Jan Svenungsson

Talk


March 17, 2019 – "Brick"

With everything else going on, now has arrived the first copies of the book I have been working on for soon two years: Making Prints And Thinking About It. And which I have written about here several times already, because the project has so occupied my thoughts. Waiting to be confronted by the result of your efforts is a nervous situation. All that work, now fixed in a physical analogue form. How will it feel? Well, my first impression is, that it feels fantastic! The book is like a brick, it has an incredibly solid feel. I never had this impression from a book before, never mind my own book. Apparently the hardcover and the pages have all been cut together, forming this one block. Not bad, not bad at all.

I'm looking forward to reading my text again, because on April 13 I will have a public discussion on its topic, with Andreas Schalhorn from Berlin's Kupferstichkabinett. I do indeed address more than my own work in this book, it's about a far wider picture and my wish is that it will have some reach.

March 16, 2019 – "Ostalgie"

I met Henrike Naumann i Busan in September. I hadn't heard of her work before and was astonished to see her huge installation of readymade post-Memphis furniture, interspersed with video monitors with scrappy videos showing (what looked like documentary) shots of German skinheads hanging out and talking about their exploits. What was this???

Talking to her in Korea and seeing another couple of shows later, has made me realize how Henrike has her finger on the pulse of one both sad and murky aspect of what is bubbling right now. Working strictly with the German context, and more precisely, the former-GDR-context, she lays naked many of the mechanisms behind the rightwing populism of the moment. It is not a pretty sight. It's nauseating. Like in the installation view here, from her huge show "Ostalgie", at KOW in Berlin. Important, scary stuff.

March 15, 2019 – "Jeanne d'Arc"

This morning I read a "call for applications" for students, scholars and practitioners in the fields of art. It is for a gathering this summer which will focus "upon states of consciousness". And then it gets precise. Listen to this:

As we have witnessed firsthand in the 2016 U.S. election, the political potential stored in the complex networked analytics of information and their neural analogues are now being fully engaged as apparatuses of control. Economies of attention and dis-attention, click bait, cloud analytics, memes, social media and fake news have now taken center stage in the process of subjectivation and the interiorization of domination. Could the spreading wave of Populism worldwide be the result of forms of embodied and extended cognition linked to contemporary neoliberal apparatuses? The central thesis of this year's program posits that these are the initial constituents and first signs of an impending crisis that define a later stage of cognitive capitalism.

There is more, but I think this is more than enough.

When I read language like this I feel afraid. I think it's safe to assume the people behind this word salad identify themselves as left and progressive. Fighting the good fight. We probably agree on a lot of things. But WHY dress your political insights in this kind of unreadable gobblydygook? Whoever has an important message should make every effort to communicate it AS CLEARLY AS POSSIBLE. In order to convince more people than your own group of intimates, who are already in the room.

The other day I watched the 16 year old Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg give two presentations. At Davos, last month, and last year a TED talk in Stockholm. She is squirming in the light, unable to look straight in one direction, but no matter: her language, her message, her cause – is ultra clear. Not one word extra, not one word not hitting you hard, making you question yourself and everything which is going on, in the most serious and profound way. I feel rattled.

A couple of hours ago I made a run through Berlin. Crossing Luisenstrasse, close to the government area, I came across a student demonstration inspired by Thunberg's initiative. Like all over the world, today, March 15, 2019. On one banner I read:

Wir sind hier – Wir sind laut – Weil IHR unser Zukunft klaut.

We are here – We are loud – Because YOU steal our future.

