Jan Svenungsson

Talk



May 15, 2017 – "Wittenberg"

On Thursday is the opening of the Luther exhibition in Wittenberg. Look at the list of names: it's a mixed bag. I'm looking forward to going there, and to see the catalogue, which is the reason why the installation had to be made so long in advance. The photographer promised to use an extreme wide-angle lens. Necessary to depict my wall in a correct way.

The other day I finished writing a keynote speech for a symposium in Tokyo. I will go there for only three days: I like the challenge of having to focus my thoughts and attempt to make one very convincing presentation, or performance. Words, voice, images. Such a wide range of possibilities, so much to play with.

Meanwhile I can't trake my eyes of the news from the US. Here's a very serious article on the "Autocrat's language" by the brilliant Masha Gessen. And here is an incredibly funny and efficient piece on phone calls between the American and the Russian president. Made even more pertinent by what apparently happened for real during that Russian visit to the White House a day or two after the skit was broadcast.

April 19, 2017 – "All Swedes"
I picked up my new passport yesterday. I was a little nervous to see... whether the design had been changed since last time. No worries, it's the same. It means I will continue to be able to show people my work, by opening the passport on page 19... and then point to the strange piece on page 18 as well. It always makes me proud.

I then realized that from now on all Swedes with a passport will have this version of the document, as the current design was introduced in early 2012 and is valid for 5 years.

How many walking around with my work in their pocket? 8 million or more? Not bad, not bad at all. Subversive?

March 30, 2017 – "Bi-lingual"
I have spent four full days in my cell, working in a way which leaves me mentally completely exhausted. Trying to determine the best way to merge two parallell expressions (in German and in English) of the same content, into one hybrid form, which may not extend the length of the longer of the two sources (typically the German) – is a task which reminds me of mathematics. Only there are no rules. Or rather: I systematically have to do away with all existing rules (from the two languages), in order to have a chance at arriving at my self-set goal. Then trying earnestly to judge what is the best functioning result, outside of all pre-existing rules. A headache.

You can only do a project like this earnestly. If there is any irony – if you are not going to try your very best – don't do it.

Today I was able to expand on my message in a television interview for RTL which went surprisingly well (the relaxation effect of being allowed to speak in a single language instead of two at the same time). And I got to watch Jonathan Meese making stuff in his cell, and listen to the noise of Ai Wei-Wei's very heavy materials being hauled through a far too narrow staircase. It's a happening place, the prison.


March 27, 2017 – "Spring"
In Wittenberg, it's been a day of the most glorious spring weather imaginable.

I have been in and out of my cell, struggling with my self-decided task. Yet each time I see the sky and smell the fragrant air I cannot but capitulate to happiness.


March 25, 2017 – "Prison"
On Monday, I will drive to Wittenberg. I have the week to make my work for the exhibition "Martin Luther & the Avantgarde" on site. I have made certain preparations of course, but the main conceptualisation process for my work, as well as its execution, will take place in the cell. It will be a sink or swim situation. I have never spent time in a prison cell before.

March 12, 2017 – "Critical"
I'm very happy with the level of attention the Uppsala shows have received so far. As a long time "exile" from Sweden I no longer take for granted that I will be recognized the way I once may have done. Both the main Stockholm newspapers, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, have had important reviews, with illustrations. Upsala Nya Tidning has had both a large interview feature as well as a large review. Uppsalatidningen had an interview before all others. The two leading internet publications for art in Sweden, omkonst.com and konsten.net have had reviews, as well as the both offline and online magazine Cora, with an important long review. It's all in Swedish. While I appreciate that all the reviews display a critical engagement with the show: being very positive to this, less to that, I at the same time feel that the book "Mellan språk/Between Languages" hasn't got the attention it deserves. It may have been a not-so-clever decision to publish a book at the exact time as two shows. It risks being taken for a catalogue, which it is not. On the other hand, a book will have a longer life than transient exhibitions. That's why people still makes books...

On Thursday evening (16.3) at six pm, I will be back in Uppsala Art Museum for an artist's talk with Ann-Sofi Noring, the co-director of Moderna Museet. This will be a most interesting evening. My ambition is to discuss my work and the shows in the light of all that is going on in the world right now. Things are moving so fast, that in four days time, our main such topic might be something we don't know anything about now.

What's the best way to make politically active art – in 2017?

February 26, 2017 – "Maze"
I was sick in bed for a couple of days and I spent a lot of this time updating this website. Adding image links to the installation views from the museum, for example. It takes so much time, demands so much concentration – and how useful is it? I don't know, and I don't care, really. There's some work which needs to be done, simply, if this whole (life) project will make any sense to begin with.

The website has been going for more than twenty years now. The re-design took place about seven years ago. Nothing was ever thrown out, just at one point put into better frames. It's a maze, a real maze. I made a count right now and found 3.189 unique html pages. OK.

In-between everything I'm reading a trilogy of great books: "The Three-Body Problem" trilogy, by Cixin Liu. I'm at the second book now. Never thought I would read chinese science fiction, but we're all served by surprising ourselves. There's some really big thoughts here, about our future.

February 22, 2017 – "Cultural Antenna"

On Thursday, March 2, Graham Lewis (of Wire fame) along with Klara Lewis and four further musicians, will play a concert at Uppsala Art Museum, dedicated to my "Tenth Chimney" – of which Graham has the most exquisite view, from his bedroom window.

I have been a fan of Wire since the late 70's (154) and I know Graham since he started living in Uppsala, having married Liv, more than 25 years ago. What I didn't know, when I selected the site for the "Tenth Chimney" was that Graham and Liv had moved into the top floor of the closest building. When I found out... – it was one of those moments.

