Jan Svenungsson

Talk


June 27, 2022 – "Destruction"

The war in Europe has been going on for four months, resulting in unbelievable destruction and loss of life, along with deliberate destruction of culture. Meanwhile I have learned that in early July the Städelmuseum in Frankfurt apparently will go ahead and destroy my sculpture "First Chimney II". It's hard to believe: a museum destryoing art it has once commissioned and paid a substantial sum of money for. I don't want it to be true.

May 9, 2022 – "Blood stains"
Last autumn I painted five new Test Paintings.

After I had finished # 144 in the summer of 2009, I thought I would never do this again. This feeling stayed with me until it was replaced by a need to break the spell and do more. What happened was I met with a long time artist friend and we decided that we finally must exchange work, which we had talked about already ten years earlier. One thought led to another and it suddenly appeared necessary that I offer her the choice from five new paintings, of a certain model. I was totally motivatedas I realized my idea and I am very pleased with the result. At the beginning of February we met again and made our swap. A couple of weeks later war broke out in Europe.

In private I have always called these works either Test Paintings – or bloodstain paintings. Painting representations of stains of blood was the original idea, which has motivated all the now 149 paintings.

Today I added the new paintings to the index, which is found here. In between I checked the news and thought that maybe I am still not finished painting bloodstains.

April 24, 2022 – "Maundy Thursday"

I spent the last week in the country side, in south Sweden. Working on a lecture. Cutting linoleum plates. Digging earth. The weather was so beautiful. It feels almost wrong to make this observation. Just before leaving Berlin, in the morning of Maundy Thursday (this word I had to look up), Hasenkamp arrived with all my work from Moscow. I was surprised when I took the call, a couple of days earlier. But here they were. As if nothing had happened.

March 27, 2022 – "Dreamland"
It is now thirty-two days since Russia invaded Ukraine and it is not over. In Vienna with five students, we are installing an exhibition in AG18 Gallery which will open on Tuesday. It is called "Dreamland". I chose this title back in October and in January I wrote a text which begins like this:

We are not the only animals who dream when we sleep. Yet, only we can share those dreams afterwards and only humans make art. Will that still be the case tomorrow?
Do you have sweet dreams? Do you have nightmares? I think we all hope for the former when we go to bed at night. Who wants to wake up in terror? It's different during the day. People watch horror movies and listen to Black Metal. Some hurt themselves. Artists embrace what is ugly and bewildering. Leaders make plans, which will never lead to paradise. Others give speeches full of hope: "I have a dream".
We need our dreams, in whatever shape or form they present themselves. To make art is to make them work for you and for us all, in the medium of your choice. Machines cannot dream. 
This exhibition is called DREAMLAND.   


When I sent out an invitation the other day I added the following sentence:

In times like these there are dreams we must hold on to, just as there are dreams which need to be repelled.

March 9, 2022 – "Fog of war"

The 14th day of Putin's brutal war against Ukraine will soon be over. I still can't really comprehend that it is happening. It has come so much closer than other wars, because of a number of factors. I know people who have families in it. I talk to them. I try to find words which make sense, but I fail, of course. It shrinks the distance. And it is close. It would take me a day to drive from Berlin, to be in it. It is the first time in my life, that I realize it could become my war too.

On the day of the invasion, Walter Smerling asked that the exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow be taken down immediately. It hasn't. My works which concern themselves with a changing European map apparently are still installed. I never wanted them to be appropriate in the way they are now. I think they will be lost. It doesn't matter. So much else is lost. Above all so many people, and their futures. This matters.

Update: This is peculiar. Ten minutes after I posted the above I received a new email from Walter Smerling, saying that the request to close the exhibition was granted today. And that the work will be sent back. 60 000 visitors in Moscow, have seen the exhibition. Does this matter?

