Jan Svenungsson

Talk


December 31, 2015 – "Faraway beach"
I wanted to write something here today but couldn't come up with a suitable theme. Things being the way they are, I do not always feel compelled to follow my spontaneous inspirations. But it is the end of another year. We'll soon be heading for a dinner party which will take us into 2016. Now is my last chance. I want to mark it. Looking for a(nother) picture in my computer I come across a most remarkable image, which arrived to our planet a couple of months ago from faraway, from Pluto. I can see a beach. It looks cold. Outside it is also cold. Then it happens: in my head a song starts playing, which I haven't listened to for years, but always liked: Brian Eno's "On some faraway beach".


December 7, 2015 – "Austrian madness"
More lighthearted: the other day, in Vienna, I was ordering some office stuff for delivery in Berlin, and I didn't realise until I reached the address form, that accidentally I had landed on the Austrian site of the online office supplier, instead of the German one. But here it became very clear. It is already ridiculous that when you order from conrad.de you have a choice of two academic titles, for avoiding any confusion about who should receive the printer cartridges(?). Conrad.at, on the other hand, offers you a choice of thirty (30) different titles to adorn your beautiful name. It leaves you speechless.


December 6, 2015 – "Writings"
I want to mention three pieces of writing, each of which stirred my thoughts in the last few days. There was a text by New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douhat: "Is Donald Trump a Fascist?" which points to parallels between the leading candidate, at this point, for the Republican presidential nomination – and politicians of a type we thought we would not see again, in the West. Although the conclusion to the title's question is not without reservations, it is remarkable that the questions can be asked in a serious manner at all. And that the alternatives to Mr. Trump are just as bad, in other ways. The second text was also published in New York Times and is called "Imagine a World Without Growth", by Eduardo Porter. This is really scary stuff, because here is pointed out what should be obvious to anyone who gives it some thought – and yet we are at a complete loss to act on this knowledge. The third text finally, is a very long review (in Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish newspaper) by Maciej Zaremba of Timothy Snyders new book on the Holocaust as played out in the German occupied areas in the east; the Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine; which all had first been crushed under Stalin's boot: "Black earth. The Holocaust as history and warning". Zaremba notes that jews in Germany actually had a greater survival rates for its twelve years of Nazi persecution of Jews – even while staying put and eventually hiding in Berlin – than Jews in Latvia had of surviving its three years of persecution. He discusses Snyder's hypothesis that it is the complete destruction of civil society and order which can make possible for almost anyone to become a murderer and take part in massacres. Zaremba reflects: had Snyder finished writing his book just half a year later he would probably have added a chapter on today's Iraq and Syria.

November 20, 2015 – "Three"
I'm returning home after a crazy week. Crazy in more ways than one. Dangerous as well, for what will develop out of the present situation and the strategic choices now being made by governments, demagogues, populists and terrorists on several continents. In the last seven days I have been in Italy, Germany, Austria and Switzerland and while I haven't actually seen any differences on the streets I have walked, it's not like you can escape thinking about them, all the time.

Nevertheless, this week I have been priviliged to visit three brilliant exhibitions: Vija Celmins and Giorgio de Chirico (more on both, below) and the best Edvard Munch show I have ever seen: a sparse selection of his prints at Albertina in Vienna. Such a wonder.

There is reason to worry and there is reason to believe.

November 17, 2015 – "Vija"
I was very excited when I received an invitation to a talk between Robert Storr and Vija Celmins at the Secession in Vienna, some time ago. I immediately said yes of course. The invitation mentioned that the show, which will open in two days, was to be her first ever in Austria. Until today, I had never been to a solo show by Celmins and I had never seen a portrait of her.

The talk was this evening. I went there imagining it would be a grave and serious affair. I was so wrong. Vija Celmins turned out to be a lively and very funny lady who looks much younger than she is. She is totally not interested in discussing her work from a theoretical point of view. Instead she will tell her story of how work came to be exactly like she remembers it, from A to B to C... without trying to add any meaning to it by association. In fact, at one point she says she is starting to think there is very little meaning to anything, apparently including her own work. This reflection came as an afterthought to something about Jasper Johns. At one point Storr tried in his friendly way to coach her into saying something about her work's relationship with the sublime. Celmins: "I don't think about the sublime, no." At another point she's describing what makes a work good: "you look at a work of art and you feel a little 'boing', a little surprise or not".

I should have written down more quotes, unfortunately I didn't. This talk was so refreshing. The show, which was surrounding us, is of prints only and it is simply fantastic. Sublime, of course. And a whole lot of 'boing'.


November 14, 2015 – "Reason"
The goal of religiously inspired random terror is to spread chaos and cause fear and trigger responses which can be used by the perpetrators to reinforce their own community's sense of persecution as well as chosenness – and thus trigger further action. The ISIS communiqué claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks, published today at noon, begins with the sentence "Au nom d'Allah, le Tout Miséricordieux, le Très Miséricordieux." (In the name of Allah the over all merciful, the tremendously merciful). If an organisation is at ease claiming responsibility for killing hundreds of random civilians in the name of a merciful God, it is hard indeed to decide the best response. Yesterday, I experienced moments of profound joy watching dabs of paint. I think it is very important to stay receptive to this possibility and not be overcome by fear. Fear is understandable, but fear is defeat as well.

