December 22, 2014 "Madness"
Reading Svante Pääbo's autobiographical research history (if such a genre exists) "Neanderthal Man – In Search of Lost Genomes" there are many pages which I just scan through, because I simply can't follow the scientific detail, but over all it's an engrossing read centered around Pääbo's struggle to find ways to read the genetic make-up of Neanderthal man. He gives a lot of credit to his many collaborators, often PhD students, working for him and for themselves in the lab. I find myself feeling jealous of cooperation in research, possible in the natural sciences where the aimed for result (all of it!) by definition lies outside of the person conducting the research. Outside of the me.
I'm beginning to think about cave art again. I have been looking at photos from the Chauvet cave in the Ardeche, where the drawings where made about 32 000 years ago, which should mean that the Homo Sapiens artists behind them, may have had physical interactions with Neanderthal people (sex even, as proved by Pääbo). Yet these Neanderthal friends or enemies would not have understood the images, if they ever saw them. Neanderthal people did not make art, that's one of the differences between them and us. They didn't sail into the unknown. In a magnificent New Yorker piece by Elizabeth Kolbert from 2011, Pääbo is quoted:
... (Homo erectus) never came to Madagascar, never to Australia. Neither did Neanderthals. It’s only fully modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don’t see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also, I like to think or say, some madness there. You know? How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? I mean, it’s ridiculous. And why do you do that? Is it for the glory? For immortality? For curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop.
The madness, the madness.
Later, Kolbert observes:
Over the decades, many theories have been offered to explain what caused the demise of the Neanderthals, ranging from climate change to simple bad luck. In recent years, though, it’s become increasingly clear that, as Pääbo put it to me, “their bad luck was us.” Again and again, the archeological evidence in Europe indicates, once modern humans showed up in a region where Neanderthals were living, the Neanderthals in that region vanished. Perhaps the Neanderthals were actively pursued, or perhaps they were just outcompeted. The Neanderthals’ ”bad luck” is presumably the same misfortune that the hobbits and the Denisovans encountered, and similar to the tragedy suffered by the giant marsupials that once browsed Australia, and the varied megafauna that used to inhabit North America, and the moas that lived in New Zealand. And it is precisely the same bad luck that has brought so many species—including every one of the great apes—to the edge of oblivion today.
Among the hundreds of thousands of Neanderthal artifacts that have been unearthed, almost none represent unambiguous attempts at art or adornment (...) This paucity has led some to propose that Neanderthals were not capable of art or—what amounts to much the same thing—not interested in it. They simply did not possess what, genomically speaking, might be called the aesthetic mutation.
Elizabeth Kolbert finishes her text with the following snapshot which made me want to take off to France right away. I'll have to point out though, that there's a distinction between etching and engraving which she missed:
The site, Grotte des Combarelles, is a long, very narrow cave that zigzags through a limestone cliff. Hundreds of feet in, the walls of the cave are covered with engravings—a mammoth curling its trunk, a wild horse lifting its head, a reindeer leaning forward, apparently to drink. In very recent times, the floor of the Grotte des Combarelles has been dug out, so that a person can walk in it, and the tunnel is dimly lit by electric lights. But when the etchings were originally created, some twelve or thirteen thousand years ago, the only way to gain access to the site would have been to crawl, and the only way to see in the absolute dark would have been to carry fire. As I crept along through the gloom, past engravings of wisent and aurochs and woolly rhinos, it occurred to me that I really had no clue what would drive someone to wriggle through a pitch-black tunnel to cover the walls with images that only another, similarly driven soul would see. Yet it also struck me that so much of what is distinctively human was here on display—creativity, daring, “madness.” And then there were the animals pictured on the walls—the aurochs and mammoths and rhinos. These were the beasts that Paleolithic Europeans had hunted, and then, one by one, as with the Neanderthals, obliterated.
December 17, 2014 "WOW"
It's always interesting to disagree with somebody who is passionate about his case. I just finished reading Jan-Erik Andersson's book "WOW – åsikter om finländsk arkitektur" ('WOW – Opinions on Finnish Architecture'; click the link to see an excerpt in English translation), in which Jan-Erik makes his case (again) against modernism and box-like shapes in architecture and argues for decorative ornamentation and as much individualistic forms as possible. We both know each other since when Jan-Erik was finishing his doctorate project at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, during the time in 2007-2009 when I was there. We were arguing also then. I really like modernistic box-like shapes, whereas Jan-Erik doesn't seem to be able to quite understand how this is possible. And I can't even begin to imagine myself living in the space he has conceived for himself and his family: the Life-on-a Leaf house in Turku. It's far to dense with preconceived meaning.
That having been said, I always use Jan-Erik's doctorate project as my prime example for how "artistic research" can indeed make perfect sense, for particular individuals. It was because Jan-Erik turned his house building idea into an academic project that he was able to push it through the (modernistically inclined) city planning bureaucracy in Turku. In the second part of his doctoral thesis the long and winding building process has been extensively documented and commented, which is valuable in all sorts of ways, given the unusual character of the house. In the first part, is the aesthetic argument for it, together with hypotheses and claims, some of which are then proved wrong during the process.
The house has now been finished for four years. It is used as a home and at the same time as fuel for an ongoing artistic and ideological campaign. The research process didn't stop with the thesis, it continues!
December 16, 2014 "Financial Politics"
During the day, my thoughts kept returning to what I wrote here yesterday. There are, of course, many reasons for why individuals focus on the promotion of more or less fictive identities. Many of them (most?) have to do with feelings of insecurity and fear of change. For very many (most?) of us, such feelings are not at all unreasonable or out of line. We are insecure, and it is unrealistic to believe all change will be for the better. The question is what you do with your feelings of insecurity, and who you blame?
For a sober and sobering analysis on how labour markets are developing now and in the near future I'd like to recommend an article from "the Economist", October 4: "To those that have shall be given – Labour is steadily losing out to capital". It makes clear how the middle class is loosing jobs and positions, due to increasing automation and computerization, creating a "hole in the middle". Those of the former middle class, who did not manage to cut a path, instead, in the increasingly well paid individual-talent-knowledge-economy, will find themselves having to compete in an ever wider pool of applicants for menial jobs which will still be there – but where salaries can continue to be held low, or be pushed further down, thanks to the ever increasing stream of new applicants.
Frustration, bitterness and blame games will be the result, on a monumental scale. The parlamential mess in Sweden is just a beginning.
December 15, 2014 "Identity politics"
A couple of weeks ago Sweden's new (since September) Prime Minister (A Social Democrat) took what appears almost as a desperate decision, and announced he will call a new election, to be held in March next year. It happend because the far right Sweden Democrats (who have 12,86 % of the vote, are polling even higher and were recently labeled "neo-fascist" by the PM) refused to accept, even passively, a budget which didn't meet their demands for radically reducing immigration. Yesterday, their party secretary, Björn Söder, in an interview with Dagens Nyheter said, among other things, that his party wants to "help those immigrants who want to return home", offering them a "repatriation grant". This way "we will gain better conditions for creating a society with a shared identity".
In her intelligent column discussing this interview, Maria Schottenius in the same newspaper points out that in earlier times, when the conservative parties in Sweden allowed themselves vague references to nationalism and general prejudice against gays, feminists and various unfamiliar elements in society, the voters who now support the Sweden Democrats would still have felt at home within the acceptable right of center parties (most importantly "Moderaterna", who lead the defeated coalition government until September). What has changed, is that the leading figures of Moderaterna no longer support socially conservative and generally prejudiced values, but embrace personal freedom and the idea that a person's value is defined on the global marketplace as a function of what she does and not of where she comes from.