February 27, 2022 – "Demonstrations"

Yesterday we marched. 20.000 were projected, about 100.000 showed up in Berlin. And Germany has completely changed its policies. What now counts is first: the bravery of the Ukrainian military and population who continue to defend their country against the aggressor, and second: the bravery of the Russians who are demonstrating and demanding an end to the attack on their neighbour. May they soon overwhelm the security forces who are sent to arrest them for their message of peace.

February 24, 2022 – "The End"
Early this morning Russia launched a full scale attack on Ukraine. In Saint Petersburg, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter's highly respected Russia correspondent Anna-Lena Laurén began her article with the following words (in DeepL translation):

The attack on Ukraine – a peaceful neighbour – means the end of the Putin regime. The Russian autocrat will not survive his catastrophically miscalculated decision in the long run. And history will not be kind.

February 22, 2022 – "Politburo"
The news from Ukraine are awful. At least Scholz has now stopped Nordstream 2. And here is a remarkable Twitter thread by Alexey Navalny, from his prison. How is this possible? In

February 18, 2022 – "Berlin Kunsthalle"
In a long open letter published on e-flux two days ago and titled "Who Owns the Public", Jörg Heiser, Hito Steyerl and Clemens von Wedemeyer present a devastating critique of the dealings surrounding the so-called "Berlin Kunsthalle", which was opened with an exhibition of huge steel sculptures by Bernard Venet less than three weeks ago. The opening speech was given by Gerhard Schröder, a former German Bundeskanzler, who has since been employed to serve Russian interests. One day before he had accused Ukraine of saberrattling, towards Russia! The Kunsthalle occupies the same space in the Tempelhof Flughafen, where the exhibition Diversity United took place last summer. The organisation behind both projects is one and the same: the registered association (Verein) “Stiftung Kunst und Kultur e.V”, run by Walter Smerling. I will not go into the details of all that has gone wrong in this affair: I recommend everyone to read the letter, as well as the reporting (in German) by Niklas Maak in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. It's not pretty. One must ask: the Berlin politicans who negotiated the deal – what were they thinking?

At the same time in Moscow, Diversity United is still on view at the Tretyakov Gallery. Given the political nature of many of the works and the current awful machinations by the Russian autocrat against neighbouring Ukraine, this is hard to believe. If art can be political, it is because it can provide alternatives and show that thinking differently is possible. No works in Diversity United explicitly address the Ukraine conflict, as far as I remember, but that is not the point. The exhibition is not perfect but it is strong and it provides a diversity of perspectives, which – as far as I understand – are hard to come by in the Russian public sphere today.

When in 2019 I was invited to take part in Diversity United (which was scheduled to be shown in Berlin, Moscow and Paris), all my thoughts went towards what will be the right work(s) for Moscow. One alternative stood out: my Psycho-Mapping Europe works. I got an OK from the curator to show not only the first one from 1998 and the second from 2010, but also a new one which I would make for the exhibition. In all three works, Europe is gradually, but each time differently, changing into a chaotic state. A result which happens inexorably, yet against my efforts to keep the status quo during the making process... and which is frighteningly relevant right now. (That the third work was made during the first Covid lockdown in spring 2020, just adds to the poignancy.) I am excited to know that my Psycho-Mapping Europe works are displayed in Moscow at this very moment. Art wants to be seen. Art has to be seen. I would like to see the same installation shown also at the planned third station of the exhibition, for similar reasons. Also in France, there are processes going on which – may – lead to chaos.

From what I hear, it now seems unlikely that the third exhibition will happen. Apparently, there is more than one reason for this, but the boycott decisions by several participating artists, based on the "Berlin Kunsthalle" debacle is surely a factor. I myself have decided that I will not join a boycott triggered by wrongdoings which relate to another project. I accepted to make and exhibit work in Diversity United and I will not take this decision back now.

February 14, 2022 – "Possible"
I'm reading Yuval Noah Harari: "Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind". At this moment it feels like a privilege to take the long perspective. As far as it is possible.