November 13, 2015 – "News"
News of Paris attacks arrive at exhibition dinner, French people at the table, they get calls from home. A developing situation, so painful to imagine. Back at the hotel I write to my friends and hope they will check in.

November 13, 2015 – "Mist"
I find it hard to write here, this autumn. There's too much going on, so many worrying developments. While I follow the news from a range of sources, I often feel blocked to comment, in writing. What should I say, which hasn't already been said? In a discussion, it's a different thing. But posting... it can feel like making pictures for posterity.

I am in Ferrara. My friend Gerd Roos has curated, with Paolo Baldacci, a show of Giorgio de Chirico's Ferrara years, 1915-1918, in Palazzo de Diamanti. It will be opened tonight, by the Italian president. I arrived yesterday and was able to spend a couple of hours in the show while final installation work was going on. Such a privilige: this is a unique exhibition which will never be possible to repeat. It has all the major paintings he did in this period paired with work by Carra, Morandi and de Pisis, also done here. They were all in the military, there was a world war going on, still they were allowed to work, being shielded from front line duty.

If times are worrying now and they are there's no world war going on. Times can't be compared. And here was this young painter who painted his most joyful work during military service in WW1. The smallish paintings have an almost erotic aura to the way the paint has been actually applied, the way the colours have been chosen and the way the brush marks the surface. The others don't share this quality and de Chirico himself would not attain it in the same way ever again.

Last night we wandered Ferrara's streets in a mist, lost in time, at complete quietness. It was an opposite world; the paintings are all full daylight; yet in this fog doors were opened.


November 2, 2015 – "BS"
The installation at Acud finished two days ago. Now I have my installation views (beginning here – I'm surprised grey walls actually can work) and experiences drawn. I am indeed happy with the map. It was an experiment, I wasn't sure it would work. A nice opening. Some interesting conversations later. One friend discussing the paintings coined the term "bonkers surrealism", which I find I really like.

Let's see if I can do more of that, now that the word is out. Bonkers surrealism.

October 17, 2015 – "Europe Crumpled"

For the last few days I have been working hard on Europe..., drawing and painting Europe that is. I used the first image of "Psycho-Mapping Europe version 2.0" as my model, which I copied free hand onto a very large piece of paper. Of course I had to add a colour to the already complicated palette of PMEv2, as Croatia is now a member of the union.

As soon as I had finished I crumpled my result and fixed it to the wall in its new state: "Europe Crumpled". In the small show at ACUD, which opens tonight and for which this map was made (on site), this new Europe is surrounded by a small selection of mainly new "Paintings". If images could talk... I wonder what they would be saying? I for one, feel happy for the opportunity this project gave me to develop a new idea which somehow feels rather topical to this moment.


October 11, 2015 – "Objective reality"

The "Tenth Chimney" was inaugurated yesterday, in an Uppsala which offered overcast skies and autumnal colours. Several hundreds of people showed up for an event which was organized with a deliberate and rather succesful mix of contrasting parts: there was a short idea talk about public art in Uppsala; an exhibition at the nearby kindergarten, of cloudsculptures and a model brick chimney built by the children in a workshop which also offered their ideas about my piece's possible meanings and uses; a lecture on Uppsala's long tradition of kilns and brickmaking by Theresa Weber-Qvarfort, a geologist; a competition with prices; free coffee, lemonade and cakes; a great speech by Helena Persson of the Norrköping Art Museum, in which she connected to the Fifth Chimney in that city and Giorgio de Chirico; a double speech by two impressive politicans, Eva Edwardsson and Peter Gustafsson, who, though from opposite parties, have both stood firm for this project when others have tried to derail it; a choreographed "rocket launch" of the tower, by the children – and a brief talk by myself, in which I focused on the fundamental difference in discussing art objects which do not exist (as we do in the preparation of public art) and talking about a work which is there. My "Tenth Chimney" now finally is part of objective reality. It is no longer a projection.


October 6, 2015 – "Klara postponed"
Sadly, the special concert/composition by Klara Lewis will not take place as planned, on Saturday. She has been forced to cancel due to technical issues where the solution came too late, leaving her not enough time to prepare. I'm disappointed, of course. Yet, as we spoke, I remembered I will make a retrospective exhibition at the Uppsala Art Museum and spontaneously invited Klara to play there instead. She readily accepted. This time there should be enough time to solve all problems, as the opening is in early 2017...

September 30, 2015 – "Inauguration + Klara"
On October 10, at 3 pm I will be back in Tegnerparken, Uppsala for the inauguration of my Tenth Chimney. Helena Persson, the director of the Art Museum in Norrköping will give a speech. We know each other from the time when I built the Fifth Chimney in the Motala river (running through Norrköping), at the end of the 90s. I hope lots of people will come and that the weather will be good. Even more so four hours later, at 7 pm, when the young, Uppsala based electronic musician Klara Lewis will perform a specially conceived concert including video projections on my tower.

I look at Klara's website and see that in this month of September 2015, she has played twice in Tokyo as well as in Hongkong, Tilburg, Basel and Cambridge... There is indeed a special reason why she will perform in Uppsala beside my sculpture and I can only say that I find it extraordinarily exciting.

