Jan Svenungsson

"Tomorrow something wonderful will happen!", in: Catalogue 31 (English supplement) Statens Konstråd 2001

Language appeared, for reasons that are unclear, some 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Human beings began to codify repeatable sounds and to use them for exchanging messages and thoughts. Important activities — hunting and gathering food — could thereby be made more efficient. This gave rise, for the first time in human history, to leisure time and opportunities for story-telling. There was time to sit on the savannah at night and to look at the stars and to ask each other: “What is this?” It became possible to grasp the idea of time, to delimit the past and to imagine the future.

When I first started sketching a proposal for the Corso — the pathway and cycle track that runs through the Linköping university campus — I called my project Framtidshopp (Hope for the future — but can also have the sense of ‘future leap’). Later I realized that the title could give rise to less suitable associations so I changed it to Utan titel (Untitled). A title can be very important, as can a word. There is a difference between a work of art not having a title and being entitled Untitled — which is a very dull title. When the work was completed (on-site installation took place during 2000) I decided to change the title once again, for the third and final time. The new title became: I morgon kommer något underbart att hända! (Tomorrow something wonderful will happen!).

The work consists of six parts:
Outside building A, just to the north of entrance 19, there is a shiny black granite cube placed on the ground. It has been twisted somewhat in relation to the paving stones and the building as though it belonged to a completely different context — or the other way round. At night it is illuminated by a spotlight and it throws a shadow on the ground. Six letters have been cut into the four vertical sides of the cube. Together they form the word KOMMER (Comes).

Five neon letters and an exclamation mark have been applied, like a tattoo, to the slate-grey façade that forms the north wall of the new sport hall . They form the word hända!(happen) and they are lit all the time. In daytime they are discreet, dazzled by the sun. At night they are distinct, the only thing that can be clearly seen. What is it that is going to happen? Something that is being prepared inside the building. Or are the letters yet another of those abbreviations that abound on the campus?

Between the buildings Origo and Key there are three large, geometrically sawn blocks of Swedish granite on an irregular island of coastal gravel on the pathway and cycle track that is indicated by paving and flowerbeds. The blocks of stone are about as tall as a bench. From above one can see that they take the form of the letters ATT (to). One of the many manhole covers at the Corso is false and engraved in relief in its centre is the word något (something). It is situated close to the grass outside the northern end of the B building just below the little slope. Rays of optimism radiate from it like the spokes of a wheel.

Close to the northern entrance to the Corso one can see two words that appear like an emblem against the sky, high up on the refrigeration unit’s strangely victorious superstructure: I MORGON(Tomorrow). Soaring above the shadows of buildings the metal letters reflect the shifting light of the sky. Beside two benches and a table at the edge of the lawn by Valla Folkhögskola, opposite entrance 27 of the B building, there are nine bronze letters positioned on top of each other and gently twisted in relation to each other which means that the word UNDERBART (Wonderful) does not appear correctly seen from any side. But perhaps that which is wonderful never does?

Lengthwise the sculptures are evenly spaced. If one walks through the Corso from north to south one confronts the following candid statement: I MORGON KOMMER något UNDERBART ATT hända! (Tomorrow something wonderful will happen!).

What is the point of art? I do not know. Despite the fact that I am an artist and despite the fact that I am writing this text about a work of art of which I am proud. I do not know. And there is no universal answer to the question. In the realm of human activities art was a result of the discovery of language. It lacks any importance to our physical survival. In short: it is a leisure activity. But it is a leisure activity that, in different forms, is found in all human societies; an activity whose best results cannot be repeated.

There are different sorts of art. Traditionally (in Europe for the last 400-500 years) a work of art is something complete in itself which contains all the essential elements for giving the beholder a memorable experience and for encouraging some form of appreciation of the artist’s efforts. Such a work of art occupies the space that has been allotted to it and does not intrude on other spaces — unless its quality is so high that it starts to expand — to ferment — in the memory and imagination of the beholder. As regards the modernistic work of art, on the other hand, there are numerous examples of how these try to occupy a larger space, ideologically, and to influence other fields than their own: to improve society, to change people’s lives. A number of modernistic artistic movements have wanted to throw all conditions into the air and to begin from the beginning again. And many people have listened to them; especially those who build houses.

