lundi 30 novembre 2020

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On Karl Magnus Peterssons artistic practice

, Karl Magnus Petersson et Martin Schibli

Karl Magnus Petersson’s world moves between history, memory and cultural heritage with its impact on the present here and now. The artist captures fragments of events which can now be seen as past memories that may seem uncertain in the interplay between a public official history writing, the collective and the private memory. Memories that work in the past but to a very high degree can be real for their contemporaries, even if they are forgotten, repressed or hidden. They grab our attention.

Image from the series, Sealed (Dining Room)

In the artist’s previous work, such memories can be shaped by interior images that can be reminiscent of the grandparents’ home, as in the series Sealed. The series consists of staged photographs of a model building in the scale 1:10. Furniture and other elements in the model are made of various found objects such as buttons, packaging, fittings and keys. The model consists of a number of rooms that form a fictional mansion environment where time seems to have stopped in a time capsule. The pictures from models of the interiors from different rooms. The character of the pictures is often so realistic that one can easily believe that the pictures come from real homes and not are photos taken on a model. Millions of Swedes can refer to these interiors as memorabilia from their parents ’or grandparents’ homes. Dining room, living room, mora clock, crystal chandelier, seems to stand still in these more or less seemingly untouched environments. Often, such homes were built on the joint efforts through generations. Such older home interiors have more or less disappeared over time, many times without subsequent generations seeing any value in them. Homes fell into disrepair, furniture was scattered to the wind, or sold at farm auctions, or simply thrown away.

Now, when the belief in constant economic growth has partly been lost by many (- in Sweden), and the future does not obviously look bright for everyone anymore, many are now beginning to long for a bygone era that seemed more optimistic and, above all, perhaps safer. The ending can be seen as distracting reminders of a lost world. But, not entirely, disturbing fragments of history remain in the memory and remind us — sometimes reluctantly — of another world. Another time. In a country like Sweden, which for a long period was in constant economic success, where the inhabitants adopted a belief in an ever-improving welfare, which was also confirmed every year, the presence of history may have lost its significance. The future was more important, brighter and not least faster. The cultural heritage was also no longer considered important, rather something that was to be aired out and replaced with something new. There are many examples : in urban planning, as is well known, this meant that many Swedish cities demolished significant parts of their city centers, which were replaced by something that symbolized the future and the welfare society. In school teaching, Swedish history has increasingly fallen away, being able to Sweden’s regent lengths today is regarded as a highly insignificant knowledge for the future, and so on.

Image from the series "The city"

At first, Petersson only exhibited the staged photographs. In connection with the photo series and model the city, the artist also begins to exhibit the model itself in the form of illuminated installations — and not just the staged photographs. In the City, as in all of Petersson’s models, light management is a central parameter for constructing the models. The viewer of the subject almost always seems to be in a darkness that looks at something illuminated — albeit dimly. In terms of time, the motifs seem to be shaped as if it were late evening or night time. The light that can be seen in the pictures is always a part of the model itself, such as street lamps, unquenched office rooms or the like that contribute to light and shadows having a greater depth effect. In the City model, the light comes from street lamps, empty reception halls and more. The candle is cold and white with a more sterilized glow. Visually, the City has the character of a newly built city or at least a new district. Perhaps an office area without housing that is abandoned every night and weekend and clinically free from human activity. A constructed place for a fictional life.


Archipelago is a model of 70 square meters of a fictional archipelago on a scale of 1/40. The archipelago is strongly rooted in Swedish cultural history and something that functions as an identity for the individual. For many Swedes, the archipelagos are the symbol of summer and holidays. It stands for something positive. In culture, the archipelago has been a common motif in art since the 19th century, The Swedish author August Strindberg based the book Hemsöborna on a specific place at Stockholm Archipelago and Astrid Lindgren did also so in Saltkråkan. Many artists’ idyllic attitude towards the archipelago has also led that the motif, when used in Art, often turns into kitsch. But, perhaps this often more romantic image of the archipelago is something authentic that many long for, at the same time it is about to disappear ? The archipelago is also undergoing a transformation today, from increased generosity to building on beach plots, to life moving from being small homogeneous communities to becoming Holiday destinations and weekend homes for rich city people. In other words, it is becoming an increasingly important part of a larger tourism and recreational economy, where the money comes from outside these communities. And all attempts to try to become part of the authentic environment that many strive for from the outside contribute paradoxically instead of transforming it. Strindberg found himself in the end being expelled by the people he portrayed from his perspective in many and very tender ways.