Today I finally added the Uppsala construction team photograph which came out really well. It's getting more and more rare that I use my 4x5" view camera, but for these photographs it's indispensable.

September 23, 2015 – "Stagediving"
I'm an artist because I have a healthy interest in expressing my own ideas but I also love to work with other peoples' concepts. I guess this is one reason why I like to teach.

In my role as a teacher is included organizing exhibitions of students' work. It's always fun. I enjoy the process of putting work together so as to form a coherent and surprising and rhytmic whole. I guess I like being a curator...

Today the art fair viennacontemporary opened, in Vienna, where my university "Die Angewandte" (the University of Applied Arts) has a stand, which this year I was invited to curate. We also got the means to make a small catalogue for the show, for which I came up with the title "Stagediving". I wrote a short introduction text. Two days ago, Monday, we had stood before an empty space, and today we all (six of my students and I) spent seven hours straight socialising and explaining and hanging out, in front of our installation. The process having taken place in-between, had been hard work but real pleasure as well. No fights. Looking together for the best solutions. Finding them!


September 10, 2015 – "Update"
Just as I was updating Talk with the post below I received an email from Uppsala pointing to a text in Uppsala Nya Tidning, the local paper which has hosted many pages of for and against my project during the last year and a half. This time it is Daniel Werkmäster, director of the museum, which writes a clear for-piece called "Det oväntade är verkets idé" (The unexpected is the essence of the work), with some angles which I really appreciate, because I didn't think of them myself. Whenever this happens, I'm happy. When the work acts as catalyst for new meaning.

September 10, 2015 – "Smoke"
I left Uppsala in the morning of September 4. It was still raining and a large part of the scaffolding was still surrounding my sculpture. Then a couple of days ago I started to receive photos from Uppsala of my work in its finished state (almost: the grass should grow as well). From my friend Petter Eklund I got a whole series, and I have used four of them to list the Tenth Chimney in the Chimney index. More will be added, when I get back there myself. The inauguration will take place on October 10. For now you can access Petter's photos directly from here. And you can see for yourself (below) that this time there is smoke... now go look for the mirrors.


September 2, 2015 – "Sun, then Rain"
For three weeks and two days we built the Tenth Chimney under perfect circumstances: not one hour lost to rain, almost every day sunny blue skies. Yesterday, bricklayers Ronny and Dan washed the whole construction with a light acid and lots of water. Today, the rain is pouring. I'm so grateful it did not before.

August 31, 2015 – "The top"

Around four pm today, I had the honour of putting the last brick in place on the Tenth Chimney. Dan Ahlgren, one of the bricklayers, photographed me doing so. Finished, I think he re-laid my brick. It's much more difficult than you think, bricklaying.

August 29, 2015 – "Tour"

We're two meters from the top and hope to finish on Tuesday. Today is Saturday. I have the weekend "off" and long to go home, to Berlin. Uppsala used to be my home, a long time ago, but perspectives change. Yesterday I met with musician friends, used to playing all over the world, and a comparison came up: it feels like I'm on tour. I'm not playing gigs, though, I'm building a "tour", which is French for tower. The only way is up.

August 21, 2015 – "Pixels"

The scaffolding at the chimney site has been raised to its full height. For two days we couldn't build our tower – which was frustrating – but today we returned to piling bricks on top of one another ... like pixels.

August 18, 2015 – "Names"


What's in a name?

Thanks to Lena in Norrköping posting on Facebook, I was able to read this text before I could even find it on the website of its paper. I'm not into discussing things on FB (I'm too slow), so I borrowed her scan for here. What I find interesting about this well written piece (apparently belonging to a series of texts on public art works in Norrköping) is its final criticism. Until then, the writer, Magnus Sjöholm, has talked about my Fifth Chimney in the most positive terms: "a brilliant work of art, perfectly placed. It surprises, can be seen as amusing while at the same time being artistically functional..." (my translation is clumsy). Then he comes to the name of the piece: "The Fifth Chimney". After reflecting on it he understands that this name refers – only – to the chimney being the fifth in a series, and he's hugely disappointed: "It's a stupid and irresponsible name and hints at a lack of seriosity both from the artist as well as from the city (which commissioned it, my note)".

Of all possible points of contention in relation to the chimneys, this is a new one for me. While I respectfully disagree with Sjöholm, I think it is both an interesting and a surprising point he makes. What do we have in Norrköping? A 14 meter high and (perhaps) 25 ton heavy brick tower built on a foundation cast under water by divers, standing on a "perfect place" for soon 16 years and having become a well known part of the city fabric af Norrköping... and Sjöholm thinks we haven't been serious enough because I didn't give it another name?

As it is, I'm very interested in both names and in verbal expression in general. What you say in relation to your visual works – and what you choose not to say. I'm saying things here, now, for example. I tend to talk a lot, at times. But just because of this, I felt really happy years ago, when I came on the idea to only name the chimneys with reference to their ordinal numbers. This naming principle liberated me from having to give each chimney a kind of initial indication of direction. Directing where your imagination should go. I don't want to do that. I want to build these really big and present constructions, whose whole purpose is to become a picture, and address the imagination of the viewer. They don't need elaborate titles to help them.

