Jan Svenungsson

Lind, Maria. "Jan Svenungsson", in: Port of Art, Kotka 1995

1. So Jan Svenungsson has made another chimney. Predictable. As if he can't keep his fingers off this at the same time loaded - the industrially phallic can hardly be ignored - and comparatively expressionless object. This time built in a pit on an empty lot in the Finnish port city of Kotka. Laid according to all the rules of the craft - with rounded bricks - it stands there in front of the building built in Scandinavian functionalism and has something obscene about it.

2.a. Svenungsson's chimney history goes back to 1988, when he systematically began to photograph a chimney in Stockholm from different angles and in a variety of lightings. Since then chimneys have appeared in etched, drawn, painted, masoned and cast form. The chimney is an actor performing in his plays, just as Charles Ray does in his, regarding how meaning is created outside the object rather than within it, how the image both stipulates and subjugates "reality". In this context it can also be likened to the so called shifters of linguistics, that alter their meaning depending on the speaker and the circumstance.

2.b. Systems like this come and go in Svenungsson's art. They are constructed on the basis of the exhibition site and the questions the artist poses to himself when working on the piece. Besides the chimneys, the suite of red spot paintings entitled "Test" can be mentioned, in which he has carefully copied in oil randomly created water-colour splashes, and the series in which he draws from a press photograph of Russian extremist Zhirinovsky and then makes a new drawing from the first drawing, etc, until the system breaks down. Common to these systems is that their origin in one way or another lies in contingency - not entirely unlike that of surrealism - and that they sooner or later feed upon themselves. The will to order seems always to be overwhelmed by the desire for chaos in Svenungsson's art.

2.c. The power and problems of representation - it's problems of power even - are always present in his work, although from a practical point of view rather than a theoretical one. From re-photographing other images he has turned to representing objects and finally to creating objects merely in order to represent them and turn them into images. Therefore he names a photograph of the chimney he built outside Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1991 as "The Perfect Photograph". But the simulacra remain simulacra. The great system would probably implode and the desire die when a real, smoke-spewing chimney is built.

3. If one purpose here is to create - and alter - our "reality", then he has succeeded. At least with me. I can no longer see a high and thin masoned thing - with or without smoke - without thinking of Jan Svenungsson and his near manic researches. Nor can I stop imagining a functional chimney bearing his signature.

Maria Lind