no 12, Dec 1977 (120 p.)
Ture Sjolander "an agitator in Swedish photography"
Collection of quotations, with comments by Rune Jonsson.
The headlines on this spread give a limited picture of Ture Sjolander's activities in the area of visual arts. The number of pages of Aktuell Fotografi would not suffice to render all the newspaper clippings in which he has featured!
In 1961, Ture Sjolander made his debut as a visual artist with a visual exhibition in his native town Sundsvall. He called the exhibition at Sundsvalls Museum 'photoGRAPHICS'. The late artist Öyvind Fahlström wrote the text for the catalogue of the exhibition. We quote: "one single photographer's resources are not enough for the experiments to be conducted widely and in depth. Sweden has recently inaugurated its first studio for electronic music. When will photographers and painters be given the opportunity to explore this no-man's-land between their time honoured frontlines?"
The photographic light paintings of the exhibition were approximately a couple of square meters, black and white graphic prints, produced with the help of light and various chemicals. Some of the images were in colour, made by oxidising the silver of the photo paper with the help of a burning hot flat-iron.
Kurt Bergengren reviewed the exhibition in the afternoon paper Aftonbladet. He wrote: "He does not call himself a photographer, but a photo-graphic artist, and what is new about his pictures is first and foremost the technique he uses. Sjolander indicates many new paths - by bringing back the art of photography to its earliest photochemical experiments."
In the magazine Konstrevy, no 1 1963, Ture Sjolander's experiments are presented in depth, and in connection with this, he exhibited his graphic art at the Gallerie Observatorium in Stockholm, along with artists Lars Hillersberg and Ulf Rahmberg.
Åke Daun wrote in Folket, on the 29th of March, 1963: "He calls himself a photo-graphic artist, a union of photographer and graphic artist. He has successfully managed - it sounds like a dream - to combine photographic methods with free artistic creativity. From this technological platform, Sjolander takes us along on trips to reality, but along other roads than the ones we have tread before."
Ludvig Rasmusson wrote in the student paper Gaudeamus: "By varying his formal ways of expressing himself from one painting to the next, he does not show a lack of personality. He simply does not trust that form of personality in art, which consists in making one painting look like the next one, and he wishes to force the viewer to look beyond form, towards content."
In 1964, Sjolander had experienced the power of the word in the art world, and he had reflected upon the nostalgic power of the so-called realistic photography over people reading papers and watching TV. Inspired by the photo booth in which he had pictures of himself taken, he made a series of portraits taken with a wide angle, of himself making faces. This was exhibited at the Galleri Karlsson in Stockholm. The exhibition was a protest against the "word and the false so-called photographic reality", according to the preface (written by himself) of the catalogue. The exhibition was controversial and much was written about it.
Alf Nordström of the morning paper Dagens Nyheter wrote: "All those who like pretty and well-behaved photo-art are seriously warned against having a closer look at this exhibition. It offers howls and grimaces, cross-eyed faces and horror studies of the female flesh. But all those who are interested in seeing a photographer entering the current cultural debate, should not neglect seeing 'You have been photographed.' The exhibition has a very liberating feel to it. Its nihilism leaves a burning imprint on your retina and the conventional images are burned away. Your eyes begin to see anew."
The Adolf Fredrik police precinct in Stockholm was swamped with phone calls from upset visitors. The sergeant came to visit, but he could not find anything immoral about the photographs.
In the news program Aktuellt, Ulf Thoren showed parts of the exhibition, and Sjolander coined the expression "We want to exhibit, not to inhibit." During the two weeks that the exhibition was shown, some 10,000 people came to see it, many of them attracted by the TV presentation.
This made Sjolander think about new forms of distribution for visual exhibitions. With the help of television and outdoor exhibitions, one should be able to attract more visitors. In the meantime, the debate was kept alive in the papers.
In the afternoon paper Expressen, Katja Walden wrote: " … the artist has reached his goal, already when we react, when something happens between us and the photograph. After Ulf Linde, in the year of pop art and a couple of months after the New York-nights, everything is still possible. Ture Sjolander has made something happen in the area of photography."
The publishing firm Nordisk Rotogravyr published a so-called expo-book, with pictures from the exhibition.