February 24, 2019 – "Networking"

I'm fascinated by this photo, which I shot with my phone (I had forgotten to bring a real camera) before the opening last Wednesday, in the lobby of A house in Stockholm. The exhibition, consisting of nine "Paintings" from 2011-2017, had been installed by James Flach without any input from me. It's certainly no white cube, but the entrance space to the famously brutalist building which until recently housed the Stockholm Technical University School of Architecture. It's well known as possibly the ugliest building in the capital. Since 2014 the School has new lodgings, and its former home has become a startup hub, where lots of hyperactive smaller companies rent spaces and engage in frenetic networking in the lobby cum café, where now my paintings are hanging. I didn't expect this to be working as well as it does. Arriving there two hours before the opening there were coffee-fueled meetings going on all over the place, but the funny thing was, that instead of feeling bad for my paintings ("oh, why did I ever leave the White Cube?") I saw them being participants, not decorations. Hanging out among my works in that crowded space (the opening was well visited) I registered new aspects to what I had done, and felt grateful.

February 20, 2019 – "Free"

In 2007 I wrote a little book which has proven to be quite popular within its field. An Artist's Text Book aims to support artists who struggle with the ever increasing necessity of writing text in addition to their visual work. More than that, it wants to show there is a lot to gain once you engage with writing in an earnest way. Which means, of course, steering free from IAE... Anyway, after a friend in South Korea had tried to order copies of the book I learned that the second edition had been sold out. I was then asked by the publisher, the Finnish Art Academy, whether instead of printing a new edition, the book could now be made available for free download on the internet. I first said no, because I prefer books to be tactile experiences. I then reconsidered. Yesterday the download link was debuted. Do go here.

February 18, 2019 – "Trump"

In two days I will be in Stockholm for a exhibition organized by gallery Flach in another location; called A house. Nine "Paintings" from 2011-2017 will be shown. To accompany them I present a new version of the text I wrote for the exhibition of "Paintings" at Bror Hjorths Hus 2017. In this I reflected on the relationship between my work (paintings) and the situation in the world "outside". It was written after President Trump had been elected, but before his inauguration.

Now, two years later, I felt it was appropriate to return to this text. I have abridged it and added an introduction. It is here (in Swedish).

February 13, 2019 – "Printing"

I'm in Wolkersdorf, just outside Vienna, keeping an eye on the hightech offset printing of my book "Making Prints and Thinking About It". On the printer's control table in this photo, you can see a sheet with photographs of my book of etchings "Parad". In my new book I describe in detail how this book was made back in 1991; how I first made a dummy in which I pasted snapshots of existing work, the b/w photos colored with watercolor. I then worked very hard together with Niels Borch Jensen to render in combined photoetching and aquatint the exact effect of my slapdash images in the dummy. One of the images which appear in Parad (front left in the photo above) was based on a photograph of a magazine reproduction of a framed photo which, in its turn was a rephotographed manipulated photograph of a photo I saw in a museum.

I repeat: One image printed today is a reproduction of a photo of a page in a book with a gravure which reproduces a handcolored photo of a printed reproduction of a photo of a manipulated photo of a photo in a museum.

Get it?

February 12, 2019 – "The Mix"
(two days ago I happened to listen to Kraftwerk for the first time in ages. I was astonished how well they hold up)

I wanted to note three occurrences which gave this day its character. Like so many days: torn in all directions.

First: last night Katrin and I watched the whole of Shonen Knife's recent live DVD, "Alive in Osaka". K will spend a good part of spring in Japan, but while she is working in Kobe (close to Osaka, SK's hometown) she will miss them play at home, because SK will tour in Europe – and I will see them (for the fifth time) in Berlin. Now we compensated in advance. Shot professionally but on a low budget in a small club, Naoko and her sister Atsuko on bass and new drummer Risa went through a long list of songs with that incredibly contagious and wonderful enthusiasm they produce – always. It's quite a wonder. Naoko and Atsuko formed the group at the end of 1981 and Naoko has been at it ever since (Atsuko has had a break). Fiercely independent. There exists a recording (utterly and endearingly primitive) from their first concert ever in 1982 and here they were at the end of 2017. Doing it. Naoko doing her life's work. It's deeply impressive (and the music is great, think nothing else) and makes you think about your own... life's work.

