Welcome again to Visual Studies – its 14th year at Åbo Akademi

Illustrating a theory about photography

An important statement of Visual Studies: From an exhibition by the artist Alfredo Jaar in 2013. Source: https://alfredojaar.net/projects/2013/

Hello! This is still the blog of the Visual Studies minor at Åbo Akademi University and I am still Fred Andersson, a Swedish art historian who has been running this business since it started in 2008. Recently I discussed the topic of blogs with some of my art history students – ”is there anyone who actually reads them anymore?”. Anyhow, we agreed that if you have a text-based blog, you probably write it mainly for your own sake, for testing ideas, using the blog as a ”sketch-pad” for more finished texts, probably also as a strategy to get rid of writing blocks. There are people who use Facebook and Instagram updates for similar reasons, sometimes posting full essays, but especially in the Smartphone mode the reading experience is not very pleasant. Let’s therefore continue with this Visual Studies blog. I guess I will still be the only one writing for it, and if you happen to be some people out there reading it, don’t hesitate to email me if you have questions or ideas (you’ll find my info in the ”Våra kurser/Our Courses” tab at this page). I had to disable the ”comments” function because of massive amounts of spam. All new entries will from now on be written in English, because over the years we have seen that to an increasing extent, exchange students are in majority among the participants of some of our courses.

A random example in Visual Studies: This image was ”made” a century ago in order to capture both the boys and the now demolished building in the background. The image ”tells us” about the situation of its making. Without text and archival information, it doesn’t tell much else. (Source: private.)

We have now, hopefully, left the COVID pandemic behind, and in the meantime the study structure at our faculty section KHF (Culture, History, Philosophy) at Åbo Akademi University has underwent some structural changes. It is, as yet, not very clear what consequences these may have for the future role of the Visual Studies subject. With continuous information work and ”marketing efforts”, for example the maintenance of this blog and the circulation of course information to mailing lists and in the Visual Studies Facebook group, I have been able to attract a sufficient number of students and to keep most of our courses running every year since 2008. However, due to other demanding tasks and the time-consuming adaptation to online teaching during the Pandemic, I have not been able to maintain these outreaching activities for the past two years, and the effects of this neglect are now clearly noticeable.

A small subject is always in a precarious position, especially at a small university with only one single individual (that is me) employed as full-time teacher and researcher of the subject. This single individual is probably even the only teacher in the whole of Finland: even though Visual Studies now exists at Tampere University also, the people there present the subject as a research network and don’t seem to offer any undergraduate courses (Tampere Visual Studies Lab, https://research.tuni.fi/visualstudieslab). Some other Finnish universities have courses in Visual Culture, which is not necessarily the same – I will soon explain why.

I have noticed that most students taking our courses are no longer aware of the existence of Visual Studies as a ”short minor” (in Swedish kort biämne) at our university, i.e. as a small program that you can choose as a parallel complement to your ”major” (in Swedish huvudämne). Some have found single courses that have been recommended as optional in other subjects or study units (in Swedish kurshelheter), others are probably interested in only certain specific aspects of Visual Studies (such as film studies), and many exchange students have realized that some of our courses are among the few in the humanities that are given in English. All this is well and good, but it is obviously time for a reminder that Visual Studies exists as a separate discipline at universities worldwide, and that there are certain reasons for its existence. These reasons are also the reasons why our courses look they way they do, and why they should preferably be taken in a certain order if you want to choose Visual Studies as your minor subject. (See the ”Våra kurser/Our Courses” tab.)

Visual Studies has an obvious connection to Art History – a much older subject that has been taught at European universities for at least 200 years. Most scholars who regard themselves as belonging to Visual Studies have a formal education as art historians, and most research groups or departments with ”Visual Studies” in their official names have been sub-sections or ”outgrowths” of departments of Art History. Because of its organizational connection to Art History, Visual Studies is typically regarded as the study of human visual culture – or more specifically as Visual Culture Studies. The difference with Art History is simply the word ”art” – Visual Culture is not limited to what we usually refer to as ”art” (for example objects exhibited at ”art galleries” or collected at ”art museums”). The history of visual culture is the history of how humankind has shaped its visual environment and developed means of visual symbolism and communication. When limited to Visual Culture Studies, research in Visual Studies normally focuses on aspects of human behavior that are dependent on culturally determined conventions and codes, the dominant research paradigm being that of cultural constructivism.

Reality: a cake moulded by language? (Source: freepik.com)

When taken to extremes, cultural constructivism tends to result in a rather limited worldview, according to which almost everything in life could be explained as dependent on language, culture and learned behavior. One case in point is the famous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in linguistics, which states that our perception and our understanding of the world around us is shaped or ”moulded” by the terms and concepts available in our language, and not the other way around. In its strong version, which is today abandoned by most linguists, this hypothesis would potentially lead to such resasonings as this one: Let’s assume that a language has only three basic color terms, and that these are black, white and red. Then, its speakers would not be able to perceive other colors.

How are we to test if this conclusion is true? Indeed, there are still people who in their childhood only spoke a language with no other basic color terms than those mentioned – for exemple some languages spoken by indigenous groups in Australia. Today, they most probably speak English too. If, in their childhood, they were subjected to various psychological tests designed in order to determine whether they could see or not see what ”we” Westerners see, such tests would still beg the question of what it means to ”see” and to perceive. Do we have, ourselves, names for all chromatic nuances we can distinguish? Hardly so: we would then need thousands and thousands of colour terms, and be able to remember them and distinguish between them. There is no room in our verbal memory for such massive amounts of fine linguistic distinctions that only refer to color. The visual ability of distinguishing colour is evidently not dependent on the number of color terms in language. Paintings and other visual artifacts produced in cultures with limited color terminology is by no means less colorful and nuanced than in other cultures, and most probably a more developed terminology has never been needed for social interaction in the group. Similarly, the term brun in old French covered a range of nuances from brown to dark violet – there was not yet any need to attach those nuances to separate word labels.

Research in perception repeatedly demonstrates that seeing is both a biological mechanism and a social activity. When someone or something draws our attention to a detail in our environment we ”attend” to that detail and tend to neglect the rest. This is shown in a well known experiment, in which people watching a ballgame don’t notice the actor in a gorilla suit entering the scene, because they are busy counting the number of times the ball is passed (Watch here, https://youtu.be/vJG698U2Mvo). Thus, vision partly works in a ”top-down” fashion, as psychologists use to say, because we constantly move our eyes and activeley seach out what we want to see or what we expect to see.

But vision also works in the opposite, ”bottom-up” direction. Raw visual data is received by the photoreceptors in our eyes (or, more correctly, in the retinas of our eyes), and is processed for the extraction of only those features and contrasts that are necessay for perception. Vision is selective and active. The supposition that we would not ”see” things if we cannot ”name” them rests on a limited understanding of the relationship between sensation and meaning, or between raw perception and developed cognition.

Neuro-electrical excitation levels of responsive fields (with ON and OFF regions) when registering different points around a light/dark border. Responsive fields only partly overlapping the borders have the highest response levels (above and below zero level), resulting in the perception of a sharp contour. (Source: Thompson, Trosciano & Snowden, Basic Vision)

Actually, ”meaning”, in a wider sense than only ”verbally expressed meaning”, is generated already at the ”primitive” level of extraction of contours by the photoreceptors. As anyone who has ever tried to draw a picture of an object would know, there are no contours ”on” the object. There are only surfaces. Producing a drawing with contours is a process akin to how the organisation of photoreceptors in networks of ”responsive fields” is optimized for the registration of changes in light intensities in a perceived scene: the borders between lighter and darker regions are decoded as contours, from which higher functions in the brain can ”conclude” what kind of object or shape we are perceiving. After some 100 years of advanced neurological science we still know very little about how this actually works. Scientists surely know how visual features, such as size, placement, orientation, colour and movement are processed by specialized regions in the brain, and that these regions are all interconnected in a neural network of amazing complexity, but there is still no clear answer to how all these features and pieces of information are coordinated and understood as something we can point to and refer to with a term in language, for example ”a ball”, ”a cube” or ”a house”.

