Jan Svenungsson

Talk


June 11, 2021 – "Stream"
Diversity United
The big exhibition did indeed open. There was even a dinner, outside. Like in the good old days, before Covid. It is the first time I share a floor with some very big establishment names (Richter, Baselitz, Kiefer, Hatoum, Gormley... all within 20 meters), which is a funny feeling. As a matter of fact, the very first space you enter is shared between my Psycho-Mappings and Lucy + Jorge Orta's Antarctica installation. I photographed it today, but do not have the time to finish the documentation now. On Sunday June 13, at 2 pm, there will be an artist's talk in the exhibition, between myself and Kay Heymer, in front of the maps. It will be streamed on instagram as well, I think here: #DiversityUnitedArt

June 2, 2021 – "United"
Diversity United
We are counting the days... on Tuesday next week, June 8, should finally open in the halls of the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, the big exhibition which I have already mentioned a number of times. I still haven't been there and seen the installation (which was finalized at the end of April), but in this Youtube trailer I got a glimpse of my 20 m wall with all three Psycho-Mapping Europe installed one above the other. The tents in front belong to another artist.

So many cultural events during these last 15 months have become free floating, unreal, unmoored – while at the same time the physical reality of pain and disease has crept up on people in a way we in the West are not used to. Now summer is at the door and maybe things are looking better and hopefully this long postponed project is finally going to become visibly real. I am looking forward of entering that space, and then to iterations in Moscow and Paris as well. May reality be with us.

May 8, 2021 – "Fever"
Yesterday, at 4:40 pm, I had my first shot of Covid vaccin. At a doctor's office in Berlin. When it was my turn, I just felt so excited. Now... finally! Katrin had her shot a couple of weeks ago, and many of my colleagues in Vienna already in March. But I had managed to miss out on these offers, for various reasons. Until now. The doctor was very friendly and we had a short chat. The vaccin offered was AstraZeneca and I declared what I think of people who are offered the same, and refuse it. Idiots! He seemed pleased. The actual moment the syringe pierced my skin I didn't even notice. Was this all? Yes, for now. I will be back in July.

I went home and waited for some reaction in my body. Nothing in the evening. Next morning also nothing. Strange, I never wanted to have a fever or something before. Yet this time, it would be a confirmation that... it works. I tried to make myself feel sick. Then in mid-afternoon I felt a little bit of pain when I touched the band-aid, and the familiar vague stickiness of mild fever around my back and stomach. Yes! It wasn't water. I'm OK because not OK, right now.

May 3, 2021 – "Velvet"
As soon as I had finished Hamann's monumental work I continued with a slim volume which was published in Swedish this year by journalist Anna-Lena Laurén, who lives in St Petersburg and covers Russia for the daily Dagens Nyheter. I always read her reporting but this was the first time I read one of her books. "Sammetsdiktaturen" (The Velvet Dictatorship). It's about daily life in Russia and how people cope and adapt to an authoritarian system which aims to systematically eradicate any independent distinction between "true" and "false". The two works compliment each other perfectly. I'm sad to say.

May 2, 2021 – "About now"
Upon finishing the final volume of Knausgård's "My Struggle" I ordered Brigitte Hamann's book "Hitlers Wien – Lehrjahre eines Diktators". During his captivating and very long essay (a major part of the 1100 page volume) which begins with analysing language used in poetry and continues into a study of Hitler's humanity, Knausgård repeteadly refers to Hamann's 1996 book on the future dictator's first 24 years. Now I finished reading it as well, and I am amazed. The young Hitler is the central figure of this work, but the real interest lies in how Hamann presents the context of his early life. She has spared absolutely no effort in researching all the political figures, cranks and demagogues who were active at the time and whose various programs were appropriated and turned into an efficient system for Machtübernahme (takeover of power) by a person who had no qualms about making himself into a monster, but who may not have been born that way. All his awful ideas were already promoted by figures in turn of the century Vienna. I had had no idea , just how deeply antisemitism was established and how openly it was promoted. It's just one example. Hitler's future program was going to be original in its instrumental efficiency, but it was all based on existing thought. Understanding this and thinking about the rise of instrumental populism that what we see today: in Europe, in America, in Russia... I feel more worried than before. Instrumental cynicism competently applied can destroy worlds.

