Children of Children

#Hashtags

Children of Children

By Anuradha Vikram May 22, 2018

#Hashtags is a column, formerly published on Daily Serving, that explores the intersection of art, social issues, and global politics.


In the exhibition Children of the Children of the Revolution at Stockholm’s Färgfabriken, five artists reckon with the legacies of their revolutionary upbringings. To be born to idealists is not always a blessing. These artists, some of whom are now parents themselves, consider how their childhoods in the radical communes that proliferated in Sweden and elsewhere, only thirty to fifty years ago, seem both distant and constantly present. Each artist maintains a sense of creative, intellectual, and sexual possibility, of freedom that is often denied to people in the mainstream. Each also carries a burden of self-reliance, having developed in the absence of reliable adults who prioritize the needs and desires of the children when making decisions about their care. The exhibition poses questions about the inheritance that parents who abandoned the notion of growing up have left to their adult offspring.

Situated in the alley alongside the vast former factory where Färgfabriken is housed is Joanna Lombard’s eight-channel sound installation, The Exclusion (2015), which suggests the communal life is not always a charmed one. The loud and menacing laughter of a crowd assaults the viewer, recalling feelings of shame and painful memories for anyone who has had the experience of not fitting in. Lombard was raised in Ljusbacken, a commune in northern Sweden that followed the Action Analytic Organization (AAO) philosophy of Freud’s disciple, Wilhelm Reich, which was popularized by the Viennese Actionist artist Otto Muehl in the 1970s.1 This methodology popularized emotional release in the form of “primal scream” and other expressive group therapies, some involving nudity. In Lombard’s case, her mother’s immigrant status in ethnically homogenous Sweden prompted instances of cruelty in these vulnerable situations where her difference was plainly exposed. A similar incompatibility underlines Sweden’s current political challenge, which is to maintain its strong social contract as immigrants, including refugees, continue to introduce difference into what was perceived as a uniform body.

Nikolina Ställborn. Timeloop Grålle 1946, Pålle 1976, Arw 2018, 2018; detail of 360° photograph.

At the front of the gallery, a small forest of narrow trees lines a path. Ahead is Nikolina Ställborn’s Time Loop: Grålle 1946, Pålle 1976, Arw 2018 (2018), a 360-degree photograph with environmental elements, including a small gravel patch beneath a suspended viewing headset. The photograph depicts a young family with a horse and a few sheep, dressed against the elements in the rural landscape of Skansen, an open-air heritage museum of the sort often associated with historical reenactments. The image refers to Ställborn’s upbringing in a family that went back to the land, leaving Stockholm for a farm in the rural north. The expectation of the benefits of abandoning city life—simplicity, tranquility, safety—contrasted with the reality of the difficult and sometimes unsuccessful farm labor. The motivation to improve oneself and one’s family by embracing a more “authentic” existence rooted in manual labor, and to some degree in naiveté, is further explored in Deal With It (2018), several sculptures made from self-help books (with titles like Be Heard Now!, Burnout, and Good Enough) and carpentry clamps. A third work, Fuzzy Brain (2018), reflects the artist’s ongoing interest in the lasting effects of trauma on the brain. A medical diagram of a brain is embroidered onto a large, freestanding, stretched piece of black fabric, with colorful threads left loose to hang like a soft curtain, suggesting nerve endings severed in futility or mental confusion.

Some of the confusion seems to come from a lack of clarity around parental responsibilities and roles within the commune lifestyle. Another work by Lombard, Orbital Re-enactments (2010), is a four-channel video installation depicting three experiences of the Ljusbacken commune that portray differences between the points of view of children and adults. Often separated, the children and the adults formed their own social networks and systems of support. Still, adult privilege was palpable, as children were threatened both by the absence of structure and supervision, and by potentially inappropriate sexual expressions encouraged by the libertine social environment. Two screens in the installation depict group activities where adults and children are segregated, with the adults engaging in AAO-model therapies including menstruating and defecating openly before the group; the children are playing on their own, sometimes frenetically, which highlights how their innocence is both idealized and troubled by the adults’ behavior. A third screen shows two women leading a group of children in painting the walls of a room with their bodies. The women seem to encourage a certain version of creative freedom, suggesting and guiding the children toward more transgressive uses of the body. A fourth screen shows children in a bath, interacting playfully until the adults arrive and stake an assertive physical claim on the space. Men’s bodies in particular carry a different emotional charge when introduced into a room of kids.

Joanna Lombard. Orbital Reenactments (installation view), 2010; three-channel video installation.

A degree of innocence may be necessary for the revolutionary to enact change and resist cynicism. At the same time, the fetishization of innocence poses problems for adults and children alike, especially when traditional modes of authority, such as patriarchy, continue to be manifested in the new ways of thinking. One form of this comes through the teachings of Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist revolutionary, whose Little Red Book was translated into fifty languages. Maoists embraced physical labor, collective living, and the teachings of Mao, to the exclusion of other intellectual pursuits including art and literature. Lina Selander’s father was one of Mao’s European followers, and she finds parallels between her early life and the Godard film La Chinoise (1967), which depicts a group of young Maoists in Paris in advance of the left-wing uprising in that city in May 1968. Her two-channel film, When the Sun Sets It’s All Red, Then It Disappears (2008), refers to a line of dialogue from the Godard film that reflects the protagonists’ quest for absolute truth, colored by their awareness that such an ideal might be tainted through the violent conditions that brought it to fruition. Footage from Leftist rallies in Sweden and Paris are intercut with abstracted images, text, and newsreel footage of Mao swimming in the Yellow River. A gentle voice-over challenges the certainty of political speech with a more introspective and ambivalent poetic view. Nearby, a third screen plays Överföringsdiagram nr 1 (Diagram of Transfer No. 1) (2018), a related work depicting the proliferation of the Maoist journal Beijing Review, and the destruction of other books and knowledge.