It seems that the more we study these matters, the less we know, and the more we will refrain from simplified generalizations such as ”there is nothing outside of language!” or ”everything is biology!” Sometimes, Visual Studies can provide space for sharing and comparing contributions from different disciplines: what do historians, sociologists, linguists, computer scentists, biologists have to say about the use of visual skills in their work, and how can their own research contribute to our knowledge about the visual? To the extent that this sharing and cooperation is not limited to the humanities, Visual Studies could then be defined as a more open and inclusive field than Visual Culture Studies, or as Visual Culture Studies without ”culturalist” bias. The same is true of the developments in interdisciplinary language studies, often involving pictures and ”visual thinking” also, that are known as cognitive linguistics and cognitive semiotics.

Recension: ”Vävt och Vackert – Fyra århundraden av finsk rya”

Bloggen nu tillfälligt åter på svenska. Vi brukar vid den här tiden på året publicera texter som studenter skrivit som del av kursen Vetenskaps- och kulturjournalistikens genrer, en kurs där studenter från alla ”kulturämnen” vid ÅA (t.ex. konstvetenskap och litteraturvetenskap) kan delta. Texterna är övningar i att skriva en egen recension som skulle kunna publiceras i en dagstidning. I år har ämnesvalet varit fritt: det har kunnat handla om konstutställningar, skönlitteratur, teaterföreställningar, musikaliska arrangemang eller annat som kan vara föremål för ”dagskritik” eller ”kulturkritik” i pressen, inklusive sätt att göra kultur virtuellt tillgänglig under pandemin. Den text vi nu publicerar är skriven av en av våra konstvetare, Edith Lignell, som just nu arbetar med sin avhandling pro gradu (Master thesis). Texten tar upp intressanta frågor om presentationen av finländskt kulturarv i ett museisammanhang:

Vävt och Vackert – Fyra århundraden av finsk rya

Helsingfors Konsthall 7.11–3.1.2020

Av Edith Lignell

I Helsingfors Konsthall hittas nu ett urval av Tuomas Sopanens samling med ca 600 finska ryor. Bland de utställda verken hittas exempel på både det traditionella, men även mer moderna eller konstnärligt ”materialistiska” tolkningar av ämnet (se bild). Utställningen av den imponerande mängden av 130 ryor är ämnad att visa ett tvärsnitt av den finska ryans historia.

Katri Haahti, Tranbärsmosse, planeringsår 2008, vävd av konstnären själv, 160 x 105 cm, ur Tuomas Sopanens kollektion. Bild: Kari Jämsén. Bildkälla: Helsingfors konsthall, https://taidehalli.fi/sv/events/vavt-och-vackert/

Utställningskuratorerna Tuomas Sopanen och Juha-Heikki Tihinen samt utställningschef Eeva Holkeri har valt att ställa fram ryorna ordnade varken enligt kronologi, material eller föreställande motiv. Istället möter man de olika tolkningarna av ämnet sida vid sida, arrangerade snarare efter färg och stämning än något annat. Att kuratorerna valt att framställa ryorna på så vis bidrar till förståelsen den stora mångfalden av motiv och syften när verk från olika tider jämförs. Ryor började först från och med 1800-talet hängas upp på väggar och var innan dess bruksobjekt i nordiska hem. Detta är en tradition som spårats ändå tillbaka till vikingatiden genom textilfynd i bevarade skeppsgravar från den tiden.

Synen på ryor som konstverk är bunden till framväxten av konstindustrins och hantverkets roll för det inhemska konstfältet på 1900-talet. Oberoende av det bruk som ryorna tillverkats för ursprungligen, visas ryorna här på utställningen upp som konstverk, en status som endast förstärks av akten att bli upphängda på en Konsthalls vitmålade väggar. Samtidigt är det inte konstnärskapet som betonas, utan den historiska relevansen – själva traditionen av finsk rya. Nyanseringen av de olika konstnärernas eller upphovspersonernas roll ter sig som en försummad möjlighet i utställningen.

Det är sällan man tar del av en konstutställning i Finland som visar nästan uteslutande kvinnliga konstnärers verk. Att textilkonst historiskt sett är en konstform som utövats av kvinnor är välkänt och en tradition som fortsätter än idag. Konstnärerna bakom verken på utställningen i Konsthallen förblir förhållandevis osynliga, nämnda endast kortfattat på de små vita skyltarna. Dels har det att göra med att ett stort antal av ryorna är så gamla att tillverkarna är okända. Detta leder till betonandet av funktion och historisk relevans. Men här visas också verk av några av den finska konstindustrins mest hyllade namn från både 1900- och 2000-talen.

Detta faktum förblir dock osynligt för alla förutom för dem som känner till namnen och kontexten, och de få som verkligen går med programbladet i hand och läser. Det kan påpekas att väldigt få av de människor som vandrade omkring i konsthallens salar vid mitt besök gjorde just så, möjligtvis på grund av att verken är numrerade kronologiskt men inte uppställda i samma ordning, vilket leder till ett rätt så mödosamt bläddrande i häftet.

Frågan vaknar: förstärks konstnärernas anonymitet av uppfattningen att textilkonstens utövare till största delen varit kvinnor? Detta är en aspekt som inte uttalas på utställningen, men som spökar med sin närvaro. Att kuratorerna valt att inte mer synligt presentera konstnärerna stöder denna uppfattning.

Länkar om du vill veta mera:

Om den tidigaste nordiska textilen: Forskning och Framsteg, juli 1999.

”Månadens föremål” från Nationalmuseet (september 2003): Ryan från Vesilahti

Freedom of speech 2: Jan Myrdal and Aron Flam

After of our thematic weeks about social and political aspects of comics, the following update by Fred Andersson:

Some weeks ago I promised a Part 2 of my reflections on artists, satire and the freedom of speech (previous post). After Visual studies started as a separate teaching subject at Åbo Akademi in 2008, I have been interviewed in Finland-Swedish media on a number of occasions when these issues have been up for debate, for example after the assassination of the Charle Hebdo cartoonists in 2015, and in connection with attempts to prohibit the display of certain parts of the ”canon” of Finnish art history (the Gallen-Kallela ”Aino and Väinämöinen” case in 2018, link to picture and comment in Finnish by Susanna Pettersson here).

Similarly to a number of colleagues at the different arts and culture departments at Åbo Akademi, I refused to sign the call in October 2018 for the cancellation of an event in which the Swedish ultra-liberal mediastar and ”masculinity-theorist”, Alexander Bard would participate. I cannot speak for others, but in my personal case my refusal was not motivated by any sympathies whatsoever with Bard’s sensationalist political agenda and confused Jordan Peterson-style rhetoric. Instead I acted out of a conviction that at University free debate must not be silenced because of pressure from activist groups within the staff. Probably I acted out of a belief known by some as ”first amendment fundamentalism” (yttrandefrihetsfundamentalism).

Alexander Bard (left) and Aron Flam, or ”The Aryan of the Jew”, publicity picture from their cooperation in 2018. Image source: https://aronflam.com/blog-aron/2018/9/1/the-aryan-the-jew-2

However, this kind of ”fundamentalism” is not without it problems, and of course it is not my own invention. (It is an important part of intellectual ethics to acknowledge that all that we know and think, we have originally recieved from others. Therefore we write footnotes and references.)

I received my ”first amendment fundamentalism” primarily from the work of an international intellectual who has influenced and also angered generations of younger writers and journalists in Sweden. His name was Jan Myrdal (1927-2020) and on 30 October he passed away at an hospital in Varberg, very close to my usual homestead at the West coast in Sweden. Of special interest in the context of Visual studies and Art history are Myrdal’s books and articles on political satire in Europe, and on ancient and medieval iconography in France, Kampuchea (the Khmer name of the country more known as Cambodia), and Mexico. His wife, the artist Gun Kessle (1926-2007), cooperated with him in all these extensive projects as photograher and critical friend.

