Jan Svenungsson

Noring, Ann-Sofi. Psycho-Mapping the Current Crisis,

Moderna Museet, Stockholm, February 2003

What applies - the map or reality?

The motif for the twenty paintings that run in and out of the exhibition hall is a map of the Middle East. The centre and starting-point is Baghdad, and it stretches from Crete to Afghanistan, from a line just south of the Crimea, to the border between Egypt and Sudan.

The seven colours are the same in all the paintings, but the size location change according to a random system: the more political and media exposure a country gets in the on-going Iraq crisis, the more prominent the colour becomes in the system. The wall painting behind the twenty paintings is in the same seven colours, and is applied in a pattern based on the exact spatial distribution of the colours in the first painting. Thus, two trains of development run parallel to one another, starting from the same point.

Jan Svenungsson has been collecting quotes from the New York Times leader page since 11 September, 2001. He juxtaposes them to his own numerous notes and sketches from the same period. Different parallel developments, world events and private lives – time goes by, and so do we.

Psycho-Mapping the Current Crisis is about perceiving the world in a new way – in a warped global image. Crises arise and subside, disasters occur, wars escalate – and in the middle of it all we try to create an overview, to orientate ourselves to get some sort of comprehensible grasp of the situation in the world. In the middle? Yes, the knowledge that everything is relative is painfully tangible, there is no centre, just innumerable centres, simultaneously. And between these centres tensions, frictions, power struggles emerge. The media monitor, whitewash, accentuate some aspects, while others are concealed – only one story can be told in the headlines.

This is where Jan Svenungsson’s paintings for Odd Weeks come in: paintings on paintings, a play between foreground and background, like a chamber play for big politics. A geopolitical prediction evolves, or rather, explodes, beyond the control apparatus that editorial work sometimes comprises. Chance has governed, not the number of copies sold.

Jan Svenungsson works in the field of tension between the wish for control and the desire for chaos. He arranges the irrational in strict and logical order – when the game is taken seriously it becomes real.

I am interested in systems.
Systems are designed to lead to a desirable result.
When a system works it provides a sense of control and security.
If the system is improperly realised the result will deviate from the plan.

Sometimes I dream of creating a system so perfect that no deviation is possible.
This system I pursue beyond its limits.
In the breakdown anything can happen.

This was how Jan Svenungsson formulated it in a catalogue just before moving to Berlin, after a decade of intense artistic activity mainly in the Nordic countries. Basing himself on the map, and perhaps with a certain detachment to his home country, he created Psycho-Mapping Scandinavia: a series of sketches, in which he tried to copy the map and then step by step copy his own copy. Although the artist’s total ambition is focused on avoiding mistakes – doing it right – the image nevertheless shifts, mistakes accumulate, leaving the end result almost unrecognisable, like a visual game of Chinese Whispers. He has always been interested in how content and meaning arise, ever since he read Man Ray’s autobiography as a teenager and decided to become an artist.

But systems have to be tested and maintained, and serial repetition is one way of testing the limits of the system. At an early stage, Jan Svenungsson asked whether the symbols are not in fact more real than what they symbolise: in a series of manipulated photos – the most famous being his portraits of chimneys – he has taken this question to its utmost limits. With unfailing consistency, he has tested how far one specific theme can be varied, whether it be blob paintings, plastered chimney portraits, drawn copies of photographic originals or, to take the current work, so called mental cartographies: Psycho-Mappings.

With Psycho-Mapping the Current Crisis Jan Svenungsson has created a time-specific installation for Odd Weeks, a work of art that depends entirely on the current state of the world.

In the breakdown anything can happen.

Ann-Sofi Noring