The photo series and models Sealed and Archipelago both seem to take place largely in a twilight zone that takes place between a lost history, a lost cultural heritage and a lost future. A zone between a real world and a world that is more difficult to define, which becomes a field of tension between the two. A loss arises when the real story increasingly falls away. It is erased as memories fade away, leaving only detached fragments. It is a world that cannot be returned to, at the same time as it is reminiscent of the individual’s background. It also leads to our idea of the future — which stems from experiences and memories — also fading the future away as the memories disappear. For many, the future has proved increasingly unattainable. Another field is the tension between the individual and the collective memory. How many of the memories are the individual’s memory, or the result of a collective memory, if one exists now ? But, in this twilight zone, you also do not always know if it is your own memory, or a collective memory, or if you are just stuck on the repeat function on a magnetic tape that is increasingly worn and becomes indistinct.

Amusement Park 87

The latest of Petersson’s models — each project takes several years to plan and implement — is an amusement park, first shown at the exhibition. After the apocalypse, only optimism remains, Växjö Art Gallery in autumn 2016, curator Martin Schibli. Here, the artist seems to allude to a future cultural heritage in a near future world. The scenario is an abandoned amusement park in scale 1/20. An amusement park whose Viking boats, carousels and Ferris wheels continue to spin even when the staff and their visitors have disappeared. The raffle stands and shooting ranges are still lit. Something has happened here, but what ? The individuals are gone. A world where no one needs entertainment, but still running ? Or is there simply no human left in life who can shut down the park anymore ? The amusement park has often been used in popular culture in its opposite sense as something artificial and scary. Many horror scenes in numerous movies take place in amusement parks. One of the more typical characters in the amusement park is the clown, a fictional character who, through his mask or make-up, conveys a knowledge of the world and reality that usually no one listens to. This trait sometimes makes the clown funny, but mostly tragic. The clown involuntarily assumes the role of the viewer who inconsolably seeks the community to be accepted. Not least fantastic and empathetic portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in the film The Joker (2019). The ability to be clear-sighted and tragic certainly contributes to the clown being considered a very frightening character. In the autumn of 2016, clowns scare the lives of individuals a bit all over the world, from the USA to Småland. The artist Bruce Nauman in several works hinted at the parity between the artist and the clown as he often transformed himself as the character as a clown. A metaphor that equated art with the fool’s ability to see reality as it was.

Image from the series "Amusement Park"

The Amusement Park and The City series have both subsequently emerged as eerie omens over our time in 2020. The pandemic has meant abandoned offices and in some cities entire districts when people have been allowed – or sometimes forces - to work at home or companies have been closed down. Amusement parks such as Gröna Lund and Liseberg in Sweden have been closed to visitors throughout the season. However, their skyline has been seen over large parts of Stockholm and Gothenburg and constantly reminded that we are in another time where the hedonistic contemporary has been reminded that the party may be over.

At the exhibition Missing, Gallery Skelderhus 3 - 25 October 2020, Petersson presented images from the series Stills, which he has repeatedly and continuously worked with since the beginning of the millennium. The images can be described as artistic visual representations based on sonar scanning of existing wrecks mainly in the Baltic Sea. The audio files from the sonar are transformed into images via a special computer program whose results come as printouts. The artist photographs these prints to remove pixels and to create a slightly softer image. Visually, the images are dark and the contours of the wreck appear as a greenish shimmering light in the dark. The darkness is symptomatic of the artist’s aesthetics, but in these images they strengthen the perception that one is at a depth below the water surface where one can view the wreck. In practice, it is not possible to photograph such large vessels under the water due to limited visibility and the refraction of light by the water. The individual character of the wreck in the pictures is in turn affected by a number of factors such as salt and oxygen content in the water, currents, temperature and more. For example, there is no shipworm in the Baltic Sea, which means that wooden ships can be preserved for centuries and still be almost intact as when they sank, while they would decay quickly on the west coast. Sometimes the wrecks are scrapped and destroyed for that reason afterwards.

The works in the Stills-series often contain a strong field of tension in terms of design and discrepancy between the aesthetic appearance of the images and the real story that forms the basis for the image’s motif. In most cases, these wrecks are also to be regarded as cemeteries for crew and occasional passengers who died in connection with the incident. The common shipwreck of the Romantics was almost always a consequence of the forces of nature, which contributed to the idea of the sublime when humanity realizes the grandeur of nature — and indirectly of God. In Petersson’s paintings, there may be a high degree of sublimity in the aesthetic design of human shortcomings, but all wrecks are a consequence of human decisions. The grandeur of romance in the face of disaster has been transformed into the self-destruction of humanity.