The Myrdal-Kessle couple also belonged to the rare group of dedicated and systematic private book collectors in their time; during their many travels, they collected a total of more than 30.000 items, including complete issues of many important journals and book series. After 2013, the collection has been kept and catalogued by the Jan Myrdal society in Varberg, in a house donated by the philantropist Lennart Diding. Items can be searched and ordered though the Swedish bibliographic system Libris (http://libris.kb.se) and the collection is open for scholars and the main public at appointment with the Society. Information in Swedish about the Jan Myrdal library here: Information om Jan Myrdalbiblioteket.

Jan Myrdal (1927-2020). Image source: Wikipedia.

Jan Myrdal was a lifelong communist of Marxist-Leninist orientation, and unusually consistent in his political views. Because of his consistency, he ended up being perceived as rather lonely. Differently from most other leftist public intellectuals in Europe, he refused to denounce the policies of communist leaders later exposed as responsible for economic disasters and mass purges. To the end, he defended his belief that humanitarian reasons for condemning the rules of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot are not valid; he saw their policies as historically necessary. Of course, he also defended his right to speak out this belief in a political climate and at a time in which fewer and fewer shared them. To a very great extent, he used to his own benefit the freedom implied by the first amendment of the American republican constitution. Many commentators remarked that in societies of the type preferred by Myrdal, he would probably have been the first to be shot.

Myrdal had no university education at all, and he was in this respect ”self-taught” as a journalist, writer, social theorist and historian. One could fairly say, however, that he was born into the top intellectual elite of the European labour movement, and that he therefore didn’t need a university. His parents were Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, both nobel laureates whose social reseach made them highly influential both in the Swedish social democratic party and in the development of welfare policies in the USA and the UN. The young Jan Myrdal very early felt a need to denounce the ideals of his parents and to identify with the life of common people and more radical politics. He compensated his bad school results with extensive reading habits, and in spite of obvious reading- and writing difficulties he insisted on becoming a freelance journalist and writer (free from the parents, whom he later denounced rather brutally).

In his teens, Myrdal also became a member of the youth organisation of the original Swedish communist party, SKP. However, he distanced himself from the party in the 1960ies, partly because of its new reformist tendencies (known in the Communist movement as ”revisionism”), but also because of its traditional connection to the Soviet Union. In the Sixties, the anticolonial cause grew in importance, and in this context China was increasingly seen as representing the hope of Socialist society against Soviet stagnation. At this time, Myrdal’s books and articles were recognised internationally as part of a wave in which Western writers freed themselves from eurocentrism and dedicated themselves to studies of the ”third world”, as an act of solidarity with its popular movements.

It is significant that one of the books with which Myrdal had his international breakthrough had the English title Confessions of a disloyal European (1968, in Swedish 1983). Disloyalty towards European powers and European educational traditions, especially if associated with conservative politics, was very important for Myrdal and other supporters of anti-colonial struggle at the time. The transformation of rural life in the People’s republic of China was the topic of an earlier book by Myrdal, written in cooperation with Gun Kessle as photographer: Report from a Chinese Village (1963, first Swedish edition the same year). This book was praised as the first in-depth report by a westerner from inside the huge social experiment in China. It focused in an almost ethnographic manner on living conditions and traditions largely unknown outside the country. At the time of Myrdal’s and Kessle’s first visit to the studied Liu Lin area, most peasants there still lived in cave-like dwellings, carved out of the rock and soil with a special technique.

Later, however, when the negative consequences of Mao Zedong’s ”big leap” and cultural revolution had become common knowledge, Myrdal and Kessle were accused of having been pawns in the hands of the regime, totally and naively dependent on government guides and translators. Similar accusations were mounted in connection to the couple’s visits to Kampuchea and their expressions of solidarity with the communist Khmer Rouge movement.

Myrdal and Kessle first visited Kampuchea in order to collect material for their study of the ancient Khmer kingdom and its national sanctuary Angkor Vat: Angkor: An Essay on Art and Imperialism (Vintage books, 1970). They established friendly relationships with prince Norodom Sihanouk, dictator of Kampuchea at the time (also king of Kampuchea 1941-1955 and 1993-2004). Sihanouk’s close diplomatic ties to China and North Korea secured his escape when he was deposed as head of state in 1970; later he could return because of his support for the Khmer Rouge. It is obvious that Myrdal and Kessle were strongly dependent on their contacts in the political establishment of Kampuchea for their access to travel and studies in the country; they developed a strong loyalty with the Khmer Rouge regime of 1976-1979, but they claimed to have witnessed no signs of the atrocities soon reported in Western media.

The cover of Jan Myrdal’s and Gun Kessle’s Angkor Vat. Image source: https://www.abebooks.co.uk/

The Kampuchea case remained the great unresolved paradox of Myrdal’s political legacy and has greatly tainted his and Gun Kessle’s reputation in most quarters. When pressed on the matter, Myrdal’s usual response was that he would surely welcome an investigation of the whole extent of the Kampuchean tragedy, but only on condition that it was carried out in an impartial manner, and that it also would include the effects of American aggression during the so-called ”Operation Freedom Deal” between 1970 and 1973. (This operation was motivated by a wish to target Viet Cong forces hidden in Kampuchea, and it was disastrous for the country.)

However, a very different aspect which complicates the picture further is the substantial material support from both the USA and China to Khmer Rouge after 1979, securing the continued guerilla struggle of the movement. After the Vietnamese intervention in Kampuchea, which ended the Khmer Rouge rule, the USA obviously aimed at a continuation of the Vietnamese war through Khmer Rouge. Therefore, a continued sympathy for the Khmer Rouge and their ”farmer’s revolution” meant, in the new geopolitical situation, an obvious contradiction in relation to the anti-American sentiments that had fuelled earlier activism for the Vietnamese cause in the international left. It is no wonder that Myrdal became an increasingly problematic figure not only for his usual opponents but also for former leftist friends.

Later, in the Nineties, it became evident that Myrdal was prepared to follow the logical consequences of an unlimited freedom of speech to its extreme end-point, for example when he defended the initiative to invite Robert Faurisson, the infamous denier of the Holocaust, to speak in Sweden. Many were also chocked by Myrdal’s refusal to condemn the Iranian regime and its fatwa against Salman Rushdie after the publication of the Satanic Verses. As in other similar cases, Myrdal’s standpoint here was essentially strategic: Rushdie’s right to describe the Islamic world and culture in a manner seen as blasphemous should be defended, yes, but strategically an alliance between leftist movements and the Islamic republic against the USA must be prioritised.

As the proverb goes, ”the enemies of my enemies are my friends” (or the friends of my enemies are my enemies), but Myrdal’s actions often gave the impression that all enemies of American or Soviet imperialism were his friends. A couple of years ago, when Myrdal was ninety years old but still very active, he spoke at an anti-imperialist peace conference i Moldova, attended by representatives of a number of far-right organisations. Not long before, he had caused another scandal by publishing, as invited author, a number of articles in a magazine that supports the policies of the rightwing Swedish populist party Sverigedemokraterna. The conclusions were evident for most of us at the time: Myrdal had ended up in the ”brown camp”, he had lost it.

Or were we judging these things in a manner too black and white? Why was it the connections to rightwing extremism which finally made emotions boil over, and not the defence of Mao and Pol Pot? And why have I, by the way,  already dedicated the main part of this post to Myrdal? What is the relationship between him, Charlie Hebdo and the comedian Aron Flam? OK, we will come to that. What I have written about Myrdal this far probably does not inspire much sympathy.

