Jan Svenungsson

Talk



October 13, 2017 – "Follow me"
I need to write something about the conditions for making art today.

Last night I attended a really great concert in a Berlin club (Musik & Frieden). It was INVSN, from Umea in northern Sweden. I discovered INVSN in a random way earlier this year, and have since had one of my little obsessions going on, fed by their last two records and youtube live videos. The front person is Dennis Lyxzen, whom I have been aware of since the late 90s, for his work with hard core outfit The Refused, and the (International) Noise Conspiracy, neither of which I ever bothered listening to. Since then, I have also known about his outspoken radical left wing and straight edge politics, which I did not take very seriously. I then came upon this live video of INVSN from 2014, which somehow is just irresistible. The combination of a shamelessly 80's indie bass-driven song with robotic bubblegum drums – and great singing – with the completely over the top intense performance by the singer, in front of the five musicians, three of them women. So cool. So sexy.

Last night was my first chance to see for myself. There was a German support act, Laura Carbone, who was pretty good actually, a mix between Lana del Rey and PJ Harvey, yet the club was not full, between 100 and 150 people I think. If you're on tour, I don't see the finacial side working. Yet when Laura had finished and the small stage had been changed (with more free space for DL in the middle, he needs it), there was anticipation before the group finally came on, in a sci-fi light and to a schreaching soundtrack... launching into one of their new songs. Perfect sound, loud, super tight... and Dennis, working the small stage like crazy, giving it absolutely all. I have seen him do this in videos, with INVSN and with the Refused (in front of gigantic crowds – they have reformed and are now legends), but here, standing three meters from the stage with my 13 year old son when the singer suddenly rushes out through the crowd, jumps on top of the bar, continues singing from there, and then back through the street formed through the crowd, super fast, throwing himself back onto the stage, not missing a beat. It was very special. And the songs of the new album all grew on me, it was one of those nights. I love the attack of the players, especially Sara, the bassist.

Yet I didn't intend to write a fan report, but follow up on what the still very political Dennis said in one of his monologues, in-between his breakneck performances. He told about a record company representative having complained that the band's social media presence should be enhanced. And how today, this aspect of an artist's work has become so decisive for their possibility of doing their art (= surviving doing their art), and he asked us, with an ironic twist, but nevertheless serious at the same time, to become followers of INVSN on Facebook.

To hear someone who is presenting his art with absolute conviction and artistic success, and as far as anyone can tell, is a die-hard revolutionary romantic, beg to be supported on Facebook, a megalomanic American mega-corporation, is sad. I can't say otherwise. Yet I understand and respect why he did so.

I have a deep reluctance to let the American mega company know who I like or not, but when I came home I did indeed press that button, and became a follower of INVSN on Facebook. It was necessary. Which is the scary part.

September 24, 2017 – "4:04:15"
That's the time I had in today's Berlin Marathon. It's one of my worst times, but I feel happy. We all get older, and there is no guarantee that one will be able to continue the project of running a marathon once a year. I have become very aware of this, because my body has felt different during preparations this year and last year, compared with how it used to be before 2015 (the year when – horror – I had to cancel, due to an inflamed Achilles tendon). This time I felt like clockwork on the track, and while slow, I was steady. Only two minutes difference between first and second half. Yes!

September 17, 2017 – "Kassel"
Together with a group of students, I spent most of last week first at documenta14 in Kassel and then Skulptur Projekte in Münster. I have visited every documenta since 1987 and it has always been worth it. This time as well, although it was an unusual vintage. I found the political aspect of the exhibition positive and relevant and I like how it combined with the fact that so few of the "usual suspects" appeared. Instead, most artists I had never heard of and very possibly I will never hear of again. There's an openess about this, which is refreshing. It shows that there are many lists to choose from. The most important weakness of the show on the other hand, was the ever recurring feeling that the curator(s) do not really care about form; that all they are interested in is backstory and belonging. Whether a drawing, say, is visually succesful, seems to have mattered very little. I'm not talking about a question of different tastes, I'm talking about the impression that far too often (of course there were exceptions) there was simply no interest for the unique aspects and possibilities of visual shaping. For some reason, there seems to have been a keener interest and understanding for video installations, because many of these were both very good and very precisely installed. Yet, this over-all problem of visual carelessness had a silver lining: it made clear to me as a visitor that content without form, simply doesn't work. I see that form is always primordial in an art work. Without form, no content – it disappears into thin air.
I have no problem with tastes which are different than mine: I can enjoy and meditate on convincing examples of art which I, personally, don't like. No problem: fun. But I can't do much with art which is shapeless and arbitrary.