This change has opened the door wide for a political movement which many Swedes (I among them) have had a hard time actually taking seriously until now (at our cost): Blut-und-Boden ideology as a response to the reality of the world we live in today. Identity politics as a general escape route (from reality).
Then a scary thought hits me: what if "Identity politics as a general escape route" is not just a problem on the far right of the political spectrum but for the left as well?
December 10, 2014 "Uppsala chimney thoughts 3"
When I started writing this "column" three years ago I did it in English, because that's the default language I chose for the website, when I started it in 1996. When I use this space for thoughts on the Uppsala chimney project it is my hope, of course, that I will also reach some people in Uppsala, who may be looking for more background on my ideas for the chimney. I can't deny it's a little strange to imagine them reading me in English but it would be stranger still to start using Swedish for topics which relate to Sweden. Then I would have to consider writing in German when I have something to say about the city where I live (or where I teach). And use French for French subject matter, etc. What a mess.
Thanks to internet culture, a site specific artwork in some location, has the potential to become interesting for somebody, completely independently of where this person is located. This may be both a blessing and a curse, but it is certainly a reality. Better stick to a lingua franca.
December 8, 2014 "Uppsala chimney thoughts 2"
Any artist working with images (whether in two or three dimensions) must constantly reflect upon how much can be explained about the image, using words.
We humans (artists and non-artists alike) all use verbal language to communicate with each other, and so the thought comes easy, that also every image, every art work, can be explained with words. Which is false. The point about making art, in its various forms, is that it allows us to produce meaning which cannot fully be explained in words and cannot fully be categorized.
It also means that the artist cannot fully control the meaning of his or her work. We artists must always try, and try hard, to be as exact as possible, as demanding of ourselves as possible in pursuing perfection for the vision we have for the work. Nevertheless, there will always come a point, when the work begins to escape our control and start a life of its own. As for myself, I can only say that it is for these very moments that I make art. These moments, when control escapes me and something else appears in its place, motivate the whole endeavour. They feed my curiosity and make me look forward to beginning the process again.
Nonetheless, looking forward towards the moment of losing control would be self-destructive, if until this point I had not done everything in my power to control the work! I wrote a text about this dynamic in 1995 and called it "Viljan till kontroll möter lusten till kaos". It doesn't mention chimneys, but I remembered it now and found it worth re-reading (it's also available in English, and in German).
When asked in 2013 to propose a chimney project for Uppsala, I prepared myself carefully and decided upon three sites for which I had differing but substantial motivations (which could be expressed in words). For each site, the exact location of the sculpture was determined very precisely (+/- 10 metres for two of them, +/- 3 m, for one). Each motivation is based on various ideas about how the chimney will "make sense" there, and each site connects to my personal history in some way but the most important factor for each of the three choices had to do with the visual. How the chimney sculpture would look at each of the three places. To imagine and speculate on this, I have my experience: there is nobody but myself in the whole world who has been proposing and building sculptures in the form of chimneys at various locations over the last twenty years. Nobody but myself who has been able to repeatedly judge the result in reality of his projections and plans for chimney sculptures, and to shoulder the responsibility afterwards. Over the years I have learnt a lot.
One thing I have learnt is that there are always surprises in store. One such delicious surprise in this context, has been finding out that the site which we are now planning to build on, was used as a brick yard until the 1940s! It's so strange: I had absolutely no idea until a couple of weeks ago. So... not only does this project represent a kind of return for me (to the town where I grew up) now the chimney is set for a sort of return as well.
Test drilling has shown that the clay layer is 30 meters deep at the site!
December 8, 2014 "TEE"
I just received a message: I will be attending Kraftwerk playing Trans-Europe Express in Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, in one months' time. I will probably write a piece as well, in another publication than this. Last time I saw Kraftwerk was in 2004 (I think). So much has happend since.
December 7, 2014 "Uppsala chimney thoughts 1"
I was in Uppsala last Monday for a series of meetings with different parties involved in the project to build the Tenth Chimney. In general, these meetings went well: I met some very enthusiastic people and I got reports from different situations and groups where the project has been discussed in a very encouraging manner. Like always, there are also dissenting voices, and some of them write letters to the editor in the local paper.
As an artist who has been commissioned to make a work in a particular situation, I don't really think I have to prove anything: the work will do that for me. Nevertheless, questions are always raised about "why?" and "why here?". In response I decided I will use this space, irregularly and over some time, to reflect on my project for Uppsala and what it means. I intend to write about different aspects and thoughts as they come, with no particular ambition to form a coherent whole. There is a precursor: When in 2007 I built the "Eighth Chimney" at Wanås, I was invited by Kristianstadsbladet to publish a diary during the whole construction period. In it I reflected over what we (the three bricklayers and myself) were doing and how it related to what was going on around us. This diary later became a book, which I am very fond of.
Question: Is my proposed sculpture "a provocation"?
My instinctive answer to this question is: "no, of course not!". Which is true, when the word "provocation" is understood as "action or speech that makes someone annoyed or angry, especially deliberately" (as my dictionary has it). As an artist, I never set out to make somebody angry, or to look down on them, or to disparage them. Why should I?
On the other hand... indeed my sculpture is intended to provoke the viewer... to provoke him or her to discover new possibilities of meaning and of visual stimulation, even beauty in the everyday. To reflect upon, perhaps, "what is it really, that I am looking at" and "does what seems familiar actually change, because I know it is not what it looks like it is" leading up to, of course, the habitual question: "can this be art (when it looks like a chimney)?".
If you are ready to answer this question with a "yes" like I do you can then continue to the next question (which now has a tradition of about a hundred years): "can anything be art?" (My answer: potentially yes, but mostly it isn't).
If, on the other hand, you answer the "can it be art?" question with a "no", I propose this follow-up question:
does the answer to what is "art" reside in what has been depicted? Do you mean a sculpture which represents a horse (for example) can be art – but one which represents a chimney, can not?
November 23, 2014 "Stunning"
One reason behind not writing anything here has been me focusing all my writing energy on a lecture, to be held on 26.11 about the importance of Duchamp's readymade in the present situation, for artists and curators alike. My aim is to come out swinging... and it will be OK if some punches miss their mark. Even so, it's been a real journey involving a lot of thinking which I at first was not aware would be necessary.
Meanwhile, last week I got bad news from Oslo where I had been invited for a public art competition with five others. A rather large project for a school, which I really wanted to do – but sadly, I didn't get it.
On the same day, the city of Uppsala, in Sweden, took the formal decision to commission me to build the Tenth Chimney at a location proposed in my preparatory project from 2013. I will go there in a week for a planning meeting. 19 meters!
Then in Berlin, two days ago, I attended the opening of Niels Borch Jensen's "35 + 15" exhibition, celebrating 35 years of the printshop (of which I have seen 23) and 15 years of his Berlin gallery (I was there when it started). In the show is one of my Chimney woodcuts from 1997, which have proved so resilient. Another one is exhibited in Galerie Hochdruck in Vienna right now.
Parallel to all this, I am reading with great pleasure the catalogue to Gober's MoMA exhibition. Stunning.
November 3, 2014 "New York shows"
On the way back to Tokyo from Kyoto in September, I made a stop in Nagoya and visited Mitsuko Miwa. We hadn't seen each other since sometime around the turn of the century, and now I could visit her at home. At dinner in the evening, in a Nagoya Yakitori restaurant, I tasted raw chicken for the first time. Earlier, while looking at new paintings in her studio we talked about her upcoming show in a New York gallery, Longhouse Projects – and at that moment I had completely forgotten that I was about to go to New York at the same time (for another purpose, see below). It dawned on me only when I was back in Berlin. Via email I soon found out that Mitsuko's opening would be on the day of my arrival in New York!