But apart from Myrdal being an outstandingly productive writer whose literary work will survive (especially his self-biographical novels) I also think that we can learn a great deal from his life, and from his research into the political and cultural history of Europe. First of all, of course, we can learn that at the exteme ends, political opposites often meet. The political contradictions in which Myrdal became entangled serve to demonstrate the problems associated with a non-compromising application of ”first amendment fundamentalism”. It also seems that in these matters Myrdal often relied heavily on the French republican tradition of  laïcité (a concept often repeated in the Charlie Hebdo debate), and that this tradition is hard to reconcile with the political logic of Northern Europe, and of Sweden in particular.

What usually happened when Myrdal was attacked publicly for having done or written something outrageous (or against the normalised ”political correctness”) was that he wrote lengthy and learned replies, full of references to historical examples and circumstances with which most of his opponents were not familiar. Of course one cannot risk losing a debate by admitting one’s lack of knowledge. Better then to merely repeat the original accusations. Therefore, because of lack of common ground, the debates mostly confirmed the established view of Myrdal as an ”impossible” individual, or a réfractaire. That was the French term which he often used in reference to himself, i.e. someone who refuses to obey anyone.

Myrdal also felt that he was a follower of August Strindberg in attacking the provinciality and narrowmindedness of Swedish academia and the Swedish literary establishment (especially the Swedish Academy). He associated this narrowmindedness with Strindberg’s notion of ”the public lie”, and gave a speech in French on the topic at the university of Caen (Bretagne) in 2014. He acted offended, but was probably amused, when no magazine in Sweden was willing to print the speech. Instead it was printed in the Finland-Swedish leftist-liberal magazine Nya Argus, link here: Myrdal’s article ”Den intellektuelle och makten: Sverige och den offentliga lögnen” in Swedish.

To my knowledge, there is hardly anyone in academic art history, with the notable exception of Anne Lidén at Stockholm University, who have commented upon or referred to Myrdal’s contributions to art history, and his role as a collector of popular art and prints. The Angkor Vat book has already been mentioned. In Swedish, Myrdal and Gun Kessle also published books on medieval art in France and Norway (När västerlandet trädde fram, 1992), and on art, politics and religion in Mexico (México: Dröm och längtan, 1996). During their stays in Paris and along with their book collecting, Myrdal and Kessle also collected a huge material of political and satirical prints from the first French revolution until the 1940ies. Many of these prints they found in the fleemarkets by the Seine.

Parts of the French print material has been published along with Myrdal’s comments in three books in Swedish: Franska revolutionens bilder (1989), Sälja krig som margarin (2005) and När gatan tog mediemakt (2016). The last one, När gatan tog mediemakt (picture below) deals with the political imagery and satire of the Paris commune in 1871, and was published as the year book of the Worker’s Cultural Association (Arbetarnas kulturhistoriska sällskap) in Sweden. In conjunction with the publication, parts of the material was donated to the Archives of the Swedish Labour Movement (ARAB) in Stockholm. In these books, readers of Swedish can familiarise themselves with the French satirical tradition continued today in magazines such as Charlie Hebdo. A translation into English of the books would be welcome: Myrdal himself often lamented at the end of his life that he had not published more in English.

Jan Myrdal’s book from 2016 in which he writes about the pictures of the Paris commune.

It so happened, that during the last year of Jan Myrdal’s life, questions of freedom of speech and the limits of political satire were on the top news in Swedish media. And this was because of a book by an author who quite clearly belongs to the opposite political camp. (But, again, the opposites sometimes meet.) I am referring to the stand-up comedian and Jewish-born intellectual Aron Flam. Se image at the beginning of this post, in which he is photographed with his friend, the ”aryan” Alexander Bard. Flam had written a book with a basic message easily predictable from a frustrated laissez-faire liberal in a welfare state. It tells (again) the story of the vicious ”indoctrination” of the people in Sweden by the social democratic party (SAP), especially during the Second World War, during which the Party collaborated (or ”upheld friendly diplomatic relations”, according to more official accounts) with Nazi Germany, and commanded public silence with a famous poster by the cartoonist Bertil Almqvist (1902-1972). This poster shows a blue and yellow tiger with the sentence EN SVENSK TIGER (wordpun, ”a Swedish tiger”, ”a Swede keeps silent”). Less has been said and written about Flam’s book than about his debut as a collage artist: for the cover of the book, he took the tiger from Almqvist’s poster and equipped it with a Nazi salute and a swastika. See below.

”This is a Swedish tiger” (detail of cover of Aron Flam, Det här är en svensk tiger, Samizdat publishing 2019.

About half a year after the publication of the book by Flam’s own enterprise Samizdat publishing i August 2019, an objection was filed by representatives of the private ”Military Readiness Museum” (Swedish name Beredskapsmuseet) in southern Sweden. The Museum had earlier purchased the copyright of the original image from Almqvist’s heirs. According to the Museum, Flam was guilty of copyright infringement (not having contacted the Museum) and plagiarianism. This developed into a lawsuit in which Swedish police confiscated the whole remaining edition of the book from Flam’s storage in June 2020. This summer I followed the case rather closely and often listened to Flam’s podcast, entitled Dekonstruktiv kritik (deconstructive criticism, https://m.soundcloud.com/aronflam), which is self-aggrandising and slightly paranoid in Flam’s usual style, but also ambitious in its selection of topics and guests.

Flam received almost unanimous support in the media, it spite of his often controversial ideas (and in spite of the book getting generally bad reviews). The case received international attention, for example here in The Brussels Times: ”A Swedish Tiger Without Protection. In Swedish television (SVT Morgonstudion, aired 24 September 2020), the comedian Sandra Ilar expressed worries, shared by many, at the prospect that Flam could be found guilty: ”It would be a disaster. All the satire one has enjoyed, jokes, drawings that make fun of history, these had not been possible to produce” (Det vore förödande. All satir man har tagit del av, skämt, teckningar som driver med historien, de hade inte gått att göra.) Another segment of the SVT media platform, the satirical show Svenska nyheter (Swedish news) supported Flam’s case with the construction of a ”Tiger Generator” in which anyone can generate a seemingly unlimited number of varieties, and also share them online: The SVT Tiger Generator.

Finally, on October 9th, Flam was freed from all charges by the special court for patents and commercial affairs in Stockholm. Obviously the ”Military Readiness Museum” tried to benefit from a weak point in Swedish copyright legislation. In contradistinction to many other member states in the EU, Sweden has no clear exception for parodies and paraphrases. Now, the Aron Flam case can be used as a precedent, and hopefully the Museum will not contemplate a similar case against another paraphrase of Almqvist’s wartime message. That is a paraphrase which has actually been widely used and circulated for more than 25 years. It is the logo of of the leftist (more precisely Syndicalist) Swedish newspaper Arbetaren (The Worker) which says: THE WORKER DOES NOT KEEP SILENT! Photographed below from my own private T-shirt.

T-shirt of a ”politically correct” Åbo Akademi university teacher.

Pinged at https://www.bloggportalen.se/

Freedom of speech 1: Charlie Hebdo (again)

This week, when social and sociological aspects are discussed in our course about comics (also see previous post), we give you this update by Fred Andersson:

Again ordinary French citizens are assassinated outside their workplaces for no other reasons than having shown the ”wrong” kind of images to the ”wrong” kind of people, or simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Again terror alert levels are raised all over Europe. Meanwhile, the famous French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo shows no fear; its cartoonists continue to ridicule the rich and the powerful in a manner which is essentially a French democratic tradition since 1789. Recently, a cartoon of AKP leader and Turkish president R.T. Erdoğan as the generic male working-class TV-watcher in underwear, lifting the abaya/robe of his giggling, veiled and tray-carrying ”wife”, exposing her ”lower back”, adorned the front page of Charlie Hebdo. Speech bubble: ”Ouuuh! Le prophète!” (Oh! The prophet!). Headline: ”Erdogan. Dans le privé, il est très drôle” (in private, he is very funny).

Note that for attentive readers of the magazine, this is Erdoğan depicted in the same attitude and position as the stereotype of a racist and hypocritical French male, of an earlier Charlie Hebdo frontpage, no 1207, 9 September 2015.