In the last few days I have become aware of the financial aftermath of Adam Szymczyk's exhibition. He had 34 million Euro (the highest documenta budget so far) to spend and ended up spending 41 million. In order for the documenta organisation not to go bankrupt, the city and the region have now pledged the missing 7 million, while the curator and his team seem not to care all that much. This leaves a bitter taste: who is critical and wants to change things needs to be responsible and aware of the consequences of his/her own acts.

September 11, 2017 – "Post-industrial"
Back to work.
Today I added the pdf of an Uppsala University C-level thesis written (and kindly provided) by Maria Cheng Herelius. It's in Swedish with an English abstract. The English title is "The locality and the globality of the Chimney project: Jan Svenungsson’s sculptures in a post-industrial time". I like it!

August 12, 2017 – "Crisis"
A book I'm reading at the moment is "Without You, There Is No Us", by Suki Kim. I bought it half a year ago, but got started only recently. It's about the author's experience teaching the sons of North Korea's elite, at a school in Pyongyang founded by American missionaries. It's a strange, uncomfortable and interesting book. A this moment in time, very topical.

August 10, 2017 – "Divinatory"

Last week I visited Venice with Edvin. His first time there. We chose this heatwave time of the year in order to attend Florian Dombois' "Galleria del Vento" project on Giudecca, and be able to join him on a search expedition (for art-making material) into the lagoon, for which he uses a small sailing boat. We visited Isola S. Angelo della Polvere, where we couldn't land, and Isola S. Giorgio in Alga, where a machete would have been useful to cut way through the vegetation overtaking the ruins of the one-time convent/political prison/secret base for German mine divers. It was an exhilarating trip.

The Biennale is a mixed affair, with a well-meaning but not really engaging central exhibition, yet a number of good pavilions. Damien Hirst's double exhibition in Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana is terrible, in so many ways. Time will tell, if the sheer investment made by him and others, will be able to neutralize all its shortcomings.

During a discussion day, organized by Florian, the contemporary practice of science became a topic. For the first time I was made aware of the idea of "post-normal science", which I have now been looking into afterwards. It's definitely not an undisputed idea, or label. Yet interesting as a sign of our time, possibly a sign of its problems. In this context Hito Steyerl stated that today's big data revolution, applied to science subjects such as climate change, leads to science becoming "divinatory".

Meanwhile, as I write, everyone's attention is on Kim Jong-Un's and Donald Trump's war of words. Whether that's where it will stop, is impossible to predict.

July 29, 2017 – "Comics"
I'm writing again. A book I think, about printmaking and about me and about art and the meaning of it all. It's hard, but it's necessary. To try.

I repeat myself. When I write in the area of a subject I have been at before, suddenly I can remember some text or lecture or post from this neighbourhood, where words came together particularly well on some thought. I look up the sentences or the paragraph, drop them into the rough text and continue. When I write, everything and anything is allowed in the gathering phase. Later, nothing will survive which can't defend its place. Obviously, something might be reminiscent of what has been said before. It's OK. Returning to subjects and burrowing deeper is good.

I came to think about this just now, as I read a short, thoughtful essay by Umberto Eco about Krazy Kat and Peanuts. The text was written already in 1963. I note that in 2000, Peanuts ended with the death of its author, just like Krazy Kat had in 1944. Funny, that this should be exceptions.

July 17, 2017 – "Volos"
Back in Berlin. I had six very intense days in Volos. I managed to find and re-photograph (or rather: film) almost all the locations for the 1995 photographs. More of them than I had expected. In 1995 I was using my Linhof 4x5" view camera. I still have this camera, and occasionally I use it – but since digital became the norm using this slow, complicated technique no longer offers the same satisfaction it used to. Today I correct perspectives in Photoshop whenever I want, after the exposure. In the 90s I felt I powerful for being able to shift and tilt the Linhof's Nikon lens. Figuring out how and what to do, meant each exposure was the result of complex deliberations, including standing beside the prepared camera with the cable remote trigger in hand, watching the scene before us and deciding exactly when to release the shutter. An intense sense of place was the reward, and often it would also be reflected in the images. Yet today, using exactly the same technique, has somehow lost its magic because there are easier ways to achieve (almost) the same thing, where earlier there were no alternatives. Digital turned what used to be a necessity into an esthetic choice, and then it wasn't fun anymore.