February 10, 2022 – In the Studio"
Yesterday in Vienna, I attended the opening of the David Hockney retrospective at Kunstforum Bank Austria: "David Hockney Insights". That Hockney himself was not present is understandable, given his age and the present situation. The fact that I had a small part in the proceedings, with my text in the catalogue, made me feel special being present. I was on the inside and also without further duties: I had earned my place, but had no pressure to perform. I could watch the crowd. There certainly was one. In fact, if it hadn't been for everyone wearing masks (and having had to prove their vaccination status upon entering, yet the additional negative PCR test obligation had been dropped) it looked like in earlier days. So many people... a bit scary as well. The evening began with speeches before a seated audience in a nearby palace. Artist from the Wiener Staatsoper performed pieces from operas which Hockney had designed sets for. I was seeing music being performed live for the first time in how long? It dawned on me that this was the first live performance I had attended in exactly two years (minus two days). Also in Vienna, on February 11, 2020, I saw Babymetal with two friends, at the Gasometer. Little did we know.

The huge show has a great sense of rhythm. It's not at all chronological, it has a lot of prints and drawings and a good selection of paintings, including many from the early sixties. There are also some very large recent pieces using digital technology, which stand up surprisingly well. I'm thinking in particular of the wall-sized "photographic drawing" of the artist in his studio surrounded by his works in manipulated perspectives ("In the Studio, December 2017"). This kind of digital photo constructions have not convinced me when I have seen them reproduced. In reality, this one did. Fascinating.

One theme of my catalogue text is that when you engage with Hockney's work, more than anything it makes you want to make work yourself. Yes, I can talk about it or write, but more importantly it hands me tools and inspiration for believing in my own possibilities as an observer, a discoverer and a creator. This is no small thing. It's at the very centre of what art is for.

January 21, 2022 – "Discovery"
There is much going on... geo-political and political, but I won't comment. Instead I want to notice a tiny detail which made me happy when I discovered it.

At the end of last year – December 28 – I was in Sweden and made a blitz visit to Stockholm in order to do a couple of things. One was to see a show (where a work of mine from 1992 in included) at Liljevalchs Konsthall, celebrating its 100 years of existence.

It's always fun to see old work reappear. In this case a project which was originally made as a cover image for a telephone directory. In 1992 all Swedish phone books had covers made by artists. My work consisted of a montage face, made up of 3 photos: of myself and of my two brothers, Håkan and Olof. I had also made a number of drawings from this composite face, in order to see what hybrid identity would gradually emerge. At Liljevalchs now was the composite photo + a smaller number of the drawings, in a wall mounted vitrine. I made some photos with my Iphone and added them to this website a few weeks ago.

Then a funny thing happened. While being completely passive, I have a Facebook account. Some algorithm sends me emails informing me that friends have posted various stuff. When such messages appear, I routinely click and check what's up. This way I saw a photo the other day which was made in the room where my work was installed, although in this photo none of my work was visible. Instead I saw on the wall a painting I had ignored during my ego-centric visit to the show. It was clearly by Hilma af Klint. I then saw a poster as well, with another of her paintings. HOW could I have missed this??? For more than ten years now I have been super interested in her peculiar trajectory (and I was well aware of her already in the 1990s). And now, my work installed next to hers – and I don't see it!


January 6, 2022 – "Winter"
I won't mention any anniversary. Apart from that, I don't know where to start.

I read a thick biography of the singer Nico over the holidays. An unexpected Christmas present. I had not thought much about her for a very long time. The book is badly written, but it's full of information and I couldn't help being drawn in. Such a sad life – I guess – and such incredible stubbornness in doing an art that for most of the time very few people appreciated. I actually saw Nico play once, in 1984 I think it was. It left a vivid and morose memory. Long before I had bought four of her records. Now I just found the vinyls, which I can no longer play.

While running with my friend Michi in Grunewald once, he showed me her grave among the trees. I was most surprised. Christa Päffgen.