Archive for the 'Trial and Error (Janna Holmstedt + Po Hagström)' Category

Made In Sweden

Trial and Error, Stockholm –– On a recent journey we visited two well-known Asian landmarks: The Chinese Dragon Gate and the Royal Thai Pavilion, both located in remote places in Sweden.

Dragon Gate
The Chinese businessman Jingchun Li discovered a run down road tavern in Älvkarleby north of Stockholm in 2004. Because of the good energy of the area, he bought land and began to build a Dragon Gate – a gate to happiness and wealth according to Chinese tradition.
This Dragon Gate will be a center for Swedish-Chinese financial relations and Mr. Li has invested 15 billion € in the project. The center includes a restaurant, a 300 square meters kung fu school, 200 terra cotta warriors, a hotel with 56 rooms individually designed inspired by the 56 provinces in China and much more.

All the building material, machines, workers, masseurs and others have been shipped from China. This has met some troubles, since Sweden is a very regulated country. One example is that in China, doors open inwards to welcome people, but in Sweden they should open outwards, in case of a fire. But despite clashes like this, the center will finally open this fall. And in the future, Mr. Li wants to import live pandas and build the largest Buddha in the world.


The Thai Pavilion

In 1868 King Chulalongkorn ascended the throne in Siam. He was, and still is, very loved since he introduced modern laws, including abolishing slavery. According to one story, a Swedish sailor in Bangkok saved one of his children, despite the threat of a death sentence for anyone who touched a member of the Royal family. Grateful for this deed, the king wanted to visit the sailor’s village in Ragunda. Another story is that he simply accepted an invitation by the Swedish king Oskar II. Anyway, he came to Sweden in 1868 and chose to travel north to study the forest industry. People everywhere honored King Chulalongkorn and his vast company, the roads was decorated and in Utanede, in Ragunda Municipality a road was named after him.

In 1992, a traveling Thai folk dancing group visited Utanede. The road named after their former king fascinated them, and things were set in motion. In 1994 a committee for Swedish and Thai interests was formed and in 1997 they began to build the only Royal Pavilion outside Thailand. The ground was blessed by monks from Thailand and ten billion € made the pavilion possible.

When we visited, carps swam in the pond, Thai people came to pray, orchids was grown from Swedish birch trees in the green house, pop versions of traditional Thai music filled the air, a light summer rain trickled down and we loved it. Much thanks to the energetic guided tour led by the project manager Ulf Edström, who also told us about his bold future plans.

Asia grows, maybe not geographically but influentially and in Sweden local initiatives have outrun Stockholm in the competition for important international connections. In Ragunda the question is: Will the Swedish prime minister Reinfeldt cancel his vacation to welcome the Thai prime minister, who will visit July 19, to celebrate the Day of King Chulalongkorn?

Official website Thai Pavilion: www.swethai.com
Official website Dragon Gate: www.dragongate.se
An earlier post on China: povblog.wordpress.com/2007/05/29/the-art-space-race/

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Alma Löw: Art in the woods

Trial and Error, Stockholm – Alma Löw is a private initiative, run by artist Marc Broos in the countryside in the western part of Sweden. It started ten years ago when Broos built 16 pavillions in the slopes by his home and began to invite artists.

Entrance to the pavillions

Without economical support from the region he still can’t offer the participants any compensation. But artists keep coming because of the ambition and energy level:  Annika von Hauswolf, Gilbert and George, Leif Elggren, Nathalie Djurberg , just to mention a few. And as an artist you get something that, at least not I am used to: You are not called to any meetings and you are not required to write or explain anything, because Broos only wants you to do one thing: Show us your art! 

Some of the 16 pavillions

This summer is the 10th anniversary and 30 artists have been invited. Artists Jörgen Svensson and Anna Persson have curated the 16 pavillions and Marc Broos the 10 rooms in the new art hall “Paleis Oranjestraat” (named after the street where he was born). 

Paleis Oranjestraat was built because, in an article, Marc Broos was called “King of his domain” and he thought that as King, he should have a palace. He bought a barn close by, rebuilt it into a maze of showrooms. There are also a seminar room, a workshop and, in the future, residencies for visiting artists.

Some interior views

If you travel in Sweden this summer to experience picturesque countryside and art, you don’t want to miss Alma Löw, which has got both. And if the weather happens to be bad, Marc Broos always provides the visitors with rubber boots.