August 16, 2015 – "Private"
There's a difference between personal experiences which are suitable for public expression and those which should better remain private. That's my view. That said, I want to make a note in public (i.e. here) about one such experience which has no importance beyond the private realm, but was shocking to me.

Last Thursday, I was working with the bricklayers when I see an old couple below, waving to me. I descend from the scaffolding. The man asks me if I recognise him. I say I do not. He then tells me his first name and I immediately know. When I was a child in Uppsala, this man with his young family lived nearby. He introduced me to, and supported a hobby which took all my attention before I discovered art at the age of 15. I haven't seen him for close to 40 years, but every once in a while I have found myself wondering what happened to him. And now he came to see me: I felt so happy! And I expressed it. What a joy to see you! And we talk like this for a couple of minutes, with broad smiles, and then he changes the subject and launches, still smiling, into such an attack on my work that at first I didn't even register what he was saying. It was so unreal. I was standing there full of happiness at this unexpected meeting, thinking we should make more out of our renewed contact, and a moment later I'm being compared to a sick person. The emperor's new clothes are brought up, of course, and I learn that what I do with the chimneys simply has no value at all, can never have and can never be art. And "everybody hates it here in Uppsala, everybody"! Trying to collect myself, I first respond meekly with a reference to Marcel Duchamp, which is useless as he has never heard of him. I then say that he is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but that he is wrong when he thinks everybody hates the project. "Many people come by here everyday and say they like it", I say. "No, they do not", is his answer, still delivered with a smile, which I no longer take to be warm. And it goes on like this, with more details and contradictions than I care to mention now. Flabbergasted, I strive to end the conversation as soon as possible. I'm so taken aback by the maliciousness of this attack, that I find no piercing words or sarcasms, just pathetic phrases of self-defence which afterwards I regret.

How is it possible, that after four decades without contact, you visit somebody you have known when this person was a child, and your one ambition now is to pull the rug from under the adult's feet? How sad – and small – and stupid – people can be. What an idiot!

Meanwhile, another visitor is listening to us without joining the conversation. He might have been giving signs of having another opinion than the old bully, but I'm not sure it is noticed. When the dismal couple leaves, the other man stays to talk about the project which he is much in favour of. I'm still so overcome by emotions and anger from the first encounter, that I now tell this stranger exactly how I felt during the scene he has just witnessed. Like if we were old friends, though we have never met before. Right there it was liberating.

August 15, 2015 – "640"
Yesterday we reached a height of 640 cm. The weather is fantastic and people are happy, both on and off the scaffolding. During this past week there has been numerous visitors to the site. If they look like they want to say something, I take a short break from whatever I am doing and walk up to them. It's part of my job and my duty: to make myself available and be responsible. Almost everyone with whom I have thus spoken, turns out to be happy about what we're doing and supportive of the project. More than once I have heard people say "I guess I'm the only one, but I really like..." to which I can happily respond "No, you're not alone at all". The level of enthusiasm surprised even me at first, as even I had become influenced by the way local media has worked to stoke conflict around this sculpture in advance. Recipy: juxtapose enthusiastic art critic's writing on the merits of a future project in the public realm with scandalized headlines about its cost: then select already angry locals to interview. Savour the differences in imagined outcomes between "elitists" and "normal people". Wait for letters to the editor to arrive. Print all. Later: refer to received letters and repeat process.

I can't say anyone has done anything truly wrong, of course, but I'm really happy that from now on we will no longer be discussing our different imaginations of what the Tenth Chimney will be. From now on we should still be able to hold different opinions on what the Tenth Chimney is; what it looks like; what it brings to mind and how it functions – but these discussions will necessarily need to address the same point of reference, which now has an objective existence. It's a huge improvement.

As a matter of fact, if the Tenth Chimney turns out to be a successful work of art (which I believe and hope), we will indeed continue to be stirred to interpret it in different ways. That is what art does, when it works: it continues to generate questions and ask to be interpreted anew.


August 11, 2015 – "Get(ting) real"
For two days now, we have been laying bricks in Tegnerparken, Uppsala, Sweden. The tower is slowly rising.

For more than two years now, this project has been the focus of sometimes heated public discussion, even leading to a program on Swedish national radio. Doubters and supporters alike have had to argue about the proposed sculpture's merits or problems based on their own imagination of what these merits and problems will be. For me, the process has been unusually frustrating. From my point of view there either is an art work, or there is not. If there is an art work before us, it is wonderful, because we can then argue about what it is that we see. This is what I have dedicated my life to: arguing (with myself or with others) about what it is that I (and others) see. If there is no artwork before us, the arguing will lack its most fundamental condition: reality. Up until now, all the arguing about the Tenth Chimney, has been about mental images created by the different people involved. Soon it will be different: we're getting real.


August 9, 2015 – "Alone"
I'm writing this on a train towards Stockholm. I'm on my way to Uppsala. Tomorrow we will start laying the bricks for the Tenth Chimney. Two days ago I had meeting with a person who wish to have me build the Eleventh, right in the centre of a very small town on the East side of Skåne, in the South of Sweden.