However, I now returned to Volos after 22 years, aiming to re-shoot those images using HD digital video (by the way of a Nikon full format DSLR) – and it was strange to experience that the change of technique (embracing the enemy, kind of) triggered a similar kind of experience to what I had had the first time around. Again I had to plan each shot very deliberately, think about time of day, angle of light, etc, then set up the camera carefully, trying hard to get all parameters right – after which I stand there beside the camera, watching the scene unfold before us, hoping, HOPING, that no unfortunate disturbance will occur in the field of sight, before I have enough of the scene recorded.

The sense of place I experienced while working in this way, was just as intense as back in the pre-digital 90s. How strange.

July 11, 2017 – "Make it new"
Since Sunday I am in Volos, Greece.

I travelled here the first time in 1995, to look for traces of inspiration for "Hebdomeros", de Chirico's novel which I spent much time translating to Swedish, in the 80s and the 90s. The idea behind the first trip was to "translate" the text into images as well, after having understood that what de Chirico, who was born in Volos and spent his childhood here, had done writing it, was translating his images into text... My translation finally became an illustrated "exhibition publication", first shown at Anders Tornberg Gallery in Lund in 1999, and for the second time complete (all 108 large pages) in Uppsala this year.

For ten years I have been playing with the idea of returning to Volos and try to find the exact spots where I made my 1995 photos – and then make new depictions, of the same thing/place, only this time in video, where for obvious reasons not much will move.

That's what I'm working on right now. It's great fun, and very hot.

July 7, 2017 – "Riot"
The other day I returned to Wittenberg equipped with a rented extreme wide angle lens for my camera. Finally I was able to take a proper photograph of my work in the narrow cell. Here begins the full documentation of my "Credo" work. I think it is rather important. Including the short interview which Kay Heymer made for the very thick catalogue of the exhibition. Today the ugly ghost of that text is in Hamburg for the G20 meeting and the riots are in full swing. Will they help solving any problem?

July 3, 2017 – "Fire"
Together with Edvin and apparently 15.000 others, I saw my first Arcade Fire concert last night. Under the sky, in Wuhlheide in eastern Berlin. We found great seats, just behind the pit. Yet, before the encore , we rushed to the top of the amphitheatre, in order to be at the head of the masses exiting, after the encore. That's how I was able to take this photo, which brings out a lot of thoughts. You can't see the band, but you can see it was good.


June 18, 2017 – "Credo"
My prison cell in Wittenberg is too narrow. In order to have one straight photo of the text I wrote on its wall, I had to stitch two (Iphone-) photos together. Later in summer, I will go back there with a rented extreme wide-angle lens, but this is what I have for now. The work has got a title: "Credo". Now you can see it and read it.


June 15, 2017 – "Modern life"
Modern life or should I say "contemporary life" requires an ever present capacity for broadcasting what you are doing. Yes, I'm talking about social media here, and things like this: writing a sort of diary with public access. This constant need for reflecting yourself towards an imagined audience makes actual reflection understood as thinking hard about whatever it is you are working on so much harder to accomplish.

For a month, I didn't write anything here and I feel guilty. During these thirty days I attended the opening of "Luther and the Avantgarde" in Wittenberg – attended Markus Rissanen's doctor degree in Helsinki – taught for three days in Vienna – gave a keynote speech at Tokyo University of the Arts – wrote a text on the flight back (and after), on the future of Artistic Research – received (finally) the book with a long text titled "On Purpose", which I think might be the best I have ever written – celebrated my son becoming a teenager, taking him for dinner in Berlin – spent six days in Vienna, helping (watching) a group of students paint a wonderful 3 x 24 m mural in Wien Museum – and just now: received the return transport from my two shows in Uppsala.

I'll have to come back to some of that.

In-between I also managed to paint some, and run (but I feel constantly out of shape, it's like training doesn't help anymore), and both get the idea for and successfully pitch a new book, which should be published in 2019. It's great fun, all these activities, but they do demand a lot of organisation, preparation and communication. Sometimes I just want to shut myself down. Be vacant.

Then there is all this other stuff happening, in the world outside of me. Some good, much desperately discouraging. The way things are going, I sometimes wonder what will be when there is nobody left who will consider any space outside of... "me"?

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!