A Discussion between Niklas Östlind and Magnus Bärtås

Originally published in Magnus Bärtås, works –2000, Gävle Konstcentrum 2000

If one looks at your art from the beginning of the nineties, a theme is evident or, rather, a world to which it refers and to which it gives expression in various ways.One might describe it as commonplace, popular and, in a sense, deeply personal. How do your projects - some of them stretching over long periods of time – arise and how do they relate to your own situation in life? I should also like to know what it was that made you choose to be an artist

I had a strong realization that I was going to be an artist as early as the age of seven or eight. This was probably because I could draw realistically from an early age. I grew up in the province of Småland. We lived in a couple of places, longest in the town of Ljungby. I had a very high opinion of myself. I clearly remember how, at the age of nine, I was struck by the thought that "I am best at drawing for my age in the whole of Sweden". But it took quite a long time before I became an artist. I started illustrating textbooks in biology before I had finished high school. I continued to support myself by drawing but also as a graphic designer, writer and, for a period, by writing questions for quiz shows. I only applied to one art school on one single occasion – to Konstfack in Stockholm. I was eighteen and I did not get in. I decided never to try again.
As regards the theme you mentioned, I have never used the term "popular" myself. But I am interested in the relationship between the general and the specific. I see them as two movements: how something specific or peripheral can be transformed into something general or central and the other way round: how something general, or a mainstream phenomenon, can move out to the margin. I am also interested in the fact that Stockholm is like an island in a sea of "countryside" in which other norms and aesthetic ideals are stronger.
I made a film to be shown with the advertisements in the cinema in 1998 under the auspices of the project "Art in the cinema". The film portrayed a scene from the nursery school that my son was attending. Every morning the children gathered round a basket and, at the teacher's behest, they marked that they were present by taking out their dolls which were based on Waldorf models. In my film the children were replaced by adults who were somewhat ambiguously adult. The dolls in my version were also based on the Waldorf model but they had specific characteristics so that they genuinely portrayed the person they belonged to. The man with the pony-tale, for example, had a doll with a pony-tale and even the clothes were copied in detail from the person. Such a portrayal broke with Waldorf principles regarding generality - that the dolls should be generalized without particular facial characteristics so that the child is able to project his or her fantasies on the "empty" face in which only the mouth and eyes are sketched in. The fact that Rudolf Steiner's esoteric doctrine has been watered down and is now to be found in all sorts of common nursery schools, in the form of these dolls for example, is to me a movement from the periphery into the mainstream. At the same time my film referred to the "kick-off" courses that have become increasingly common in recent times - in which companies visit Stockholm's archipelago and the staff take part in various sorts of physical and mental experiments to "weld the group together". Some of these kick-off experiments have an almost sect-like tension. I have heard stories of how some staff break down during the exercises either through pressure or from the liberating energy. In my eyes this is a movement in the opposite direction: from mainstream to the esoteric.
In general I believe that one does art because one is upset about something. One can get in a state about beauty or idiocy, cruelty or the mechanisms of forgetfulness or that one's view of the world collides with that of people around one. One can also get upset about details that, for some strange reason, one experiences as enormously important.
When I was preparing for the exhibition "Rum Mellan Rum" (Space between rooms) at Moderna Museet in 1992 I started thinking about what the houses looked like in the small town where I grew up. While I was actually growing up I had never thought about them. But after travelling round Småland and Skåne and devoting myself to taking photographs of houses in the little towns I felt as though I had discovered a new world, in spite of the fact that this was the world of my childhood. When I moved to Stockholm at the beginning of the eighties I was just as struck by the architecture of the mass-housing projects. My first real work of art (together with Anders K. Johansson) was based on the shopping centre in suburban Sollentuna and I believe that that work was partially dependent on my viewing it as a stranger. We photographed three neighbourhoods representing three decades (60s, 70s and 80s). I coloured them by hand in order to take the motif back to the stage of a model or vision. The coloration was also intended to inhibit the "that was then function" that is inherent in all photography. That was then, but when was it? The coloration was an anachronism. I later used the same method to produce pictures from three other suburbs: Husby, Farsta and Akalla, districts of which the politicians are not proud. Here too I produced a splendid vision, but afterwards when it was already too late for such a vision.
I believe that art, or rather the impulse to produce art, often comes from not understanding. When, today, I look at humorous programmes on the television and fail to laugh a single time, not even smile, I become obsessed with the question of why I do not think the programme funny when numerous other people do. Perhaps I do not belong to the target audience. Nor do I believe that there is a consensus about what is humour. But the thing is that in these cases there is no boundary zone. I can hardly understand this humour even theoretically. I am spurred on by this feeling of autism. To be in a cinema in which everyone is laughing except oneself gives one a sense either of belonging to the elect or of being isolated. It was these two communicating vessels that were my starting point for the exhibition Konspirationen (The Conspiracy) in 1997: that the world at large had agreed a treaty behind one's back and that you want to communicate to the world around the appalling truth that you have discovered.