The contemporary work of art does not readily lend itself to being summarized and described in this fashion. One visible trend is an accelerating process of amalgamation with the rest of society (without modernism’s ambition to change things) which is expressed partly in the fact that the work of art cannot be clearly distinguished from other, commercial media activities and partly in the fact that to a large degree, paradoxically, it demands an adjustment on the part of the beholder in order for it to be appreciated for what it is and for what it wishes to be understood as, namely, a work of art that does not want to look like a work of art but that has to be understood as a work of art that does not want to be understood as a work of art in order for it to have any value at all and to be at all distinguishable…

If I look at a word every day its meaning will change over time. If the word also forms part of a sentence the sentence will also change over time as the internal weighting of the elements shifts. It may even entirely cease to function and become nature. Perhaps a new sentence will be born when I read the words in the natural environment that surrounds them. On the university campus a number of institutions with different activities share the available space. Analogously with the way in which they all have different tasks but are organized together and have a common aim under a joint name — I can hope that my work of art in six parts will function. Each separate sculpture has its own special expression; its own more or less cryptic logic; its own relationship to its site; its own word — at the same time that the sculptures together form an inviolable statement — if it is read in a certain direction. If one starts reading from another point, a different statement is generated.


I once tried to describe the creative process with great precision in an essay. This obliged me to think analytically about a process that largely functions intuitively. That is, when the process works, ideas reveal themselves in a surprising manner. I called the essay Lösningen på problemet (The Solution to the Problem) because, during the process of writing, I had realized how keenly I wanted to define the task of the artist as a problem seeking a solution — but the path is by no means linear!

Last year I was invited to give some lectures in Linköping about my work and related subjects. At the Institution for Computer Science in Linköping I was given a text by M.V. Howard which discusses the nature of various problems. He makes the following distinctions:
Well defined problems are characterized by having clearly defined goals and not containing any ambiguities. Examples are mathematical equations and crossword puzzles. What one needs to do to solve them is evident from the beginning and it is mostly just a matter of getting on with the job.
Badly defined problems lack an obvious end and the way to solve them is not obvious. These are the opposite of well defined problems. Much of the task of solving these problems lies in understanding and defining what the problem actually is. If problems are really badly defined they are called wicked problems.

Wicked problems are characterized as follows:
— They cannot be clearly defined. New questions can always be posed.
— There is no possibility of determining when a solution could be final.
— Different solutions can follow from alternative definitions of the same problem.
— The proposed solutions are not necessarily correct or incorrect and they may lead to a redefinition of the problem which, in turn, leads to further work on solving the problem.

When I read about these wicked problems I felt only too much at home. This is my normal world. The artist’s problems are always wicked… Is that what makes them so attractive?


At five o’clock in the morning on the 10th of September 1993 I arrived with my friend Petter at that part of the Norrbro bridge in central Stockholm that leads on to Gustaf Adolfs torg. We lifted out of the car a welded structure with a brass sign riveted to it. A drawing had been etched into the brass sign with some text along side. The view depicted in the drawing on the sign was precisely the same as the view that we could see from where we were standing. With no delay we started to screw the supporting structure to the railings of the bridge. There was only one thing that distinguished our view from the picture on the sign: in the engraved view one could see a tall, thin, slightly conical form in the water at a place where, in reality, nothing could be seen. When we had finished putting up the first sign we hurried to install another three signs at sites which, together with the first sign, ringed the portrayed area of water from four sides. In the drawings on each of the signs one could see the same figure depicted in the water, seen from different viewpoints. On each of the signs one could also read the following: “I morgon påbörjas byggandet av en 24 m hög tegelskorsten på den markerade platsen” (Tomorrow work will commence on building a 24–metre brick chimney at the place marked).

The signs were part of an exhibition called Spelets Regler (Rules of the game), which was spread across the city and which lasted for three weeks. A few hours later on the same day I returned alone to where the signs were placed. There were the usual anglers with their rods in their usual positions — but some of them were gathered in groups round my addition to the view. I got closer in order to see what was going on. The voices were indignant. The consequences for angling were discussed. When work on the chimney started the canal would surely be drained — and what would then happen to the fish? One man cursed the “bloody authorities” who had thought up such an idiotic idea without telling anyone in advance (clearly he was ignoring the signs). This was surely another ventilation tower for a road tunnel. No one could be trusted any more. I discretely withdrew and reflected on how such a communication, undated and with no indication as to who was responsible for it, could cause such a strong reaction.
The next day I returned to the site where I found some of yesterday’s anglers who were now somewhat calmer. In the absence of any visible signs of draining the canal, transporting building materials, etc., they had evidently drawn the conclusion that construction work had been postponed until the next day.

