The Artist that invented Computer Animation
Aapo Saask on the artist Ture Sjolander 2004
On an island aptly named Magnetic Island off the coast of Australia, a Swedish artist lives in exile. Just like so many others in today's media-landscape, he was first praised and then brought to dust. However, he has left a lasting imprint on the world. As early as the 1960's, he made the first electronic animation. Had he been an inventor, he would have been celebrated as a genius today, but because he is a predecessor in the world of art, things are different. In that world, the great ones often have to die before they are recognized. We all know how Disney's famous cartoons were made: thousands of drawings, filmed in sequence. Even today some films are made this way. However, electronic animation has opened up a new world within the film industry and it has also made computer games and countless graphic solutions possible in business and science. Pixar, which used to be part of Lucasfilm and then sold to Steve Jobs in the lat 1980's, made the first completely computer animated film called "Andre and Wally B" in 1983. The first feature length fully animated movie was Toy Story from 1995. It was made by Pixar and distributed by Disney. Disney had already started to use computer animation in Little Mermaid from 1989, and then on through Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, etc In those fantastic movies the pictures were however first drawn on paper and then scanned into computers for painting and cleanup and superimposition over painted backgrounds. Decades earlier, in 1965, Ture Sjolander's electronically manipulated images were broadcasted by the Swedish Television (SVT). Among other things, Ture Sjolander was experimenting with the question of how much the portrait of a person could be changed before it was unrecognizable, something which has pioneered the amazing morph-technique that is used today. Gene Youngblood, who, alongside with Marshall McLuchan, is the most celebrated media-philosopher of today, devoted a whole chapter in his book Expanded Cinema, 1970, (Pre face by Buckminster-Fuller) to the experiments of the SVT. Expanded cinema means transgression of conventions as well as mind-expanding transgressions and new definitions. Sjolander's broadcasts were not technically sophisticated, but they were ground-breaking.
The film mentioned by Youngblood is "Monument" (1968) by Ture Sjolander and Lars Weck. The other earlier televised pioneering animation were "TIME" (1965/66) by Ture Sjolander and Bror Wikstrom, and later "Space in the Brain" (1969) by Ture Sjolander, Bror Wikstrom, Sven Hoglund and Lasse Svanberg. Whereas most of the modern-day artists fade into oblivion, Ture Sjolander has found his place in the art history by the making of those films. Ture, a lad from the northern city of Sundsvall, had instant success with his opening exhibition at the Sundsvalls Museum 1961. He moved to Stockholm in the beginning of the 1960's. At an exhibition in 1964 at Karlsson Gallery his imagery upset the public so much that the gallery immediately became the trendiest place for young artists in Stockholm. In 1968, he created another scandal, when the film "Monument" was televised in most European countries. For a couple of years, Ture Sjolander was celebrated in France, Italy, Switzerland, Great Britain and the USA. In Sweden there was a lot of jealousy. The Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Sweden, to name a few, bought his works, but the techniques he worked with were expensive and after a few years, he found himself without resources. Instead he started to work with celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo. They taught him that exile - mental and physical - is the only way to escape destruction for a creative genius. He moved to Australia. Ture Sjolander's works include photos, films, books, articles, textiles, tv-programs, video-installations, happenings, sculptures and paintings, all scattered around the Globe. Tracing will be a challenging and exciting task for a future detective/biographer and web-archaeologist's.But mostly, his work consists of a life of questioning and creation. This is what sets him aside as one of the great artists of the 20th century. Another forerunner in the art world, the internationally celebrated Swedish composer Ralph Lundsten, says in an interview in the magazine SEX, 5, 2004: "In those days (the 19th century), a painting could create a revolution. Today people look idly at all the thousands of exhibitions that there are. Hmm. Oh, really. How clever he is, and they yawn. If I were a visual artist, and if my ambition was to create something new, I would devote myself to the possibilities of the computer." In 1974, Sherman Price of Rutt Electrophysics, wrote to the Swedish Television Company (SVT): "Video Synthesis is becoming a prominent technique in TV production here in the United States, and I think it will be interesting to give credit to your broadcasting system and personnel for achieving this historic invention." He was referring to Ture Sjolander's revolutionary work in the 1960's. No one at the SVT could at that time imagine the importance that this innovation would have for television, and hereby lost a lead position in the computer-development business. Amongst the younger generation of computer animators, few know that they have a Swedish predecessor. Many engineers were probably working away in their cellars in those days, trying to do the same thing, but Sjolander was the first person to show his results on the air. If any of you would like to have a look at the Godfather of animation, you can find a glimpse of him by googling. He did not seek to patent his inventions and he has made no money from it. However, he has made it to the history books as one of the great precursors of art - and perhaps also of technology - of the 20th century. For the past decades, Ture Sjolander has mostly lived in Australia, but he has also worked in other countries, such as Papua New Guinea and China. After a couple of decades of silence, Sjolander's groundbreaking work was shown at Fylkingen, the avant guard media and music hide out in Stockholm in the spring of 2004. In the autumn of 2004, some of his recent acrylic paintings on canvas were exhibited at the Gallery Svenshog outside of Lund, Sweden. This was to commemorate the forty years that have gone by since his last (scandalous) exhibition at Lunds Konsthall. Many artists take a pleasure in provoking the established art world. Ture Sjolander also provokes the rest of the world.