We first met almost 10 years ago at Tidskriftsverkstan (Periodical workshop) in Stockholm. I was one of the editors of Hjärnstorm (Brainstorm) and you were working on Tidskriften 90TAL (Periodical 90s). Later we were both on the editorial staff of Index. From what you have related it seems as though you have always done lots of things, not least writing texts about art. In many contexts people talk about focusing on one thing or one project. How do you view this and how important have your other activities been for your artistic work?

When I started my career as an artist at the end of the 80s it was not considered entirely correct to both write about and work with art and to be active in neighbouring activities such as graphic design and drawing comic strips. There has been a big change in the understanding of the artist's role in Sweden in the last ten years. Nowadays an interdisciplinary attitude is praised. Interdisciplinary art has developed into an aesthetic of its own. Some of my diverse activities were the result of a need to support myself financially. But even in recent years when the financial pressure has not been as great I have continued to work in many fields. In one of my latest works – the "Who is..." series - I have mixed together several of my interests: graphic design, an interest in product design, text and photography.
Even disregarding the different disciplines in which I have worked and the different roles that I have, it has been difficult for me to gather myself into a "style". Each time that I introduce a new series of works of art I develop a new method for them that I have usually been able to work with and refine over an extended period. It is for this reason that I can be working in parallel with a series of works that differ from each other in visual expression. I am probably the sort of artist who has a mental framework that is fixed but this mental framework can be "directed" in different directions with varying results.
Sometimes my textual works lead on to object-based works and sometimes the reverse happens. While working on The Conspiracy-exhibition I looked a lot at conspiracy sites on the Internet. Some of the content of these sites was included both in the catalogue and in the "noticeboard work" that I produced in collaboration with the other artists (Peter Hagdahl, Leif Elggren, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Ann-Sofi Sidén, Annika Eriksson and Andreas Gedin). I was drawn into the narratives and the improbable theories on these websites. After the exhibition I was unable to forget them. With Fredrik Ekman I started writing a text on mind control and behavioural technology. The work led us to the Spanish neurologist José Delgado's activities. In the fifties he invented a machine that could be coupled to electrodes implanted in the brains of humans and animals. Using a remote control he could send electrical impulses into the brain of his experimental subjects and in this way produce motor and sensory effects. He was able to produce involuntary movements, memories, feelings of distress, hate, aggressivity and hallucinations as well as happiness, euphoria and sexual emotions. Delgado was no marginal researcher. He was a professor at Yale and received enormous grants for his research from both civilian and military institutions. To pursue the story we travelled to Madrid, where he now lives in retirement, and sought him out. After the visit we wrote an article and I am myself working on a video. I was not sure in advance what form the work would take. I was fairly open for all sorts of possibilities. When I place my written texts in a daily newspaper, for example, the result is probably quite different from that caused by my composite texts here in an artistic context.

A characteristic of your works is the unusual choice of media or materials that you work with, for example plastic folders, wax and embroidery. The latter two I think people born in the sixties would recognize from their time in nursery school when they embroidered cloths with cross-stitch and made wax impressions of comic strips. One common aspect is that they are all slow methods. It takes time to turn snapshots into embroidered pictures or to create a whole wall of wax portraits. How does one choose oneís medium of expression and what is its importance?

