Jan Svenungsson

Roos, Rita. "Jan Svenungsson - Galerie Anhava, Hippolyte, Helsinki",

in: Siksi, # 4 1994

If anyone asks why Svenungsson is a good artist, answers might well refer to the way, even in the smartest observers, his works, at least momentarily, provoke doubts about what they have seen. This is in striking contrast with Svenungsson's working practice, which is extremely logical, methodical and precise.

When I think of my previous encounters with Svenungsson's works, the recurrent memory amounts to the questions, what is this, what is it about? Reason is incapable of directly accepting that so little visual material is enough to spark off our powers of imagination. For example, for the Avstånd (A Matter of Distance, 1992) exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Svenungsson produced a wall installation, a kind of map made up of copper plates, each with the name of a city engraved on it. The simple arrangement. the shadings of the copper plates, and the mutual relations between the cities ran together, and we stood eye to eye with an abundance of associations.

At Hippolyte, the first thing we see are two of Svenungsson's smokestack photographs in solid frames. The two smokestacks, which lean against the gallery wall, are fascinating precisely because we are seeing nothing special. However we view the work, the fact remains that these are two smokestacks, and if we see anything else beyond that then that is our own projection. The gallery's cellar contains the results of a process of documentation. Svenungsson documented various phases of his project for a sculpture park in Korea (Taejon Expo 93). There, Svenungsson built a smokestack with his own hands and according to the correct handicraft techniques. His documentation of the construction process seems perfectly normal and systematic. We imagine we are seeing step by step how the smokestack grows alongside the other sculptures and buildings at the Expo. But on this occasion it is the viewer who imposes a nonexistent system on the photographs, and thereby falls into a trap. The chronology of this documentation is not at all authentic. The documentation fools us. When we, for once, believe what we are seeing when confronted by one of Svenungsson's works, we fall for an inbuilt optical illusion. For example, the first photograph shows the completed smokestack, but it is only later that we notice that the photograph has been manipulated by computer, since the surrounding area comes from the time betore the sculpture park was set up, and the site still looks derelict. In contrast, in the last photographs in the series we see the raised smokestack in its authentic setting - i.e. the smokestack looks so normal that we don't immediately think that its authentically authentic context would have been a factory roof, and not this site beside an unidentifiable building at an Expo in Korea. Svenungsson's unequivocally systematic practice thus continues to manipulate our powers of perception.

At Galerie Anhava there is a typically Svenungssonian twist. This project is about capturing the chance occurrence. For this purpose, Svenungsson has adopted a method that demands a great deal of time and patience, and which indirectly accords with an interesting feature of what we call chance - even chance entails a series of essential prerequisites. Svenungsson's concrete intention is to paint a patch of paint - a blotch. From a great number of originals, patches of paint on soft paper, Svenungsson chose a limited number, and then began to paint his Test series in red on a light ground. The copying of the blotches has been done meticulously and precisely. A momentary event is transferred via painterly handiwork into another tense, with each painting bearing witness to hours of arduous painting. But it is impossible to misinterpreted the red blotch, it is a splash of blood, which has just fallen onto the canvas.

Rita Roos