/ Photographic exhibit. Pershagen Gallery January 17 – March 1 2020.
Text: Lars Lengquist Translation: Robbin Battison
Thoughts revolved around my visual legacy. Although it was probably more about my visual self-confidence. Because I never mastered it completely till well into my adulthood. Instead, things happened when I landed at an ad agency, then design school, and finally studied art history – that’s when I became culturally, creatively and visually “schooled” – and I felt that my visual legacy also played a role. But even then it was more about trying to understand and decode a ton of existing norms and styles, canonized artists and designers. But after my broad schooling, there emerged both the courage and the tools to formulate and provide a context.
And they were there the whole time. My own images. My background visual underlay. Things that didn’t permit themselves to be categorized or divided into styles or eras. Those things that had always fascinated me, and for which I had a deeper tactile sense. Unremarkable things that had captured my attention. Images and contexts that I still have a hard time categorizing or describing with words. But things like that warm my soul. I just like it.
I started capturing some of these images with my camera. Berget, the old rehearsal room, middle school, the F18 air base, Västerhaninge Road, the backyard of my divorce apartment on Kungsholmen, and the district heating plant in Umeå… but the images didn’t come out as strong as the ones in my head. And just like it is with photography, some of these became powerful and different, but may have been diluted somewhat from my fundamental feelings. They became something else. Probably new puzzle pieces on my palette. But I choose to see the magical connection with my fundamental gaze. These images, even if they didn’t look like what’s in my mind, are a result of my life. Although in several stages.
Modeled landscapes. Regardless of whether it was the stop-motion animation The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix, or children’s programs like Lost in the Pancake (I didn’t care about Staffan Westerberg’s anxieties, since my focus was on the model theater), or Märklin model trains. When I was bored, lying on a sofa in Katrineholm or Gränna and just stared at the book titles looking down at me from the teak bookcase. Jac the Clown, John le Carré or Bonnier’s Dictionary. The curtains where I noticed their repetitive patterns. It bothered me to no end when they didn’t meet exactly, and fell into clumsy disorder. And then when I was at Beckman’s design school I learned how patterns are designed, and I understood what it was I had been watching.
Dad’s oscilloscope with the green sinusoidal waves on black glass, which danced to my voice as easily as they did to the voltage from a component.
Mom’s plastic skeleton that stood in the basement. Or a spine or a wrist on the food tray or in the hall. Always ready to explain a repetitive stress injury or an unevenly balanced stress load.
Looking for hours at all the juicy details in Derek Riggs’ illustrated album covers. Finding the two small silhouettes that were having sex, among hundreds of other small shadows at the bottom of the cover of The Number of the Beast. The embroidered peacock above the bed sofa in Grängesberg. Following the fields of color and feathers and seeing which ones belonged together. And of course a certain annoyance because of the lack of symmetry.
The water tower in Flemingsberg that had a rotating light that pulsed up the walls of the room on ward B88. Furthest up in one corner of Huddinge Hospital. The view from there was towards the forest and the back of the hospital. The hum from ventilation and the light from the water tower felt secure. Despite the pain and the aroma of morphine stomachs, someone created these giant buildings anyway. Where masses of people are fighting so that I and many others can be shielded from that as much as possible. The corridors have functional floors of linoleum in different shades. A desperate attempt to help people find their way among these identical passages. One of my roommates was floor-surfing on his belly, on a homemade skateboard. He was maybe six years old, like me. He didn’t have any legs, or maybe they didn’t work. I forget. But he had strong arms. He could do handstands and put his chest on the skateboard and take off at high speed. I was slower and clumsier in my wheelchair. But I was able to walk again, after a month or two.
Västerhaninge Road, on the way to Lida recreational center, was flanked by red lights. Both for cars and planes. Red lights stopped car traffic when Viggen or Draken fighter jets were starting at low heights to train, reconnoiter, or whatever they did during what I later understood was the Cold War. I have a memory – but it might be reconstructed – of biking through the forest and seeing flames in the distance from the afterburners of jets starting.
