Jan Svenungsson


March 18, 2018 – "Freedom"
I am finishing the manuscript for my book about printmaking. At least that's what I hope. I mentioned it here for the first time in July last year. I never before spent such a long time on one text, I think. It has not been a continous writing process and I have been led off on various tangents through books which I've come across and felt inspired to read. That in itself, has been a good thing, of course. I can only hope I will be able to convey some of it to my readers eventually (publication is set for 2019). In a book I recently read, by an author I had never encountered before (I have already forgotten what led me to it or her), I read:

There is a real investment made by many of us today in the idea that artistic practice was liberated when judgments of both taste and politics ceased to be the criterion for (good) art. But there has been a price, and it is artists who pay it — although the opposite might at first appear to be the case. The contemporary art world values artists, not art. No art objects are necessary. No social or political usefulness is required. Artistic practices have been deregulated. They are strategies chosen by artists themselves as an expression of their individual and uncensored freedom. Artists are iconic embodiments, almost advertisements, for the slogan (if not the reality) of 'freedom of speech'. I say not the reality, because to a significant degree it is the museum, the curatorial decision, and the biennials that legitimate the artists, and on which they (un-freely) depend.

One page later, Susan Buck-Morss continues:

In short, artistic 'freedom' exists in proportion to the artists' irrelevance. Whereas in Dada, meaninglessness was located in the artwork in a way that reflected critically on social meaning itself, now meaninglessness is bestowed upon the artist, whose critical and creative powers are kept isolated from social effect.

The task we have, in all simplicity (it is not simple), is to fight the meaninglessness that is being bestowed on us.

March 13, 2018 – "Busan"
With all eyes on North Korea I will return to the South in September, for the first time since 1998. A few days ago I was invited to be part of the Busan Biennale. I will work with psycho-mapping. It's fitting.

On the one hand it's quite a short time for preparing a major biennale work. On the other – given the crazy world we live in right now – it feels like a very long time until September. Anything can happen.

March 12, 2018 – "Aura"
I have been doing office work at home the whole day. Paper, computer, paper. At one point my eyes fell on an object so familiar that often I don't see it: an old fashioned flat iron, with traces of a line of tacks, which once were glued to its flat surface.

I found and bought this object in Aix-en-Provence, I think in 1979. As soon as I was home again, I glued the tacks to it, and voilà: I now had a very convincing Man Ray: "Le Cadeau". Fantastic! It was even exhibited in a Man Ray exhibition once, at Lunds Konsthall 1986. Juliet Man Ray was present: she liked it. I thought: how brilliant it is, that this artist could conceive an idea which anyone can do, and they will all enjoy the aura of the original.

At some point, the tacks fell off. I glued them back. Then one day, maybe after a move, I didn't. It's a long time ago. It doesn't matter. The aura remains. Genius.

March 9, 2018 – "First Aid"
We wake up to the news that the American president will meet with the North-Korean leader. It never happened before. What should be good news, does not convince, due to the nature of the two figures involved. What will be the reaction of the American, when he realises he is not getting what he wants (and not getting the press he craves)? When he starts thinking he is being played? When it is clear to everyone that he is being played? Which is the most likely outcome, given the personality and diplomatic incompetence of the person.

Music is more important to me right now, than it has long been. I move from one favourite band to another, spending an intense period of infatuation with each one, until the next beckons. Since summer I have been though three: a contemporary Swedish indie band with an early 80s feel followed by another Swedish group, this one masked and satanic, and currently I'm all in for kawaii metal. Don't ask. One can always come back to a favourite band, even if it has been superseeded. Deep friendship stays. An album is announced, or a tour, usually both. It gives rhythm to the every day.

Last night K and I went to see First Aid Kit in a sold out Columbiahalle. The two sisters and their band of three bearded men were brilliant. So in command, so cool, so musical. Singing like goddesses. They even make me like country & western. At one point Klara was given a Telecaster by her guitar tech and suddenly she was playing angry garage with a feminist message. Totally in command. Johanna now plays bass guitar instead of basslines on her keyboard, like she did until recently. It's a great development.

Change is possible. Believe in it.

