Jan Svenungsson

Engblom, Sören. Art in Sweden - Leaving the empty cube, book (p. 78-80), Svenska Institutet, Stockholm 1998

"An objective tone of address"
During the late 1980s, the photographically based art of Jan Svenungsson (b. 1961) made its appearance in Stockholm's art galleries. Its dominant motif was a factory chimney which had been photographed and presented in a frame of dark, heavy wood. The photograph thus became a quasi-sculptural object (and the chimney, which on closer observation proved to be very expressive, became a stoic and at times absurd symbol of the industrial dreams and potency of the twentieth century in a post-industrial age). In the Rum Mellan Rum (Rooms in-between Rooms) exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1992, Svenungsson constructed the first of three realistic and very tall models of the factory chimney. It stuck up from the lawn right next to the museum by the window where Svenungsson had created a closed, guarded and very neutral room for his older, heavily framed photographs. He rounded off his work by photographing it with a large-format camera and producing yet another photograph which was supplied with a text constituting a very neutral commentary.

Svenungsson is also a consummate draughtsman. In the Se människan (Ecce homo) exhibition at Liljevalch's Art Gallery in 1992, his suite of self-portraits was shown. Every drawing took the one before it as its starting-point and distorted it slightly. The technique appeared again at On/About Time, where Svenungsson instead chose to show 64 photocopies of drawings of a map of the Nordic countries in which the development shows distortion partly towards the west and partly towards the east. Something which might be a face emerges from the distorted features of the map, and finally only blackness remains. A shaky image of national belonging to which there was a sequel in the form of a number of photographs of the city of Uppsala (where the artist grew up), shown in the Clean and Sane exhibition at the Edsvik Foundation in Sollentuna, a northern suburb of Stockholm, in I997. An objective photographic approach with a simple camera shows a number of functionalist blocks of flats along a street. Precise photographic composition is important to Svenungsson, but the most remarkable things happen in the eye of the observer which suddenly sees the functional pattern, the optimistically light facades of this aesthetic, a sudden image of the Swedish welfare state in the middle of architectural photographs in the style of die neue Sachlichkeit. And it can only be seen in photographs.

Sören Engblom
(translation: Hugh Rodwell)