Erland Törngren wrote in the paper Arbetaren; "His images make most of what we saw the other year, at the ambitious exhibition 'Swedish people as seen by 11 photographers,' look medieval. 'You have been photographed' is one the bravest attempts of a coup, one of the boldest opening moves, that has ever hit Swedish photography."
Multi-art, censorship and government policies of opinion.
In April of 1965, Sjolander had produced the first model of a multi-art exhibition. The exhibition was held at the Lunds Konsthall and the Gävle Museum. Ten outdoor poster billboards in Stockholm were also part of the exhibition, as well as a newly produced TV-program. A first attempt to produce TV-art directly for this medium was tried out together with the producer Kristian Romare of the Swedish Radio and Broadcasting Corporation, and with the film photographer Lars Svanberg. The TV-program was based on the grimacing faces of the photographs that had already been shown on television and in the papers, and it was called 'Have you thought about the role of photography…?'
The exhibition worked well, but was nevertheless completely censored by the management of the Broadcasting Corporation. A lively debate ensued, discussing the issues of self-appointed authoritarians, morals and censorship.
On April 24, 1965, in the paper Kvällsposten, Sjolander asked: "Why do pictures have to be translated into words?"
On July 6, 1965, Bengt Olvång wrote in the paper Stockholms Tidningen: "Ture Sjolander's television appearance is characterised by a warm humaneness and a bizarre, uproarious sense of humour. One of its most 'shocking' features is composed of a grand piece of Vivaldi music, illustrated by a little boy who is picking his nose. However, what is really most shocking, is the way in which the Broadcasting Corporation is acting. Heads of department become self-appointed censors, and in the name of 'The Swedish People', they erase program features, such as Sjolander's TV film. The thought of letting opinions and values develop freely is totally foreign to them. The broadcasting monopoly watches over people's opinions and hinders all attempts at moving in any radical direction."
Jonas Sima wrote in Stockholms Tidningen, on October 23, 1965: "Sjolander also has opinions and a social temperament. He has produced the kind of film I want to watch - and produce."
On October 28, 1965, Mauritz Edström wrote in Dagens Nyheter: "He is simply testing our attitudes in relation to the photography, by placing it in unexpected contexts. When he places his enlargements on billboards and then films them, the result is really challenging: what resources of expression can't we find lying idle under the old cobweb of conventional views on pictures!"
Numbered and signed.
The executives at the Broadcasting Corporation could not give any public motivation for its censorship. In spite of numerous attempts to broadcast at least part of the program, the then head of the corporation let his secretary announce (in a letter) to Sjolander, that he did not wish to have a telephone conversation on the matter. However, Sjolander was to be allowed to produce a new film.
This is an illustrative example of how far one could stretch the limits of the 'morale' in the Swedish society of 1965. To exhibit - in the real meaning of the word - and thereby use the resources of television as a medium, was inconceivable. Especially if one had (like Sjolander) photographed nude models of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and additionally taken pictures of wildly grimacing faces.
At the Galleri Karlsson, Sjolander opened a new exhibition where he had transformed his photographic collection with a new technique. With the help of silk-screen technique, he had represented photos on canvas and paper. This was a traditional and socially acceptable way of presenting his photographic material - a material that would have been "inappropriate" in another context. The pictures were made in silver and white, which is an excellent way of describing an illusion. A way to describe your own attitude towards reality and illusion.
The paintings and the prints were numbered and signed, exactly like the societal conventions ask for.
The new material - canvas and graphic art paper - lured out the critics this time.
In the Dagens Nyheter's art column, Olle Granath wrote on the 22nd of January, 1966: "The technique has the impersonality of the American pop-artists, but in the motif, there is so much more interest in the contents of the picture. The exciting pictures of this exhibition are those where you see these gigantic photographs posted on some empty outdoor wall-space above people's heads - people who are rushing past on the street like anonymous shadows, without reacting to the new and provoking elements of their town. Being in such a hurry, they may not have seen the provocation, but only the resemblance. There is something eerily suggestive about these pictures, which remind you of the documentary movie 'The Eye' that was shown on movie theatres some years ago."
A hint of dada.
