Jan Svenungsson

"A Park in London", in: Dispatched, Academy of Fine Arts, Umeå Universitet 2005

A park in London. Several gardeners tend to flowerbeds. One of them speaks excitedly about the life of a gardener in the park, and the competitive spirit that motivates their special efforts: which is the finest park in the city? The man speaks to the camera, to the person behind it. But no answer. And no voice-over. He thereby turns to us – we become the ones with whom he is speaking. The video camera becomes our eyes and ears. Our gaze occasionally drifts, meets other park workers, sees visitors passing by. The man occasionally turns to his colleagues, speaks with them. A supervisor shows up. He also notices us. We never leave the park. It is our temporary reality. That which happens here can’t but interest us.

Reality. A continually recurring question for an artist is the question of the relation of the work to “reality.” How do I approach reality? What is reality? What is my position – is my studio part of reality?

When I first stepped into Ingela’s studio, I was met by an extraordinary number of paintings. Canvas up against canvas in multiple layers along the walls. Curious, I asked to see all of them. As we worked our way through the mass of paintings, Ingela talked about what she was trying to do with her work. All the paintings represented people, nearly all were painted from photographs. But the photos were the tool, not the goal, and Ingela seemed to be looking for a form that would enable her to speak about the things that existed beyond the picture – social relations, political questions. She said that she once hired models and painted a couple of large canvases from living motifs: two teenagers in their normal environment, in their own clothing. The experience shook her up: the isolation of the painter, broken. Conversations arose, telephones rang, the situation was never completely under control. Alone in the studio, without a model, the painter can determine everything in the realm of the canvas – but she is, of course, alone, and must always take the initiative herself. The work with the models had shown her a theretofore unknown path: one leading out of the studio. When I was getting ready to go, Ingela said that she was now doing video films, constructed loosely as interviews. The painter had made a decision to encounter the world in motion.

In Ingela’s films, one sees that it is easy for her to meet people, give them respect, get them to relax and be communicative – even though the camera is running. Ingela’s own “voice” and content is formulated during the editing process. The underlying theme in the film from the park was actually hierarchic ordering and the use of uniforms, as in the film Fleet Week. In that film, we meet a retired lieutenant who genially talks about rank and the value of symbols in the American navy. At the same time, a navy frigate has docked in New York, and the sailors go onshore in their dress uniforms. The sailors used to elicit respect everywhere – now, the uniforms have turned them into targets.

As I was writing this text, Ingela was in New York once again. She was driving around through Harlem and the Bronx together with Danny, a member of the criminal gang the Latin Kings. The camera was rolling. Danny talked about his life. About the police and the punishments, about respect, secret meeting places, hoods, symbols, signals, and codes. Ingela listened and registered and thought about what her own story would look like.

Jan Svenungsson
(translation by Brian Manning Delaney)