I can see that there is an ethic of "do it yourself" that you describe in several of my works. My ideal is that each series I make should have its very own technical and formal structure which belongs with the structure of ideas. In several of my works there is an invisible instruction about a method that it should be possible for the viewer to take home. In the Fluxus movement artists worked openly with such instructions, or scores, as they were sometimes called. Some similar scores have been my strongest source of inspiration. The invisible instruction I see as a promise of metamorphosis - that there is a potential in the ordinary, both as regards beauty and information; above all information.
As regards slowness it is a matter of part being added to part in my works. It is like doing a little bit every day - the fact that you do it every day leads, in the end, to an enormous quantity. Some of my works have developed in this way although this was not planned from the beginning - they are added to and they extend gradually until a large amount results. This is true of my wax figures in Tribute to the Tribune. I have not yet decided when I shall conclude the work. The newspapers are constantly giving me new material. In other works I seek to reduce an enormous amount of information to something very small and simple. In working with texts I often proceed in this manner. In the collection of aerial picture postcards I am assembling the same principle applies. Every individual aerial photo contains enormous amounts of information; one usually sees miles and miles of a landscape or of the city. So with a minimal space occupied by a hundred such cards your gaze can scan an area equivalent to entire countries.
With the embroideries I generally do a little bit every day. In the long run this results in a great deal. The needlework is really slow. Each embroidery takes me almost a year to complete. Initially I did not worry about these aspects. The embroideries were done by my wife because she liked needlework and was amazingly dextrous. Needlework was almost an obsession. At this time I was myself principally interested in the business of transferring something from a photograph to a embroidery. I do this by sending my photographs to a company that produces a digital needlework pattern in which each stitch represents a single pixel of the coarsely scanned picture. The company supplies me with the needlework pattern together with all the wools in their various colours as determined by the computer. It is interesting that the computer "hypertranslates" the images. The computer cannot accept light areas as merely light or white. Rather, it marks the nuances and contrasts that are not visible to the eye. In the series of portraits that I am currently working on I have placed people against the white background in my studio and have photographed them. On the photographs the light background looks entirely even but when I start to embroider them according to the pattern, there are veils round the figures like fields of energy.
Since 1997 I have myself embroidered the 25 000 or so stitches that each work demands and in this way I have been forced into slowness. It was only when I started doing the work myself that I really gained a true feeling for the time aspect. I alternate between two attitudes to the time aspect. Either it is a matter of a luxury – of wasting enormous amounts of time and energy - or that the tapestry captures and materializes all the time that would otherwise have "disappeared".
A further aspect that attracts me is the collision of two different speeds that the photo-needlework involves. A rapid speed represented by the photography and the digital technique collides with a slow technique – needlework. I made use of this idea in a triptych which I called "Roadmovie 1-3" which consisted of three snapshots from car trips in Sweden. The aspects represented by a roadmovie - fleetingness, rapidity, movement, momentary impulses - were placed in relation to their opposites - slow and demanding needlework in the home. At the same time I noticed that, in my choice of motifs, I had taken some small acount of the demands of needlework – even the "Roadmovie images" had something homely about them. The motif that portrays a road in northern Sweden leading absolutely nowhere is, in fact, a picture postcard.

You mentioned that you do not, yourself, use the term "popular". But what I am referring to coincides with what you call peripheral, i.e., peripheral in relation to a perspective within the field of professional art. It is really a matter of a widespread aesthetic notion to which the world of art has, in many senses, an ambiguous relationship. When it becomes an aspect of art it is always treated in a manner that introduces moments of distancing: for example, investigative, nostalgic or ironical. The central aspect, as I see it, is that one is not unreflective but that one has a conscious relationship to the cultural manifestations that one can term popular or peripheral. You have already dealt with this to an extent but could you describe your relationship to this aesthetic sphere in more detail?

As you note, concepts like peripheral and central have to do with perspective and position but from a more objective perspective the popular, or mainstream to use a broader term, are not peripheral but central. Internet has created interesting mutations in this field in that one can suddenly communicate with large numbers of people in what were formerly peripheral areas of interest. A strange figure in the sticks is no longer quite as strange when he is part of a world-wide network of thousands of other people with the same interests. If one speaks of what is popular as a subject for art, what is popular is hardly peripheral. One may claim that pop art turned mainstream phenomena into something central in art. I do not believe that the word "popular" should automatically be linked with folk-art. But the more one thinks about it the more complex the category becomes. And the various manifestations of popular art are wildly heterogeneous. Sometimes quite esoteric phenomena find their way into what is popular and one wonders how this happens. This may be Gregorian chant, balloon dances or suchlike. Some people will willingly explain how some improbable artist manages to become popular but I am sceptical to such explanations as to how someone who might otherwise be termed mad, suddenly becomes popular. There seems to be a random-selection mechanism at work somewhere that influences everything.
In fact I have difficulty in clearly seeing my own relationship to what is popular, not least because my thoughts go astray when I try to see this as a category on its own. If what is popular was easy to analyze, then anyone would be able to exploit its commercial potential. But if one speaks of the aesthetic sphere of what is popular that you are focusing on then things become somewhat more concrete. Here there is a spectrum of different sorts of creativity with numerous "own" effects. There are tricks of illusion in popular art that I have embraced. I am thinking of decorative objects, home-made or mass-produced, where one makes use of a sort of double vision in which the illusion is simultaneously discovered and revealed: pieces of cork are transformed into a beach with palm trees or one hammers nails into a white-painted board and stretches threads between the nails and a shoal of fish appears. Similar transformations occur in my own art, for example in my work with plastic folders.

You speak of a desire to move things and to place them on a new scale of values. What do you think happens in these changes of context? We can take your house pictures as a concrete example. What reactions have you received when you have shown them in different contexts?