Read more (in Swedish): VF NWT, DN, Konsten.net

Epitaph for Paul Cseplö

Po Hagström, Stockholm – About a village that didn’t recognize the value of art, and about the artist who painted anyway.

A dear friend of mine, artist Paul Cseplö, died May 12 after many years of leukemia.

When I was a child, Paul was the only artist in the small village where I grew up. He came to this northern part of Sweden with his family as a child, escaping the war in Hungary. Soon he began to paint this changing landscape and continued to do so for the rest of his life.

In our village art could be nice, but it was never considered valuable, and the artist himself was regarded as a queer fellow. Paul was told that posters were cheaper, so why buy paintings? This didn’t stop him though, he trusted in art as a force in itself and he knew what it could do. He proved to be right.
Despite people’s low esteem of art and strong opinions about his paintings, they still wanted his services. So when the old school was rebuilt to a hostel, Paul painted all the walls with scenes from nature – for free. And when they built a new dance floor, Paul painted its background. Not that he wouldn’t have appreciated something in return, and not necessarily monetary, but it always turned out to have been for free. And he kept painting for free for 30 years. Few places in this village are without the signature of Paul. Art is everywhere, in homes and the pizzeria, in offices and in boathouses, on trailers and in the old people’s home.
Did the village deserve this? I don’t think so. But Paul made a choice and he painted, and he made sure that art would be present everywhere.

According to Paul nothing really disappears, but this world still is a duller place now that he went off to wherever.

Monumentos para las masas


Trial and Error, San Juan – What sites in the city provoke strong emotions and opinions? What narratives can be found beneath the surface of a contested, neglected or much loved place? This workshop was an attempt to activating old and new sites in the city by connecting the personal, historical, and political narratives that accompany them.

The participants, mainly from the the Faculty of Architecture, Urbanism and Design at the National University of San Juan, Argentina, were asked to choose sites and objects in the city that they wanted to alter, replace or highlight for different reasons. This way the city was mapped. The participants guided us through many layers of official and unofficial stories about the city, Argentina’s turbulent history and everyday life. The debate sometimes went high and conflicting readings of certain sites were revealed.

All the contribiution from San Juan can be viewed in our online park (click on the objects to read more about the individual contributions) >>

Some places attracted more attention than others and often the same object was contributed twice, but for different reasons. For example a small replica of the Statue of Liberty, that is said to have arrived in San Juan by mistake in beginning of the 1900s. The real goal should have been San Juan in Puerto Rico! What does it mean to have this strong symbol of USA in the Freedome square of Pocito? Why is it there?

Also the war monument to commemorate victims of the Malvinas/The Falklands War in the 1980’s was debated. The architectural shapes are surronded by army vehicles and weapons, which ended up at the site because of prestige and competition between different army units.

Apart from already existing monuments there were also several suggestion of sites that should be declared monuments – a popular water fountain for example, because of its everyday usage and importance in San Juan’s hot climate.

Last we would like to mention Cesar Pelusa contribution – a monument that had not yet been inaugurated at the time of the workshop. It is a monument to Brave Leopoldo, governor in San Juan assigned by the military dictatorship, situated in an important place near the Civic Center.
”I choose this monument since I don’t want it to be erected. It represents a lie for all the community, mainly to the new generations that know little history.”

Thank you, all the participants at the National University of San Juan, and thank you for the warm welcoming. We had a great time!

Go to the park >>

Our Neighbour Cyclop – A One-eyed Beauty

Trial and Error, Stockholm – In a deserted parking lot beneath a dumpsite in the Southern suburbs of Stockholm one does not expect to find much. But here a group of hard working enthusiasts have built a culture house called Cyklopen (The Cyclop).

In the part of Stockholm where we live, called South of the South, there aren’t many cultural institutions, except a couple of small libraries. So when a group of people offered to build a new cultural center the local politicians surprisingly said: ”No, we have enough culture here”.

Fortunately this was overruled at higher level and the culture house has now been built by those running the initiative, some of which architectur at the Stockholm University, and the result is this: Two containers upon each other on each side support a simple wood construction. Together with large windows and a drawbridge this is practical, low price and cool. Inside a big beautiful space opens up with stairs on both sides up to a second floor.

After the grand opening in September the house is now to be filled with activities, focusing on culture and politics. They discribe Cyklopen as ”an autonomous space, built on the principles of DIY and self organizing.”

