Jan Svenungsson

Alton, Peder. "This is a real millenium project...",

in: Some Parts of This World, Helsinki 2000

This is a real millennium project - an odyssey through Europe's cultural capitals! Reykjavik, Brussels, Helsinki, Santiago de Compostela, Prague, Bologna, Bergen, Avignon, Krakow. Which city is the most beautiful? Maybe Reykjavik with its scattered settlements on the edge of a forestless landscape! Or Helsinki, which spreads between islands and rocks like some random climbing plant. Krakow has pulled itself out of the eastern-state trap and transformed itself into a reverently renovated urban gem. But Brussels is not looking too good. Refined Jugend architecture has collided with the European community's official ceremonial style.

Jan Svenungsson has travelled to the nine cultural capitals and sought out peculiar features that suit his photography: a steel object framed by a building crane far back in the picture (Reykjavik), a castle-like building that establishes an unclear proportional relationship between two 19th-century façades (Krakow), a depth of field that makes a collection of houses look like a model town (Bergen). In an article about his translation of Giorgio de Chirico's novel Hebdomeros, Svenungsson provides a key to his photography: "I had learned that the copy must always surpass the original, in some way. Otherwise, the activity becomes meaningless as an artistic act." Svenungsson's 'copy' and motif has long been a smokestack, which he has repeated in various techniques: such as prints, photographs and drawings. Even as sculptures and real building projects, most recently in the Swedish industrial city of Norrköping, as a hovering, floating, yet order-creating, almost authoritarian centre.

"To surpass the original" - but also to make something as 'like' it as possible. Svenungsson's aesthetics can be described that simply. Repeat and alter, deduct and add. This applies to most of the aesthetic discussions of the last thirty years. Everything from modernist reduction to postmodern theft. In the background is also a surrealism in which anything at all can happen. My eye is caught by his photograph of Kiasma in the middle of Helsinki. All the pictures I have seen previously of Steven Holl's museum building have been journalistically uncomplicated, and have the curved glass façade clearly visible - real, functional photography. Svenungsson approaches Kiasma differently. He places the camera at a great distance and shows the museum in relationship to a blank stone surface. The Mannerheim statue appears like a fleeting shadow - Is the old marshal passing on a nocturnal ride? - And the crossroads some tens of metres away radiates light, as though the asphalt were luminous. Only the stone foundation closest to the camera has weight and reality, most closely resembling the floor of a stage. Everything has become theatre, a momentary, nocturnal dream sequence.

Peder Alton