And so it happened. I attended Mitsuko's opening just hours after arriving in the city, followed by a rousing dinner at the Café Gitane. It was a great example of the dynamism of New York: openness, generosity. And a great show by Mitsuko, featuring ”twins”, double paintings of exactly the same thing, between which you can't distinguish: they have exactly the same remarkable presence.
During the two days that followed I was able to see an astonishing number of interesting shows by just spending one afternoon at the MoMA: the complete (?) show of Matisse's cut-outs; Christopher William's incomprehensible but authorative photo conceptualism; a small but focused show of Dubuffet's prints and drawings; an impressive one of Toulouse-Lautrec's lithographs; the collection of course and the most impressive of all: the retrospective of Robert Gober. Extraordinarily good. I remember well how I have always been confused but intrigued when coming across his work over the years, and this feeling remains, which is such a beautiful thing. He may have very clear topics (?), but the way he deals with them never reduce them to messages. Gober always create mystery, but not unattached. He is a very precise artist and this exhibition is a great success in making this clear over all its rooms.
I spent a good part of the following day in Chelsea, seeing many interesting gallery shows. The most impressive (not counting the unbelievable Picasso and photography extravaganza at Gagosian) was the show upstairs at Metro, by Trevor Paglen. The video installation consists of (thousands of) actual code words for secret surveillance operations scrolling down on the four walls of a room. It was a rare example of a show which at first I had no idea what to think of, but which became acute after reading the press release text.
November 2, 2014 "New York run"
Since 2001 I have run a yearly Marathon (with two in 2012). While I normally draw a line between private and private on this page, I have made note of my Marathon performances as they happened. Last year I made my personal best. Today not. Today I made my personal worst, using all of four hours, eighteen minutes and thirteen seconds to reach the goal in New York's Central Park. For various reasons, during the last couple of months, I had not been able to prepare in the best way and was expecting to be bad, but not this bad. As it happened I had a cramp in my right leg on Queensboro bridge and it remained with me the following eighteen kilometers. Such a struggle.
Nevermind. I'm really happy now, in bed in a room with a glass wall on the 37th floor of a Times Square hotel. In this sport, you don't deserve to be hugely surprised. You need to collect the necessary kilometers in training, and good ones they should be, in order to own the speed you're aiming for.
October 24, 2014 "1918"
Returning to my drawings after writing the post below, I listen to a BBC radio program with a writer talking about her research for a novel which takes place among soldiers during World War 1. My thoughts wander, like they are allowed and encouraged to do when you are making pictures.
It occurs to me that I may have known a person who actually saw this war. Can it be true? Wikipedia gives the answer: yes, Roland Penrose "joined the Friends' Ambulance Unit (as a conscientious objector), serving from September 1918 with the British Red Cross in Italy".
Roland was not yet 18 years old, in September 1918.
And here am I, 96 years later, making drawings in the heart of Berlin.
October 24, 2014 "Translation"
In the studio, working on drawings, Trial type. I have some 15-20 unfinished ones spread out before me on a table. They have been started at various times in the last year or two, triggered by some idea which at that particular moment seemed important to me, and then abandoned when I didn't know how to continue (which could happen very quickly). Now I have them all out to see if I can come up with any continuation. Working on a corner here, filling in a surface there: anything which for a brief moment seems to make sense. I really don't have much of a clue and that's what interests me.
At some point one will take off: a trace will appear (or re-appear) which I can follow and possibly I will be able to pursue this path until I feel (whatever that really means) I have a finished image. By then, the drawing will be telling a story I had no idea I was going to tell, when I started it at some point in the past. I will number it, sign it, scan it and put it in the appropriate box. I have a system with yearly boxes for Chimney drawings as well as for Trial drawings.
Later, hopefully, there will come a moment when by some whim I suddenly believe I know how to start translating this drawing into a painting. It will be the start of a somewhat similar process. Lot's of hesitation, lot's of non-activity leading up to hopefully a painting which I feel is telling a story I, again, had no idea I was going to tell.
All art derives from attempts at translation and interpretation. There is no other way. Successful art is the result of transformation having occured during this process of translation and interpretation.
Can this statement stand?
I think so. Please note that I did not say what is at the origin of the first translation process.
October 22, 2014 "Koons"
I just read a piece called "The Cult of Jeff Koons" by Jed Pearl in The New York Review of Books. This text is not only a major assault on Koons' art, its pretensions and the reception and understanding it receives by society, including major players in the art world it is also one of the most lucid analysis of how the Dadaists' spirit of anti-art and Duchamp's readymade initiative have been developed since inception. In fact, it is one of the most thrilling texts I have read in a very long time. And I even like some of Koons.
October 13, 2014 "Thrill"
Last week I spent like in a trance, working on a multipage project presentation involving a number of photoshop montages combined with text. On the Monday I thought I might finish on Wednesday. Of course I didn't: chores like this always suck up all the available time, they are never finished early. One day I sat in the sofa with my laptop on my lap for some fourteen hours. Time just disappear, but it's not exactly because you're having fun, it's because there's no alternative to trying to accomplish the task (selling the project while devising it, simultaneously) as well as is at all possible. Making art is always about selling (that brutal word, or should I say communicating or convincing instead?) in some shape or form, but I enjoy more when the product is an idea rather than an artefact.
The week before there was another instance of me trying to "sell" my work. In Vienna it was the first week of the new term: our new students began. On their second day I gave a lecture about my own work. I'm head of the department, which means my word carries some power. For this reason alone, I think it is necessary that I introduce at the very first instance the reason for why I am there, which is my work, combined with my ability to talk about it.
After the lecture there were questions and one of them (or rather my answer) has been nagging me for two weeks. Somebody asked (I'm confused about whom, I first wrote something here which turned out to be wrong): "if you'd have just one word to characterize your work, what would that word be?" Caught off guard I began a rambling answer saying that one word would not be enough (of course), but there was one sentence I had once used: "The will to control meets the lust for chaos", which could perhaps be fitting... and so on... and so forth...
And why not? But my questioner had asked for one word, not a sentence and a ramble. My lack of a crisp answer continued to irritate me. Then, the other day, I suddenly knew what word I should have offered, because it really sums it all up, my motivation for being in this game and staying:
September 28, 2014 "Flight 447"
I came across a great piece of journalism, which relates in extreme detail what happened, and why, during the Air France flight 447 which ended at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean in 2009. At the time, nobody could figure it out. Two years later the flight recorder was recovered and with it the beginning of an understanding. It's a story of the uneasy interplay during crisis ( a crisis which did not need to be) between highly developed automated machinery and faulty human instincts.
Even today—with the flight recorders recovered from the sea floor, French technical reports in hand, and exhaustive inquests under way in French courts—it remains almost unimaginable that the airplane crashed. A small glitch took Flight 447 down, a brief loss of airspeed indications—the merest blip of an information problem during steady straight-and-level flight. It seems absurd, but the pilots were overwhelmed.
As I was reading I gradually realized that I wasn't merely following a story about a fatal airplane accident, but reading a parable about the conditions for life that are being developed right now and not just in relation to digital technology.