You are art!
by Aapo Saask
"Art is in the soul of the beholder." That is the expression that I associate the most with Ture Sjolander. By reaching into the soul of the individual person, the artist contributes to the building of the collective consciousness - the spirit of our society, our cultural inheritance, our collective subconscious.
In the beginning, art was communication, magic and adornment - all at once. A couple of hundred years ago, the notion of "art" came to be used more and more as a synonym for ornamentation in rich people's homes.
Ever since, there has been a struggle between art as expression and art as decoration (and private property, and later on, even tax shelter). Since most artists want to make a living out of their work, it is easy for the money side to win. This has not been the case for Ture Sjolander. He doesn't say: "Look at my work and buy it!" He says: "I am your mirror."
In order to find the roots of art, he travelled to what is today considered primitive societies in Papua New Guinea. He found body painting and learnt about the original meaning of art - communication, magic and adornment. Many artists have been inspired by body painting and developed it into various expressionistic experiments with erotic undertones, but Sjolander left it as he found it. It is of an ephemeral nature. It cannot be sold at Sothebys and it cannot be exhibited at the Tate (at least not without losing its soul). Perhaps it can be nailed to a cross? Yes, only he who sacrifices himself for his fellow men, is an artist. But sacrifice does not mean that the artist must be good - or God.
After studying the culture of the Aborigines in Australia, Ture Sjolander did not come out with quaint proposals on how to promote Aboriginal Art as others have done. He saw a bigger picture and wrote: "The Aboriginals still have what we lost: cultural dignity. Undoubtedly the Aboriginal is Australias richest heritage The British/Australians have historically proved that they are unable to deal with the problem. These bullies have always been the problem for the Aborigines and still are, as well as they are the problem for todays immigrants."
Sjolanders study was commissioned by the Queensland Government. But when it was completed it was not published. The newspapers would not publish the summary. No newspaper would even accept the summary as an ad. Finally, it was broadcasted on a local TV-show. And the Aborigines still live their lives on reservations under very primitive conditions. Although most of Australians are of non-English speaking background (the term used is NESB), the queens dutiful convicts still hold a firm grip of the island/continent.
Going from the most ancient to the most modern, Ture Sjolander has been called to Godfather of computer game-players, because he was the first person in the world who created a film with electronically animated images for TV. From Sjolander's point of view, this was not an individual achievement, he was simply part of a collective process of the development of mankind. I claim he had antennae. "Not at all," he says, "just a curious mind."
In 1997, when Ture Sjolander was invited to work in China, the closed fist was still a very strong symbol in this country. Sjolander displayed two gigantic closed penises (marble knots). Everybody, except customs, understood the symbolism. The statues still remain in Changchun as a reminder that there are many kinds of freedom to be won, in addition to the obvious first one, the freedom from poverty.
Was this a political manifestation? Yes and no and certainly not party politics. Real politics is that which makes society progress, all else is a charade. This is what Sjolander showed the Australian public when he caused a government crisis by prompting the Prime Minister to sign a five-dollar bill. As in many other countries, to scribble on a bill is an illegal act in Australia, and the opposition called for the government to resign.
"Aren't there more important things to argue about?" many Australians asked themselves when the debate was at its worst. Many people realized that their cherished democracy was nothing but a game of chess for the power hungry wannabe aristocracies, and that they themselves were nothing more than pawns.
