Jan Svenungsson

Svenungsson, Jan & von Maltzahn, Katrin: "A Developing Relationship", in Hostings: Ocular Lab, 2003-10, Surpllus, Melbourne 2012

Since first meeting Julie Davies and Alex Rizkalla in 1995 at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, we have seen our relationship with Australia and Australian culture develop over the following years.

We both made our first visits to Melbourne, although not together, in 1998 for exhibitions at the "h" project, which Julie and Alex had instigated. The space which would later become Ocular Lab was then Alex' crowded studio. Katrin remembers Julie saying something about the possibility of making exhibitions there, at some later date.

In the meantime we got to know Tom Nicholson, who arrived in Berlin in 2001 with Katrin's phone number given to him by Julie. Soon, all three of us were close friends, and this relationship led to course, Jan's first exhibition at Ocular Lab, together with Tom, in 2005.

Jan couldn't travel to this exhibition, but both Jan and Katrin were able to return to Melbourne in 2007, for a joint residency at the RMIT School of Art. A couple of days after arrival, we opened an exhibition at Ocular Lab together, called "Being the Mirror". We were treated to an Ocular Lab dinner, and the generosity of the Lab group of friends and collaborators (many who in different capacities would invest themselves in helping make our six weeks in Melbourne superbly rewarding) made a deep impression on us.

Being two artists together one thing we had always avoided is making joint exhibitions. This was our first. Each of us had chosen a work group to exhibit; Katrin a large group of small drawings depicting components of a disassembled computer; Jan five drawings in which he tries to work out a way to fuse two written languages into one. In our new-found spirit of exchange we had then switched works between us and each one had developed a new work based on the other's work: a translation or a transformation.

It was an exciting process. How much will be retained of the original meaning, if you make the other's art work into your own? Not as appropriation, but as dialogue material. How much information can – really – be exchanged between people... and cultures? These questions play out also in our own daily lives, as we do not share the same nationality. And when we come to Australia – even though we have made so good friends there and feel "at home" in many ways – there are always interesting aspects of cultural difference which will play out in subtle ways.

This experience of difference motivates us to return, as Jan did in 2010. His purpose then was focused around a visit to Papunya, a name known precisely because of cultural translation.

Katrin von Maltzahn & Jan Svenungsson