The only part we dare to show.

The diplomatic consequences were imminent. In Turkey ruled by Erdoğan, an insult against the president is today treated by Turkish legal and executive offices as an insult against all of Turkey. According to this logic, all of France is held responsible for one single provocative cartoon, and the statements by Émmanuel Macron in defence of the freedom of speech is seen as a confirmation of a state-sanctioned aggression against Turkey, not as a defense of a general democratic principle strongly associated with the constitution of the current (fifth) French republic and the first amendment (1791) of the United States of America.

Why don’t I reproduce here the whole front page of Charlie Hebdo? Simply because I do not dare. Finland occupies a middle position between those countries which currently have no legal restrictions against blasphemy (such as France, Sweden and the USA), and those in which blasphemy can be a reason for imprisonment (e.g. Russia, see the Pussy Riot case) or even death sentences (Iran, Saudi Arabia).

The Finnish legal code, paragraph 10 in Chapter 17, defines it as a ”Crime against the protection of faith” if a person ”Publicly expresses blasphemy against God, or with an abusive intention defames or defiles something which is otherwise regarded as holy by a church or a community implied by the law of the freedom of religion”. Certainly the muslim communities are among those implied by the law which this paragraph refers to, and it is not wholly impossible that a lawsuit could be initiated by certain groups against newspapers and institutions in Finland who choose to publish or show the Erdoğan cartoon. Remember that Erdoğan is represented as exclaiming: ”Le prophète!”. The presence of the holy notion of the Prophet in the context of alcohole (beer can and wine glasses) is certainly enough to produce outrage among many believers. Even worse is the connection between the holy Notion and the exposed female parts, i.e. the essential ”butt” of the joke.

Even in countries without explicit laws against blasphemy, such as Sweden, cartoonists and editors have to consider their choices with great care. The case of the Swedish artist Lars Vilks exemplifies the consequences that can follow, for both the individual and for society, from acts of intentional provocation. Thirteen years after Vilks’s drawing of Muhammed as a ”roundabout dog” (a very Swedish notion) was first shown, and ten years after that drawing became the stated reason of attempted terrorist attacks i Stockholm (on December 11 2010), the artist still ”enjoys” 24-hour police protection and a very restricted life.

Apart from the risk of becoming a victim of religious extemism, there are other risks as well for publishers and public individuals who show support for such artists as Vilks and the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. You will probably be seen as a defender of certain racist and sexist stereotypes often used in satire, and your name will be associated with political sentiments alien to most representatives of western Academia. In the political left of consensus-based northern countries (but also in the USA), such individuals as Lars Vilks and Aron Flam (see next post) have come to be regarded as belonging to the far right, as they do not confirm to certain standards seen as necessary for a civilised debate. To a great extent, they have come to be seen as friends of the enemy (e.g. friends of radical Sionism) and then by association as enemies.

It is noteworthy that the only major media channel in Sweden which has published the Erdoğan cartoon is Expressen, the major liberal evening paper of the country, published in Stockholm. Expressen also published a lengthy comment on the case by Lars Vilks (unfortunately behind subscription wall).

As an editor of any paper or publication, the choice whether or not to publish controversial or ”politically incorrect” content will put you to an ethical test. This test can be described in the philosophical terms of general ethics: will you act according to consequentialism or according to deontology? (In Finland, Maaret Jaakola has studied Finnish cultural journalism with regard of this aspect, among others). If you act in the manner of a consequentialist, you will consider and evaluate all possible consequences of your action. Probably the negative consequences will seem to far outweigh the positive ones? Probably you will ruin a person’s life and career because of accusations or criticisms that you are about to publish? Probably you will become associated with political circles to which you certainly do not want to belong? Probably you realise that your friends will turn their backs on you? Then you will probably not publish.

If you are, on the other hand, an editor who adheres to the other and deontological extreme of media ethics, the consequences which may follow from your act really has no bearing on your decision. If a choice is deontological, it is only based on your inner conviction of what is necessary and morally right. You will probably refer to the principle of the freedom of speech, and to the duty (indeed the moral duty) of the press and the media to reflect in an unbiased manner all explosive facts and all political standpoints and interpretations, no matter how scandalous and how different from your own personal views.

In the French media climate, such channels and publications as Charlie Hebdo can pursue a secular satire in a manner often strongly reminiscent of earlier antisemitic stereotypes (known in both leftwing and rightwing varieties!) and receive unanimous support from the president of the Republic as a part of his new campaign against fundamentalism an un-republican values (with support from the majority of the French left!) This media climate is essentually based on deontological approaches to media ethics. It is a climate which is impossible in Sweden or Finland. Here, those who refuse to acknowledge any restrictions of expressions and opinions in public discourse often refer to themselves as fundamentalists of a rather peculiar and liberal kind: as first amendment fundamentalists (in Swedish yttrandefrihetsfundamentalism).

This year in Sweden, the legal case against the satirist and self-styled Jewish conservative Aron Flam has shown the consequences that would follow if copyright laws were applied in order to restrict the right to paraphrase and parody images. The recent death of the communist author and activist Jan Myrdal has given occasion to some heated debates on his intellectual legacy: Myrdal’s life and work exemplifies how a very consistent application of ”first amendment fundamentalism” in combination with anti-imperialist political standpoints can result in difficult paradoxes. I will return to both Flam and Myrdal in the next post.

Pinged at bloggportalen.se

A New Swedish Book About Swedish Comics


This is Fred Andersson, writer of this blog, beginning this evening’s update on comics and comics research in a more personal vein. The reason for this sudden sentimentality is that the topic makes me strongly recall certain picture stories that were probably the main influence behind my choice, as a teenager, to disregard all good advise and plunge into the totally irrational and insecure waters known as ”studies in the humanities”.

These picture stories were not Rembrandt, Shakespeare or even Bob Kane’s Batman. They were ”alternative” and experimental comics by such cartoonists as Martina Edoh, Joakim Pirinen, Ulf Lundkvist, Lena Ackebo and Max Andersson… (the list can go on and on…) The magazine was Galago, the main venue of young Swedish comics artists in the Eighties. The editor of Galago, Rolf Classon, was keen to foster an image of himself and his friends as a totally crazy pack at the far edge of the ”mad left” (in Swedish tokvänstern). These gags and surrealist inventions perfectly captured the spirit that reigned between Punk and 1989.

How we waited for every new issue! How we absorbed it all, and how we recognized our own fears and dreams! And then there were also Pox and Epix, bringing a constant flow of newly translated American, French and Spanish undergound COMIX into Sweden, thanks to the brilliant editor Horst Schröder.

Självsyn och världsbild i tecknade serier (Self-Image and Word-View in Comics) by Kristina Arnerud-Mejhammar, book series Seriehistoriskt bibliotek 1, Köping: Sanatorium 2020.

Well, it is very different days now. Trends in artistic or ”alternative” comics have changed several times. First there was a major economic crisis for comics and comics magazines at large in the Nineties, following 1989 and the recession, almost killing Galago. The market recovered but the carefree attitude of the Eighties did not return. With identity politics and new generation feminism, autobiographical storytelling became a strong current in European comics. During the last ten years, many young comics artists have started to identify more strongly with specific political issues and movements. The manner in which some express their dedication would be familiar to many artists older than the Galago generation. Politics in comics is no longer a joke, and sex and violence are no longer the only reasons why cartoonists are forced to repent.

Last Friday at Uppsala University, Kristina Arnerud Mejhammar defended her doctoral thesis Självsyn och världsbild i tecknade serier (Self-Image and Word-View in Comics) in which she analyses the work of four Swedish comics artists: Cecilia Torudd, Ulf Lundkvist, Gunna Grähs and Joakim Pirinen. All of these had their real public breakthrough in the Eighties with guest comics for the comics section of the main Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. Ulf Lundkvist and (especially) Jokim Pirinen were also very active in Galago. Cecilia Torudd, the oldest of the four (b. 1942) has a large audience among readers of books and publications for children and teenagers. Her most well known story, about the everyday life of a single mother and her two teenage children, was running as a daily strip in Dagens Nyheter for many years. Joakim Pirinen, who is the youngest (b. 1961), is also most likely the one whose work is least read and appreciated outside the circles of comics fans. Aestetically, he is an highly experimental and innovative artist, and has even made completely ”abstract” comics (see e.g. the album Döda paret och deras ”vänner”, The Dead Couple and Their ”Friends”, 2008).