September 24, 2014 "Surrealismus"
One of the last days in Japan I noticed my computer behaving strangely. Whenever I tried to make it work a bit harder it crashed, and then it couldn't be rebooted before cooling off for a whole night. Most annoying. I managed to keep it alive until reaching home in Berlin and updating my backup. Then, immedietly after, it crashed completely and refused to be bothered anymore. Greatly nervous, as I had only a few days in Berlin before heading to Vienna and starting up the new term, I took it to Gravis for repairs. At first, things went downhill quickly. The guy who took on the computer forgot(?) that I had explicitly asked for express repairs, and by phone it was impossible to change. I had to go there in person again, to insist on how urgent my case was. Now I met with a technician who had a completely different attitude and promised to do all he could. The next morning he called and said the motherboard had to be replaced. First it would have to be ordered from Apple... Thist was on the Saturday. In the best case, the spare would arrive on Tuesday. I would leave for Vienna Wednesday afternoon.
Tuesday afternoon I go back to Gravis in dispair. (Life without my computer is much harder than I would like it to be). I explain my problem and worries to a young woman, who goes behind and comes back to say the technician is just finishing the final tests! Five minutes later I have my computer back again – and do I feel relieved!
Now I'm at the airport, about to enter the plane and head straight to the opening of an exhibition at Galerie Hochdruck, called "Symbolismus / Surrealismus", where I have two works. As a surrealist, I suppose! (?)
September 17, 2014 "Rocks (Time)"
Two days ago I had dinner with Teruo and Junko Ishihara in a restaurant in Kyoto's old Geisha quarters. It was a lovely evening and very very special, because we had only met once before: in Man Ray's studio on Rue Ferou in Paris, one afternoon in summer 1982. Thirty-two years ago. Back then, they were on their honeymoon and had had a chance encounter with a friend of Juliet Man Ray the day before, which made their visit to the studio possible. Teruo had already been obsessed with Man Ray for several years. Just like I was. When they came on their studio visit in 1982, I was already there, hanging out. When they left after an hour, I never expected to see them again.
Sixteen years later, in 1998, I was asked to make a Man Ray themed exhibition at Edsvik, in Sollentuna outside Stockholm. My solution was to show my own little collection, in a particular installation. I was able to make a catalogue as well. This Teruo found out, while he was scanning the internet for Man Ray events and he sent an email. Thus communication was re-established, in a most surprising way. And now again sixteen years later (!) we have actually met again, much longer and more substantial than the first time. It was a most amazing evening, which made me think profundly about my life and I think it was the same for Teruo and Junko.
The next day, our little group from Vienna visited the Ryoan-ji temple in Kyoto and its famous "dry garden", or "rock garden". Fifteen stones placed in 250 m2 of white gravel, against a surrounding wall with spots. To contemplate this "landscape" was one of the most profound art (or was it something else?) experiences I have had.
The rock garden was constructed around 1500. At about the same time, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The garden at Ryoan-ji is completely non-figurative. It represents something else.
September 9, 2014 "Siberia"
I'm writing this somewhere above Siberia. I'm on a flight to Tokyo from Frankfurt. We have avoided Ukrainian airspace. It will be the first time I set foot in Japan since 21 years. My first visit happened as a little weekend holiday, away from the building site in Taejon, South Korea. I hung out in Roppongi for two days with a Swedish friend who was living there at the time.
Back then in June 1993 I had seen but never used a mobile phone. Text messaging had not been invented. I didn't know that the internet existed. The World Wide Web hardly did, Tim Berners-Lee had uploaded its very first page in 1991. I had had a computer for about two years, but I had never heard of a communication method called email.
Before returning to Korea I made a little drawing as a present for my host, a drawing of a chimney. I had no idea how meaningful and productive these marks on a piece of paper were to become to me. A few years ago I received a photo of this drawing, which I had feared was lost.
On this trip to Tokyo I find to my dismay that it is now possible to connect to the internet from the plane. I am determined not to do it. I will upload this update once we have landed.
August 19, 2014 "Sommar"
Having accomplished my Romanian mission, not without success, I returned for a few days of late summer holidays in Sweden. When I left, it was the most beautiful wheather, now it's all rain and wind. I don't mind. I'm preparing autumn's many tasks.
During a run in the rain I listen fascinated to a podcast of Svante Pääbo's "Sommar i P1" radio show. Any Swedish reader will know the show, which has been in existence for 55 years. Every summer some fifty personalities from Swedish (more or less) public life are chosen to compose their own shows, which is each one and a half hour long and consists of the person talking and playing music.
Since the shows begun to be made available as podcasts a number of years ago, I make it a rule to listen to all of each summer's shows. For me, as an exile, it's both a fun and an informative way to gage the mood and the fashions of my home country. From an artistic point of view, it is also interesting to observe how different non-media types handle the task of commanding the attention of the listener (and they are many) with their specific flow of words and music, for 90 minutes. The best ones often have their expertise in something completely different than media. Actors may be vacant, comedians often boring and the (far to many) professional TV-hosts and the like are frequently insupportable. Authors, surprisingly often, are no good. Journalists typically are. Visual artists hardly ever get invited (it's well known we can't talk). Musicians by contrast are legion and usually do well. A bad performance often starts with the host reflecting on his or her big opportunity: "When I got the invitation to do a Sommar show I thought...".
In my book, Meta should always be avoided.
The format of the show comes down to you, as a host, having to be able to present yourself and your preoccupations as a captivating story. People who do this all the time (like media types) in many cases have nothing convincing left to say, as they have riffed on their ego-story far too often. Others, who get this one chance to break out of whatever it is they normally do, can be excellent. I thought Pääbo was: in the way he was able to explain and expand upon his work as a paleo-geneticist (sequencing the DNA of the Neandertahls) and in how he talked about himself. All were not impressed though. Afterwards I saw a review (all these programs gets reviewed) by some idiot journalist who said she couldn't care less about finding out that she and most of us, carry one percent of Neandertahl DNA.
According to Pääbo, one reason for the Neanderthals' disappearance, some 30.000 years ago, might have been (among other things) their inability to tell stories. Their lack of imagination. He mentions that no Neandertahl seem ever to have set out to sea where you can't see the land towards which you are heading. Whereas modern man after exiting Africa, soon had spread to every corner of the planet, including Australia and the most isolated pacific islands.
The ability to imagine what might lie beyond the horizon.
August 16, 2014 "New texts"
Finally doing some work on this site, from a hotel in Oradea, Romania, I have added a few texts published since last fall.
"Sich Modelle Vorstellen", which is the most recent, written for the publication issued at the inauguration in early July of Florian Dombois' important public art project in Potsda.
"Binäre Grauwerte", the catalogue text for Thomas Kilpper, which I have already mentioned here.
"Space for Living" is the text about Absalon's work for Cahiers d'Art, which I also wrote about earlier. Re-reading it now, I think this text is one of the better ones I have ever written. Granted it has a somewhat emotional attitude, it is also restricted in its expression.
"No Man is an Island" is a short introduction to the catalogue (which is great!) of an exhibition a number of my students made at the Galerie Hochdruck in Vienna, from late 2013 to early 2014.
"The Art of Attention" I wrote for a monograph on two artists, Anette and Caroline Kierulf whose work I knew just a little when I was invited to do write. In the text I bring together a number of themes I have been working on in my Vienna lectures.
"Introduction" is another catalogue text, this time for "Thought Machines", an exhibition we organized in Vienna with four other universities, last fall. Such a great title. Thanks Katrin!
Last but not least, I have finally uploaded my "Man Ray 2013" text, written for the travelling exhibition organzied by Mjellby Konstmuseum in Halmstad, Sweden. In this piece, I use a retrospective attitude, looking (and quoting something from each) at all the texts on Man Ray that I have written over the years, starting with a text written in high school. A labour of love.