April 24, 2021 – "Postponed"
First I thought I'd call this post "Diversity postponed", but that seems to have more meaning than intended. I'd call "Postponed" a candidate for Word of the Year. What I want to mention is that the exhibition I spoke of in the post before this one, has now seen it's opening delayed until June, because of... guess what! I can live with this, but I feel so sad for all the people who work so incredibly hard to make things happen as intended, only to constantly be thwarted by the unpredictability of the changing health regulations – which I do accept. Not to mention the hospitality sector. A few days before the first lockdown in Berlin, March 13 one year ago, Katrin and I had a fantastic meal at one of Berlin's finest, and smallest, and probably most expensive restaurants: "Ernst". My birthday present to her, reserved months in advance. Ernst's capacity is – was – 12 guests, and there where perhaps 6-7 staff. It was a wonderful experience. I often wondered, in the days that followed, what happened to the superbly professional young people working there. Two were Japanese, one of them gave Katrin tips for her upcoming trip (which was soon canceled). Since then I have had a sit-down meal in a restaurant exactly once, in June 2020.

April 18, 2021 – "Diversity"
Diversity United
In the gigantic Tempelhof former airport building in Berlin, my three Psycho-Mapping Europe (print) series, from 1998, 2010 and 2020 – which I have uploaded today! – have now been installed for the exhibtion "Diversity United", one above the other, on a 25 m wall. I have seen a small photo on my phone. I'm in Vienna right now, but I will be back in Berlin in time for my quarantine so that I can attend what I... hope... will be the opening on May 3.

We all hope. The exhibition is an enormous undertaking and it has already been postponed once. It should have begun its three city tour in Moscow, at the Tretyakov Gallery Museum in November. The postponement was announced only one month before. Now it should open in Berlin (the German president is supposed to speak) ... and then continue to Moscow and finally land in Paris. I don't know in what space, but earlier I heard that the organizers were interested in Grand Palais.

If you look at the list of artists you can probably understand that there is more than one reason why my participation in this project has a mirage-like quality. But then, I HAVE seen the photo of the finished installation of sixty framed works of mine next to a project I believe is by Lucy and Jorge Orta.

April 16, 2021 – "People"
One reason why I am writing less here than I did before, is that on October 24 last year I started writing a diary, having decided I would have to write a post for each day – for one year exactly. It's the second time I start a diary, the first I began at the end of the seventies and the writing continued until sometime in 1987 (I think it was). I then decided to stop – and felt so delivered, so free. My impulse to break with this freedom now, came from reading an interview with Martin Hägglund (of "This Life" fame) , where he mentioned his diary writing and how important it was for him. As a tool. And I thought I want to try it too.

At first it was rather stiff, but lately I have felt more easygoing. The big question with all diary writing (as a contrast to writing on the internet) is, of course, whether you imagine another reader than yourself. Who are you writing for? An older you? Or somebody coming after your passing: family or... (imagined) researchers. I think I am beginning to loose up now, thinking less about those people.

March 27, 2021 – "60"
When this year began I decided that now I would have to get through the sixth and final volume of Karl- Ove Knausgård's "My Struggle". I received all six volumes (in Swedish) as a gift from Katrin at Christmas 2014 (I believe it was). I had become interested in Knausgård some time before and wrote about him here (while in Bergen to give a lecture on writing, very fitting). I read the first one soon after, and then with irregular intervals I continued. But got stuck somewhere in the first two or three hundred pages of the final one – which has 1100 pages. This was some years ago. Now I started from the beginning again, and yes, it has sometimes felt like my struggle to get through this sea of pages, but now I'm very close to port. Only sixty pages left – now I feel sorry that it will soon be over.