Second: this morning I read an article in the Guardian titled "Climate and economic risks 'threaten 2008-style systemic collapse' " , and the preamble goes "Environmental and social problems could interact in global breakdown, report says".

Third: a couple of hours later, while in the studio painting, I read an email from one of my students, who is from a country outside the EU. This morning X finally received a student visa. That doesn't sound very dramatic perhaps, but it has been an absolute fight against the Austrian authorities since summer. Again and again X had submitted all the paperwork, meticulously prepared, correct and complete, only to be rejected based on deliberate misreadings by the immigration authorities. Having no more time left on a tourist visa X was forced to leave Austria before the semester was over, while efforts on X's behalf continued. I wasn't able to do much, but a superbly skilled university colleague took up X's case and was able at a crucial moment to meet with the recalcitrant public servant and physically point out exactly where the deliberate misreading of X's documents took place. It still took another month, but eventually they were forced to relent. Without the superior skills of my colleague it would have been completely hopeless, of course. As it will be for so many others, now that Europe is closing its doors.

January 29, 2019 – "Reading"
Does Journalism Have a Future?
The New Authoritarians Are Waging War on Women

January 22, 2019 – "Brave & New"
How to make art that matters politically? Today, right now? How do you position yourself in relation to the power, when the power is busy breaking rules? By breaking the rest of the rules? I read an interesting article comparing "1984" to "Brave New World", which notes that:

Orwell did create some technological innovations for his future world, but in essence his Nineteen Eighty-Four is a deep look into the of already existing totalitarian societies.

while:

Huxley’s dystopia was the other sort of speculative fiction from Orwell’s: not a deep burrowing into the present, but a projection of existing trends into the future. He genuinely was trying to think about what the future would be, if things carried on in the direction they were headed. He was well placed to see trend lines in many of the sciences and made good guesses about where they were going. As a result, we can make a strong claim that it is he, and not Orwell, who did a better job of predicting modern life in the developed world.

Is this an example to follow? Is it possible? Do I want to?

January 20, 2019 – "Pleasure"
What is pleasure? It can be many things, of course, but right now while waiting in an airport and reading an interesting but complicated text, I entered a state of mind where suddenly you do lots of cross connections between thoughts. Where they stop being repetitive and shackled and instead start jumping around – hitting targets. I keep interrupting my reading to make note after note about the different issues brought up. And I think: this is how it should be, this is how you can move forward. This state of mind is what I am always after, when I'm alone and at work, but it keeps getting harder to reach. A main reason being never ending to-do lists which are so effective at limiting one's scope for cross-disciplinary thinking.

January 16, 2019 – "Slow-motion"
This morning, all media full of Theresa May's historic loss in the British parliament. The Brexit plan her government has negociated with the EU was thouroughly rejected. It was expected, of course, but nevertheless it is one more dramatic step towards catastrophic national self-mutilation. Or not, if indeed this was a necessary step on the road towards a second referendum. Nobody knows which. It's like watching an on-going car crash in slow motion.

I don't remember having had quite the same experience of watching a society taking one step wrong after another – while it is going on, instead of reading about it after the fact. Worse would be living in that society, but it is a faint comfort, because we are all interconnected. And... it is not just one place performing this dance.

I believe the background for this dysfunction is everyone's accelerating fixation on their own feelings in their own bubble. Social media's feedback loop for the individual, and delusions of manipulative grandeur for politicans. The result is fragmentation and falling apart. We need to change these mechanisms. Together.

January 11, 2019 – "Late start"
I thought I'd start with a passage about listening to Beethoven and thinking about creating, from the book I'm reading right now: Assymetry by Lisa Halliday. I then found the quote too romantic and decided not to.

I don't know where to start the new year. I'm looking for a shape to follow. There is so much going on, so many complex problems to access. So much trying to decide where one's own responsibility is centred. No clean solutions.

I do listen to music and I do create. I also think a lot about what it is I listen too and what role it plays. And yes, I do have so many questions about what it means to create in the present situation – and how –  and where the creation should be positioned.