In addition to being an academic thesis, digitally available (link to the DIVA portal page) and publically defended in Zoom, Arnerud Mejhammar’s work has also been printed as a readable and nicely designed printed volume, no 1 in the new series Seriehistoriskt bibliotek (library of comics history) from the Swedish comics publisher Sanotorium. See image above. The book is rather evenly divided between theoretical and historical introduction (Chapters 1 and 2) and individual case studies about the artists (Chapter 3). Even though the case studies contain much useful information and pertinent observations, the greatest merit of the book is probably the overview it provides of comics culture in Sweden and of important debates in comics research.

In a gentle and pedagogical manner, Arnerud Mejhammar introduces readers new to the research field into the main competing theories about comics as a medium, and clarifies how the politics of the 20th century Swedish welfare state provides much of the explanation for the ideological and aesthetic choices exemplified by Torudd, Lundkvist, Grähs and Pirinen. She prefers the term alternative comics instead of for example ”adult comics” (which can give wrong associations) or ”experiental comics”, because the term ”alternative” stresses the strong connection between these comics artists and alternative lifestyles and political movements. This is especially evident in the cases of Torudd, Lundkvist (who has cooperated with the socialist-autonomous Swedish newspaper ETC. since its start in the late Seventies) and Grähs.

Due to her training as an art historian, Arnerud Mejhammar is capable of providing perceptive and detailed descriptions of certain image sequences and image frames which she has selected as particularly worthy of scrutiny. With this approach, she somewhat disregards the sequential and relational properties often stressed by more semiotically inclined theorists (such as Thierry Groensteen) and instead puts the old cartoon master Will Eisner’s motto ”what goes on inside the panel is primary” into good use.

Arnerud Mejhammar can describe a single panel in a comic almost as if it were a painting. This is probably not a very good narratological approach (narratology stresses the relationships within a text), but it makes her able to analyse an a very precise manner the psychological space created by the comics artist by means of stylistic choices.

See for example the panel by Joakim Pirinen shown below. It is the opening panel of an autobiographical story in which the basic theme is ”follow me into the house where I grew up”. In the opening panel things still seem rather normal, and the setting even looks rather idyllic, but already here the picture space has a somewhat dense and claustrophobic character. It will get worse as soon as we enter the house: the walls will close in, past and present will mix in an uncanny fashion and the limits between person and environment will become virtually erased. Arnerud Mejhammar rightly characterises this particular story as one of the most original and innovative works in alternative Swedish comics.

In her analyses of the other three artists, Arnerud Mejhammar similarly pays close attention to the setting and space inside comics panels, and to houses and interiors as important  elements in the stories. Her observations will stimulate the reader to think more about the manner in which the house in which we live, or in which we once lived, often has a shaping influence on our self-image and world-view.

Joakim Pirinen, opening panel of the story ”Följ med mig till huset där jag växte upp” (Follow me to the house where I grew up) from the album Den universella bristen på respekt (The universal lack of respect), Stockholm: Ordfront/Galago 1999. Image source: Arnerud 2020, p. 215.

Our courses about Perception, Eye-Tracking and Comics


Here at Åbo Akademi University in ”Swedish Finland” (svenskfinland) the sub-discipline of visual studies has existed for 12 years now, and this blog has been updated regularly or less regularly since 2012. It has been ha channel in which we inform about our courses but also about new research and new research questions in the highly interdisciplinary field of Visual studies. The current global COVID-19 situation in which almost everything we do here is done online, and in which neither students nor teachers are always even present in Finland, makes it convenient to continue this blog and to do it in English.

Basic book useful for all. Our textbook in the course Image Perception and Cognition, 2006 edition with Akiyoshi Kitaokas ”snakes”.

We always start the academic year in September and October with a course about the basic neurological and psychological principles of human vision. It is called Image Perception and Cognition and has been popular among our international exchange students during the years, as well as among students from the Åbo Akademi University (ÅAU) and the University of Turku (UTU) joint master program in biomedical visualization (BIMA). Until 2020, the course was also mandatory for all students who have chosen Visual studies as their minor/secondary subject. From this year the options will be more flexible: it is now possible to choose a more cultural/anthropological orientation and to exchange the Image Perception course for a course on visual sociology and anthropology which is usually given in April and May. However, this course is still given in Swedish only.

As another example of the wide range of disciplines and topics that can be included in courses and programs in Visual studies, this year our Image Perception course has been running at the same time as a course on the history and aesthetics of picturebooks for children. This latter course is given in Swedish by Maria Lassén-Seger, who is one of the main authorities today on culture and literature for children in the Swedish and Finland-Swedish academic community.

The Anthology Barnlitteraturanalyser (Children’s literature analyses) from 2008 with contributions by Elina Druker, Maria Lassén-Seger and others. See https://www.studentlitteratur.se/

A related topic is that of comics. From being a largely neglected and sometimes despised field for most of the 20th century (and seen as a threat to literacy and mental health by many proponents of ”high culture”), comics have started to aquire the status of the ”ninth art”, and the culture of comics has been researched from historical, cultural, folkloristic, literary, aesthetic, communicative and psychological perspectives. In psychology and psycho-linguistics, eye-tracking technology has proved useful in determining how we actually read comics (and how we read the many differents kinds of comics that exist) in comparision to how we read linear text.

Isn’t it therefore quite fitting that we should in November and December give one course about comics and another about the technology and methodology of eye-tracking? Some students with a psychological interest in comics could then follow both.

The setup we use for recordings and student projects in our eye-tracking lab. Eye-movements are measured with the infrared sensor SMI RED. Image source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Fig1-Hardware-setup-with-binocular-eye-tracker-SMI-RED-250_fig3_264388921

This year, however, the COVID-19 virus and the recently imposed heavier restrictions on mobility at campuses in Finland have put an end to this brilliant idea.

As our course Eye-Tracking Methodology in Visual Studies, which should have started with lab exercise in our eye-tracking test room in the beginning of November (week 45) cannot be given online for obvious reasons, it has to be cancelled. The decision is not ours. An explicit decision about cancelling the course has been issued from the Faculty board, and it now seems that similar decisions have been made at our Finnish-speaking neighbor university, the University of Turku (which harbors one of the most advanced eye-tracking labs in northern Europe).

However, we have objected that the decision does not confirm to the current COVID-19 recommendations of Åbo Akademi University  (se recent updatses HERE), which state that ”Exceptions will be made for certain courses which require presence, such as courses with laboratory sessions or internships.”

With this blog entry and with separate messages, we today inform all those who have registered for the course Eye-Tracking Methodology in Visual Studies about this situation.

Scott McCloud showing his definition of ”comics” in his own comic ”Understanding Comics” (1993)

Our course Comics: Cultural and Interdisciplinary Perspectives is, however, still open for registration in the Åbo Akademi ”Peppi” system and will start in a week from now, on Monday 26 Oct0ber. It is possible to register until the course starts. Please see our course page for more information: Våra kurser/Our courses.

The course is thematically conceived with three parts, each with a separate teacher. The first part, which deals with the character of comics as a visual medium, will be given by Mikael Andersson, deputy university teacher in Visual studies. See earlier text related to this part: ”Some words on the ’simplicity’ of comics” (October 2013).

The second part, with an approach to comics from the perspecitive of sociology and comparative literature, is usually given by Ralf Kauranen who has specialised in Finnish comics and comics production in his research, and who now works at the department of Finnish literature at the University of Turku. Kauranen has recently been responsible for the research project Comics and Migration: Belonging, Narration, Activism, financed by the Kone foundation: Comics and Migration homepage.