What determines the quality of a work of visual art and what makes it irreplaceable is whether it enshrines some value or some knowledge that cannot, in a natural way, be translated into a verbal explanation. When the opposite is the case — when everything that is to be found in an image can be adequately explained in words — then there is no justification for the picture as an independent work of art. The picture becomes an illustration, an educationally motivated repetition of something that has already been said.

What is the point of having works of art on a university campus? For inspiration? Decoration? A disturbance?

Can something disturbing act as an inspiration?

In his second Surrealist manifesto in 1929, André Breton sought to regain a lost innocence and to try to return to the very discovery of language and meaning before the socially dependent limitations came into play. The creation of meaning in a text was handed over to the reader. When the revolt against the ruling paradigm of language has been successful, the reader will find him or herself in a virgin landscape in which spontaneity and chance are law. Jean-Pierre Cauvin describes the poetry of Surrealism as disorientation: “the sense of being out of one’s element, of being disconcerted by the unfamiliarity of a situation experienced for the first time. Without dépaysement (disorientation), there is no merveilleux, no encounter with the marvelous, the objective of all surrealist activity.”

When the National Public Art Council had decided to support my project I became aware that there was local opposition to it among some members of the campus council of the university. One group maintained that the work would give the general public the wrong signals — the wrong image — of Linköping University because there “we do not put things off until tomorrow” but already do “marvellous” things today. This objection came as a surprise to me. I had not thought in such terms at all, either from my own point of view or when I tried to imagine, and plan for, possible criticism. To be honest, I did not understand what the problem really was. Because how can the work of an organization or a corporation, or of an artist, develop if one takes the view that things are fine as they are and that they cannot be improved?

This project started towards the end of 1998, when two colleagues and I were invited by the National Public Art Council to produce so-called limited proposals. This meant that we were paid to produce competing proposals after which all the project managers at the Council assessed the proposals and decided which project to carry on with. The task, as it was presented to us, was to create an overall artistic concept for the whole of the Corso, including the southern end of it which had not then been built. When I visited the site I was struck by the disparity between the different buildings along the street and of just how many visual contributions of a more or less artistic nature already existed on the site (mostly the work of students). I rapidly decided that this was a reality which I should happily accept; that I should not work against or ignore. I decided to “like” what I found.

All the words are written in various forms of Franklin Gothic. The two stone sculptures were made by Broby Granit in Sibbhult in the southern province of Skåne. I am not myself a stone mason but I am able to steer the work via drawings and models and by making decisions on site in the workshop. My original idea was that the sculpture ATT was to be sited on grass but after considering how it was to be kept precisely cut over the years I instead decided to place it on gravel. I MORGON and hända!were produced by SignCenter in Växjö. I MORGON was a fairly uncomplicated construction. The letters were laser cut in 10 mm stainless steel but hända! has a unique construction which I developed myself. A minimal sign case (holding only the connections for the neon tubes and the cables) is built into the wall and, like the wall, is covered with plaster. The transformers are accessible in another case on the inside of the wall. The neon tubes can be accessed from the outside. Despite the fact that they are lit day and night, a long time will elapse before they need refilling with gas. I had assistance from numerous people in developing this seemingly simple construction and everyone was extremely helpful, not least the architects. They deserve my thanks. Dealing with the other two sculptures was a simpler matter. I produced the models for UNDERBART myself using thick building plywood and then sandblasting the letters. These were then cast in bronze at Herman Bergman Konstgjuteri in Stockholm. The pillar was carefully built up, letter by letter, and was fitted with a concealed, steel backbone. I first constructed något out of wood, like a construction kit, and Hästveda Gjuteri then cast it in iron just like any other manhole cover. YP-Entreprenad and PeO from Canman AB were extremely helpful in the matter of getting the words installed on site.


My interest in art is like a voyage of discovery. I start at one point and I do not know where the journey is going to end or what will be its final meaning. There are all sorts of things that influence the course of the journey. I try to take control over what chance brings as soon as it happens. Perhaps this is what lends meaning to life? This essay and the ideas contained in it are a consequence of the sculptures at Linköping. Who knows what they may give rise to tomorrow?

Jan Svenungsson
(translation by William Jewson)