Två hål i väggen
by Jenny Richards
Prospecting is a term commonly linked today to consumer activities; the ‘withheld’ number calling, offering you products and services in order to cultivate customer conversion. Geological prospecting on the other hand delves into the detailed make up of a designated area, sifting through existing earthy components, its make-up and history, in order to build a picture of what these materials mean together. Rather than casting out a net of expectation, geological prospecting deals with what we have to hand, and then embarks on a process of categorisation; questioning what value the discoveries might possess.
You could say the work of artist David Larsson also engages in prospecting, whether it is a ball of yarn found in a second hand store or the location of a reservoir in Northern Sweden; he systematically mines into the object’s histories or the narrative of a location. He spends time in a place, spends time handling an object, to slowly understand what connections lie between things, what value logics are applied to them, and why some things, stories, happenings, are always pushed to the margins, devalued, cast aside.
In the Summer of 2012 Larsson and his family embarked on a trip around the North of Sweden following the story of a map he remembered from his childhood. The map charted the Ångermanälven river system which had been burnt into David’s memory decades earlier. It hung above the sofabed he slept upon when he visited, each morning and night spent with his grandparents was enshrouded by the connected network of lines and places depicted on the map. More than 20 years later this map was their guide for an itinerant journey to witness the dried river beds and the vast manmade lakes. The trip ended at Sollefteå, a plant his grandfather, Bertil Larsson was involved in building, and the place where his grandparents had lived. David titled this exploration Schematisk bild av Ångermanälven which took 3 weeks to travel and 3 years to realise. All that was gathered from 2012 was a single rock and image from each location.
These material artefacts of an energy excavation, offers insight into the complex web of relations, connections and memories our lives and the resources needed for living are caught and complicit within. Yet, if it were possible to put pen to paper and chart the chosen sites or objects David has meditated on and the lives they have inhabited I would be confronted with the problem Borges outlined in his short story ‘In Exactitude in Science.’ Unlike the map above’s his grandfather’s sofabed there would be no paper large enough or with the scope to meet the task. As Borges describes, the scientific cartographers of the enlightenment soon frustrated with the inadequacy of their maps drew ‘a map of the empire whose size was that of the empire’. Yet this map too was ‘useless’, and the colonial practice of cartography, of claiming territory through the absurdity of a drawn line was for Borges forever condemned.
The problematic task of understanding an object or a location without a map, the patriachal tool of the enlightenment, is a challenge Larsson’s practice is continually fascinated by. For what other codes, and value system can we create to understand the world around us? And what languages and images can we use to communicate these?
A book with a red cover found 7 years ago in a clearance sale in Lysekils Public Library, sits open on the floor of an artist’s studio. The double page it rests upon reveals a set of coloured symbols: a red square, a blue circle, an orange oblong and so on. The book presents itself as a comprehensive guide to the world of symbols and in doing so tries to suggest there is some kind of universal language we all can understand. Utopian in premise, the book’s potential is manifested through its ambition to offer a code we all might feel is adequate for explaining the world. However the sincere belief that indeed this kind of homogenous language is achievable, collapses the enticing promise it proffers; leaving only a set of undefined, abstract colours and shapes for us to peruse. For how can an endeavour set to communicate to all through the authority of code and category fail to exclude and oppress? Rather than a guide the book becomes another ‘failed attempt to control the world’.
Lying next to the book is a paint tin. It too is aged. It was originally owned by the late Bertil Larsson and found by the owner’s grandson when clearing out his home, following his death. Rescued at the time on the grounds that it might come in useful, it spent the last 15 years amongst other similar tins in the artist’s studio. Its value, as deduced by function, slowly giving way to its emotional worth, grown between the grandson and the object once handled by his grandfather. The fetish of material objects as described by Marx does not accumulate, in this case, through the tin’s exchange value as it circulates amongst other commodities. Another system of significance enshrines the tin, strengthened in its stasis, cultivated as it becomes a familiar component within the grandson’s workspace.
To the side of the tin is a canvas with a painted obtuse in its centre. The shape is an exact copy of the form exposed by the neighbouring book; and the nearby lid of the paint tin evidences it’s recent use. It conjures connection to Russian painter Kazimir Malevich who 100 years ago painted a single black square on a canvas. Malevich’s action symbolised the moment pictorial painting gave way to abstraction; when the canvas became cleared of bodily experience, reaching instead for a purity of existence through the minimalism of a perfected, simplified form. Unlike the earnest will of Malevich’s work, this painting, upon closer inspection, is marked by distinction. For the canvas wrapped around this frame is not one usually associated with painting, but rather material you might find in an old garage, stored for years after warming rose bushes in the Sweden’s Winter freeze. The employment of the paint too offers other evidence: the strokes of repetition and routine outlining the obtuse, like the daily occupation in the studio, suggest functionality rather than the bitter will of refinement.
Leaning against the wall behind the canvas is a recently framed black and white photograph of the earlier described paint tin. The tin is isolated in the centre of the image, hovering within a pristine white plain. Whilst the canvas drew links to abstract painting, here conceptual photography is employed to render another perspective on this seemingly banal object. The photograph seeks to separate out the different qualities of the tin.Yet looking at the photograph amongst this collection of material, it becomes difficult to obey the image and do away with all of the other information crowding around it. The proximity to the canvas, book and original, seep into the reading of the image and do away with the isolation of the conceptual resolve.
This collection of objects quiet and subtle operate on two lines of critique. Whilst on the one hand their interrogation seeks to question our relationship to material things – why we are drawn to certain things and what stories they hold. On the other hand, the process of Larsson’s prospecting, seeks to question dominant artistic methods of examination; questions that concern the legacy of modernism and practices that seek to privilege the intent of objecthood – to isolate, rarify and wonder.
If we consider the paint tin as our object in question, Larsson’s movement from tin, to painting to photograph undermines the superiority of the object. Rather than ridding the object of all of its history, imperfections and misinterpretations, he seeks to emulate these through multiple appearances. The object is never stable, but continues to deviate from a fixivity the viewer seeks to apply to it. Larsson offers us a series of views to enter the object, a series of narratives that intertwine, to not only connect the object itself within a network of material and emotional relations but to connect the object to the viewer as well.
In Sweden, Vattenfall the company that arranges much of the electricity in the country’s households, labels it’s advertising campaign Två hål i vaggen (Two holes in the wall). The campaign, like Malevich, wishes to rid the mechanisms of generating electricity from the isolated form (or in this case product), and thus, the customer can conveniently forget, or dismiss the environmental, political and logistical practices and contexts our heating systems ties us to. When David, his partner and daughter all embarked on a journey to visit Vattenfall’s repurposed waterfalls in 2012, he sought to challenge the simplification of their campaign and create his own form of prospecting, reaching behind the Två hål i vaggen. He did not follow the efforts of Borges’ cartographers which showed the futility of literal map making, but instead drew new lines of connection that in turn expose other forms of value, value that deviates from those promoted by the art world, and the logics of our own conditioning.