March 6, 2021 – "Four"
Shonen Knife
I'm in Vienna over the weekend. Quick travel between neighbouring countries is no longer smooth, becaue of you-know-what, so when I'm here I stay longer. This Saturday morning I attended a concert, at 8:30. Shonen Knife live streaming from Osaka, in a club, in front of a small audience. I hope the world wide online audience was much bigger. They so deserve it and the event had been well promoted. It's the first time I paid to watch a streamed concert. It somehow worked. I felt happy to "be there", but not as happy as I would have been if I had been there. They played as a four piece, with former bassist Ritsuko returning on guitar, she had left some years ago to have a baby. I wish she would stay now. After 40 years (at the end of this year) as a three piece I think this expanded format worked brilliantly. Ritsuko is such a rocker.

I am waiting for the publication of two ambitious texts I have written, each about a song by a Japanese artist from the last 40 years. I wrote them over a year ago for an anthology (in Sweden) which was going to be published to the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020. When that was postponed the book was as well, and now it is being planned as a web project instead, which will begin to roll out at bcnvt.se sometime in late spring. The delay has given me the opportunity to continue working on the texts. They are very dear to me now and I am impatient to see them go live. The songs I have chosen to write about are "Spider" as performed live by Shonen Knife in Osaka on April 17, 1982 – and "Ijime, Dame, Zettai" performed by BABYMETAL at Sonisphere, Knebworth Park in the UK, on July 5, 2014.

February 28, 2021 – "Goose"
Yesterday, I saw the new documentary about Billie Eilish: "The World's a Little Blurry". It's great to watch, and free from hysteric over-editing. What is truly astounding is the access the filmmakers had to be fly-on-the wall in the home of a real family (of still modest means), not an interior designer's coulisse – from before the total circus has begun. The camera seems to be there at all times, not hidden, but also not a bother. You see the two siblings working on songs which would be at the top all over the world a few months later – in a cramped bedroom. It's very special. Then at the end of the long film, over two hours, the end credits take 3 minutes and 10 seconds to unfurl. Why? How?

In my sleep afterwards, I dreamt I was hanging out with Billie in some uncomplicated way. Only, I was very keen to show her a particular music video which I thought she would like – and it refused to open. It was very annoying. I had my chance – and I blew it.

When finally I woke, there was no problem to open it. The title is "The Goose And The Common" and it was made by the young artist Shadeb Shayegan for her diploma project las summer in Vienna. Shadeb had become interested in a 300 year old English protest song, then came across a local band (Heaven Sent Cat) who had made an indie version of this song. She asked them if they'd mind if she'd make a video for their song. They did not – and now it is an "official video". No wonder: everything is perfect here. The song – the story – the video. I know Billie would understand. Such a disappointment I couldn't get it across.

February 3, 2021 – "Kyoto"
Teruo Ishihara Teruo Ishihara
I have a dear friend in Kyoto. His name is Teruo Ishihara and we met by chance in Paris on June 12, 1982, while Teruo and his wife Junko (it was their honeymoon) came to see Juliet Man Ray in the studio at Rue Ferou. I was there. I had already known Juliet for four years by then, and would visit her in Paris regularly. That this came to be is a story I have told many times, including in the texts which Teruo has now translated to Japanese, and which appear in these two books, the first of which he published in November last year and the second two weeks ago.

I have long been aware that reading Man Ray's autobiography at a young age, then becoming friends with Juliet (and with Roland Penrose, who introduced me to her) were absolutely decisive factors in making me become who I am. For Teruo (who is nine years older than I am) it was both similar and different. He too became transfixed by Man Ray, already in 1970, and has since come to dedicate his life to this passion, primarily as a collector and as a creator of the most utterly beautiful books. There are more than twenty now, all made in small editions and sold and distributed to a circle of bibliophiles and Manrayophiles who know their worth.