In 1968, when Annagreta Dyring of the magazine Populär Fotografi, resumed what had happened in Swedish photography, she wrote this among other things: "Ture Sjolander was the instigator of a recent event that caused great resonance in the world of Swedish photography. It was at the time of poked tongues. The grimace in the picture became the expression of a provocatively defensive attitude towards a perhaps too expectant world around us. It meant to build a bridge between the picture and the bloated spectator, even if it were to be built out of ridicule. It gave another angle to the democracy of the photograph. The traditional silence and the worn-out ways of presenting things had gotten alternatives worthy of discussion. In other words, it was a bridge. It did not matter (at least it does not matter looking at it in hindsight) if the bridge was built out of deep respect, it was accepted even if it consisted of disgust or horror. It was somewhat surrealistic, with a hint of dada. The main thing was to give the viewers something to sink their teeth into. Sjolander's cheeky revolt against standardised thinking and photographic conformism preceded - in its pronounced form - other attempts at doing the same thing in this country. It disturbed obsolete ways of thinking in the field of traditional visual art."
Mostly multi in multi-art.
The head of the Swedish television, Nils Erik Baerendtz, called Sjolander to his office and a new deal was made for a television production.
Sjolander invited his 'best friend and enemy', the artist Bror Wikström to work with him on the new production. This production resulted in something that Sjolander had already broached in his previous film, that is, a dissolution - a distortion - of the image. It was something of a protest against the image itself. This new piece of electronic work was called 'TIME'.
The journalistic viewpoint, which characterises television now and then, defined the work of art as "film." However, Sjolander's images have rarely been easily headlined. His entire agenda consists in the transgression of the conventional notions of the picture, and the exploration of the innate resources of each picture by means of different techniques.
At Multiart I, arranged by the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and Konstfrämjandet in 1967, static images from 'TIME' were presented in silk-screen on canvas. They were signed and numbered by the artists. Those works of art were presented in a series of TV-programs from the hundreds of different galleries that simultaneously exhibited works of art across the country.
However, Sjolander's and Wikström's original piece, 'TIME,' was broadcast six months before Multiart I was opened in 1967.
'TIME,' as well as 'Have you thought about the role of photography…?' , were produced for television, which its technology and basic functions in mind. Similar electronic works of art have since rapidly been produced in different places of the world. Video art is now an established notion. An American video artist, Nam June Paik (born in Korea), has applied the same methods when producing his works, after having Sjolander- Wikström show him 'TIME', both in person and broadcast on Swedish television. Pontus Hultén, the former director of the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, recommended that Sjolander should apply for a government artist grant of SEK 6,000, in 1966. Hultén wrote: "In recent years, Sjolander has, showing great skills of inventiveness, worked on projects that bring together several different, but costly proceedings of work. Since his ideas are among the most interesting ones that have appeared in recent years, I would highly recommend you to consider him for this grant." And Sjolander got the grant.
In December of 1966, Sjolander went to London, Paris and Hamburg, and got an invitation to produce a new piece of work from the French television (ORTF). Along with the foreign correspondent of the leading morning paper Dagens Nyheter, Lars Weck (who was studying at the Sorbonne University in Paris at the time), he outlined a new "program" called 'MONUMENT'. This collaboration marked the beginning of a large-scale media art-project with an audience of approximately 150 million people. Weck wrote in Dagens Nyheter on the 4th of February, 1967 (before the beginning of their co-operation): "Ture Sjolander has not used his first long sejour abroad to go on pilgrimages to widely known monuments, unless you consider television one. He finds it interesting to work directly for television, both because it makes every person's home a gallery, and because it gives the artist so many technical possibilities."
The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation did not show any interest until both the French and the German television companies had invited him to work with them. The Swedish TV-production was brought about by Kristian Romare. Several European countries broadcasted the completed production, which was also transformed into different graphic productions on a large scale, there was the LP-record 'Monument' with Hansson/Karlsson, the book 'Monument' with a preface written by Bengt Feldreich and TV technicians (among others), there were outdoor- and gallery exhibitions. Others artists were inspired by the visual material and coloured images from 'Monument' in oil-colour and in various textile fabrics. Images from 'Monument' were shown at the 5th Biennale in Paris, in the fall of 1967. Pierre Restany - one of Europe's most respected art critics - wrote that unfortunately he was unable to attend the whole event because of a journey to South America, but had to settle for the last few days: "But better late then never. Sjolander's works struck me with their absolute modernism. I was also struck by his acute instincts, his poetic use of the technology of the mass-medium - an iconographic liberation on the level of information technology - all in the language of the masses. Sjolander's works of art, which combine art and technology, become an attempt to preserve our poetic survival. It is a truly humane, or rather humanistic achievement, in the modern sense of the word."
