Jan Svenungsson

Talk


February 21, 2020 – "Matters of taste"
When you see an article beginning like this: "I believe that analogies between current events and the Third Reich ought not to be made casually, if at all. Whenever it is claimed..." you get curious. In this case it's a text showing the devastating parallells between authoritarian politics of taste, in the Third Reich and... in the Trump administration. It's mainly about architecture.

I live in central Berlin, I see surviving examples of Third Reich politics of taste daily. Imagine that in 75 years time survivors in Washington and New York will be daily confronted with memorials to the taste of the current president. It's a chilling read.

February 18, 2020 – "Stockholm"

I went to Stockholm. The installation of the show went really smooth. Unusually for me, I had not planned it much in advance. Instead, I did it together with the gallerists, James and Eva-Lotta. We just played around with the works until we had found the "story" that the paintings seemed to have prepared for this particular room. It was a lighthearted and fun. In contrast to what is my own idea of what these works are about. More on that another day. Perhaps.

The opening was also nice. Lots of people came, including old friends I see very rarely. I had this surprised comment from a few: something about not having seen humor in my work before... Oh, well. What did you look at then? I have learned never to be surprised at any comment which is provoked by the work. After all, it's function is to be a catalyst. Still, I did find it a little odd to hear this humor comment right here, in front of these paintings. Are they fun?

As soon as the opening was over I was overcome with a terrible cold, which is keeping me in bed right now (back in Berlin). Yet in thiss horizontal position I have been working on my documentation, since long lacking. All the new paintings are now listed in their index, as are their drawings – and the installation views.

February 11, 2020 – "Monstrosities"

Here is the invitation for my show in Stockholm, which opens in a few days. See and read – and do come if you are in Stockholm. Paintings should be seen in the room in which they are.

February 10, 2020 – "Intelligence"
With yesterday's Beethoven discussion still on my mind I come on this stray thought: if your work is truly accomplished it will be smarter than you are. (Is this just an expression of romanticism?)

February 9, 2020 – "Nussberg"
I'm in Vienna on a Sunday, which is unusual. I spent the day reading (too much news, which makes me sick, currently) and working in my small apartment, except for a mid afternoon long run which took me on the route through the wineyards of Nussberg, where Beethoven used to walk when he lived just below, in Heiligenstadt. The path is exceedingly beautiful with the panorama of the city at your feet. I still can't believe my luck that it is possible to run here from my apartment and back. What a privilege! And the weather today... was not exactly February-like, but more like a crisp and sunny day in April. In my headphones I listened to a series of podcasts by the brilliant pianist Igor Levit, discussing Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. In an easygoing way, he manages to combine technical matters (how the music is made, and in this case, how Beethoven often stretched what is possible to play and how he challenged the player by asking for super complicated passages to be played at incredible speed, sometimes arriving at a result which is no longer music but Geräusch – noise) with deep discussions of meaning and value, which do not stop at the edge of music. Like all classical virtuosi, Levit began studying piano intensely at a very young age and when he was eighth his parents moved the family from Gorki in Russia to Hannover, in order to optimize his education. There, he met a teacher who for years forced him to study the second sonata. It was all about the text, and how to transfer the text to sound. Technical matters, yes, but ultimately about the essence of what music (and all art) is. Transformation. For Igor Levit, the second sonata became the key to all music.

"Was ist ein bedeutendes Stück Musik? Bedeutendes, hat ein Freund von mir gesagt, wird es immer erst später" (What is an important piece of music? Important, a friend of mine has said, it only becomes later) after which Levit notes that nevertheless there exist some works which change everything at once, like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring... He then returns to Beethoven: "Was ich mich vorstellen kann, ist dass Beethoven sehr bewusst war, dass er mit diesem Art Auftritt, nicht nur bedeutend wird, sondern einfach behauptet: Ich bin bedeutend." (I imagine that Beethoven was very aware that with this kind of attitude he not only becomes important, but simply claims: I am important.)

I love Beethoven's piano music. I can play along with much of it in my head, in fragments but alive. Always loved it, together with Erik Satie's. I listen more often to Beethoven these days. It's incredible what he was able to construct. He may have been the first composer who believed in himself as possibly more important than his separate pieces of music, but still he put constructions together which keep being reimagined and re-transformed by people all over the world, again and again. Filling their lives with meaning, as well as their many audiences. Importance certainly happened, if immediately or after doesn't matter.

I have no teaching this time in Vienna, it is semester break. Tomorrow I will be working on a bio-art experiment with a colleague and on Tuesday I have meetings and then in the evening I will attend a long awaited concert. Music has become so important to me again, as a bulwark against depression and loss of faith, which easily result from observation and consideration these days. This time it's Babymetal in Gasometer. Very different from Beethoven? Yes and no. I would never have fallen for this band if it wasn't for the compositions. Their best songs are incredibly complex and emotionally rich constructions, which have become etched into my mind since I first learned about them two years ago. To understand what I mean, go here and listen to the whole seven minutes of Ijime, Dame, Zettai without watching. Accept the speed, remember Beethoven, remember Geräusch. See the construction, listen to the details of the delivery. Then play again and watch. Enjoy the confusion, if this is your first time.

I have written an essay about this song and video, for an anthology with 25 writers, called "Hur låter Japan?" (What does Japan sound like?). It will be published by BCNVT in Sweden later this year. It's an important text for me.

January 25, 2020 – "Fog"
Last night, I arrived in Paris covered by thick fog. It was very still. Because of the strikes I was expecting all sorts of problems regarding transportation, but there was none. I met my friend Anne B. We had dinner and this morning we visited the exhibition "Tableaux Magiques" at the Musée Picasso. It's curated by Marilyn McCully and Michael Raeburn, who are also my friends – and I have been waiting to see it for months already. And I wanted to like it, even before seeing it, and was a little worried that this would not be the case.

Picasso is like... old school. Had there been Metoo back in his day, he would surely had problems. The world has moved on. Art has moved on. We have other problems.

I didn't need to. We do have other problems and concerns, yes. But the magic of a really good show is indeed transportation. You enter a carefully constructed world, which comes alive in you. I loved those paintings and their hyper activated language of signs. It felt like seeing all of them for the first time, also those I already knew.

I then spent the rest of the day walking alone through the city. I saw burned Notre Dame. I saw places I know from so many times before. I have my memories. I felt happy I live in Berlin.

January 11, 2020 – "Waiting"
I'm in my studio, it's 2020 and the second Saturday morning of the new year and I am waiting for a transport to arrive. I'm sending paintings for my show at Galleri Flach in Stockholm. It will not open until February 15, but the work is finished and I'm happy to have it go. Last Monday I de-installed the show of prints at Bildraum01 in Vienna and these last weeks I have focusing not only on preparing my own show, but one of my students as well, at Hilger Next in Vienna. Fourteen of them, in an impressive white cube space. It will open in March and it is important for all of us. I'm stepping in and out of roles: artist, technician, teacher, curator, writer. There are other projects to attend to as well, relating to university or my own trajectory. Keep working. Try to do it right. Keep it all going. Try to build on what you have, to make it new and yet to be a development towards a better state. I like that idea: to make it new – from what you already have. Looking forward into the unknown, while seeing consistency and even logic when looking back. The title of my show in Stockholm will be "Monstruösiteter". Translated: Monstrosities. The noun doesn't really exist in Swedish, although the adjective does. The plural noun looks so ugly it becomes fascinating, and it's really hard to spell. I have become attached to this word. We already used it for a student show in Vienna at the end of 2018: "Monstrositäten".