Another "installation", set in Sweden, made it to the front pages of the nations' two dominating evening papers: "Famous Swedish artist threatens to kill Prime Minister."
The back-ground was that American private eyes had been hired by the Swedish Law Enforcement Authorities to act in the Philippines on behalf of Swedish and American courts in a custody case about Sjolander's son Matu. Sjolander wanted to call attention to the fact that private investigators were cheating the Swedish Government for millions of dollars. He travelled to Sweden. Being a famous artist, he got an appointment with the PM, at that time Ingvar Carlsson, but at the last moment Carlsson had to cancel the meeting to go to a state-funeral in Israel.
Sjolander, who was used to censorship and cancelled exhibitions, laconically told the secretary that the PM would soon have to go to another funeral - meaning his, i.e. Ture's, own, as it was well known that his life was threatened by three contract killers from the Philippines!
The secretary misinterpreted it for a threat against the PM. For this Ture Sjolander's spent two months in police custody. When the private eyes found out about this, they thought of a way to hide their million-dollar-scam, and filed additional complaints against Sjolander. He was supposed to have threatened one of them. In court, the only threat turned out to be to squeal to the PM, unless the privates returned the money to the Swedish Government.
The trial was more interesting to me than any of the more spectacular happenings in the 60es. The dark lounge suit guys had their pants down during the entire trial (half monty) and yet had the nerve to lie throughout all of it - a rock steady picture added by Sjolander to our common understanding of the world. I wish someone would paint it remember pants down.
Of course, Ture Sjolander was completely acquitted and was awarded a compensation for the months spent unjustly in police custody. The private eyes were neatly fired and Sjolander was not assassinated. However, cognoscenti and literati in Sweden would say "no smoke without a fire" and a leper was once again (voluntarily) exiled. But, you know, if you have not spent a month or two in jail, youre not a real artist.
Had he lived in the 18th century, Ture Sjolander would have died in front of a firing squad already as a young man. Had he lived in the 19th century, he would have slowly wasted away in a dungeon. But since we are talking about the 20th century, he was only crucified a couple of times - and has resurrected himself by recreating himself. In spite of all this, Sjolander says: "I am not art. You are! I am just your tool mirror."
Aapo Saask 2004-09-13
Swedish Photographic Magazine
no 12, Dec 1977 (120 p.)
The headlines on this spread give a limited picture of Ture Sjolander's activities in the area of visual arts.
The number of pages of Aktuell Fotografi would not suffice to render all the newspaper clippings in which he has featured!
In 1961, Ture Sjolander made his debut as a visual artist with a visual exhibition in his native town Sundsvall. He called the exhibition at Sundsvalls Museum 'photoGRAPHICS'.
The late artist Öyvind Fahlström wrote the text for the catalogue of the exhibition. We quote:
"one single photographer's resources are not enough for the experiments to be conducted widely and in depth. Sweden has recently inaugurated its first studio for electronic music. When will photographers and painters be given the opportunity to explore this no-man's-land between their time honoured frontlines?"
The photographic light paintings of the exhibition were approximately a couple of square meters, black and white graphic prints, produced with the help of light and various chemicals. Some of the images were in colour, made by oxidising the silver of the photo paper with the help of a burning hot flat-iron.
Kurt Bergengren reviewed the exhibition in the afternoon paper Aftonbladet. He wrote: "He does not call himself a photographer, but a photo-graphic artist, and what is new about his pictures is first and foremost the technique he uses. Sjolander indicates many new paths - by bringing back the art of photography to its earliest photochemical experiments."
In the magazine Konstrevy, no 1 1963, Ture Sjolander's experiments are presented in depth, and in connection with this, he exhibited his graphic art at the Gallerie Observatorium in Stockholm, along with artists Lars Hillersberg and Ulf Rahmberg.
Åke Daun wrote in Folket, on the 29th of March, 1963: "He calls himself a photo-graphic artist, a union of photographer and graphic artist. He has successfully managed - it sounds like a dream - to combine photographic methods with free artistic creativity. From this technological platform, Sjolander takes us along on trips to reality, but along other roads than the ones we have tread before."
Ludvig Rasmusson wrote in the student paper Gaudeamus: "By varying his formal ways of expressing himself from one painting to the next, he does not show a lack of personality. He simply does not trust that form of personality in art, which consists in making one painting look like the next one, and he wishes to force the viewer to look beyond form, towards content."