July 21, 2014 "Holiday reading"
I'm reading books on holiday. Right now I'm halfway through "Bad Boy – My Life On and Off the Canvas", an autobiography by Eric Fischl, whose paintings I know but never liked. They always seemed to me not as good as they aim to be, their defaults not convincing as qualities. That said, some of them are clear as memories. The book is not without qualities though. It has its moments of over-interpretation (of the paintings' content), and of trying too hard to show how life and art converge, but there are places too, where Fischl is precise, using words:
Art is a process and a journey. All artists have to find ways to lie to themselves, find ways to fool themselves into believing that what they're doing is good enough, the best they can do at that moment, and that's okay. Every work of art falls short of what the artist envisioned. It is precisely that gap between their intention and their execution that opens up the door for the next work. (p. 29) All painters I know have a list in their heads of things they are unsure about with any painting they are working on. The list will often include anything from doubts about style or subject matter to the niggling questions about brushstrokes, edges of shapes, and colors. For me, if someone looks at my work and hits on anything on my list, I know that my doubts are correct and I need to fix it. If they don't hit on anything on the list, then I know my doubts simply reflect my own anxiety. That afternoon, Jean-Christophe hit every single thing on my list... (p. 121)
July 05, 2014 "Exhibition as a chore?"
I took a day for exhibition watching. First I went to the David Bowie extravaganza at Martin-Gropius–Bau. When it was shown in London it became fully booked out so that no more tickets (all of them time-slotted) were available. Here it was not so bad. I bought mine, timed for 10:15, the day before. I have been, at times, a huge Bowie fan and the experience was enjoyable and no waste of time: there's a lot to see, to watch, to read and to hear. Still, here and there it is too obvious that decisions have been made not by an independent curator, but by people involved in the marketing strategies for the album which was surprise-released with the first opening of the exhibition in London. The exhibition has an ambition to escape the hyper-commercialism of the pop music industry (which functions in a different way than the rampant commercialism of the art world) but it doesn't really make it. The whole thing would have gained from including a critical, discursive perspective. As it is, it is entertainment.
A critical perspective is surely claimed by the curator of the Berlin Biennal, but it doesn't matter because here, the let's call it entertainment aspect is completely lacking. When you visit the three locales, walking around open-minded and eager for something to happen, almost nothing happens. No stimuli. No thoughts triggered. No wild goose chase entered. Almost all installations depend on background information and context which is OK, in itself but they lack independent visual attraction. And the background information/context is not provided in the space. It's probably available in the catalogue, but I didn't check. I'm not going to read an exhibition after finding that there is nothing to it that I want to see. Visual art and the exhibition format can be a wonderful medium for launching thought processes and triggering discursive thought but it never works if the visuality of the experience is ignored.
Who gets off on exhibitions as a chore?
July 01, 2014 "Binäre Grauwerte"
Yesterday evening I was in Hamburg, attending Thomas Kilpper's opening at Kunsthaus Hamburg. I was pretty curious to see this retrospective (having only seen one gallery show before, in Vienna). It's all woodcut, often in gigantic scale. I also had another reason to go: I wrote the text for the catalogue! Which is pretty interesting, when you consider that last night was the third time in my life that I met Thomas. After we had met the first time, some months ago, and had a long conversation about this and that, he had a flash inspiration and asked whether I would like to write for him. I said yes (I always become so curious!) and we met one more time, to talk about him. Then I wrote, and then we had more back and forth than I had expected (and probably he as well). In the end there is a pretty good text called "Binäre Grauwerte". The translation would be either "Binary greyscales" or "Binary grey values". I'm not sure which. Eventually I will upload the text here, but I always wait a while, so as not to make immediate concurrence with the publication for which I have been writing.
June 10, 2014 "Kentridge"
I like using powerpoint. I like to lecture. Preparing a lecture about a subject always helps me understand the subject better and my own relation to it. My latest lecture was in Oslo two weeks ago, where I also had dinner with the Queen. But that's another story.
Tonight, in stifling Vienna, I watched in awe as William Kentridge gave a supreme lecture performance. He was on a low platform on a stage, in a theatre setting. He had a pulpet, which looked a bit like something used in one of his films; there was a backdrop with some pictures which didn't command much attention, and a screen onto which his powerpoint slides were projected. And three outtakes from films. He himself was miked so that he could leave his pulpet and move. That was it. The fact that the audience, which numbered about a thousand (that's not bad for an artist's talk!), was absolutely mesmerized had everything to do with the words he said, and how he said them, and how he used pauses between some words, and not between others; and how he even commented on this, his use of pauses. It had everything to do with what he chose to show on the screen, sometimes repeating what he was saying at that moment, sometimes not. It had everything to do with the amount of thought and preparation which had gone into preparing this lecture. It had everything to do with how Kentridge performed his lecture and the way he seemed completely at ease with the situation, enjoying to be the centre of our attention and wanting to use it, as much as possible!
June 04, 2014 "Knife"
I feel slightly awkward about what I wrote below, about Arcade Fire, because yesterday I saw Shonen Knife again and was completely blown over. It was a perfect show. Better than in Hamburg 2011 or in Berlin the year before. So tight, great sound. I think this version of the group might actually be the best, with Ritsuko who is a much more rock bass player than Michie or Atsuko was, while being absolutely charismatic in her stage persona, such a star, and Emi whose drumming is heavier too, and more restrained than Etsuko's, which I like. She has a commanding presence as well. With these two younger members acting out like they do, Naoko has a lot of space for cultivating her own curious and humorous quirks. Sadly, I never saw the other itinerations of the band live, but I have followed them for 23 years or so – and nowadays there's a million clips on Youtube. Who could have imagined this? I see that they will finish this European tour in London on June 14. It will be Shonen Knife's 985th gig. The first recording I have (utterly primitive) is from April 1982... The first album was released in 1983 (when Emi and Ritsuko would have been just born or a couple of years old) from which they played two songs last night. If my counting is right there has appeared 18 albums with original material (almost all of it written by Naoko Yamano, with some tracks by Michie Nakatani), plus one album with Ramones songs, as well as live albums and compilations.
I'm quite convinced there is no other woman in the world (and hardly any man), who can compete with Naoko Yamano when it comes to leading a band (including finding and motivating new members), writing songs, touring and keeping the flame.
To be able to go on stage for a smallish (but completely dedicated – we knew we were being lucky) crowd so far from home – and for the 982th time – and exude such genuine happiness and dedication and conviction. Exemplary. For me, as an artist, an ideal to follow.
Tomorrow they play in Hamburg.
June 02, 2014 "Fire"
Tomorrow (tonight: I start writing this two minutes to midnight) I will go to a concert. It is not, though, the concert I most wanted to attend, which will happen in Berlin on June 18, when I will be in Vienna. I have to be there: I will chair the diploma jury which will finish its work that evening.
Instead, I gave two tickets to Arcade Fire at Wuhlheide, Berlin, to Edvin, my now 10 year old son, who will replace me (chaperoned by his mother) and report. He is almost as crazy about Arcade Fire as I am.
I haven't been this crazy about a band for at least twenty years. It's been going for several months, already. This evening again I succumbed. First I watched "Scenes from the Suburbs", Spike Jonze's twenty minute film with music from album three. Then some concert videos from Youtube. Very peculiar: I can't get enough.
I think it compensates.
May 29, 2014 "Growth"
There is a terrifying article in today's Guardian on "the great taboo of our age": the impossibility of perpetual growth. It's written by George Monbiot. His argument is compelling and I'm afraid he's right. The piece begins like this:
Let us imagine that in 3030BC the total possessions of the people of Egypt filled one cubic metre. Let us propose that these possessions grew by 4.5% a year. How big would that stash have been by the Battle of Actium in 30BC?