Welcome our new neighbour Cyklopen!

Read more on their website/blog (in Eng and Swe) >>
And here is how it all started >>

A Buffalo in Omaha and the Pleasures of Misinterpretation.

Janna Holmstedt, Omaha, NE – This is a short journey through the American Midwest and four examples of public art I think we might see more of in the future.

The character of First National Bank
Walking in downtown Omaha, Nebraska, you will at some point encounter a buffalo – slightly larger than life and cast in bronze. It looks lost and a bit scared among the skyscrapers trying to navigate in this modern urban landscape, but soon you realize it is not alone. Scattered remnants of a herd can be found further down the block. One of the buffalos is trying to escape as it is being consumed by the concrete in the corner of a house. I backtrack the trail northeast and to my surprise there is a group of pioneers with wagons, horses and cows making their way through the city. First I’m like a kid at Disneyland, exhilarated and amazed at the sight. As I discover more of the monumental installation though, I start to oscillate between laughter and disdain. Then it becomes eerie. Are they ghosts? Refugees? Reminders of the fact that this area was explored by the white man only 200 years ago?

The women and children in the trail stops to overlook the demolition taking place across the street. The former headquarters of the Union Pacific Railroad, built in 1924, are dismantled brick by brick to give room for Omaha’s third-tallest building, the WallStreet Tower – a steel and glass construction that will house 275 luxury condominiums.
Omaha used to be an importan railroad hub and the grand Union Station, a showpiece in art deco style, was built 1931 to celebrate this. But already 40 years later it closed, at the same time as the equally grand Burlington station right behind it. Suddenly the silent bronze installation strikes me as perfect for the site; the romanticism of it all, the scattered and nearly extinct animals it depicts, the brick conquering the prarie, then steel and glass conquering the brick as the Union Pacific Headquarters is being demolished in the middle of it all. I wish that too would be cast in bronze, frozen in time just as it is with the workers and machines poking around in the open wound.

But I included more in the reading than I should, the relations and historical facts activated by the sight wasn’t intended at all. A plaque tells me it was built to represent ”The Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness and the character of First National Bank”. To be a bit more precise, the goose and bison seen among the skyscrapers symbolizes: Great Strenght, Free Spirit, Intelligence, Adaptability and Loyalty.
Ironically, the giant Canada goose was thought to be extinct in the 1920s, but their return together with the bison is on the plaque called a ”conservation success story”. I guess that’s also a very precise description of bronze monuments.

In support of the arts
Another public sculpture that got my attention is to be found outside Qwest Center, a convention center and arena for entertainment opened in 2005. My fondness of it is again based on a fatal misunderstanding. Giant, shiny spheres are balancing on top of each other, reflecting the fence that surrond them as well as the support mecanism that makes the spheres stay in place. I appretiate the apparent combination of materials until I realize that the wooden stick with duct tape and foam wasn’t made of painted bronze as the rest of the sculpture. It is simply there to prevent the balls to fall apart. Disappointed I step back to get a full view of the entire piece. According to the artist it ”vividly symbolizes the arts and humanities that take place at Qwest Center”.

Misinterpretations of temporary appearances made me appretiate these installations. In fact my interpretation was the direct opposite of the intended one. The transitional, mishappened character set them free for a moment from the symbolic load they were designed to carry.

In a previous post Martijn calls for an ethically concerned and somewhat enlightened artist when dealing with the delicate matter of producing art for public space, since it involves the aspect of speaking on behalf of a community. In the cases I mention above the initiators do not speak on behalf of the community, they speak of themselves and their aspiration as corporations. And the comissioned artists are happy to employ their skills (why shouldn’t they?). This is private land and the installations and parks created are offered as gifts to the community. Corporations thus seems to continue the tradition of monumental art, or public art on the whole, when national and local governments are becomeing more aware of the difficulties involved in initiating public art projects without risking protests or complaints in terms of representation and democracy.
The solution in many cases seems to be to avoid dialogue and engagement. When local governments on the other hand do dare, they tend to argue in terms of ”creating a landmark” or ”putting the city on the map”. This way they manage to ignore the (important) questions of representation, democracy and the use of public space altogether. In a situation when the overall purpose of public art is to promote and attract, the alternative ways to ”speak back” through for example street art, then becomes either very subtle – almost private – or bombastic. But to criminalize the phenomena (as in Stockholm, described in this post) is nothing but grave arrogance.