The third part, which deals with the connections of comics to folkloristic traditions and notions, and the role of comics in contemporary Fandom culture, will be given by Jacob Löfgren. He received his PhD in Folkloristics at Åbo Akademi University and is now affiliated with the Popular Culture Studies research node at Lund University in Sweden: Popular Culture Studies Node.

Tomorrow there will be an update here about a new book and doctoral thesis about alternative comics in Sweden: Kristina Arnerud Mejhammar’s Självsyn och världsbild i tecknade serier. Kristina defended her thesis at Uppsala University in Sweden on Friday, 18 October.

Konsten den första ideologin för Emil Nolde?

Emil Nolde. Åbo konstmuseum / Turun Taidemuseo, 10 oktober 2019 – 5 januari 2020.
(Texten ingår i serien recensioner skrivna av deltagarna i kursen Kultur- och vetenskapsjournalistikens genrer).

Under hösten pågår vid Åbo Konstmuseum en utställning av den internationellt erkände expressionisten Emil Nolde (1867-1956). Utställningen finns för påseende i konstmuseets nedre våning fram till 5.1.2020 och är utspridd över åtta salar. Expositionen består av ungefär ett hundratal verk, där två tredjedelar utgörs av akvareller medan den resterande delen är oljemålningar. Samtliga verk ägs av Nolde Stiftung Seebüll. Senast Nolde visades i denna utsträckning i Finland var år 1958 och 1972.

Emil Nolde, målningen ”Upprörda människor” (Aufgeregte Menschen), ca 1910. Bildkälla Åbo Konstmuseum, http://www.turuntaidemuseo.fi/se/emil_nolde/


Varje rum i utställningen utgörs av ett eget tema, vilket tydligt knyter ihop verken samtidigt som man som betraktare lotsas genom Noldes livshistoria kronologiskt. Inledningsvis möts man av lättsmälta trädgårdsmotiv, i vilka den senare grova expressionistiska stilen inte ännu syns. De tidiga verken av den konstnärliga bondpojken har nyromantiska spår och inspirationen av Van Gogh är genomgående för hela utställningen. Vidare i utställningen får vi följa Noldes sökande efter erkännande som tog honom över Tyskland och övriga mellaneuropa. Likväl tycktes Nolde, och i förlängningen även hans verk, alltid ha en stark lokal identitet i det norra Tyskland som avgränsar till Danmark. Majoriteten av landskapsmålningarna föreställer det platta, rurala området där den färgstarka himlen mäktigt tornar fram mellan de grova penseldragen.

Likt många andra konstnärer vid det tidiga 1900-talet var Nolde intresserad av det exotiska och det ”primitiva”. I denna utställning ser vi fyra verk målade under en expedition till Tyska Nya Guinea vid första världskrigets början. Det är i Noldes reseavskildringar samt i hans religiösa motiv som den expressionistiska stilen syns tydligast: stiliserade masklikande ansikten i bjärta färger med lysande färgkraft och utmanande figurer, allt utfört i tjocka lager av olja.

Dock är det i hans mindre färgmättade akvareller Nolde verkligen briljerar. Men det är även i dessa som utställningen tar en tvär vändning och lämnar betraktaren ambivalent inför konstnären. I en hel sal mot utställningens slut nystas en legend Nolde själv skapat upp. I salen hänger små tekniskt förträffliga akvareller som Nolde kallade ”omålade bilder”. Dessa bilder har sedan krigets slut setts som Noldes sätt att göra motstånd mot makten i Tyskland, efter att 1000 av hans verk beslagtogs av nazisterna till den ökända utställningen Entartete Kunst som vandrade genom landet för att göra modernistiska konstnärer till åtlöje. Emellertid har det visat sig, sedan Nolde Stiftung Seebüll år 2013 öppnat sina arkiv för forskare, att Nolde själv var både nazist och antisemit och av en sorts självbevarelsedrift skapat myten. Noldes nazistiska hängivenhet sträckte sig så pass långt att han drömde om att bli partiets egen målare.

Utställningen lämnar en som betraktare med intressanta etiska frågeställningar. Kan man skilja på verk och konstnär? Detta är givetvis upp till var och en. Angela Merkel avlägsnade i våras två verk av Nolde från sitt kontor i samband med att konstnärens politiska hängivenhet uppdagades. Utställningens och stiftelsens transparens kring frågan är ett måste. Frågan om vem som har företräde – konstnären eller partimedlemmen – kanske skaver hos någon besökare, men faktum återstår att Emil Nolde är en av de största expressionisterna, och kanske framförallt akvarellmålarna genom tiderna. Just akvarellerna känns exceptionellt moderna och är de verk som verkligen stannar hos en. Som betraktare kan man ta med sig att Nolde trots sina tveksamma sympatier aldrig ändrade sitt konstnärliga uttryck för att tillfredsställa det parti han tillhörde. Kanske konsten ändå var den första ideologin för Nolde?

Emilia Augustsson

Nastja Säde Rönkkö, Årets unga konstnär 2019

For your charred bones and restless soul av Nastja Säde Rönkkö. Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, Åbo. Utställningen är slut. För aktuella utställningar på Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova, se https://www.aboavetusarsnova.fi/sv/utstallningar.

(Texten ingår i serien recensioner skrivna av deltagarna i kursen Kultur- och vetenskapsjournalistikens genrer).

Konstutställningen som jag har besökt är detta års Årets unga konstnärs Nastja Säde Rönkkös utställning ”for your charred bones and restless soul” på museet Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova i Åbo. Denna utställning innehöll mestadels videoverk som utgjorde delar av olika installationer.

Ur Nastja Säde Rönkkös installation ”How to skin a polar bear” i utställningen på Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova. Fotograf: Jari Nieminen, copyright 2019. Bildkälla: Aboa Vetus & Nova, https://www.aboavetusarsnova.fi/fi/nayttelyt/vuoden-nuori-taiteilija-2019-nastja-sade-ronkko-for-your-charred-bones-and-restless-soul


Bland installationerna fanns teckningar och annat material som relaterade till videoverken. Ett viktigt element i dessa videoverk är rösten som talar. För det mesta är det Säde Rönkkö själv som är berättaren i dessa verk. Det som sägs i dessa videos är diktliknande texter som läses upp medan man samtidigt bevittnar till exempel hisnande vyer från Islands glaciärer. Dessa vyer och texter samt musiken och den allmänna ljudmiljön i dessa olika videoverk skapar en stämningsfull och stark atmosfär som är viktig för helheten, och för att åskådaren skall uppleva hela verket och konsten.

Konstnären, Nastja Säde Rönkkö (f. 1985), är även ofta själv porträtterad i dessa verk, vilket skapar en personlig stämning och en känsla av att åskådaren kommer in i hennes värld och förstår hennes känslor och rädslor. Detta var likaså ett viktigt tema i utställningen, men med en tanke om en gemensam rädsla och känslor av oro samt till exempel empati. De teman som är av största vikt i hennes konst är personliga band mellan människor samt hotfulla scenarion om miljökatastrofer och en slags apokalyptisk stämning, vilket skapar denna gemensamma känsla av oro hos människor. Dessa känslor är råa och ärliga och något mycket relaterbart för åskådaren.

Denna råhet är speciellt närvarande till exempel i verket ”How to skin a polar bear” (2019), där konstnären själv porträtteras i dessa vackra vyer bland till exempel glaciärerna på Island. Samtidigt som man beundrar skönheten hör man i hörlurarna konstnären berätta väldigt detaljrikt och även vulgärt hur man skall gå till väga för att flå en isbjörn för att kunna äta dess kött och använda alla dess delar. Isbjörnen har blivit en slags symbol för de smältande glaciärerna samt klimatkatastrofen och är en viktig del av denna utställning, då det första man ser då man gick in i utställningen är ett stort isbjörnsskelett i pappersmassa som är framlagt och byggt ihop av alla de små och stora benen i realistisk storlek och form.

