Jan Svenungsson

Billgren, Ola. Text in Stockholm, a book by Ola Billgren and Jan Svenungsson, Propexus, Lund, 1995

Works of art created by two people (or rather by many, but in particular by two) are a trial for the audience. Not so much in circumstances when interest is centered purely on the finished product (for who cares about the veracity of a musical?), but as soon as creativity of a purportedly uncompromising nature is involved.

A work without a "true" creator leads to uncertainty and sometimes also to discomfort - a hesitance that spreads from the split origin to the different levels of reading (perceptual, motivational, conceptual) and generates an insatiable desire for certainty. Such a work is inefficient but nonetheless effective: it meets some of our most common social constraints at a level that is deeper than that of provocation - namely that of deviation, the level of a second and different nature. Thus, as participant, one is forced to make something out of the duality (and not just to flirt with it), to see a true alternative to the orthodox "either/or" in the pliable formula "and/or," and thus to selfishly concentrate on the transgressive register and its disturbance of the boundaries of essence, genre, and personality.

In this I have said something important about Stockholm, Jan Svenungsson's and my collaborative work. Although it can be said that it is a work which, as far as the production process is concerned, places special demands on the imagination of the viewer, at the same time it is true that these efforts are wasted if they are directed at distinguishing a meeting of personalities, a dialog, a dialectical process, in brief a collaboration in the good sense of the word. Stockholm is nothing like that, not even as an idea: it is an extravagance. I do not know what Jan would say about this image, but I would prefer to consider our work as something that could have sprung from an opium den in nineteenth-century London or Paris, with the difference that our medium is not a common hallucinogen, but photography, and that our extravagance is that of the laboratory rather than the bohemian artistic. Just think how much sweetness flows from this work and at the same time how firmly it makes each viewer - even I - feel left out!

No, Stockholm is not a particularly personal creation, nor have the artists attempted to be penetrating; in a for them pleasurable manner, they have merely striven to place the material in a proper setting (one reason for the luxurious appearance). But fortunately (or is it due to brilliant intuition?), this processual coolness has also given the work an unusual medial significance. The suite of images consists of views of Stockholm, superbly photographed by Jan Svenungsson and tinted with a "Billgrenesque" luminescence. As combination and construction, this is little more than a cliché, but there is nevertheless in the conjunction of an "idealizing," somewhat Förg-influenced photographic style and a banal sense-expanding chromatic, a perceptual twisting that has a certain revelatory power with regard to the spatial aspects of photography. Have we not extricated something important from its relative obscurity and recreated some of the effects of primitive photography? That is to say, perception rather than picture: photography as it was before people - photographers and others - knew what they would experience in front of the images. Out of this period stem all of the drily accounting and panopticon-like photographic illustrations from the picture postcards and textbooks of the day, which now mainly speak to viewers through their patina. When we see them we can sense, however - at least some of the time - that they bore a more jolting vision that had not yet been described in terms such as death and alienation, that had not yet achieved symbolic status, but consisted of something that was added to perception and the experience of its mobility: a world with the qualities of a painting, where perception sets things in motion without other reward than the severe desolation of scopic endlessness.

Wols, the painter and photographer, made a photograph that treats this aspect metaphorically and which may be my personal, subconscious model for Stockholm. It shows a (white) light bulb lying on a mirror-glass reflecting deep darkness. Through the insignificant doubling of this small object, the night of infinite space comes to share in its loneliness. This law-bound emptiness creates a strong impression.

Ola Billgren
(translation: Lars Werdelin)