TEXTS DIG IT
LINUS ELMES & ANNE SZEFER KARLSEN
DIG IT is a conversation text written on the occasion of the exhibition situation with the same title.
I think we should change the world, and hope you don’t think that is a too ambitious goal... We have to start to think about the reasons for exhibition production. You know how we go about this. See exhibitions, read texts, go to seminars and make studio visits. Why don’t we forget about that for a moment? I just read Aldous Huxley last night. He writes: Art, I suppose, is only for beginners, or else for those resolute dead-enders, who have made up their minds to be content with the ersatz of Suchness, with symbols rather than with what they signify, with the elegantly composed recipe in lieu of actual dinner.
My suggestion is that we don’t care about the recipe this time, if you excuse the metaphor. I am thinking of a number of works I have bumped into during the last few years, by Ylva Ogland’s father, Tova Mozard’s father and a painting in Andres Widoff’s studio. They are all fantastic works which have had tremendous impact, but remain unknown to a larger audience. I have spoken to a few other artists too, to ask if they too have works of similar importance and have received some wonderful responses. This is what Po Hagstöm writes:
About the village which didn’t care about art, and about the artist who kept painting.
Paul Cseplö came to Jämtland as a child, when his family fled from the war in Hungary. He was fascinated by the landscape and started to paint. He was not affected by the fact that the people of the village didn’t care about art, and in my childhood Paul was the only artist in the village. Paul’s answer to the fact that no one was willing to pay for culture, was to paint. These days there is a painting by Paul in every home. There are paintings in the pizza shop, the boat house, on the caravans and in the old people’s home. He painted the stage in the community house, the walls around the public dance floor and the walls of the big halls of the school. He was almost never paid, and only very seldom did someone want reimburse him for the paint. Sometimes he was not even paid respect.
Paul kept painting his whole life. When I visited him at the hospital in his last days he was painting a small forest lake on the hospital wall, with intravenous in his arm. The previous year his brother had died of leukemia and he had himself been fighting cancer for several years. My father was sad to hear about Paul’s coming death, but Paul just laughed: “Don’t be sad, why don’t you join me?” According to Paul nothing disappears, it just transforms.
Paul died in 2008 of leukemia .He was one of the best people I have ever met. And even though he might be right in saying that nothing disappears, the world is poorer without him.
The most interesting question to ask in relation to art is “what does it do?” Paul’s art changed a community. His actions have made it impossible to go around my village without encountering art. Is it possible for the people living there not to be affected? I don’t know. Do I think they deserve these works? Absolutely not. But Paul never distrusted the value of art or the strength of its presence. And his choice to distribute art is to me an all encompassing position when I act as an artist/curator.
Change the world, why not? In many ways that is exactly what these works already have done. They have been feeding artists and their art works. And I agree, let’s leave behind the frame we usually operate within. For instance, what does it mean to create an exhibition situation, over an exhibition? I think that by creating a situation a space opens for relations and meetings different to the exhibition space. I am not necessarily talking about a social situation, but situations between the work and the viewer. We are inviting the public into a room of documentation, where we through examples document and acknowledge the private meetings these works have provoked. These are not elevated world known works, and we might not even want them to become that? These are works almost no one can know before they see them in this exact situation. I say almost, because of course they are extremely well know to some. And I guess that is where I want us to go. I want to look at the works and appreciate them in the exhibition room, but I also want to move further and think through what is usually not discussed within this frame. For instance I could approach the word inspiration. Or we could claim, like Po’s story indicates, that these works might create attitudes or alternatives we don’t encounter many places in society other than in art; the speechless activity, in the right sense of the word, and the activity without direction.
You are going to the country side with Ellen Jakobsson Strømsø’s father in a few days, to document and bring her contribution to this situation. When I hear her speak about her father I gradually realise who she is and why she creates what she does. The story of him as a member of the Art Council of Stockholm, where he consistently recommends the young female artist with the shortest cv to do public art commissions, expresses an attitude to society we can trace in his daughter’s work. To use another metaphor, since we both like them so much; by creating this situation we are creating a back stage traversing space and time.
I have come to think of the individual works as subjects. The principles of selection are based on an interpersonal perspective, as if I was positioned in relation to an object, in the sense of an individual, rather than an art object. This is a position which undermines both discursive and rational interpretations, but instead force us one step closer to the Suchness which Huxley speaks of. Both the institutional and economical logic in the art world is based on track record and the idea of the oeuvre. This is what actually regulates value in economic terms but also in significance. The value is created and re-created through the surrounding text. Criticism, reproductions and our own communication such as this very text you are reading right, now helps to upkeep a certain order. When it comes to: change the world, I suggest we see that as having the tools to change the situation we create. In this case we do it through compiling this project in a mode that does not consider the length of any CV, just as little as Ellen Jakobsson Strømsø’s father considers it in any way. Anders Widoff writes: Millan and I must at some point have walked through the same dream. How else can it be explained that that this painting evokes so many memories? Moreover, I think that the painting seems to emerge as moisture and mold from the base. It seems almost as unpainted.