Alf Nordström of the morning paper Dagens Nyheter wrote: "All those who like pretty and well-behaved photo-art are seriously warned against having a closer look at this exhibition. It offers howls and grimaces, cross-eyed faces and horror studies of the female flesh. But all those who are interested in seeing a photographer entering the current cultural debate, should not neglect seeing 'You have been photographed.' The exhibition has a very liberating feel to it. Its nihilism leaves a burning imprint on your retina and the conventional images are burned away. Your eyes begin to see anew."
In the news program Aktuellt, Ulf Thoren showed parts of the exhibition, and Sjolander coined the expression "We want to exhibit, not to inhibit." During the two weeks that the exhibition was shown, some 10,000 people came to see it, many of them attracted by the TV presentation.
In the afternoon paper Expressen, Katja Walden wrote: " … the artist has reached his goal, already when we react, when something happens between us and the photograph. After Ulf Linde, in the year of pop art and a couple of months after the New York-nights, everything is still possible. Ture Sjolander has made something happen in the area of photography."
Erland Törngren wrote in the paper Arbetaren; "His images make most of what we saw the other year, at the ambitious exhibition 'Swedish people as seen by 11 photographers,' look medieval. 'You have been photographed' is one the bravest attempts of a coup, one of the boldest opening moves, that has ever hit Swedish photography."
On July 6, 1965, Bengt Olvång wrote in the paper Stockholms Tidningen: "Ture Sjolander's television appearance is characterised by a warm humaneness and a bizarre, uproarious sense of humour. One of its most 'shocking' features is composed of a grand piece of Vivaldi music, illustrated by a little boy who is picking his nose. However, what is really most shocking, is the way in which the Television Broadcasting Corporation is acting. Heads of department become self-appointed censors, and in the name of 'The Swedish People', they erase program features, such as Sjolander's TV film. The thought of letting opinions and values develop freely is totally foreign to them. The broadcasting monopoly watches over people's opinions and hinders all attempts at moving in any radical direction."
Jonas Sima wrote in Stockholms Tidningen, on October 23, 1965: "Sjolander also has opinions and a social temperament. He has produced the kind of film I want to watch - and produce."
On October 28, 1965, Mauritz Edström wrote in Dagens Nyheter: "He is simply testing our attitudes in relation to the photography, by placing it in unexpected contexts. When he places his enlargements on billboards and then films them, the result is really challenging: what resources of expression can't we find lying idle under the old cobweb of conventional views on pictures!"
In 1968, when Annagreta Dyring of the magazine Populär Fotografi, resumed what had happened in Swedish photography, she wrote this among other things: "Ture Sjolander was the instigator of a recent event that caused great resonance in the world of Swedish photography. It was at the time of poked tongues. The grimace in the picture became the expression of a provocatively defensive attitude towards a perhaps too expectant world around us. It meant to build a bridge between the picture and the bloated spectator, even if it were to be built out of ridicule. It gave another angle to the democracy of the photograph. The traditional silence and the worn-out ways of presenting things had gotten alternatives worthy of discussion. In other words, it was a bridge. It did not matter (at least it does not matter looking at it in hindsight) if the bridge was built out of deep respect, it was accepted even if it consisted of disgust or horror. It was somewhat surrealistic, with a hint of dada. The main thing was to give the viewers something to sink their teeth into. Sjolander's cheeky revolt against standardised thinking and photographic conformism preceded - in its pronounced form - other attempts at doing the same thing in this country. It disturbed obsolete ways of thinking in the field of traditional visual art."
'TIME,' as well as 'Have you thought about the role of photography…?' , were produced for television, which its technology and basic functions in mind. Similar electronic works of art have since rapidly been produced in different places of the world. Video art is now an established notion. An American video artist, Nam June Paik (born in Korea), has applied the same methods when producing his works, after having Sjolander- Wikström show him 'TIME', both in person and broadcast on Swedish television.
Pontus Hultén, the former director of the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, recommended that Sjolander should apply for a government artist grant of SEK 6,000, in 1966. Hultén wrote:
"In recent years, Sjolander has, showing great skills of inventiveness, worked on projects that bring together several different, but costly proceedings of work. Since his ideas are among the most interesting ones that have appeared in recent years, I would highly recommend you to consider him for this grant."
And Sjolander got the grant.
