Time and the work of anthropology: Critical Essays, 1971-1991, Harwood Academic Publishers 1991, p. 264
March 1, 2011 "Blood"
I'm in Stockholm. I meet with Matts Leiderstam in a cafe and during our conversation he mentions how certain moments become images. The Twin Towers; Tahrir Square; the bloodstain on Sveavägen's pavement after Prime Minister Olof Palme had been killed by a lone gunman. It was exactly 25 years ago, and Swedish media this week is full of discussions, interviews, columns and reflections on who Palme was, and how the (unsolved) murder has changed Sweden. Everyone in the country remember where they were when they heard the news. Except me.
I didn't hear the news: I saw them. That night in 1986 I had been working in the art academy students' underground club, in the centre of Stockholm. Playing records. People dancing. Some time around three or four in the morning I was walking home along Sveavägen, in the opposite direction (but the same side) as to where the Prime Minister and his wife had been walking home from their visit to a cinema, a few hours earlier.
In front of me I saw a small gathering of silent people, all staring at the ground in their midst. I join them to see what they are looking at. A large stain of blood on the pavement.
– What's happened, I ask a man beside me.
– The Prime Minister has been shot, he answers.
The next day, week, month, year the media was full of reporting on this crime and its aftermath. But my first knowledge of it was unmediated.
When talking with Matts today, I realized that there might be a connection between this moment and the "Test-paintings" I started on in 1992, and which are still going on. Each "Test-painting" is a careful depiction (copy, even) of a splattered, random red watercolour.
When I talk about these paintings I hardly ever use the title "Test", I always call them "bloodstains".
February 24, 2011 "Simultaneity"
Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya... The news keep pouring in about developments nobody knows where they will end. One can only hope we will be able to look back at these last few weeks in the same manner we can now look back at the fall of the Wall in 1989, as a moment of liberation and joy. It's such a promise and such a risk!
In the studio, during the day, I have to struggle to keep my focus on the work I need to do; the ideas that are important to develop for me and all the little things I have to take care of in order to make things run smoothly, make things run at all. Online there is hour by hour, minute by minute reporting. It's so easy to drift... stop working... become a viewer, a reader... visit somebody else's universe. Which, it must be said, is what I do, for much of the time. But how do I connect and combine these visits, so that they can make sense beyond this moment?
In Aboriginal painting, the form which recurs most often, is the circle. Painted with acrylic on canvas there are circles everywhere, invested with layers and layers of meaning. In her presentation during the second day of the Cologne symposium, Franchesca Cubillo from the National Gallery of Australia noted that in the Flinders Range in New South Wales, circles engraved on rocks have been found, which have been possible to carbon date. More than 30000 years old.
February 18, 2011 "Remembering Forward"
I am in Cologne today. I attend a symposium arranged in conjunction with the exhibition "Remembering Forward", which features Australian Aboriginal art at the Museum Ludwig. The symposium itself is called "Exhibiting Aboriginal Art". I don't remember when last I attended a symposium or a conference without it being connected to teaching, or because I was an invited speaker and paid. But today and tomorrow I'm here on my own account.
Aboriginal art is a passion for me. It started when I first travelled to Australia in 1998, continued afterwards, through books, and became much deeper during the six weeks we were there in 2007, when both Katrin and I were artists in residence at RMIT University School of Art in Melbourne. That's when I first tried to get to Papunya. I failed, because I wasn't aware of the necessity to apply for a permit in advance. Instead I made a big painting of where I had wanted to go, using satellite images. Through looking at a certain internet service of satellite photography, I had become aware that Papunya has a townplan (if you can call it that, when it's not a town) in the form of the traditional honey ant pictogram, as in numerous paintings. In April 2010 I finally managed to spend a few hours in Papunya, and I saw no trace of of any honey ant town structure.
Will Owen is an American librarian and collector, who has established his blog into a wonderful reference point for knowledge and up-to-date news on all things aboriginal art. I had told him about my satellite find, and a couple of years ago Will was able to locate an extremely obscure 1974 book by a Reverend Downing, in which the good Reverend proposes to rearrange government run Aboriginal settlements into designs derived from their own culture. In the tiny book (which Will was able to have sent on an intra-library-loan from a library in Queensland to his library, in North Carolina, after which he scanned it and sent it on to me, in Berlin), there are several town plan proposals, including the honey ant plan for Papunya. It seems this is the only one which was ever implemented and the strange thing is that until today I hadn't found anyone who knew anything about it.
In the morning session of the symposium there was an interesting presentation on the problem of secrecy in the 1971-72 Papunya paintings, the short period before the painters had realized how much their paintings would actually be able to travel around. Fred Myers spoke. He is an American anthropologist who has been one of the major specialists on this highly complex contemporary art form, ever since he did his field work in a little bush camp with some painters, in 73-74. Living there for a year or so, building trust and friendship with several painters, then in their prime, led him to writing a groundbreaking book (Painting Culture: The Making of an Aboriginal High Art ) about the evolving art form.
I did get to ask Fred about the Papunya town plan. He knew immediately what I was on about. He said it was the Reverend Downing himself who was able to push through his plan, although none of the locals were at all interested. And why should they have been? The whole structure is visible only from above.