February 17, 2017 – "Between Languages"

Illustrated here is the new book about my work, which was released by Kalejdoskop in time for the openings last week. The curator of the retrospective, Johanna Uddén, is the editor, and she has also written one of the two essays. The other one being the work of Petter Eklund, who I have been close to since 1979... That's a very long time, in the perspective of my life. Petter has never before written anything about me, although he is for a long time a professional writer. I am so happy he finally gave it a try!

Just as for the 2008 book "Building Chimneys" (which is the same size and weight), this new one has been designed by Hans Cogne with whom I have been working closely in my capacity as Jan Svenungsson's photographer and archivist... The book is a treat. Together with the two shows I see suddenlyquite a bit of attention given to my work in Sweden. There have been some great reviews already and we are hoping for more. Eventually I will point to them here. As of today I have now been able to upload a lot of installation views, from Bror Hjorths Hus, as well as from Uppsala Konstmuseum. Check it out!

February 13, 2017 – "Corrected"

While I have been travelling my map image has been turned around 180 degrees. Everything is now as it should be and I am still excited by what happened. I never thought it possible...

February 12, 2017 – "Upside down"
I'm on my way back to Berlin, after a fun and exhausting week in Uppsala and Stockholm. Yesterday, in the museum show, at one point I found myself giving a lively explanation about Papunya and its role in Aboriginal painting. Using "A Place on Earth" in its original map function I wanted to point out to my interlocutor where the famous schoolhouse is situated, but I couldn't find it. Strange. I looked at the painting again... and then it hit me: it's installed upside down! And I had been seeing it for six days, without noticing. My own painting! How's that for perceptiveness?

What is illustrated, I think, is the strong human tendency to see what we have been conditioned to see, or that we have conditioned ourselves to see (there are some very current political parallells here). In my case here, the painting in question is rather symmetric, but still... it's based on a satellite image and three years after it was painted I visited the place depicted. I should have noticed.

Here are links to two pre-show interviews:
in Upsala Nya Tidning, and in Uppsalatidningen. One of them includes a photo of APoE.

February 10, 2017 – "Now/Here"

Last night was the opening of my second show in Uppsala, a larger installation than I have ever done before, taking up the whole top floor of the museum, its four halls in a very attractive circular layout. No beginning or end, and work from 35 years (!) mixed up in a unique configuration which curator Johanna Udden created, with some help from me. A full documentation will follow, here I have only one installation view showing a cluster installation of Test Paintings. Until now I have always installed paintings from this series in chronological order, in one line and with equal distances between them. Now Johanna decided to do the exact opposite. It's like opening up a hidden room, finding a treasure.

February 9, 2017 – "Here/Now"

Last night was the opening of my show of "Paintings" at Bror Hjorths Hus. For this exhibition I have written the introductory text myself, which is made available as a print-out in the show (it's in Swedish though). It's not something I usually do. Actually I can't remember now if I have ever done it, given my belief in separation between work and explanation. But for this occasion, the idea came early and I worked on this short text for a month. I wanted to explore how this work can relate to the precarious situation we find ourselves in right now. It isn't happy go lucky any longer.

Tonight is the opening of the retrospective at the Art Museum in Uppsala. If you're around: do come.

February 3, 2017 – "Invitations"

Here are the invitation cards for my two shows. Tomorrow I will drive from Berlin to Uppsala, in order to take part in the installation processes (at the Museum, curator Johanna Udden, is already halfway through). I will bring a few straggler works with me, including the giant map seen further down the page. I'm very much looking forward – and I'm looking forward to see the book, which has been delivered to Uppsala...

January 24, 2017 – "Roger Cohen"
Read this column. And read the comments. Where are we now?

January 19, 2017 – "New facts"
These are strange days. Tomorrow there will be a new president installed in the US, somebody utterly unqualified and dangerous. It's hard to believe this is for real, even after more than two months of trying to come to terms with this new reality. I just dearly hope that I am wrong in being nervous about what's going on, and that things will turn out more or less normal, after all. There's not much exactly, that I can do about it.

So I get on with my work. Two days ago I sent a huge number of works to the shows Uppsala, clearing valuable space in the studio. Now I'm busy making the last work for he exhibition at the museum, a new "Europe Crumpled" piece, following the one I debuted at Acud in Berlin a little more than a year ago. In that case the EC was stand-alone, that is, it was not connected to any Psycho-Mapping, so the map I drew was based on a correct rendering of the European Union map. In Uppsala on the other hand, we are going to install the smaller format, digital print version, of Psycho-Mapping Europe version 2.0, followed by the woodcut which is a copy of the 20th image of the series. The Europe Crumpled piece I do now, starts as a copy of the woodcut!

It's about 3 x 3,5 meters and I work on it crawling and squatting on the floor. It's not a comfortable situation. I find it very difficult understanding my aboriginal painter heroes who do all their work on the floor – and many of them being really old as well.

So... while the world is anxiously waiting for what will transpire from the new American leadership... a twisted and distorted vision of Europe is being born on my studio floor in Westhafen, Berlin.

New facts on the ground.


January 2, 2017 – "Print"
That I would end last year in this space, lamenting a disappeared guitarist, was unexpected also to me. It was not the only unexpected thing happening last year, though. This year we will have to deal with it all. I will make no predictions.

Yet I have started the new year in a highly productive mode. On its second day I arrived at nine in the morning to Göteborgstryckeriet in Mölndal just outside Gothenburg and I staid put until eleven in the evening, watching sheet after sheet of the upcoming book on my work being produced, carefully adjusting colours of individual images together with their master printers. I enjoyed the process enormously. My work on the pages, printed with "Hybrid Print Technology" (the press employs UV-light to immediately dry the colours on each sheet as it is produced) and stochastic raster, look just fantastic. I can't wait to see the book finished!