One week ago I returned from Mongolia where I had stayed for a week in a ger camp right in the middle of a vast field surrounded by soft mountains. It was incredibly beautiful in a monotone and painterly way. One afternoon I marched off alone, with good speed, towards the nearest mountain. At one point I saw a horseman in the distance. Apart from him I was utterly alone.


July 24, 2015 – "Yes"
Tomorrow I will fly to Ulan Bator, where I will stay for a week. I will then have a few days of rest before heading to Uppsala, Sweden, where I will work as a helper to the bricklayers who will build the "Tenth Chimney" in Tegnerparken on Luthagen. Ronny Murare will be among them. I got to know him while we built the "Eighth Chimney" at Wanas in 2007. He later helped me realizing the "wall writing" project for a school in Ljusdal in 2008 and he built "the indoor chimney fragment" for the exhibition in Uppsala in 2012, which launched the process which has now led to construction taking place on the real thing. Ronny is a true master for all things bricklaying and beyond. When it comes to the number of chimneys built, however, he is still lagging behind Jürgen Totzke in Hamburg, who worked on the "Ninth Chimney" in Hamm and on "First Chimney II" in Frankfurt 2012 and built the fragment for the exhibition in Potsdam in 2011. I recently saw Jürgen, when I visited the summer party and combined 50 year birthday and 55 year company birthday of his employer, Klaus Heins, of Heins Baugeschäft. It was great to see several people there who I have worked with and with whom I hope to be working again. Jürgen expressed the same wish. I'm lucky to be able to make good friends among bricklayers and builders. Afterwards, I finally uploaded the photo of the construction team in Frankfurt 2012. It's scanned from analog print made from a 4x5 " negative. Barbara Thiel who printed it for me, said she has noticed how people who build things experience a special form of gratification. She said it was visible in my picture. I liked that comment. I feel lucky. You can see for yourself here.

July 6, 2015 – "No"
Monday morning and Greece has voted "No" in its snap referendum on whether to accept the latest (although already obsolete) bailout proposal from the EU, and its conditions. In short, the Syriza government wants more money and better conditions. It's negociation tactics so far has been different versions of "I can do crazy much better than you". I wonder what would happen now, if the other 18 members of the monetary union, would hold referenda in their turn asking whether its populaces want to pay more to save the Greeks?

July 4, 2015 – "Interrupted"
Alone at home in a boiling Berlin (37 degrees Celsius today) I decide to watch Laura Poitra's film "Citizenfour". I have wanted to see it for a long time.

I rent the DVD at Videodrom and convert the living room to a small cinema. Because of the heat, I leave the windows open to the street. Testing the projector set-up before the film I go to Youtube and see Obama sing "Amazing Grace" at his moving eulogy for the Charleston victims. Then the film. Which soon makes me think about the irony – or rather: ambiguity – of my choice of trailer.

Some way through, as Edvard Snowden is explaining the incredible reach of NSA surveillance techniques, we are interrupted by thundering noise from outside. Massive explosions echoing between the buildings on the edge of Checkpoint Charlie. It's so loud I have to stop the film. Leaning out of the window, at first I can't see any clue to where the noise is coming from, until I discover a reflection in a window of the building across the street. Fireworks, behind us. I have never heard fireworks so loud, it's like the end of April 1945.

Then I realize: today is the fourth of July.

July 2, 2015 – "Daring"
At Musée Réattu, in Arles, there opens tomorrow a show called "Oser la photographie: 50 ans d'une collection d'avant-garde à Arles".

26 years ago... I had my own show there and they bought one work called "Le Témoin". (This has been corrected, I had written at first, that it was another work, called "Sight" and it took me some effort to figure out I was wrong). I'm pleased to note that the museum keeps including this piece in exhibitions which in different ways deal with the thematics of photography. Arles continues to be the venue for "Les Rencontres de la Photographie": they have a heritage to represent. In translation, the exhibition title reads: "Daring Photography – Fifty Years of Avant-Garde Collection in Arles".

On a completely different note and in the current, developing chaos of European self-understanding I found this wide ranging and intellectually somewhat chaotic article on consciousness (and AI and LSD and Teilhard de Chardin, etc) an interesting read.

June 22, 2015 – "Chimney coming home"
I was in Uppsala today, to attend the first day of on-site work for the Tenth Chimney. The actual bricklaying will not start until August. First we need a good foundation. In this case it will be most impressive. A reinforced block of concrete on top of four piles driven deep into the clay. The ground is all clay. The site is actually were they used to dig it up, to make bricks in a kiln a hundred meters further up the park.


Unfortunately, the digger had a last minute delay and will not start excavating until tomorrow, when I will not be there. I was able to drive a piece of wood into the ground, to mark the beginning of a construction process I have so much been looking forward to. It was a beautiful day. The chimney coming home at last.