After our first meeting in 1982 it took until 1998 until we had contact again. That year I made a small exhibition called My Man Rays, in an art centre outside Stockholm. The exhibition was announced on the internet, and at home in Kyoto Teruo found the announcement and immediately contacted the art centre in order to get the catalogue for his collection. It felt like magic. Since then we have been in contact again and we have met once, one evening in Kyoto in September 2014 (I was there for only two days, with students. I so much want to return). Now Teruo has created these two books on which we collaborated. I am proud and profoundly touched. Teruo is not an artist himself. Nevertheless, he has let his life be guided by his dedication to what one artist did with his life.

In Japanese, you can read Teruos's own story about the books here.

February 2, 2021 – "Survival"
Putin's Palace, Alexei Navalny
Two days ago I watched the youtube film about a ridiculous palace allegedly built for the pleasure of the Russian president. It's called "Putin's Palace" and everyone reading this will already have heard about it, and about the incredible bravery of it's (main) creator Alexei Navalny, his team – and the tens of thousands of followers who have been protesting in the streets all over Russia, just like they continue to do in Belarus. For anyone who, like me – at this moment, is living in a safe (we hope) democracy: imagine the courage to brave security forces bent on using as much violence as they like, just to express your peaceful view and protesting an extraordinarily brave man's unjust incarceration.

You should watch the film as well, all two hours of it. Youtube provides subtitles to this masterful exposure of Vladimir Putin's corruption and ridiculousness. It's utterly dense with documents and information, but is made with a very up-to-date sense of dynamics and using marginal humor at the same time. Yesterday, I continued by watching Navalny's equally crushing exposure of the cleptocracy of the former president Dmitry Medvedev. The same person who told the news agency Interfax, also yesterday, that Russia is "legally and technologically" ready to disconnect from the global internet if needed.

Let's see.

January 20, 2021 – "Hours"
Wednesday morning and I'm counting the hours until the new president of the USA will be sworn in. It's not that I'm overly optmistic about his chances to do all the things he wants to do and should be doing. But still, it could have been worse. I looked at what I wrote here on January 19, 2017, and found this sentence: "I just dearly hope that I am wrong in being nervous about what's going on, and that things will turn out more or less normal, after all." I wasn't and they didn't.

January 10, 2021 – "Nuclear"
It's quite an escalation, in the current US situation of rampant post-modernism, to read about Nancy Pelosi contacting the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asking him to "keep an unstable President from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike." To which General Milley had to answer that if the president's order is legal (such as asking for a strike on Iran), it would have to be carried out. Not doing it, would constitute a military coup.

In a column in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet writer Lena Andersson has this to say (in my translation):

Different issues have different character and should be analyzed accordingly. In some matters, emotions are crucial. If it feels like you have won a presidential election, it says nothing about the outcome. But if a president felt it was breaking his soul to lose and sought therapeutic help for it, then emotions would be central.

The collapse of sensible society with solid institutions and peaceful transfer of power, that we witnessed during the week in Washington DC can be seen as the culmination of a long ideological battle in order to give primacy to feeling.

The view of knowledge that four years ago allowed the Trump camp to claim that his installation had the most participants in history - because it felt that way and anyway, everything is just stories from different perspectives - was the one that also guided his followers when on Wednesday, rightfully as they saw it, they stormed in over the beautiful old floors of the Capitol, occupied by themselves and their cellphone cameras.

The last half century's ideas of subjective truths have led to a large-scale intellectual regression; a kind of humanity's return to the stage of development where the child does not fully understand what it means that others exist and think; the stage where the child does not yet know how pronouns work; that they are a link between the person and his placement in the general, in the structure.

(...)


January 1, 2021 – "One"
It's the first day of the new year. For a while now, I have been saying to everybody that it will surely be better than 2020. I guess we all do.

At umpteen tables yesterday, the question will have been raised what was good about 2020? Many will have answered "that Trump lost". I did. When I think about it, I realize that without the pandemic – he would have won.

An art-related answer I gave refered to my part of the Stoa project. My column is a dancing, drunk, loose, sloppy... form. Together with Pascal Marturella I was able to build a 3D translation in brick of what these words express. Thinking about it makes me happy. To me, this was a pure art making experience. And it will last!

I am curious what 2021 will bring.