In December of 1966, Sjolander went to London, Paris and Hamburg, and got an invitation to produce a new piece of work from the French television (ORTF). Along with the foreign correspondent of the leading morning paper Dagens Nyheter, Lars Weck (who was studying at the Sorbonne University in Paris at the time), he outlined a new "program" called 'MONUMENT'. This collaboration marked the beginning of a large-scale media art-project with an audience of approximately 150 million people. Weck wrote in Dagens Nyheter on the 4th of February, 1967 (before the beginning of their co-operation): "Ture Sjolander has not used his first long sejour abroad to go on pilgrimages to widely known monuments, unless you consider television one. He finds it interesting to work directly for television, both because it makes every person's home a gallery, and because it gives the artist so many technical possibilities."
The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation did not show any interest until both the French and the German television companies had invited him to work with them. The Swedish TV-production was brought about by Kristian Romare. Several European countries broadcasted the completed production, which was also transformed into different graphic productions on a large scale, there was the LP-record 'Monument' with Hansson/Karlsson, the book 'Monument' with a preface written by Bengt Feldreich and TV technicians (among others), there were outdoor- and gallery exhibitions. Others artists were inspired by the visual material and coloured images from 'Monument' in oil-colour and in various textile fabrics. Images from 'Monument' were shown at the 5th Biennale in Paris, in the fall of 1967. Pierre Restany - one of Europe's most respected art critics - wrote that unfortunately he was unable to attend the whole event because of a journey to South America, but had to settle for the last few days: "But better late then never. Sjolander's works struck me with their absolute modernism. I was also struck by his acute instincts, his poetic use of the technology of the mass-medium - an iconographic liberation on the level of information technology - all in the language of the masses. Sjolander's works of art, which combine art and technology, become an attempt to preserve our poetic survival. It is a truly humane, or rather humanistic achievement, in the modern sense of the word."
In March, 1967, Sjolander-Weck formulated a kind of manifesto in the magazine Bazaar (no.1, published by the Galleri Karlsson in Stockholm): "The art gallery has to come to the people, obviously it is not working the other way round. At least not if you are asking for art to be meaningful to more than a handful of people. Without failing or most popular galleries, or the admirable role of the Modern Museum of Art, one has to acknowledge that they in no way can compete with a medium such as television for range - it is our so far most effective means of distributing images. Most people will agree that television is extremely effective, but in art circles television is seen as nothing more than a publicity-machine. Television can produce programs on an exhibition, explaining and attracting visitors to the source itself, which consists of the de facto exhibited objects. Few people are ready to agree that television itself is a medium and a gallery for the visual artist. They are again haunted by the myth of the original, the "thing" which is "art itself." It is a concession to this same myth, when the artists of Multiart are asked to sign an edition of 1/300 copies. It would have been more logical to print, that is, machine sign a mass-produced piece of art. If you work directly for the TV screen, with electronics as your brush, no one would probably think of having artists travelling around, signing all the millions of television monitors."
In 1968, Ture Sjolander, along with 600 million other viewers, studied the satellite transmissions from NASA's spaceflights around the moon. This study resulted in a new production for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, called 'Space in the Brain.' People now had colour TV, and it seemed natural for an artist to comment on those historic events with a new piece of work.
A new agreement was made with the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, this time with Sjolander, Bror Wikström, Lars Svanberg and Sven Höglund. The photographer Lennart Nilsson delivered a recently taken picture of the human eye as seen from the inside, and NASA's photo department contributed with the best film footage from all their previous spaceflights. The final commentary of their "space-opera" was an electronic explosion of colour. The theme of the production was two poles: one, which we call space (and that we do not know so much about yet), and the other, that which a person registers through the eye (and which we do not know too much about either). This, and man's vanity, was that 'space' which the artists referred to. Tapestries for interior design and world-wide best-selling posters were produced out of this static visual material. Hansson/Karlsson made the music for the TV-"program." An LP-record was also released.
In 1970, Sjolander's next project was a analytical photo-essay, a book on the mysterious Greta Garbo (published by Harper&Collins, New York 1971). This time he was working with ordinary documentary pictures, nothing was electronically manipulated. The book was a success, both commercially and as a documentary.
The Garbo biography was published in several countries, such as the United States, Canada, the UK, Sweden and Germany.