But let’s continue the journey northwest, to the Black Hills in South Dakota.

Making a statement, making money.
A monument impossible to misunderstand is Mount Rushmore with the four presidents carved in the mountain. My spontaneous reaction to the sight was ”America, fuck yeah!” (somehow the tune from the film Team America World Police has got stuck in my head). The monument fascinates first and foremost by the skill and labour invested in it. But yet again it is overloaded with symbolism. The artist Gutzon Borglum wanted to celebrate the birth of the United States of America and the nation’s first 150 years of history.

In an Indian souvenir shop in nearby Keystone I encounter another version of history: four Indian chiefs are potraited in front of Mount Rushmore. The caption reads: ”The original founding fathers”.
The mountain was known to the Lakota Sioux as the Six Grandfathers. The United States seized the area from the tribe in 1877. Nevertheless, Mount Rushmore is now a huge economical success, attracting tourists from all over the world and listed as a National memorial.

Finally, a tribute.
About two-three hours drive south there’s a less well known site. Actually, Mount Rushmore wasn’t my main goal when I traveled all across Nebraska. It was Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge, but instead of stones, American vintage cars have been used. I must confess I love this place. Conceptually minded as I am, I regard it as a great contemporary American monument.
Again I’m running the risk of reading more into the place than intended by the creator. Jim Reinders started to build in 1987 and got help from his family and relatives. Originally a result of Reinders’ fascination with Stonehenge and a memorial to his father who had a farm on the land, Carhenge is now owned and preserved by a local group. Carhenge attracts more visitors and attention each year. It seems Reinders and his family by their private initiative unintetionally have put the little town of Alliance on the map

This was four examples of public art that has affected me recently. Skilled or not, clever or stupid, funded by private, corporate or state interests, this is what we will se more of in the future I think, when art is increasingly legitimized as landmarks, attractions or trademarks.
It also means we will see more of (sometimes illegal) counter statements, interventions, actions and volontary misinterpratations. Skilled or not, clever or stupid, they are an attemp at dialouge. An effort to set the apparently static order in motion. As if to say: ”This is not a closed case”.

Put the light out, erase a line

Trial and Error, Stockholm – The Stockholm Pride Festival 2007 has offered many things. The media, for example, still exclusivly focus on the flamboyant part of the gay community, all political parties (except for the christian conservatives) have competed in Pride exposure, and there has been a very good artist run exhibition.

Lord Peter Wright once wrote about the Swedes ”…they have an intonation which makes everything come out flat and boring; rather like Sweden, in fact.” This is one of the things the Swedish people is most afraid of – that we might be too square, and that other countries are funnier. With this in mind, it is not so strange that all the politicians has now been competing for exposure in the colorful Pride context. As long as it is cute and harmless, The Fab 5 glamour is very welcome in Sweden and that part of the non-heterosexual community has for a long time been the main focus in our media.


One recent reaction to this media focus is the book ”Bögjävlar” (approximately ”Gay bastards”), written by five gay men. ”The media has decided to portray the helpful gay as a service institution for the straight sociaty” one of the authors explains. The book and their blog aim to constitute a counter weight to that cliché.
”Bögjävlar” was published just before the Stockholm Pride Festival. The festival has traditionally been focused on gay rights and partying while contemporary art has been absent. But this year, an international contemporary art show has been initiated by two artists: Malin Arnell (curator) and Stefan Forss (working with the artist run gallery Studio 44). The exhibition was named ”PUT THE LIGHT OUT, ERASE A LINE” and, together with performances and a video screening, included twentyeight art works.

Malin Arnell choses not to call the show a queer exhibition, and writes in her statement ”in the exhibition /…/ we meet a number of artists that in different ways, momentarily, act entirely on their own terms”.

I especially want to mention two of the projects that I include with images:
Kajsa Dahlbergs project ”A Room of One’s Own / A Thousand Libraries” is a compilation of marginal notes made by readers in one thousand library copies of ”A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Wolf.
And Malin Arnell had a performance on the opening night, standing on a stool against the wall. Three members of the audience used four rolls of duct tape to fix her to that wall and then the stool was removed while Arnell was left hanging . The peice was named ”A better view”.

Read more about the exhibition at gallery Studio 44’s webpage >>


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