June 20, 2015 – "Chelsea Hotel"
Late one night last week I ate alone in a Japanese restaurant in Vienna. While I ate I read, as I always do, if I'm alone. It's such a treat. It's a bit random what it will be (that I read). I have number of favourite sources to draw upon. This night I ended up in Chelsea Hotel, spending time with an old composer (who I hadn't heard about before): Gerald Busby. He turned out to be a great storyteller and observer. One passage in particular made an impression on me:

“I met Virgil Thomson through another young composer, who had me cook a meal for him. He didn’t care for the young composer, but while he was eating he said, ‘Who made this food?’ And I was brought out of the kitchen, and we became buddies. His teaching wasn’t really about music. It was the distillation of everything down to its most practical terms. He would say, ‘Masochists and slaves ask “Why?” Masters ask “How?” I will answer no question that begins with the word “why.” ’ He had that rough, plain Kansas blood and that very elegant sophisticated French polish. Not a nice person at all, but brilliant. He liked to be definitive, and he was.

June 4, 2015 – "Tools for Thoughts & Traces"
Whoever takes an interest in what we do in my department at the University of Applied Arts Vienna now has the possibility to download a pdf of "Tools for Thoughts & Traces". It's a magazine in large format and 32 pages, which was published together with Wiener Zeitung last Saturday. That means it went out in an edition of some 50 000, which is pretty cool.

The design, by the superb Theresa Hattinger, is dominated by students' work together with photos of students (and teachers) in their daily going about. The result is quite a social product, which relates to the fact that studying art is very much a social process. It's most important aspect, I think, is what comes out of the coming together (under some pressure) of a number of people with similar interests (that they are now offered an infrastructure to help them develop) who would otherwise not have met. That's how I experienced my own time of study, at the Royal University College of Fine Arts in Stockholm, and at the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Arts Plastiques, in Paris (which name is the most imposing?) and that's what I hope will be the experience my students will remember, when later they are looking back on this time.

I don't always like all the work they produce, yet I can be thrilled by something which is not in my taste, when I see depth of commitment and the excitement of breaking new ground.

May 23, 2015 – "Eurovision"
I'm watching Eurovision Song Contest as I write. It's the first time I do, in perhaps 30 years. I don't know. As a Swede, I know I'm supposed to show more committment. I'm not.

But today I took a day completely off. During the last two weeks I have made my way through Tallinn–Berlin–New York–Berlin–Zürich–Vienna . I'm tired. Eurovision is fun right now, and interesting because of Vienna.

Right now Russia is on. I like Belgium best.

May 3, 2015 – "Groove operator"
In 2013 I presented a piece of music in the fabolous György Ligeti Hall at MUMUTH in Graz and also wrote about it here. Some time afterwards Gerhard Eckel, who had organized the event in which my presentation took place, asked me to write a text about his piece, which I had found extraordinarily good. I did this, while taking the chance to reflect on my own work as well. This text has now finally come online in the Research Catalogue, within a larger presentation of Gerhard's project "Zeitraum". You can access this project page with a link to my text, here. There is more interesting material there as well, all attempts at relating an experience which cannot really be related. We always must try, though.

On this site my text is here.

April 29, 2015 – "Speaking out"
Like most people(?) I find it strange to hear a recording of my own voice. The way the voice resonates within one's own head makes it sound different to the individual speaking, than it does to everybody else. When I hear myself speaking in the radio program which I mentioned two posts ago, I wonder: "who is this guy"? I recognise his thinking and the story he tells, but the way it sounds, is that me?

I was born in Lund, in south Sweden where the dialect is inspired by Danish. I started school in Växjö in Småland, where they speak another, very distinct dialect. When I arrived in Uppsala, eight year old, and begun second class in school there, I must have spoken a mixed dialect which I can't imagine today. A couple of years later there was a teacher who made fun of my dialect. I took it hard, and decided then and there to change my way of speaking, which I did. In the process I lost a lot of my ability to identify and distinguish between dialects. When I hear myself speaking about the Uppsala Chimney project on Swedish national radio it seems to me I speak a Stockholm dialect, but I'm not sure.

This year, I have lived a third of my life in Germany, in central Berlin. In the same apartment even. Still, the time spent as a child or youth appears more dense with meaning, even if it wasn't. My idea of my youth is forever connected to Uppsala, to places in Uppsala and to events which took place in Uppsala.

At the moment my present is also connected to Uppsala, because of the ongoing preparation process for my sculpture, and the debate that some conduct around it. Art should trigger debate – and thought –  and imagination, that's part of its purpose. It is hard, however, for an artist to defend his work before it exists. I do recognise the necessity to provide a detailed project for a possible commission, a project where you, the artist, according to the best of your abilities, have tried to show (in words and in visuals) what the work will be like. Where you will have explained all parts of the production process and listed potential problems, and where, to some degree, you will provided speculative thoughts about how the proposed work can be understood. It is important to understand, however, that just because you are the artist, you are not in a position to know for sure how your work will function and be understood. Different people will have different ideas – and they might well change over time. Also your own ideas. Your task as an artist in relation to making a work in public is, first: to make the project so clear and enticing that it gets selected; second: to make sure the actual making of the work is as good as can ever be. Forget no detail, be ever vigilant, do your very best. What happens after, you can't control and you are not supposed to either. The work is there. It will not "defend" itself (in an active way), but it is there and can be judged on its merit, by each and everyone.

To have to talk up the merit of art in advance of its factual existence is tricky, to say the least. And those who for some reason don't like the idea of the work (= don't like what they imagine is the work, without ever having seen it), they should realise that they don't really know what they talk about, either.