An image of snow that’s not from the Alps, the Swedish mountains or the Himalayas, but rather from a couple of gravel mounds on the former F18 air force base, where they’re now building houses. The airfield’s firefighters used to spray a huge pile of foam onto the concrete runways, and the kids used to run around in it. I saw nothing but white, but I could hear the voices of the other children’s voices through the foam. A few years back they stopped pumping water out of the nearby gravel pits, because of all the poisonous firefighting chemicals from the old airfield.
One summer in the ’80s I worked at the Broadcasting section of the national Radio and Telecom agency. I sat in an office in Årsta and answered the phone. The people in my group were responsible for making sure that radio and TV broadcasts were working. They each had a license indicating how high they were permitted to climb in the masts, and some of them were authorized to climb to the top of the twin Nacka masts, if that was ever needed. Wherever we travelled, dad used to comment on radio masts, and our own property had wires strung between the house and the trees. These gave us radio contact with New Zealand. In good weather.
The mobile telephone mast in my neighborhood, visible from my kitchen window. It has a strong red light at the top. It turned out to be the same light that I stood and looked at when I was alone and awake in my big house, not too far away. During the difficult years.
It was a strong red point, just above the treetops. It was on constantly. Unaffected by anything else going on. When my face tensed up and my tears flowed, or just when I was lonely. I began observing those red points everywhere. In the middle of a coal-black forest along the E4 highway, a foggy night on a football field in a suburb, or on the masts above the roofs. Red lights hanging there. Comforting, and reminding us that we’re not alone. Sometimes I think that some of them might have a super battery. So that when all the people are gone, some of these red lights can continue to shine up there above the treetops.
When I studied art history, the Dutch still lives from the 1600s held something special for me. They were beautiful in a simple way, but with a depth. A little higher living standard among the bourgeoisie had enabled many more to buy something nice to hang on the wall at home. And because of the fuzzy boundary between art and crafts it became one of the earliest eras where painting opened up for women artists. The paintings show attractive food, bread, and pheasants. Beautiful flowers, attractive furnishings and fantastic painted glassware. But they’re also packed with symbolism. A flower bouquet past its prime, or a fly painted in as a detail, remind us that the beautiful bouquet, or the alluring cheeses, have passed their best-before dates, and were headed towards the inevitable rot. A message to the viewer. This also applies to you. Live while you can. It’s all over tomorrow.
I was also fascinated by Robert Mapplethorpe’s and Irving Penn’s still lives and images of flowers. As well as Peter Saville’s New Order album cover. How can things that seem so banal be heavy, while others are cheap poster art? Is it just because a professor says so? Or do these images have an inherent quality?
When I found that spectacular wilted flower in the garden at Älgnäs, I was almost politically depressed. I experience a strong cognitive dissonance when the larger problems revealed themselves. A significant number of politicians had moved themselves out to the edge of the sofa and were staring at the ceiling, hoping that no one would notice who they were flirting with. Climate engagement had lost its energy, while one political bomb after another exploded, in the form of highways and visionary hospital complexes, sucking the oxygen out of our welfare society. But everyone felt forced to focus on lesser problems, because the emotional life of the collective demanded it. I had just read a scenario by Max Tegmark (or was he quoting a sci-fi author?) about how the infiltration of AI into human society could lead to a conflict in which a superintelligent network would exterminate us (maybe pushing an agenda where it was fine to have a planet suitable for more than one species). And they would probably do it without resorting to a war with robots. This superintelligent force would just dose our water with birth control drugs and shrink us, generation after generation. Till we were gone for good. I looked at the flower that had bloomed rather early. It had begun to wither and rot. After a rain shower I took the opportunity to take a few photos. It was both beautiful and a bit nasty. I thought ahead to next summer, here in the garden of an old school from the 1800s, when a new flower would appear in the same place. I’ll come back then to see what it looks like, full of life. The apocalypse might not be so bad after all, all things considered.
Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. Up until the Art Nouveau and Jugend eras, classical architecture set the norm. There was no question about whether to use Greek principles, column styles and proportions. Just a question of how, and which way. The classical style is still a strong Western norm, so that when you see an antique Greek temple in the Mediterranean, it’s hard to see beyond the cliché. Moreover, the antique building style has, ever since Romanticism, been reconfigured as a ruin. A Greek temple’s correct portrayal is as a building in ruins. And just as the white marble sculptures had once been painted bright colors, the white temple ruins had once been adorned with wooden roofs and painted friezes.
The view from the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, about 30 miles south of Athens, is absolutely magnificent, and a few miles further away are the graffiti-stained concrete ruins of a vacation hotel that was never completed. Up and down the coast these concrete skeletons of unfinished luxury villas and hotels gaze out over the Mediterranean. I couldn’t possibly resist photographing them, because the parallels were so obvious. A story has emerged about how the cradle of democracy has become a skeleton in crisis, lacking a future. And with the same stage setting – the sea, olive groves, mountains and islands in the distance – this was a playground where the gods teased mortal humans and their fates. Nowadays a playground where the global economy drives young people to flee or to riot, and at the same time appears as a hopeful, distant mirage, for those who go boldly out to sea in the hunt for something better. The same physical context creates sublime experiences for the visitor to a temple, or an abandoned luxury villa. Both now in ruins.
I wound up sitting just across from her on the commuter train, and was struck by her look. Train staff uniform, heavy makeup, eyes closed and resting her face towards the sun on the other side of the train window. She sat and let the sunbeams warm her face, and I couldn’t resist taking a picture. Resting in the middle of everything is an art form. Closing your eyes is the easiest and most child-like way to avoid the world. Just like children who think that the world has disappeared when they cover their eyes with their hands. It’s an image of presence in some way. Or perhaps just the opposite.
The dancing couples from our last evening in Berlin, somewhere down by the river near the museum island. They had rigged up a dance floor by the water. My son Vilhelm and I watched them dance the tango under lanterns hanging from the trees. It was beautiful and very Central European. I don’t know if the same cinematic scenario played out behind her eyelids. Probably not. Maybe she was just running through a dance lesson in her head.
Maria manages to rest her eyes for a moment, while her lungs are being emptied of fluids, up at the top of Norrlands University Hospital. From the window in the hallway you can see the chimney from the district heating plant at Ålidhem. And the hair flowing over the pillow is now a wig on someone else’s head.
The man who was playing for us tourists in the temple city of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Either he was lost in his music… or maybe he was just blinking. The photo was taken with an old Rolleiflex, so the details weren’t so clear in the matte glass of the viewfinder.
But I was very conscious that he had one leg amputated. As a visitor to Cambodia, you learn that this is commonplace, because of all the landmines lying in wait up and down the country.
Later mom told me about the British doctor who presented my case at a seminar when I was just 18 months old, and it was apparent that my left leg was going to be much shorter than my right. He recommended quite frankly amputation. Wham bam. A one-legged infant. Life would be easier with a prosthetic, he said. Somewhere in my thick stack of medical journals they noted how shocked my parents were by all this.
But then a Greek orthopedist, Dr. Sevastik, appeared on the scene to take command. Deus ex machina! With a new method for lengthening legs instead of sawing them off. I saw him as an incredibly kind old man who spoke strange Swedish, had dry but light hands, and put up with both needle phobia and very long and drawn-out procedures. He gave me caramel suckers. As long as I cooperated with blood samples.
Scenes keep on withering and falling all around us. Without doubt, some of us pay more attention to images and stories. But I can’t give up the thought that everyone has a visual legacy. And none of these legacies are more valuable than others (OK, maybe some are a bit more spectacular). But to have the self-confidence to feel that just my image gallery is valuable. That’s another thing. And that the images that have flashed up around me have built me as a person. It took me 20-40 years to conquer and win that which was already mine. What’s it good for? Maybe it can help me learn a bit about myself. Selective and nostalgic? Absolutely. In any event, I like looking at that unstrung, unmusical piano, the burnt-out car with its pleading message, and the veritable Vermeer painting that revealed itself in Luring and Annika’s cabin. Because no matter how it is with the world, humanity and ecosystems, everyone has a little gallery of images ready to show, just behind their eyelids.