Stills (Wilhelm Gustloff)

The selection between which wrecks that Petersson is primarily interested in takes place from a historical perspective — preferably 20th century ships located in the Baltic Sea — although there are exceptions. All images are of wrecks that have been sunk by bombers, mines or torpedoes as a result of First and Second World War or the Cold War. The vessels may be civilian cargo vessels that were sunk as they transported Cole or steel. Some ships were mainly to be regarded primarily as refugee ships. For example, the ship Wilhelm Gustloff, which was sunk by a Soviet submarine on January 30, 1945, in which about 9,000 people lost their lifes. It is the world’s largest single ship catastrophe wreck and the captain of the submarine - Marinesko - was posthumously elevated to the hero of the Soviet Union. The Still : Wilhelm Gustloff ̧ together with Still : Steuben and Still : Goya, makes up a trilogy that is an important part of exhibition — It was a really nice ship — curated by Martin Schibli and Iwona Bigos that was a group show presenting artists from around Baltic Sea that reflected the sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff, presented in Gdansk (PL), Lübeck (DE) and Växjö (SE).

The exhibition Missing shows another selection of images from the Stills sonar series, such as an unidentified Soviet submarine or an unidentified shipwreck. Several images in the exhibition consist of wrecks of civilian cargo ships that deliberately constituted targets because they transported iron ore from Sweden to Germany during World War II. Or conversely transported coal to Sweden. S / S Torsten - one of the few wrecks outside the Baltic Sea in the artist’s sonar series - went on the morning of 28 May 1940 on a mine from her journey with coal from Danzig (now Gdansk) to Gothenburg. Exceptionally, in this case, the entire crew survived. The exhibition also includes a northwestern Skåne connection through a larger sonar image of S/S Ada Gorthon which was sunk off Öland on Swedish waters by the Soviet submarine SC 317 — with Captain Moschow — on 22 June 1942. Eight of the crew survive but fourteen died. The ship was owned by shipping company AB Gefion (which later became Gorthon’s shipping companies) and was based in Helsingborg. The ship’s name is also inscribed on the Seamen’s Monument in Helsingborg over the sailors who died and ships that sank as a result of World War II connected to the city. Gorthon was one of many prominent shipping companies in Helsingborg and later became part of Transatlantic.

Stills (S/S Bengt Sture)

Another ship at the exhibition is S/S Bengt Sture, which transported coal from Germany to Sweden. The ship had left Danzig (now Gdansk) on October 28, 1942. The ship was to call at Trelleborg the following day but never showed up. For many years it remained unclear what had happened to the ship and only many years later did it appear that the ship was attacked and sunk by a Soviet submarine SC 406 with Captain Osipov. It also turns out that eight out of fifteen crew members from the ship were rescued by the submarine crew and handed over to a naval base in the Soviet Union. Their further fate has not been fully established and the issue has sometimes come up in talks between Sweden and the Soviet Union and later Russia. They were probably executed more or less immediately. But the relatives fought for a long time to find answers what happen to the loved one. The father of the captain of S/S Bengt Sture, had as a daily routine to go out from his house — situated along the south Swedish coast — and up to small hill, and looked out at the Baltic Sea, to see if the ship Bengt Sture was coming back.

Now all these ships are at the bottom — hidden from the world and literally below the surface — in some cases more or less forgotten, and thus they no longer remind the contemporary of their history. But at the same time, it might be good for the future to be able to do without conflicts and wars that these wrecks also come to the surface. That the countries around the Baltic Sea can find a common language in how we look at these wrecks and how they are treated in the Baltic Sea’s joint history writing. For Sweden, the existence of the wreck also becomes a dissonance between the official collective Swedish historiography and the actual events when it took place during Second World War. Or at least the artist suggests the need for a more complex description of history as the wreck through its existence also testifies to trade and dependence between Sweden and the Third Reich. Maybe we need to bring light into these boats, symbolically bring them to the surface, and mourn the victims. Sweeping under the carpet may look good at the moment, but the dirt remains and affects us.

It can also be mentioned that many of the wrecks that Petersson worked with over the years have become increasingly difficult to access today. Both for sonar measurement and to dive on. As is well known, the geopolitical significance of the Baltic Sea has increased during the 2010s and thus also the areas of conflicts. It also means that the struggle for history writing has increased and that gaining interpretive precedence has become central. Anyone who has access to the source material — i.e. the wrecks — thus has a historical advantage. It is no longer uncommon for the coastguard from different countries to try to disrupt and prevent investigations of historical wrecks. The wrecks of the Baltic Sea become chess figures in this new geopolitical struggle. Thus, the timeliness of sonar images has become increasingly accentuated in recent years.

Karl Magnus Petersson’s total image production can often be viewed from an art historical thread by Memento Mori. They testify in secret about another time — a forgotten story. The artist’s picture suites are reminiscent and disturbing. They urge us to bring the forgotten to the surface. Fragments that can be very real and and whose existence haunts us like ghosts for the future. The only way to get rid of them is to confront the existence of the hidden and let them become complete Memento Moris over the actions of mankind during the 20th century and today.

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