A tenet of radical living seems to be a questioning of parental authority, as adults explore self-expression and encourage children to develop self-reliance. When there is conflict between adults’ and children’s agendas, though, parental authority quickly resumes. Similarly, the relationship between humans and the natural world, including agriculture and animal husbandry, is proposed as more equitable and balanced within radical frameworks than within mainstream societies. Still, conventional structures of domination persist. Signe Johannessen was born in a commune to an indigenous Sami mother, descended from migratory people who have historically herded reindeer across the borders of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. Like her hunter-gatherer ancestors, Johannessen understands her responsibility to the animals in her care to extend beyond their lifespan to their posthumous well-being, as expressed through conservation and compassionate care, as well as uses of meat, hide, and fur. Her commitment to natural environments as sites of artistic praxis is evident in her art and in her arts administration work as a cofounder of Art Lab Gnesta, located in a rural area north of Stockholm.

Signe Johannessen. Protector, 2018; horsehide, aluminum, performance; 355 x 280 cm. Installation photo from Children of the Children of the Revolution, Färgfabriken, April 14–August 19, 2018. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger.

Johannessen’s works are unsettling and ask difficult questions about responsibility, cruelty, and power. Her process begins with bearing witness to the mechanized slaughter of horses, an ongoing practice in Sweden, which has one of the largest populations of horses per capita of any country in Europe.2 Protector (all works 2018) is made from the tanned hide of an adult horse, whose mane and tail has been kept intact and whose blood has been used to make an adjacent stack of folded-inkblot prints on paper that stands nearly ten feet tall. The images in the stack, titled Bloodlines 2, have been used to make the multichannel video work, Bloodlines 1, which plays on an adjacent set of monitors stacked to approximately the same height. The work’s scale is defined by the scale of the horse: the hide stretches on an aluminum frame more than 11-by-9 feet across, the blood eventually drained after over 4,000 prints were made. In these works, Johannessen atones for the loss of her horse, Rauen, through ritualstic engagement with the remains of the animal that include preparing the hide and braiding the mane and tail, alone and with other women as participant-performers.

Signe Johannessen. Protector (performance), 2018. Photo: Fredrik Sederholm.

Johannessen’s video The Stag depicts the artist and her mother attempting to make contact with a wild buck in a wilderness landscape that moves between northern Norway and Pune, India, two places where Johannessen spent time in childhood. The stag is a reference to the artist’s father, a spiritual leader espousing a permissive, expressive counterculture, who nonetheless asserted patriarchal dominance over both women and animals in his sphere of influence. The women embody a different way, characterized by slow, deliberate movements and silent listening.

Ylva Snöfrid. The Painter’s Studio in the Shadow World and Art in the Light of Conscience (installation view), 2018. Installation photo from Children of the Children of the Revolution, Färgfabriken, April 14–August 19, 2018. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger.

If the harsh, distant father is one looming parental archetype, exerting control by withholding affection, the other is the mother who is too affectionate, too demonstrative, and too sexual for the child who wishes to maintain boundaries of decorum or personal space. Ylva Snöfrid delves into these tensions in her installation, The Painter’s Studio in the Shadow World and Art in the Light of Conscience (2018), which includes a freestanding painting more than nine feet high and fifteen feet wide, with a number of stretched and unstretched paintings hanging on its reverse side. Tables and benches made with stretched, painted canvas are also included in the installation, which incorporates works made in the artist’s home studio; each object she creates is inaugurated through functional use by her partner and children. Paintings, which may depict figures including the artist in naked or sexualized poses, are used as tabletops and sleeping surfaces in her home. Snöfrid’s father, once a youthful rebel himself, is depicted as an apparition who disappears in a puff of cigarette smoke. Snöfrid is deeply interested in metaphysics, as her work’s title indicates, and the largest painting in the installation makes reference to Plato’s allegory of the cave and to the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva’s Art in the Light of Conscience, a 20th-century manifesto for art that is inseparable from life. Also present in the image are Gustave Courbet’s paintings Burial at Ornans (1849–1850) and Origin of the World (1866), which refer to death and birth, respectively; each employs a dramatically foreshortened perspective that physically implicates the viewer into the psychological space of the work. Snöfrid, whose practice also encompasses mystical performance rituals enacted with her “mirror twin,” seeks implication in every sense.

Ylva Snöfrid. Transmutation Ritual with Mirrored Spring, Snöfrid et les contre espaces, in "Retour sur Mulholland Drive,” at La Panacée, Montpellier, curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, 2017. Photo: Oliver Cablat.

Jonatan Habib Engqvist, the curator of the exhibition, writes of his upbringing as a “third culture kid” raised across cultural and geographic boundaries.3 While this experience is increasingly common for the children of economic and political migrants, Children of the Children of the Revolution considers cultural dissonances that exist within the purportedly homogenous context of Scandinavia. Questions of indigenous and imperial culture, colonial exploitation, and socialist and capitalist loyalties challenge the uniformity of that narrative, even before immigration or other external factors are considered. The artworks in this show propose a radical rethinking of recent European history that is both necessary and overdue.

Children of the Children of the Revolution is on view at Färgfabriken in Stockholm through August 19, 2018.

Notes

  1. “Joanna Lombard,” Children of the Children of the Revolution (Stockholm: Färgfabriken, 2018), 42.
  2. Carolina Linjenstolpe, “Horses in Europe,” (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 2009), 3, http://www.wbfsh.org/files/EU%20Equus%202009.pdf.
  3. Jonatan Habib Engqvist, “The Grandchildren of the Revolution,” Children of the Children of the Revolution, 25.

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