In March, 1967, Sjolander-Weck formulated a kind of manifesto in the magazine Bazaar (no.1, published by the Galleri Karlsson in Stockholm): "The art gallery has to come to the people, obviously it is not working the other way round. At least not if you are asking for art to be meaningful to more than a handful of people. Without failing or most popular galleries, or the admirable role of the Modern Museum of Art, one has to acknowledge that they in no way can compete with a medium such as television for range - it is our so far most effective means of distributing images. Most people will agree that television is extremely effective, but in art circles television is seen as nothing more than a publicity-machine. Television can produce programs on an exhibition, explaining and attracting visitors to the source itself, which consists of the de facto exhibited objects. Few people are ready to agree that television itself is a medium and a gallery for the visual artist. They are again haunted by the myth of the original, the "thing" which is "art itself." It is a concession to this same myth, when the artists of Multiart are asked to sign an edition of 1/300 copies. It would have been more logical to print, that is, machine sign a mass-produced piece of art. If you work directly for the TV screen, with electronics as your brush, no one would probably think of having artists travelling around, signing all the millions of television monitors."
In 1968, Ture Sjolander, along with 600 million other viewers, studied the satellite transmissions from NASA's spaceflights around the moon. This study resulted in a new production for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, called 'Space in the Brain.' People now had colour TV, and it seemed natural for an artist to comment on those historic events with a new piece of work.
A new agreement was made with the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, this time with Sjolander, Bror Wikström, Lars Svanberg and Sven Höglund. The photographer Lennart Nilsson delivered a recently taken picture of the human eye as seen from the inside, and NASA's photo department contributed with the best film footage from all their previous spaceflights. The final commentary of their "space-opera" was an electronic explosion of colour. The theme of the production was two poles: one, which we call space (and that we do not know so much about yet), and the other, that which a person registers through the eye (and which we do not know too much about either). This, and man's vanity, was that 'space' which the artists referred to. Tapestries for interior design and world-wide best-selling posters were produced out of this static visual material. Hansson/Karlsson made the music for the TV-"program." An LP-record was also released.
Garbo - Chaplin.
In 1970, Sjolander's next project was a analytical photo-essay, a book on the mysterious Greta Garbo (published by Harper&Collins, New York 1971). This time he was working with ordinary documentary pictures, nothing was electronically manipulated. The book was a success, both commercially and as a documentary.
The Garbo biography was published in several countries, such as the United States, Canada, the UK, Sweden and Germany.
Chaplin's "My life in pictures," was Ture Sjolander's idea, and as a compensation for him letting them take over the book project and the dummy of the book, Chaplin's family ordered an edition of a graphic art portfolio containing 30 different screen-prints, 60 x 60 cm. The portfolios were signed were signed and numbered by Sjolander and autographed by Charlie Chaplin. Sjolander has interviewed both Chaplin and Garbo and he calls those two great contemporary stars "images." It is as such, that they have been met by their audience of millions of people.
360 degrees electronic sculptures.
Next in line for Sjolander was an experiment of a more unusual kind. The three dimensional photo technology has only been used for reproductions until now. By an electronic adaptation of the film strip, according to principles similar to those that he had previously used, it is now possible to create three dimensional sculptures with hologram technology, in a free and artistic way. This new way of creating visual arts is very expensive, and therefore "one single photographer's resources are not enough for the experiments to be conducted widely and in depth." Sweden has recently inaugurated its first studio for electronic music. When will photographers and painters be given the opportunity to explore this no-man's-land between their time-honoured frontlines?" In this way, I end with the quote that opened this collection of quotes, i e what Öywind Fahlström wrote about Ture Sjolander in 1961.
Translated from Swedish by Linda Henriksson.