This is the calculation performed by the investment banker Jeremy Grantham. Go on, take a guess. Ten times the size of the pyramids? All the sand in the Sahara? The Atlantic ocean? The volume of the planet? A little more?
It's 2.5 billion billion solar systems. It does not take you long, pondering this outcome, to reach the paradoxical position that salvation lies in collapse. To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must ...
May 25, 2014 "Picture this"
It could be a momentous day, with all the elections taking place, for the EU and in Ukraine. As I write, I haven't checked the news, so I don't know the results. Instead, belatedly I wanted to mention a most interesting piece of private research which I came across some days ago, through Swedish media (the article is in Swedish, but the pictures speak a more international language). It's a blog author who decided to check where the photos of "typical" Swedish culture subjects published in the (very) right wing anti-immigration "Swedish Democrats" party's propaganda folder, have been sourced. He found that all photos, except one, had been bought from international stock photo agencys – and that the photographers involved were Polish, Russian, Ukrainan... So much for the authenticity of this party's message, which nonetheless has been gaining ground in Swedish politics thanks to a very polished party leader. It's a great piece of sleuth work: go to May 20, on Bakelit.com.
May 25, 2014 "Venus"
I spent this weekend being a tourist in Vienna with my small family. It's hard work, being a tourist. You have to come up with touristy things to do, and there are group dynamics involved. We didn't try too hard, and the one thing we did which was not exactly great fun (attending a performance of the Spanish Riding school) was so absurd and boring that I wouldn't want to not have done it. I also don't want to do it again. Today, on the other hand, we visited the Naturhistorisches Museum and it was incredible. I hadn't been there before, but as it is built as an exact match to the monumental Kunsthistorisches Museum across the plaza I already felt (almost) at home. Only a monarchy with a lot to prove, would build museums like this, I thought walking through room after room with amazing 19th century vitrines full of mineral samples. It's a great value that these vitrines have not all been thrown out and replaced with screens and illusions. In fact, I think the museum showed great intelligence in how they keep the old taxonomic display tradition alive while adding various forms of modern media, digital or not, to the displays to provide perspective and additional information. It's dusty and a bit messy, but alive and sometimes contradictory, which is a good thing. In one room, in the middle of a lot of random stuff there was Venus of Willendorf, having been temporarily moved from its normal room which was being reorganized. I hadn't seen it before, and I had forgotten it was in Vienna. It moved me.
May 19, 2014 "Money Machinery"
The question of money having money, not having money was always a factor influencing artists' lives and consequently their work. Ask anyone. The fact that we (artists) live off transmuting ideas and feelings and labour into some form of more or less material objects... which are then assigned fluctuating values in an extreme version of the capitalist marketplace... this uneasy fact impact all art activity, including such forms which explicitly deny and forbid any such relation.
So... there's nothing new here, but for one disruptive fact: the amount of money poured into the top end of the system. The sums spent on the highest paid contemporary art works would have been absolutely inconceivable even fifteen years ago, something out of a crazy dream or nightmare. This situation creates a distorted vision of what art is should will be about, for everyone involved. The development I'm talking about is recent, it has happened during the time I have been active, and it has everything to do with the growing income inequality in societies all over the world, as diverse attempts at social engineering and -levelling have been sacrificed on the altars of various altars of "freedom". It has to do with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the creation of an oligarch class. With the victory of capitalism in China. With the ever rising bonuses of bankers in the West and the rapacity of hedge fund managers. It has everything to do with tech and the internet and who is able to use current tools for monetizing the currency of impression. If I am able to create the impression of some art expression being more interesting and sexy than others, and if I am able to use information tools to broadcast this in a convincing way, the rewards can multiply in a way which simply wasn't possible before. This fact invites trouble. Much such trouble is being created by the auction houses, which have come to dictate (to many) how the value of art is supposed to be understood and judged, in what can only be called an unhealthy way. The combination of the steadily growing number of the super rich with the available tools for creating and manipulating opinion is the foundation for a new paradigm.
About a week ago in New York, Christie's organized an auction of mostly younger, some very young, expensive art, which the person responsible, Loic Gouzer (identified as "curator" by Christie's, although he is employed by the auction house), labeled "dark" and "edgy". A New York Times article is here. The sale was marketed with an irreverent I suppose "cool" video of a skateboarder skating through the spaces where the auction was being prepared, set to "edgy" music. Like if the idea was to draw kids to Christie's. Rich kids, then. Common to all the work presented in this "curated" auction, was that they had been given very high estimates.
A 142x91 cm inkjet print on linen, made in 2005 by Wade Guyton as part of a longer series with variations on a theme, was given an estimate of 2.500.000 – 3.500.000 dollars. Half a year earlier a similar "painting" (print) by Guyton had been estimated to be worth a fifth of that sum, by the same company.
What happened now was very surprising. Wade Guyton himself reacted against the monetary hype created around his work and decided to sabotage it. He looked around in his computer, found the original picture file from which he had printed the work back in 2005, and started to print new ones, lot's of them: ten, twenty, thirty, I don't know how many. He then posted photos from his studio on Instagram (tag: burningbridges38 – which is a great choice of name in this context) where you see copies of the same image pouring out of his Epson printer. How often does it happen that an artist deliberately tries to devaluate the hype surrounding his own work? And I don't mean making comments in a theoretical interview or such, but actually employing the same media tools against the hype, which have been used to build it?
We have no idea yet what will be the effect of Guyton's efforts. In the short term he has managed to stir discussion, see here for example, but not been successful in his main aim (if he indeed really wanted to devaluate the work): the picture at Christie's was sold for 3,5 million dollars, and a few days later Sotheby's sold another printed "painting" for close to six million. But the very same Loic Gouzer who was behind the marketing effort which brought the artist's ire, felt entitled (whether from supreme self confidence or from true panic, is hard to say) to create a manipulated version of Guyton's image, which says "Thank U" and to circulate photos on social media of how he, the auctionist "curator", is printing fake Guytons – on a Christie's printer.
Message to artists, from Christie's:
don't ever imagine that you are not expendable.
They are wrong.
May 18, 2014 "Texting"
During the last month I have written a lot of text (although not here). One for Florian Dombois, about models of models and how artists' need to "write their works into existence", when creating public art. Writing is an essential tool to allow the work to come into existence, it has to be repeteadly translated before it actually exists whereas once the (public art) work is there, it will most often not be written about at all. A book is being published for the inauguration of Florian's installation "Zugabe" in Potsdam, with six texts about a work which, as we write, does not yet exist.
I also wrote the text for the catalogue of a retrospective exhibition by Thomas Kilpper organized by Griffelkunst in Hamburg, in early July. I have only known Thomas for a couple of months, so this invitation came as a bit of a surprise. It has been a really interesting journey to find out what it is that I want to say about his work (you don't know before you write – and that's what makes writing such a an engaging activity) and I am very much looking forward to see the piece in print: "Binäre Grauwerte" (Binary Greyscales).
Then I have been involved in assessing artistic research PhD candidates (I had to write about them too) for the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, but that's another story, not public.
Finally, to top up the writing pot, while this was going on I wrote a lecture for Vienna where I for the first time spoke in an organized way about Absalon... and two other artists... and Wade Guyton! Which tied in with a lot of controversy created by the latter, as he used Instagram to make a biting critique of the monetary evaluation of his own work! More about that soon.