February 15, 2011 Absalon
Yesterday I received an E-flux message that the Absalon exhibition at KunstWerke is being extended until March 6. That's good news, especially as it shows that the exhibition has got a good reception. Personally I think it is fantastic, and for me it is deeply moving.
Absalon was my friend. We met at Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques in Paris in October 1988. At the time he was 23 and had been making art for a year or too. He lived in a chambre de bonne. But Absalon was driven like no other young artist I had ever met. In the sessions of the Institut he was very active, but not always in the most polite manner. His favourite expression, as I remember, was "je suis un bulldozer de la culture", which translates as "I am a bulldozer of culture" or " I am culture's bulldozer".
I have often thought about this expression. What did he actually mean by it? The bulldozer has acquired a not so very nice aura in the years since, because of how it has been used against the Palestinians. But that was after Absalon's time. He died in 1993. Recently I went back to see the KW exhibition together with Itay Ziv, a young Israeli artist, for whom I get the impression Absalon is an almost mythological figure. Itay explained to me that "bulldozer" is a popular expression in Israel for somebody who is pushing ahead. So not directly my friendly interpretation of A's words that he would be "scoping up" culture, but also not the Intifada translation relating to destruction.
Susanne Pfeffer, the curator of the exhibition has made a superb job. The building is full of Absalon's works, from ground floor to attic, yet each floor has a different mood and a different frame of references, and its an exciting tour of discovery all the way through. I think Susanne has really made a demonstration of what good curatorship can be. Yet, in a dinner a week ago, I met a younger curator who could not stop herself from finding faults not with the artist but with the curatorial aspects of the exhibition. The works should have been spread out all over the city, she proposed. How can one renew the tired form of the monographic exhibition, she asked. I argued against her ideas. Spreading out in multiple locations the works of an artist who had five or six active years would only hurt the artist, while maybe furthering some theoretical curatorial agenda. I don't think that would be worth it, and it would certainly not be fair to Absalon!
I last met Absalon in 1992, when he was living and working in grand style in the Atelier Lipchitz, in Boulogne Billancourt. Below is a photo from 1990, when Absalon is showing me around in his studio to be, before having moved in and before having renovated (=painting everything white). I feel proud and touched and sad when I look at photos of us together. He was three years younger than me, but in the photos I look like the younger one, and the innocent. But then I had not been to war, and he had.
There's a bigger version of the photo that you can reach by clicking on it. In the KunstWerke catalogue, which still isn't finished, there will be many more of my photos of Absalon and his surroundings.
February 14, 2011 The beginning
It happened very spontaneously. Today, I just decided to add something to my 14,5 year old website, a feature that until now I always refused: a page for my personal commentary.
Here I will be able to write about what I feel like talking about when I feel like talking about it. It will not be a blog, in the sense that I will not feel compelled to keep a regular update schedule. There will be no public airing of readers' comments, and no key word function. It will be more a place for diary comments and reflection in public, by myself: Jan Svenungsson, writing in the first person. In the rest of the site I do my best to use the third person, even if it often feels strange. But here on this page I can establish another rule. And if there is anybody who wants to comment on anything directly to me, well, I can be reached.
One inspiration for this came while working now in the morning on implementing the new website design on diary pages from the "Information Wall" which was a part of 2003's "Psycho-Mapping the Current Crisis" exhibition. It is fun to read those pages again; they reflect upon their time, in both its micro and macro perspective. I remember having to partly construct that diary using my filofax for reference, as I had actually not been keeping a diary over the whole time period it covers. In other words, that diary is not completely authentic in this word's more reduced sense. But it is still true: I didn't invent things in it, I just didn't write about them just as they were happening.
Here on "Talk", on the other hand: when I write I will write in the present. I will still choose my topics, of course. Exactly in what direction I don't know. I haven't been planning this and I will be finding my way over time.
My current situation here in my Westhafen studio is that I am working on a new series of paintings which mark a departure from everything I have been doing before. I have not showed anything to anyone since I started several months ago. I want to have a large enough group to know better myself, before entering into discussion and dialogue regarding the merits of this new body of work. At the same time as painting, there is planning work taking place for a sculpture exhibition this summer in Potsdam and I am in the finishing stages of a long essay on Tacita Dean's writing, for an anthology of her texts to be published in France towards the end of the year. The editor and instigator is Anne Bertrand, and it will be published by the Art Academy in Strasbourg.
Another book project is being worked on over an even longer distance: Tom Nicholson in Melbourne and I have written a dialogue book over the last couple of years, called "Forms for a Public Address". It is now getting ready for the printer... Tom and our publisher Brad Haylock (Surpllus) are putting the last pieces of the puzzle together. It's going to be printed in colour with lots of illustrations, and for many we have had to negotiate for rights. I'm really looking forward to seeing it in physical form!
I'm also collecting ideas for a lecture at a conference on Artistic Research at Alvar Aalto University in Helsinki in March. Long time ago I gave the organisers a grand sounding title: "What is it that makes a work of art important and what can we say about it?". Now I will have to live up to my question.
Finally, I spend as much time as possible on implementing the design changes to this website itself. It's a Sisyphean task, an awfully long slog, but pleasurable to, in how it makes me rediscover my own work. I have a general feeling lot's of things are about to change for me, and it is good to see what has been.