From the Swedish Culture Magazine
by Christian Wigardt / Erik Ohlsson
The man who upset Swedish Television.
"In 1961, Swedish television only broadcasted on one channel, in black and white of course. The most upsetting thing that had been shown so far, was Per Oscarsson taking off his longjohns in the family entertainment program Hylands Hörna, and this caused a public outcry. It was in those quiet backwaters, at a time when Jan Myrdal had not yet been hit on the head with the Vietnam billy stick, that the artists Ture Sjolander and Bror Wikström started experimenting with the TV medium as an art-form. Why produce 100 litographies, when you can distribute your work of art to 8, 50, 100 people via television and satellites?, they wondered. But most important was the protest against the traditional use of the television technology itself, and turning a media-development into a free and artistic intervention became necessary.
However, it was difficult to find the necessary support to realise their ideas. The framework was very narrow, but Ture Sjolander already knew this. The year before, in 1965, he had made a first attempt to produce television art, directly for the medium, and he was stopped. The program, "Have you thought about the role of photography…?", was already in the TV-guides, but it was completely censored by the direction of the Broadcasting Corporation. "They have never given me any valid justification for their censorship," Ture Sjolander says today.
Perhaps it was censored because he had photographed nude models from grotesque angles and wildly grimacing people? Along with Oscarsson's longjohns, this provides us with a clear image of how far you could go in the Swedish society of 1968.
"Ture lives in a pink wooden house on Gärdet in Stockholm. It is surrounded by fences, mysterious sculptures and menacing beware-of-the-dog signs. Is he a bitter recluse, who is hiding away in his nest, while dreaming about the happy '60s? Not at all. Ture looks fresh and wears well-ironed clothes, looking a lot younger than 47.
First, some personal details:
Recipient of a Royal Artist Grant. He is not listed in the telephone directory, and it is extremely difficult to get through to his answering machine. He was the first person in Sweden, and probably internationally, who realised the possibilities of video and television for art, culture and advanced communication. As early as 1966, he wanted to distribute his "video art" (even though the word was not yet invented) via satellite.
He is a multi-media artist who has collaborated with, among others, the rock band Hansson&Karlsson. Hologram expert. Author on books about Greta Garbo and Charles Chaplin. Founder of the association Video-NU-Videocentrum (with 150 members and fifteen corporate members).
Except for being a visionary, Sjolander has a bunch of other projects coming up. He is trying to get government funding so he can document the public art in Sweden (or will McDonald's be the sponsor?). He wants to make a movie out of Erik Lundqvist's book "No tobacco, no Hallelujah" (he has already bought the film rights from the author, and a contract has been signed with the production company Måsen and the author). He is planning a trip to Papua New Guinea.
"Wanted to punch pop-art in the face."
Sjolander started thinking about the possibilities of the TV medium and its power to connect with its audience. He found a partner in Bror Wikström, who was a major talent at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. However, he had turned his back on those very people calling him a talent. Sjolander and Wikström became inseparable and they followed in no one's footsteps, they went beyond pop art, which was the most extreme art form at the time.
We wanted to punch pop art in the face, meaning that we wanted to use those big outdoor billboards and wall spaces in subway stations for example, that inspired the pop artists, and we were inspired to use this space as an art space, not for commercial purposes.
Bror and I were best friends and enemies at the same time, we were working on a completely unexplored theme, we worked day and night for one and a half years with a new manifest, on television, on photo exhibitions and galleries. I remember Bror advertising among the ads for galleries in Dagens Nyheter: "Gallery of Thought - outdoor exhibition" in Kungsträdgården (the King's Gardens) in Stockholm city. But it was not a "gallery" as such. Kungsträdgården is always a gallery of thought, the image that remains on your retina. Bror has left the art world now, he cannot go back to painting, he cannot turn back the time. The "bijouterie-painters" hated him because he was so far ahead of them, both artistically and academically. My activities in those years were a protest against the word. The art critics were writing away, expressing guesses and opinions. "You go ahead and write," I thought. "Ten years ago I presented a complete presentation about a video studio for research, education and production (it has been postponed for years by the Art Council of Sweden, that is complaining about how badly prepared we are for satellite programs today!).