It is not a pleasure for me, to listen to voices of people who worry about what my work will be like. I take issue however, with the former public art coordinator in Uppsala, now retired, who complains about the process. I have never experienced a public art commission as carefully vetted as this. And I have been there for quite a number.

April 14, 2015 – "Illegal"
One of the best books I have read for a very long time is also one of the most surprising. "The Most Dangerous Book" by Kevin Birmingham, which concerns itself in great detail with the struggle to get James Joyce's novel Ulysses published in Britain and in the U.S. The book was deemed obscene from the outset, like the earlier books by Joyce had been as well. It took a hard-to-believe amount of effort by a number of very dedicated persons, to break the spell and get the book out in public, without people having to go to jail for it.

Birmingham's book is superbly researched and detailed, and if that was it, few would care. There is more, however. He has understood intuitively (it seems) that writing about a literary masterpiece demands literary quality in the writing. There is something very particular with the structure and the language of this book: it is so beautiful and enjoyable. I read it slowly, a few pages at a time, never feeling stressed. I so much want to read Ulysses again now.

April 13, 2015 – "Radio"
I go in and out of communicative phases. One thing about life today I find difficult to understand, is the incessant need for sharing information of no importance, about oneself. I do understand, of course, that we might not all share the same definition of what is important. I'm working on paintings now, incredibly slowly, both because of choice and necessity. In the studio my ambition is dual: to manage to ignore the computer (which I am failing at right now) and to be able to slow down my thought process to a kind of receptive stillstand – delightfully ignoring any urge for the sharing of verbal information. I never thought stillstand could be something to long for – but I have learned it can used as a tool: enabling introspection of course, but also projection. As long as I don't have to speak, but can restrict my output to a visual form.

Actually, this wasn't at all what I aimed to write about now: I just wanted to get back in... and announce that in Stockholm one week ago I was interviewed for a documentary program called "Tendens" on Swedish Radio (P1) which will be all about the Chimney project in Uppsala. It will be sent in about two weeks from now, the journalist Cecilia Mora told me. I guess it will be available here, when it is finished. 28 minutes long, I notice.

March 13, 2015 – "Robowriting"
Lately, I have been referring to "IAE" in discussions about art- and artists' writing. IAE stands for "International Art English" and is the title of a web essay by critic Alix Rule and artist David Levine. In it they demonstrate how a new form of (highly perverted) English has become the lingua franca of the art system and how this language gets disseminated through the medium of the digital press release. Like all really good satire it is far too close to reality to be laughed off without consequence. In fact, it might not be satire at all. The two writers use statistics and word count to illustrate their point. And they provide hilarious examples from reality.

IAE came to mind when I read another text, this one published in NYT and dealing with how automated writing algorithms are being used more and more to write news copy based on easily presentable data, in areas such as finance, sports or the weather. It's called If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know? and it is not pretty. The article comes with a quiz, where the reader is invited in a Turing-test-like manner to try to decide if a textquote was written by machine or human. I did the test and had more misses than hits.

March 02, 2015 – "Tent"
I'd like to quote here a passage which resonates differently from my last post . It's by Simon Armitage, writing on the topic of "what is the best time of day?":

(...) camping on the hills in summer, I’d lie there as the fabric of the tent began to glow with the barely perceptible illumination of dawn. Like light through skin or the shell of an egg. And maybe the memory goes further back, into the subconscious. Book-ended as we are between eternities of darkness, the great privilege of being alive is to encounter the inexplicable properties of light, and in that scenario to witness the coming of the morning is a form of rebirth, but with an adult brain capable of appreciating it.

February 23, 2015 – "Dark days"

Not much fun reading the news, from Ukraine, Syria & Iraq, Denmark, Greece and so many other places. I few days ago I came across a long piece in the Atlantic about ISIS; its motivations and goal. It was an eyeopener which shows how fundamentally medieval this organization is, driven by apocalyptic zeal. It's not going to be fun, yet this text also points to inherent contradictions which will eventually lead to this movement's auto-destruction. After how much disaster? Are there similar mechanisms driving Russia's "secret" campaign in Ukraine? This morning international discussion was all about Greece's four months of extra time agreed against the odds last Friday. Like many, I have been following with fascination how the new Prime Minister Tsipras and Finance Minister Varoufakis have been making their case, trying to turn a hopeless negotiation position into something else using charismatic public personas and fashion. Their game seems now to have run (temporarily?) into the ground, but I doubt Varoufakis will give it up – and nobody knows the limits of such a strategy today. Another long text I read some days ago was a thorough portrait of Jonathan Ive, Apple's chief designer. Here I found the astonishing observation that after the death of Steve Jobs, the importance of Ive for the company's brand (its "public persona" if you like) is such, that should Ive announce his retirement (after 20 years of service) Apple's stock might lose as much as 10 % of its value. That's 70 billion dollars.

Some people face more responsibility for their acts than others.

February 14, 2015 – "Red house"
I'm on my way home from a full day of chimney building related presentations and meetings in Uppsala yesterday. At midday I spoke before a crowd of about fifty at a Rotary lunch. After this event a number of liusteners came up to tell me how happy they are about the project "because I live right there, at the park". This was a welcome contrast to some other voices, who have taken the opposite position. You can't please everyone, especially not with art. If you could, it wouldn't be ...art.