April 11, 2014 "The unfathomable"
I gave a one day workshop on writing, for a group of faculty at the Bergen Academy of Art and Design. This was also the day of the MA students' final year exhibition opening, which was preceeded by a (three course) dinner (for perhaps 50-60 people) prepared by the junior MA students. I was invited, and was greatly impressed not only by the warmth and generosity of this tradition, but by the actual food as well. After dinner, the opening of their show at the Bergen Kunsthalle. Here I saw a dazzling series of paintings by a young woman named Kristin Austreid. Who I haven't met.
On my way back to the hotel in the evening exhausted I stopped at a convenience store I know carry foreign press, although at first I couldn't find the newspapers. I so much wanted to relax with a paper. Then I found the selection, and chose Times Literary Supplement. (I had, after all, spent the day talking about writing). Went to the hotel bar, ordered a glass of wine and started reading a long – and glowing – review of the translation of the third volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard's "My Struggle". Lately, I can't open any anglo-saxon newspaper without coming upon some tribute to him. When the Swedish press was acting in a similar way, some years back, I managed to stay unimpressed. Now my resistance is a lot weaker. Is it just because of repetition, or because these British critics make a better argument? Or worse: is it because I find it more impressive when a Scandinavian writer is celebrated by non-Scandinavians? Anyway, it made a fitting end to my day in Bergen to read the following passage:
March 30, 2014 "Springtime in Paris"
I spent a glorious spring Friday in Paris. Flew there in the morning, left my bag at a small hotel on Rue des Canettes (opposite of Chez Alexandre, Man Ray's favourite restaurant) and then drifted around for several hours without any precise plan (so unusual). In the evening I attended Rosemarie Trockel's opening at Cahiers d'Art which doubled as the launch of the new issue of the magazine (if that's the right word: we're speaking more about a luxury book here). I was very curious to see how my photos and text had been used as I had had no information whatsoever regarding layout, etc.
I needn't have worried: the result went way beyond my expectations: my eleven photos (of Absalon's abode in the Villa Lipchitz and from his exhibition at Galerie Ficheroulle in Brussels in 1992) covered fifteen pages, perfectly printed, and then there were two pages for my text as well. I was astonished, I had imagined several photos to the page... it looks fantastic.
It was a great evening, I felt very light, somehow outside of time. Marie-Ange Guilleminot came, who I became friends with in the Villa Lipchitz when she was together with Absalon. At one point I was standing talking to a woman named Annette who apparently had known Absalon as well, wondering how (and who she was), when Michel-Ange, Marie-Ange's partner today, referred to my interlocutor including her last name: Messager. A little later Boltanski showed up too and I said hello to him as well for the first time since 1989. I even met Misha, a childhood friend from Uppsala, Sweden, who I had met exactly once (some ten years ago) since he moved away from our neighbourhood in about 1973 0r 74.
The opening was followed by a loud and lovely dinner offered by Staffan Ahrenberg for 30-40 people at the Brasserie Lipp, where I had eaten once before, with Juliet Man Ray in the early 80s (Serge Gainsborough lunching on whisky at the next table). Here at one point I found myself standing next to a young guy who turned out to be Adrián Villar Rojas, whose installation at Documenta had impressed me tremendously. He was starstruck from realising he was talking to Messager and Boltanski, telling them how back in Argentina he had studied photocopies of photocopies of their work. At the table I was conversing in English with a British-American artist to my left, in Swedish to a Swedish-American collector opposite and in French to a gregarious businessman on my right who had set up his first joint venture in Beijing in 1981. Selling bakery equipment.
It was one of those nights.
March 19, 2014 "Umelec"
In Vienna today I opened a small package to find the first copies of the Slovak translation of my book "An Artist's Text Book". It's now called "Umelec a písanie", which according to Google translate means "Artist and Writing". It's quite a feeling to look at the translation of a book you wrote, where now you don't understand a word. It's a proud feeling for sure, especially so, as you can't judge the result.
I know something about translation and the way it happens. I have translated a book (Hebdomeros) in order to own it. I wonder how the translator of Umelec a písanie approached his task?
March 6, 2014 "Cahiers d'Art"
Whatever else, do look out for the upcoming issue of Cahiers d'Art. They are going to publish a number of my photos of Absalon's studio, made in 1990 and 92. I have also written a text, which will be available in English and in French. First they asked about the photos, then for a text as well. If I have understood it right Rosemarie Trockel was supposed to write but didn't, I think it is her idea to have Absalon. We'll see – for me it is unusual and quite exciting. Cahiers d'Art belongs in the first row of grand Modernist art history. The operation was relaunched in 2012 and the classic 33-volume Picasso catalogue is about to be published again. Pre-order: only 15.000 €.
On another note, there appeared a review of my Stockholm exhibition the other day. It is here. The text makes references to Man Ray, and in the same issue of this online magazine there's a review of the Stockholm exhibition of his work which makes references to me. Man Ray: my colleague!
March 3, 2014 "Idea"
Sophie Allgårdh wrote a review of the Man Ray exhibition in Stockholm the other day. We met for a chat while she was working on it. I was impressed to see she had brought he Sothebys auction catalogue from 1995. A secret society: the owners of catalogues of crucial sales. Anyway, what really struck me in her text was the idea that maybe one day I should make a Man Ray exhibition. (I actually already did it once, in 1998, but that project doesn't really count here). Imagine having the resources to ask for crucial loans. It would be really cool. And it will probably never happen, but who knows?
March 2, 2014 "Crimea"
"If anyone ever insulted him in any way," his friend recalled, "Volodya would immediately jump on the guy, scratch him, bite him, rip his hair out by the clump do anything at all never to allow anyone to humiliate him in any way."
Masha Gessen quoting from Oleg Blotsky's biography of Vladimir Putin, published in 2002. In a gushing interview from the Moscow Times of that year, one can read this:
"Blotsky added that the abundance of praise in the biography was not his intention, but merely reflected the common points of view of unrelated people -- who speak of Putin's humility and candor, his assertiveness and diligence, his love for his family and friends."
Myself, I finished Gessen's momentous biography last night. I am following the news from Ukraine with trepidation. An acute analysis of the situation by Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Centre is found here.
February 28, 2014 "Bratislava"
An email from Bratislava today: the slovak translation of "An Artist's Text Book" has finally been delivered from the printer. My correspondent, Michaela Pastekova, is holding it in her hand...
February 27, 2014 "Interviews"
In Vienna, at the "Grafik und Druckgrafik" department of the "Angewandte" (translation in full: "the Drawing and Printmaking department of the University of Applied Arts Vienna), which I'm heading, we are now in the interview phase of the entrance exams. From all the applicants, we have selected 20 to work on three assignments during two and a half days. During this time I, along with my teacher colleagues (eight in total, but they are not all there at the same time) and two student representatives, conduct interviews with all twenty. It's a very fascinating process. Always interesting, often touching, never boring. I remember when I interviewed for the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques in Paris, in 1988. Or rather: I don't remember a word I said, just how terrifying I found this experience which took place in the middle of a grand, otherwise empty hall of Palais de Tokyo. In Vienna we use my cosy studio office with a view of rooftops. The mechanisms are the same, however. You, the interviewee, have everything at stake. We, the interviewers, do not. Except that we have the responsibility which comes from being aware of this power balance, and from remembering all of us how we have found ourselves in similar situations. It is not easy. And we are meeting with many very convincing and talented people. It is clear already that we will have a great group of new students in autumn and that we are going to have to make some really hard choices tomorrow about who will be in it. There are more deserving than there are places.
February 27, 2014 "Jewishness"
I don't have Neil Baldwin's biography at hand in Vienna, but some googling indicates I was wrong in thinking his parents originated from the Ukraine (see below). Never mind. Being very busy at the moment I continue reading the Putin biography in an unregular manner, at the same time as following news stories of what is going on in the Ukraine. Everyone, there and everywhere, is waiting and wondering what will be this pale man's next move. Will he actually make a military intervention? After some faked provocation? Today I read that Russia has mobilized its air force at the border. How far can this situation escalate?