Chaplin's "My life in pictures," was Ture Sjolander's idea, and as a compensation for him letting them take over the book project and the dummy of the book, Chaplin's family ordered an edition of a graphic art portfolio containing 30 different screen-prints, 60 x 60 cm. The portfolios were signed were signed and numbered by Sjolander and autographed by Charlie Chaplin. Sjolander has interviewed both Chaplin and Garbo and he calls those two great contemporary stars "images." It is as such, that they have been met by their audience of millions of people.
Translated from Swedish by Linda Henriksson.
From the Swedish Culture Magazine
"In 1961, Swedish television only broadcasted on one channel, in black and white of course. The most upsetting thing that had been shown so far, was Per Oscarsson taking off his longjohns in the family entertainment program Hylands Hörna, and this caused a public outcry. It was in those quiet backwaters, at a time when Jan Myrdal had not yet been hit on the head with the Vietnam billy stick, that the artists Ture Sjolander and Bror Wikström started experimenting with the TV medium as an art-form. Why produce 100 litographies, when you can distribute your work of art to 8, 50, 100 people via television and satellites?, they wondered. But most important was the protest against the traditional use of the television technology itself, and turning a media-development into a free and artistic intervention became necessary.
However, it was difficult to find the necessary support to realise their ideas. The framework was very narrow, but Ture Sjolander already knew this. The year before, in 1965, he had made a first attempt to produce television art, directly for the medium, and he was stopped. The program, "Have you thought about the role of photography…?", was already in the TV-guides, but it was completely censored by the direction of the Broadcasting Corporation. "They have never given me any valid justification for their censorship," Ture Sjolander says today.
Perhaps it was censored because he had photographed nude models from grotesque angles and wildly grimacing people? Along with Oscarsson's longjohns, this provides us with a clear image of how far you could go in the Swedish society of 1968.
"Ture lives in a pink wooden house on Gärdet in Stockholm. It is surrounded by fences, mysterious sculptures and menacing beware-of-the-dog signs. Is he a bitter recluse, who is hiding away in his nest, while dreaming about the happy '60s? Not at all. Ture looks fresh and wears well-ironed clothes, looking a lot younger than 47.
First, some personal details:
Recipient of a Royal Artist Grant. He is not listed in the telephone directory, and it is extremely difficult to get through to his answering machine. He was the first person in Sweden, and probably internationally, who realised the possibilities of video and television for art, culture and advanced communication. As early as 1966, he wanted to distribute his "video art" (even though the word was not yet invented) via satellite.
He is a multi-media artist who has collaborated with, among others, the rock band Hansson&Karlsson. Hologram expert. Author on books about Greta Garbo and Charles Chaplin. Founder of the association Video-NU-Videocentrum (with 150 members and fifteen corporate members).
Except for being a visionary, Sjolander has a bunch of other projects coming up. He is trying to get government funding so he can document the public art in Sweden (or will McDonald's be the sponsor?). He wants to make a movie out of Erik Lundqvist's book "No tobacco, no Hallelujah" (he has already bought the film rights from the author, and a contract has been signed with the production company Måsen and the author) and Ann Zacharias. He is planning a trip to Papua New Guinea.
Sjolander started thinking about the possibilities of the TV medium and its power to connect with its audience. He found a partner in Bror Wikström, who was a major talent at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. However, he had turned his back on those very people calling him a talent. Sjolander and Wikström became inseparable and they followed in no one's footsteps, they went beyond pop art, which was the most extreme art form at the time.
We wanted to punch pop art in the face, meaning that we wanted to use those big outdoor billboards and wall spaces in subway stations for example, that inspired the pop artists, and we were inspired to use this space as an art space, not for commercial purposes.
Bror and I were "best friends and enemies" at the same time, we were working on a completely unexplored theme, we worked day and night for one and a half years with a new manifest, on television, on photo exhibitions and galleries. I remember Bror advertising among the ads for galleries in Dagens Nyheter: "Gallery of Thought - outdoor exhibition" in Kungsträdgården (the King's Gardens) in Stockholm city. But it was not a "gallery" as such. Kungsträdgården is always a gallery of thought, the image that remains on your retina. Bror has left the art world now, he cannot go back to painting, he cannot turn back the time. The "bijouterie-painters" hated him because he was so far ahead of them, both artistically and academically. My activities in those years were a protest against the word. The art critics were writing away, expressing guesses and opinions. "You go ahead and write," I thought. "Ten years ago I presented a complete presentation about a video studio for research, education and production (it has been postponed for years by the Art Council of Sweden, that is complaining about how badly prepared we are for satellite programs today!).