"I called on all the political parties in 1974 together with Bror Wikström. Demand: increase in the budget of the Government Art Council for Public Art, for the purpose of artistically humanising public places. At the communist party leader's, the clothing was a working class jacket, at the right wing party leader Boman's, the clothing was Sunday-best shirt and a grey suit. Result: the budget increased from SEK 3,7 million to 11 million! (Ture does not mind the epithet Cameleon Master). "I know what is normal and acceptable in society, and at the same time I am bored with it. Sometimes I psyche myself up by behaving recklessly … to feel free." There you go. To the above catalogue, we may add that Ture Sjolander, if anyone, can be named the father of Swedish video art. The curators of the International Video Festival in Stockholm, held from February through March, managed to convince Sjolander to come there and talk about how it all began in Sweden. Ture showed up, immaculately dressed in a white suit and pink tie. Ture began by saying: "We wanted the artist to really exhibit, not to inhibit at museums and galleries." On the last night of the festival, Ture Sjolander showed the TV program that had been stopped in 1965, on a 6x7 m big screen, just after the show about American punk and underground videos. "- Visual art of today is at the same stage that literature was before Gutenberg's invention of the printing press." This is a typical quote from Sjolander in 1963. He explains: "Let's take an artist such as Ulf Rahmberg, who paints symbolic paintings with a very political content. He works six months on a painting, using the most expensive canvas and oil paint. Then he sells it to some damn wealthy dentist who shuts it up in his private living room. When he has such an important symbolic message, he should paint on toilet paper with poster paint and distribute it on postcards, posters, video and television! Preferably via satellite!
The distribution is just as important as art itself: to communicate about communication is just as important as the mode of communication. The Mona Lisa-painting is not interesting per se, it is the interplay between the people looking at the painting that has become interesting. Because almost no one is interested in the painting, its power of attraction is over after three minutes."
Öyvind Fahlström once put it this way: "Hang up a Rembrandt on your wall, it will blend in with the pattern of the linoleum within a weeks time. It is just a myth, an illusion, that it its value is alive and continuous and that you can look at it anew one day after the next … People who can experience that must be completely crazy."
Öyvind Fahlström died in 1976 and when we meet Sjolander, parts of Fahlström's production is hanging on the walls of one of Stockholm's more pretentious galleries. We looked at the exhibition and felt slightly vertiginous, or perhaps nauseous? Fahlström's protests against the US warfare in Vietnam were sold for approximately SEK 500,000 a piece, and then we are talking about graphic prints. "It is interesting, but really not that strange," Ture says. "First of all: I do not believe that Fahlström tried to express a protest, he connected a modern series of events… "(the magazine is ruined and the text illegible).
"Power and anger."
"Sjolander speaks fast, is well articulated and convincing. He runs around in his house, finding newspaper clippings with quotes to support his ideas. I am sure he can be a difficult bastard.
- Once I was invited to talk about public art with some old local government councillors. I suggested that I'd make something with big fingerprints in concrete, where the grooves of the fingerprint would be about 1/2 metre tall. 'Well, isn't that a funny idea,' said one of the old councillors, 'one would have to hope that it were to be the city mayor's fingerprints then.' I felt completely fed up and paralysed by the whole thing, by the disrespect of an original idea. I couldn't see any development. I couldn't do what Michelangelo did, which was shoving the axe into the ground in front of the councillor and say: 'It was my concept, therefore it will be my fingerprints.'
In the socialistic countries, art is also governed by the politicians' wishes. There is a pressure from above: 'You bloody artist, we want you to paint a worker who is using a sledge hammer.' So the artists adapt, and become clever "photographic" painters. 'Just look at the art clubs in Sweden. They have tremendous power. There are 400 clubs, and it is said that they have about 400,000 members altogether, at Atlas Copco, ICA, Honeywell Bull, whatever. It's a fun thing for those who sit in front of their computer screens all day long, they get a bit of status if they can do some art-thing in their spare time. For them to buy something for their art raffles, it had better be something ingratiating. Artists are aware of this now, so they paint something that will please the majority - instead of going broke.
Christian Wigardt / Erik Ohlsson 1985
Translated from Swedish by Linda Henriksson.