The biographical facts about the Russian president, as they appear in Masha Gessen's book... are nothing if not scary. I'm surprised she chose to stay in Russia as long as she did.
Meanwhile, while looking for the geographic origins of Man Ray's parents online, I came across a well written and interesting piece on his jewishness.
February 23, 2014 "In the air"
I'm in-between places, mentally as well as in a physical sense. I'm writing on the plane from Stockholm to Berlin. It's been an intense week around my exhibition. My show has met with a very good response so far, lots of people came and I have met with many friends, old and new. In addition, yesterday I attended the opening at Millesgården of the Man Ray exhibition organized first by Mjellby Konstmuseum last year. It was followed by a grand dinner in the studio of the sculptor Milles (who as an artist and as a man, couldn't be more different from Man Ray), where once again Antony Penrose was present. He jokingly told a friend of mine he was planning to have me build a chimney at Farley Farm. (Now, that would be something...). In between these events I'm reading Masha Gessen's biography of Putin, "The Man without a Face", after finishing her Pussy Riot book. This morning, while on the way to the airport, I was reading about the aborted coup in Russia, 1991. The same morning I read the news paper about the situation in the Ukraine, with the president (temporarily?) having left Kiev which can go any way now, between disaster and, perhaps, democracy? I can't check now, but seem to remember Man Ray's parents did indeed come from the Ukraine. Meanwhile, I have to mentally prepare myself for going to Vienna and conduct our entrance exams, which will go on for the whole week. This afternoon I want to stroll through Berlin, with Katrin and Edvin. I hear I hope the sun is out.
February 20, 2014 "Secret no more"
This afternoon is the opening of my show "The Secret Paintings".
It doesn't need to be secret any longer:
here's the exhibition revealed in sixteen installation views
here's an index for the new "Paintings" series
and here's a link to the Trial Drawing index, which has been greatly expanded as well.
February 14, 2014 "Pussy Riot"
In the midst of preparing for my show (see post below) I'm reading Masha Gessen's breathtaking new book on Pussy Riot: "Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot". I'm halfway through. I have so many other things I need to do, but it's really hard to stop reading.
The book was published a week or two ago. It's written half as a thriller, half as art history (these people are highly theory driven) from somebody "who was there". Nadeschda Tolokonnikova, the apparent leader of Pussy Riot who is now free again after one and a half year in a penal colony, is allo of 24 years old. The big question is what she/they will do next, and what effect their work so far, will eventually have? Nobody knows.
Meanwhile Gessen, who herself has been deeply involved in the political undergorund in Moscow she's a Russian-American journalist, who has already written a critical biography of Putin has left Russia with her family. She feared loosing her children. She is gay.
Everything exists at the same time.
February 14, 2014 "Paintings"
Today the invitations were sent out, for my show of paintings opening Thursday next week in Stockholm. It's always a tricky question for me, how to present a show in advance. Even more so when it will contain a type of work I have never exhibited before. What is one supposed to say about a communication one has chosen to articulate in visual form? Before it even exist, in this visual form. This time I haven't even made any clear plans for how to hang the show. I know more or less in what way, but I decided to not think about in what sequence until I am there, in the gallery, with the paintings (and drawings) before me.
In this particular case, there was the added complication of having decided to call it "Secret Paintings". To a large degree they really are: I have been working on this project since 2010 and I have shown it to about five people in the studio. I wanted to have my piece and take my time. Unlike in all other painting processes over the last 25 years, this time I have started to work on many more pictures than I have managed to finish. There's been no conceptual scaffolding "guaranteeing" success. Which paradoxically feels like a great relief. The question arose though: what, if any, image to include with the invitation? I first proposed some very unfocused photos from the studio, but Eva-Lotta at the gallery argued this could easily be misunderstood (as conceptual scaffolding, perhaps?). Instead we decided to use a detail of a painting and then promptly forgot to indicate it is indeed a detail, on the Swedish version of the card. Oh well.
I have already prepared an index of all the 37 paintings existing in this body of work (24 of which are in Stockholm) and the attendant drawings, but in the interest of secrecy I haven't uploaded it, or them, to the server yet.
February 11, 2014 "Uppsala"
Today there's an article in Uppsala Nya Tidning about the chimney project I was invited to develop for Uppsala last year. Its continuation is being discussed and deliberated right now.
In the paper they publish my photo montages of the three sites I have proposed – and ask readers to vote for which site they like best. I would have prefered for this to not happen now, but I can't control the media. Creating art by referendum is a tricky business.
February 9, 2014 "Gothenburg"
The opening in Gothenburg was crowded and high spirited and the show is substantial and thought provoking. I have added two installation views to the site. It moves from the politically inspired photo-journalistic work of the 70's (which is what surrounded me locally when I first woke up to the idea of being an artist) through the post-modern upheaval of the late 80's (where our work fit in) and on to staged photography which continues to dominate today's landscape. I was astonished to see how well Ola's and my Cibachromes have survived. They look pristine. I was expecting anything but that. So much better, as they are unique pieces: no second prints were ever made and the echtas have disappeared. No digital files here.
The other day I received the news that the opening of the Man Ray show organized by the Mjellby museum in Halmstad last summer, will open at Millesgården in Stockholm two days after my show at Galerie Flach, which opens February 20. That's brilliant timing, allowing me to attend this opening as well, with my collector hat on. February is really unique, in that there are two shows with work I have made, in Sweden – and two shows including work by others, which I own. If I have to choose, I prefer that people want to exhibit the work I have made – but the collector in me is flattered by the other alternative as well.
February 4, 2014 "Stockholm"
I'm in Sweden this week and on Friday I will be in Gothenburg for the opening of the "Between Realities" survey which I wrote about in the post below. Yesterday evening I received from the curator, Johan Sjöström, a photo from the installation which made me really happy. Five of the eleven "Stockholm" cibachromes are standing leaning against the wall, waiting to be installed. They look beautiful. I'm so much looking forward to seeing them again in reality.
Seeing work again after much time has gone by is like re-connecting with friends after a long period without contact. Sometimes you'll find they have changed for the better... and sometimes for worse. With really good friends it can be like no time has passed at all, even though we will have registered years of further experiences. Art works do to. They exist to be projection surfaces for our imaginations. Some of these will stick, others won't.
January 7, 2014 "Secrets"
December disappeared and now it's a new year. I'm in my studio working on the last drawings for my upcoming show at Galleri Flach in Stockholm: "The Secret Paintings". It will be a large number of both paintings and drawings. All new. All belonging to a new body of work which I have been focusing on between other commitments, for the last 3-4 years. I'm so looking forward to finally go public, with my secrets. The opening is February 20.
Before that I will have been in Gothenburg to attend the opening of "Mellan verkligheter Fotografi i Sverige 1970-2000" (Between Realities Photography in Sweden 1970-2000). In this exhibition will be included a number of the cibachromes made by me in collaboration with Ola Billgren in 1991, called "Stockholm". It will be nice to see some again: I haven't seen any of these works since Ola died in 2001.
I still miss him a lot. I own one small painting from 1966 which is very dear to me and it will be exhibited (for the first time since the 60s) in Länsmuseet in Gävle, Sweden, at "Ola Billgren – En ny verklighet. Målningar 1962–1976" (Ola Billgren – A New Reality. Paintings 1962– 1976). The opening is February 15. Go there and try to figure out which painting is mine...