Det kan sägas att denna utställning följde ett väldigt enhetligt tema. Nästan alla videoverk såg liknande ut, tack vare liknande vyer av naturen, himlens olika färger och vattnets centrala roll. Det blev en vackert fungerande helhet som definitivt kunde vara ångestframkallande, dock fylldes man även med en känsla av värme av det nostalgiska och ett slags hopp om att världen ändå klarar sig, vilket symboliseras under verket ”ICELAND”s (2019) sista sekunder av en på morgonen alltid stigande sol och en ny dag.

Kajsa Lindholm

JERUSALEM, en installation på Ålands konstmuseum

Jerusalem av Ann Edholm and Tom Sandqvist. Ålands konstmuseum i Mariehamn, 10 november 2019 – 6 januari 2020. (Texten ingår i serien recensioner skrivna av deltagarna i kursen Kultur- och vetenskapsjournalistikens genrer).

Den 9 november är det datum då man brukar uppmärksamma minnet av novemberpogromen 1938 i det nazistiska Tyskland, de händelser som också kallas Kristallnatten. I år inföll det på en lördag så det blev ett väl valt tillfälle när Ålands konstmuseum höll vernissage för installationen Jerusalem, skapad av konstnären Ann Edholm och konstvetaren Tom Sandqvist.

Bildkälla: Ålands konstmuseum. Den finlandssvenske konsthistorikern Tom Sandqvist har skrivit boken Jerusalem som en del av installationen. Det går inte att köpa den från någon bokhandel, utan endast där installationen ställs ut. Boken kostar 10€ i Ålands museums butik.

Redan utanför lägger jag märke till en reciterande röst som berättar om ”sammansvetsande tidsfördriv” och räknar upp beställningslistor över olika varor. Fastän det inte sägs ut associerar jag ganska snart till de kollektiv som utgjordes av vaktstyrkorna vid olika fång- och förintelseläger under kriget, och vid en närmare titt på det utställda materialet visar det sig handla om just det.

En person sitter lyssnande med slutna ögon på den enda stolen i utställningsrummet Qben (kuben), jag blir lite rädd att störa med mitt stilla prasslande. Insidans väggar visar fyra stycken stora abstrakta målningar med snarlika grafitgrå motiv. En femte, lite mindre målning i rött och svart hänger också där. Motivet är flera långa och vassa spetsar, som likt lansar eller spjut pekar snett mot varandra. Efter en stunds betraktande av alla målningar på samma gång framträder ett sorts mönster, som har med tudelning och vassa spetsar att göra.

Diagonalt mot lyssnarstolen hänger också en liten bild, den är Tom Sandqvists montage i blandteknik som visar en grupp uniformerade människor av båda könen stående på en bro. En av dem håller ett dragspel, alla ser glada och uppsluppna ut. Tvärs över bilden går en grov, lodrät svart balk.

Det blir en egendomlig effekt av att höra rösten på bandet samtidigt som man tittar på bildens människor, vilka uppenbarligen hörde till personalstyrkan som verkställde tredje rikets ”instrumentellt teknologiska utrotning” enligt utställningskatalogen. Intill lyssnarstolen finns också en liten monitor där en skakig handvideo visar en gudstjänst i Jerusalems Gravkyrka, och ett blädderexemplar av Tom Sandqvists bok ”Jerusalem”. Av den finns bara hundra exemplar, enkom tillverkade för installationen. Texten består av olika reflektioner kring staden Jerusalem och vad den symboliserar.

Den kopplingen, ”drömmen om det himmelska Jerusalem, som gick upp i rök”, synes för mig personligen inte tillföra så väldigt mycket. Jag tänker först att det säkert har med min, och många andras, rätt problematiska förhållande till den israeliska statsmakten med dess militärteknokratiska slagsida. Och sedan att konstnärerna möjligtvis har räknat med just den associationsgången också…

Under lördagens följande programpunkt, som består av däckbytarbestyr med familjen, vandrar tankarna ofta tillbaka till det som fanns i Qben på Ålands konstmuseum. Det kan nog ses som ett betyg på att man blivit berörd av installationen.

Jonna Kevin

Vågar provocera – 95 år och vitalare än någonsin

Åbo Konstnärsgilles 95e årsutställning (Turun Taiteilijaseuran 95. vuosinäyttely). Åbo Konsthall/Turun taidehalli, 1 november-8 december. (Texten ingår i serien recensioner skrivna av deltagarna i kursen Kultur- och vetenskapsjournalistikens genrer).

Konstnärsgillet i Åbo fyller 95 år och firar med en utställning som skapar skavsår lika mycket som den vill skildra dem.

Ur Milja-Liina Moilainens video ”Eat dirt! / Saa puskea!”, bildkälla https://www.uniarts.fi/blogit/kuvan-kev%C3%A4t-2019/saa-puskea

Redan det första konstverket i Åbo konsthall innehåller en rejäl portion samhällskritik. Konstnären bakom videoinstallationen ”Eat dirt”, Milja-Liina Moilanen, kastar kängor på såväl djurhållning som kapitalism och kroppshets – inga lättsamma ämnen direkt. Med svart humor diskuterar hon sådant som skaver i samhället i dag och synliggör allt sådant som är absurt i vår närhet, allt sådant som just nu diskuteras på dagspressens insändarsidor och i kommentarsfälten till nyhetsbyråers Facebookinlägg.

Moilanens videoinstallation efterföljs av andra konstnärer som med hjälp av olika tekniker försöker komma åt skavsåren i det inre själslandskapet såväl som i människans relation till miljön. Med så pass delikata budskap är det ingen utställning som man hastar sig igenom och som smälter lika lätt som såpoperan på kanal 3. Konstverken kräver tid att upplevas – ”Eat dirt” gör anspråk på hela 08,26 minuter för att vara exakt.

I Konstnärsgillet i Åbos utställning deltar 24 konstnärer med vad som på ytan skulle kunna ses som en brokig skara konstverk. De använder konsthallens utrymmen på många olika sätt –nästan så att brokigheten i sig skaver lika mycket som de samhällsproblem som de försöker skildra. Missförstå mig rätt: skavsåren jag får av utställningen är någonting bra. De gör att utställningen riktigt kryper under huden och etsar sig fast med sin obekvämhet.

Bland de 23 verken finns video- och ljudinstallationer, traditionella oljemålningar, landskap gjorda av hår, tänder och tuggummin, vissnade gravbuketter, massakrerade skyltdockor och tejpremsor. Fastän det är intressant att stå med ett förstoringsglas och betrakta håliga tänder och använda tuggummin är det ändå i det enkla som utställningens ömtålighet blir som mest påtaglig. Jag tror att det är en vacker sandstrand med lyckliga resenärer som Jaana Valtari låter mig betrakta när det plötsligt framträder en gummibåt bland vågorna och idyllen rivs sönder av tanken på flyktingkriser och döda barn. Jag tror att jag med barnslig förtjusning kan pyssla med oskyldiga dockor i hörnet där Mari Metsämäki uppmanar till lek när jag plötsligt inser att någon före mig lagt dockhuvudet på könets plats och således skapat en helt annan tolkningsdiskurs för vad jag trott var barndomens trygga vrå.

Inte ens på toaletten får jag vara ifred. Där påminner Maria Wests ljudinstallation om vad det är som vi med teknikens hjälp bygger vår existens på och det är omöjligt att värja sig från orden som strömmar fram i det trånga utrymmet. 95 år är ingen ålder som rymmer tillbakablickar och nostalgi – tvärtom. Konstnärsgillet gör snarare allt för att provocera och vitalisera, bevisa att man inte är gammal, dammig och grå bara för att man fyller många år. Det får mig att undra vad gillet kan göra som 100-åring. Att kliva ut genom fönstret och försvinna är knappast ett alternativ.

Miranda Eklund