March 5, 2018 – "Veil"
I avoid talking about students' work here. It's not the right place, because it is my place. However, no rule is good which doesn't sometime have an exception. I visited the St. Michael's Church today, at Michaelerplatz in the heart of Vienna. This is where Adolf Loos built his a building at the beginning of the last century, chocking the good burgers in this baroque city with a facade without ornament. A huge scandal – and a building which became an inspiration to modernism. In the 800 year old church... was held Mozart's funeral, during which his Requiem was performed for the first time (the parts which had been finished). And now, until the end of Lent, is hanging a Lenten Veil in front of the baroque Altar. It was painted by Zhanina Marinova in January, on the floor in a cold temporary studio space. She had ten days. It is 11 x 5 meters. It is absolutely fascinating to look at. And for me to consider: how did I become involved in this?

February 18, 2018 – "Wall"
Since three days I'm in Gothenburg, Sweden, where I am assisting bricklayer Dan Ahlgren in building a huge image as a wall of acoustic bricks, with inlays of mosaic and ceramics. It's a public art commission for the canteen of a new school building. It's the first time that I have the possiblity to work with bricks in a non-tower context. It has allowed me to learn about acoustic bricks (a condition for the commission); to find a brickworks (Janninhof, in Münster) which could glace their bricks in different colours; to be able to have mosaics produced for me for the first time (by comsomusivo in Berlin) and also to make ceramic/porcelain parts myself, in the university workshop in Vienna. Now Dan and I (we got to know each other at the Uppsala chimney site) are working long days to make the plans reality. So far, reality is looking real good. And we are having fun, listening to music a lot: Ghost, Johnny Cash, First Aid Kit, Shonen Knife and Babymetal.

February 14, 2018 – "Clear"
Today I listened to an interview with one of my intellectual heroes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The way she talks... the way she strings words together, one after another, is so utterly sharp and clear and easy to follow – and with her particular combination of pride and humour – that I come away feeling there is hope, after all. Really smart people are easy to understand. They speak when they have something important to say. Chimamanda does. She is on a stage with David Remnick (who is rather smart as well), you can hear 19 minutes here.

Soon after, I was sent a link to an interview with a German filmmaker, Sebastian Schipper (who I didn't know before). It's about the #metoo debate, which in Germany and Austria hasn't got very far. Schipper is super clear, as well. Another pleasure.

January 17, 2018 – "Adulterated"
Last spring I was invited to write a text for an anthology on the future of Artistic Research, to be published by the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, where I taught 2007-2009. I'm not a fan of the mainstreaming of this discipline, yet I agreed. I always feel curious what will come out, when I accept a writing assignment. Some time later I received, along with the other writers, a set of seven questions written in IAE.

My attitude towards Artistic Research is critical, although I have been reluctantly involved with this scene for more than ten years now. Back in 2009, I published a text in Art&Research called "The Writing Artist" where I warned of the risk that, given a certain development, "the rest of the university will increasingly see artistic research as a joke". Well, there has been no "all clear" sent so far. Having said that, every once in a while there is interesting stuff coming up. But these efforts risk remaining hidden between other texts which seem not to having been read closely, even by the people who wrote them.

Thinking about what to write for the anthology, I thought about the self-confirming character of the questions. I decided to make one of them the focus of my text, in order to point out how important it is – especially now, in the era of Trump – to be careful with how you use language. I wrote my text "Alternative Knowledge" in a rather high-pitched way. I weighed every word, while analysing the question I had chosen.

In order to keep control of my text, written in English, I commissioned the brilliant Vienna copy editor Christopher Barber to correct the final draft. As anyone reading this self-edited "Talk" column will know, I don't write English without fault. Chris helped to polish my text to perfection. I emailed it to one of the editors, explaining that its language had already been fine-tuned by a professional. "Please don't change anything", I wrote.

Some weeks ago I received the book, titled "Futures of Artistic Research". I had so many other books going, it first landed in a pile. Today I felt like reading my own text, to see how it holds up. The first thing I notice, is that my name has been misspelt in a striking way. I then see a totally unmotivated word has been added to the first sentence, destroying it. A similar addition to the second sentence destroys it as well. Later in the text a sentence has been re-written by somebody adding a grammatical horror.

This done to a text on the necessity of being precise with language! It's awful. The problem is, I think, and have already stated, that very few people can be bothered to actually read texts of/on Artistic Research. Is it too much to ask of a book's editor, that they do?

Now, for those of you who may want to read my text in its unadulterated state, it is available here.

January 8, 2018 – "Start"
A few days into the new year, my father's funeral took place. That's where I have to start, this time.