"I called on all the political parties in 1974 together with Bror Wikström.
increase in the budget of the Government Art Council for Public Art, for the purpose of artistically humanising public places. At the communist party leader's, the clothing was a working class jacket, at the right wing party leader Boman's, the clothing was Sunday-best shirt and a grey suit.
the budget increased from SEK 3,7 million to 11 million! (Ture does not mind the epithet Cameleon Master).
"I know what is normal and acceptable in society, and at the same time I am bored with it. Sometimes I psyche myself up by behaving recklessly … to feel free." There you go. To the above catalogue, we may add that Ture Sjolander, if anyone, can be named the father of Swedish video art. The curators of the International Video Festival in Stockholm, held from February through March, managed to convince Sjolander to come there and talk about how it all began in Sweden. Ture showed up, immaculately dressed in a white suit and pink tie. Ture began by saying: "We wanted the artist to really exhibit, not to inhibit at museums and galleries." On the last night of the festival, Ture Sjolander showed the TV program that had been stopped in 1965, on a 6x7 m big screen, just after the show about American punk and underground videos. "- Visual art of today is at the same stage that literature was before Gutenberg's invention of the printing press." This is a typical quote from Sjolander in 1963. He explains: "Let's take an artist such as Ulf Rahmberg, who paints symbolic paintings with a very political content. He works six months on a painting, using the most expensive canvas and oil paint. Then he sells it to some damn wealthy dentist who shuts it up in his private living room. When he has such an important symbolic message, he should paint on toilet paper with poster paint and distribute it on postcards, posters, video and television! Preferably via satellite!
The distribution is just as important as art itself: to communicate about communication is just as important as the mode of communication. The Mona Lisa-painting is not interesting per se, it is the interplay between the people looking at the painting that has become interesting. Because almost no one is interested in the painting, its power of attraction is over after three minutes."
Öyvind Fahlström once put it this way: "Hang up a Rembrandt on your wall, it will blend in with the pattern of the linoleum within a weeks time. It is just a myth, an illusion, that it its value is alive and continuous and that you can look at it anew one day after the next … People who can experience that must be completely crazy."
Öyvind Fahlström died in 1976 and when we meet Sjolander, parts of Fahlström's production is hanging on the walls of one of Stockholm's more pretentious galleries. We looked at the exhibition and felt slightly vertiginous, or perhaps nauseous? Fahlström's protests against the US warfare in Vietnam were sold for approximately SEK 500,000 a piece, and then we are talking about graphic prints. "It is interesting, but really not that strange," Ture says. "First of all: I do not believe that Fahlström tried to express a protest, he connected a modern series of events… "(the magazine is ruined and the text illegible).
"Sjolander speaks fast, is well articulated and convincing. He runs around in his house, finding newspaper clippings with quotes to support his ideas. I am sure he can be a difficult bastard.
- Once I was invited to talk about public art with some old local government councillors. I suggested that I'd make something with big fingerprints in concrete, where the grooves of the fingerprint would be about 1/2 metre tall. 'Well, isn't that a funny idea,' said one of the old councillors, 'one would have to hope that it were to be the city mayor's fingerprints then.' I felt completely fed up and paralysed by the whole thing, by the disrespect of an original idea. I couldn't see any development. I couldn't do what Michelangelo did, which was shoving the axe into the ground in front of the councillor and say: 'It was my concept, therefore it will be my fingerprints.'
In the socialistic countries, art is also governed by the politicians' wishes. There is a pressure from above: 'You bloody artist, we want you to paint a worker who is using a sledge hammer.' So the artists adapt, and become clever "photographic" painters. 'Just look at the art clubs in Sweden. They have tremendous power. There are 400 clubs, and it is said that they have about 400,000 members altogether, at Atlas Copco, ICA, Honeywell Bull, whatever. It's a fun thing for those who sit in front of their computer screens all day long, they get a bit of status if they can do some art-thing in their spare time. For them to buy something for their art raffles, it had better be something ingratiating. Artists are aware of this now, so they paint something that will please the majority - instead of going broke.
Christian Wigardt / Erik Ohlsson 1985
Translated from Swedish by Linda Henriksson.