That is why it is important to meet the works. Meet them and figure out how they affect, it they affect, and then try to describe that meeting. This way we can contribute to new thoughts about art, and with an attitude to display something not displayed before. This is something the institutional and economic art world has had to face in this globalised world. Because, at the same time as we have few tools to handle these works within the institutional circuit, we cannot apply our tools to art and visual expressions form other parts of the world without possibly abusing them. To let art exist in its own right for a while, without the evaluating “system” is a liberating thought, as well as necessary. Because it is not our task to dignify the contemporary at the same time as the contemporary happens. We cannot create a map of a terrain which doesn’t exist yet, we can at best make a weather prediction. Once again I turn to the exhibition vs. the exhibition situation. It might not be about changing the world we already know, as much as it is about changing the consciousness about the world about to be created. In this case the consciousness about the framework.
In this case I think of the exhibition situation as visiting a dear friend, when you sit together in the kitchen or maybe on her bedside. You talk intimately about things; mutual experiences and shared secrets. Maybe you lightly touch each other’s hands.
Mikael Lundberg explains his relation to the Venetian portrait of the woman very straight forward:
it’s bought in venice, late 80’s when i lived there with katrin for 5 years, we even got married there, i saw it in the window of a restorer and bought it, i wanted it since it represented both katrin and venice, 2 factors that had an amazing impact on me and my artwork.
His words are liberated from rhetorical figures, academic alibis and worries. It is the explanation to why this is a work that means something, and that is the explanation to why it is included in our exhibition.
This makes me think about the difference between interaction and staying in touch. It is easy to stay in touch with the help of something which replaces the format of conversation, nudge, kudos, sms. All three kinds of attention are pleasant, but can never really replace the conversation. Yet, we know that we don’t necessarily have to be close to the one we have a conversation with. Tønnes Omdal’s painting which has been hanging in the living room of Sveinung Rudjord Unneland’s grandparents, for instance, has been conversing quietly from the past for many years already. It keeps conversing, both with Sveinung and us. This work is important to the family, and Sveinung writes:
Tønnes Omdal (1920-80) worked all his life at Lista, except his years as a student at SHKS and The Art Academy in Oslo. At Lista he ran a small farm on the side of his activity as a painter. The work in this exhibition situation is owned by my grandparents, and has its reserved space above the sofa in their living room.
My grandother has told me many times that Omdal claimed it to be the pest painting he ever painted. I have often wondered if this was something he told everyone who wanted to buy his works, or if this was in a class of its own. It depicts a harsh weathered landscape, like I know it from Lista where I grew up. As a kid I could not see what the image portrayed or why it was supposed to be so good.
I often find it difficult to believe in art. Maybe that difficulty is similar to my doubt that chaotic colour fields could represent a landscape. When I look at the image today, I wonder how something as everyday as a changing sky above a landscape can be so much more. It’s as if this study of nature from the Seventies depicts something entirely different, like the emptiness after hours in front of the TV or the powerlessness after fifteen million hits on the internet. And I thought I had to make a noisy multimedia installation!
It is a question of critical moments, maybe even a psychoanalytic process. It is a collection of points of references and informal historical objects that have shaped individuals. I will end with Tova Mozard’s text about the work that named this project. She writes:
The artwork I named “Dig it” is an old spade with the words DIG IT written in silver text on the blade.
The work was made in the Eighties by my father Lars Westin. Lars was born 1955 in Ystad and died in 1993 in Thailand. He was found in a hotel room. The vague and negligent written abduction report mentioned cardiac arrest as a result of an overdose as the cause of death.
Lars was an artist but lacked adequate education and he never had much of a career. He went to an art program at Östra Grevie 1973-1975, he made drawings, paintings, collages and assembled objects. He was interested in craft, Arnold Böcklin, surrealism and symbolism.
To re-activate and re-use things was something magic to him, he said it was important to be surrounded by things which were rooted in the souls of humans, that this established a certain contact. He collected human hair, jewels, junk, chains, textiles and toys. He assembled this to shamanistic objects and three-dimensional images or he just used it to pimp lamps, mirrors and carpets. He talked about making “things glow” and was interested in occultism. To him art was a state of mind rather than something fixed.
He was the kind of artist who claimed not to stand the light of day, he stayed up all night, painting to the soundtrack of Captain Beefheart and Greatful Dead. He loved the aroma of wet paint and dissolving agent.
When I was a child and visited my dad in Lund, we used to sit on the floor of his two-room apartment and listen to Elvis Presley and draw. I was allowed to draw directly on his oriental carpet, according to him it was a way to communicate with all the symbols woven into the carpets. I remember the luxurious feeling of using his silver and golden pens, I had to pump the ink through by pushing the edge against the paper until it shaped a dazzling, metallic spot. After Lars die, I inherited many of his things. The spade was one of them. I was thirteen the, and I remember how cool I thought it was. I kept it in my room and when I moved I brought it with me.
What makes it so powerful is its simplicity and the humorous form of a readymade. I can see his cynical world-view and his black humour reflected in it. Lars talked a lot about death and the process of dying. For me the spade has become a symbol of the effort it is to live. To dig where you stand or digging your own grave, that is the question.