Some days earlier, while preparing for my presentation, I remembered a project I had made in 1997 for an exhibition about propaganda at the Uppsala museum. My piece was a series of ten photographs of sites in Uppsala, called "Tio förslag på platser" (Ten site proposals). From eight of these photos I had digitally eliminated a public art work. Two images had not been edited: they showed sites were there was no public art work to see, also not in reality. One of these two pictures depicts the roundabout in front of the red functionalistic building which can be seen behind the chimney in the montage below. This choice of returning to a site can't really be called a coincidence, but it wasn't aware of my 1997 work when I chose the chimney site in 2013. I always liked the look of that red building and how it is situated in the city space. At the end of last year I found out that old friends of mine are now living in that very building. Last night they invited me for dinner. It was lovely evening which continued into the morning. When my sculpture has been built, they will have a better view of it than anybody. Delicious. Art connects to life.


February 1, 2015 – "Speech"
This evening I arrive in Zürich, where I will be part of a feedback group for the research group Size Matters at Zürich University of the Arts. Their project is centered around a wind tunnel which has been constructed on the roof of a university building. I will see it all tomorrow.

The month of January was intense, as always. In Vienna it's the last month of the semester. Still, in the middle of the month Katrin and I managed to make a weekend trip to Paris in order to see some exhibitions. At one point I found myself, unprepared, on the street outside of the building where the attack against Charlie Hebdo had taken place. On the pavement a sea of flowers, messages and objects dedicated to the policeman who had been shot and executed there. In shopwindows all over the city the sign "Je suis Charlie". A little later I try to make sense of it all, in Vienna: I project a pdf of the Charlie Hebdo issue published after the murders, show the Danish caricatures of the prophet Mohamed from 2007 and also discuss the comedian Dieudonné, who has been prosecuted for writing "Je me sens Charlie Coulibaly" on his website (Amedy Coulibaly being the terrorist who killed four people in a kosher supermarket on the day I wrote my Kraftwerk piece for frieze d/e, see below). It's not so easy to draw the moral guidelines, as all those "Je suis Charlie" signs could seem to imply. Freedom of speech is very important to me, but it seems clear that under some circumstances there has to be limitations. But how do you draw the line?

This evening in Zürich I happen to read an article from the New Yorker (ave globalization), called "Two Views on Speech" by Adam Gopnik. In it he discusses French officialdom's different attitudes towards the provocateurs at Charlie Hebdo, and Dieudonné. I'll quote this text at some length:

Blasphemy is ridicule directed at an ideology; hate speech encourages violence directed at individuals. Judeophobia—the mockery of the religion of Moses, of the kind that Voltaire engaged in at length—ought to be protected, no matter who engages in it, just as “South Park” ’s mockery of Mormonism should. But Jews and Mormons must not be threatened, either in the practice of their faith or in their confidence in their own continued well-being. Dieudonné, in announcing his solidarity with a man who had just murdered four Jews, crossed an easily discernible line—just as a Jewish activist announcing, say, “Je suis Baruch Goldstein,” referencing the Jewish mass murderer of Palestinians in Hebron, ought also to be vulnerable to the law.

(...) Hate speech directed against Jews was once allowed to lubricate the transfer of Jews. Saying that someone can’t pretend in public that the Holocaust didn’t happen is a way of saying that you can’t pretend Jews weren’t murdered for being Jews. A view of free speech that allows, as one French minister has said, “Three minutes for the Nazis, three minutes for the Jews” makes Jews vulnerable again by granting reason and plausibility to their persecutors.


January 10, 2015 – "Trans Europe Express"
I discovered Kraftwerk at a party in 1978. Maybe it was New Year's Eve, I'm not sure. It was in a house in the country, outside Uppsala. Somebody played a song called "The Robots" from an album which had just come out: "Man-Machine". I was absolutely taken aback.

I attended my first concert, in Stockholm, in 1991. Later I saw them at the Roskilde Festival (I ignored all the other bands) in 1998, and then at Circus in Stockholm some years later and at Tempodrom in Berlin in 2004. Two days ago I saw them again, at Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and this time I had been tasked to write about the event, for frieze d/e. My text has just come online, in the frieze blog.

The funny thing is, that back in 1998 I had written a Kraftwerk text which I proposed to Jörg Heiser who was already working for frieze. He liked it, but it wasn't published. Instead it was published in Göteborgs-Posten, in Sweden. It's available here, and in its English version here.

This time around I had completely missed that Kraftwerk was planning to play an 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 concert residency at Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie. I found out the day after the tickets had been released, which was exactly one day too late, as they all had disappeared immediately. As it happened, I was seeing Jörg about another matter a few days later and just took my chance: would he have a ticket for me? Well yes, he might, because he himself was going to have an incredible busy time when those concerts were going to take place... so... maybe...Eventually I got a ticket organized, for the TEE concert, No. 3, together with a commission to write about it. I was so happy.

I'm even more happy now, after the concert, with my text published!

I'm sad and worried too, because of what happenend in Paris the day before the concert. It came to influence the text.

January 1, 2015 – "Good"
The only thing we know, is that the new year will bring surprises. It is good.