The discussion as to how the production of meaning in a work changes when it is moved between different contexts has been central to today's discussion of art. As I see it, art is part of a complex system of imitation, repetition, temporality and transference.
If we start with the house pictures, I discovered that they emphasized the viewer's background and personal history when they were shown. During the exhibition at Moderna Museet one critic wrote that I exhibited pictures "of the houses that sully the landscape". That critic lives in a palace. Several architects who visited the exhibition looked at the "mad solutions" that people find for their houses with terrified delight. I have shown them twice in SmÅland. The first occasion was at Urshult's entertainment park where we showed our work for a weekend as part of an artistic manifestation. Carl Johan Erikson mounted the exhibition with three artists who had grown up in Småland but now live in Stockholm. The works that we showed all related to the smaller towns and the countryside but had previously only been shown in larger cities. We had great difficulty in being accepted as part of the local artistic manifestation and had to do our utmost to be accepted. But when we had installed our works most people were satisfied. The second occasion was at Smålands Konstarkiv in 1998. The gallery was situated in the middle of a domestic neighbourhood. When one looked out of the large windows one saw the same sort of houses as were portrayed in the pictures. There was a sort of mirror effect. Some of the visitors did not understand why I was showing the pictures. The degree of difference between what as portrayed and the surroundings was too small. One visitor jokingly asked where the price labels were. He saw the houses as pictures in an agent's catalogue.

The movement in the other direction - from high to low if one can use such a terminology - how does it find expression in your work?

No, I do not think that one can use such a terminology with regard to my work. High-low does not work. If, on the other hand, you exchange "the high" for "the narrow", or why not the "special case" it will be easier to carry through such an idea. The low can then be exchanged with "the broad" and "the general". I made a video with one of my pupils at Konstfack – Leif Lindell – where I sometimes think of such a movement. The video is a documentary of Leif's visit to the psychiatrist and hypnotist Ture Arvidsson who has a little clinic on Lidingö. Leif wanted an answer to certain questions about the past, the present and the future. They were highly personal questions about love, repressed memories and the wisdom or otherwise of pursuing a career as an artist. Ture Arvidsson was a well-known hypnotist in the seventies. He often appeared on television and even on one occasion succeeded in getting a famous television pianist to play in a trance on a live transmission. At the same time he had a completely different and less spectacular position in research at the Karolinska hospital. It was Ture Arvidsson's opinion that it was fairly easy to get answers to the questions that Leif put. When Leif had been hypnotized he would provide the answers by movements of his fingers. His unconscious would manifest itself in the so-called idiomotoric reflexes, he opined. In the video one can follow the whole process in real time. The belief in this ability – to be able to get into a person's innermost secrets using such simple means – fascinated me. What was difficult became simple, one might say.
My interest in conspiracy theory also builds on this movement. The fantasy that a freak, who put together a most peculiar chain of explanation that would explain everything, proves himself right. When we realize the truth the ground will shake beneath our feet.

In several of your works there are references to contemporary Swedish history: to the Swedish welfare state but also to moods and reactions to the dismantling of the welfare state that has taken place in recent decades.

When you talk about dismantling I suppose that the subject is most apparent in my pictures of houses. The only work in which I have thought in these terms in a more articulate manner is the series AMU-land which I started in 1995 even if I can see that my pictures of suburban apartment blocks and houses can also be interpreted in this direction. AMU-land is built up of photographs of sheds, cottages, sheds, small workshops and barns. They are very simple buildings whose appearance emphasizes the fundamental functions of protection, privacy or enclosure.
When I produced the series Neighbour with common, small-town houses I was interested in how people alter their houses. They make strange additions to their standardized houses. A house built of white brick had been provided with a decorated wooden balcony. From the general form a special form or hybrid is developed. As regards the buildings in AMU-land I have interested myself in the opposite problem: how different special cases are assembled in a category in which something common floats up to the surface, something that is stronger than the individual elements. When I photograph them I have a certain sort of generalized house in mind, the sort of house that children draw. I try to envisage a sort of generic house. Some of them are awkward and ugly while some of them tend towards minimalistic elegance; the boundary line is extremely narrow. The houses have often been built with an ad hoc attitude, most of them presumably without any architect's plans. They form part of an invisible landscape, belonging neither to the romance of the countryside nor to architectural history.
I have put together photographs of these simple buildings with pictures of AMU establishments. My view was that there existed a correspondence or a silent agreement between the huts and the AMU establishments. Even the AMU establishments are almost exclusively very simple constructions though on a larger scale. When I travelled round Sweden in a car I discovered that at the entrances to towns I could look at a map showing the most important buildings. The AMU establishments were always shown. But really such an indication was unnecessary because one could find the premises anyway. One had only to drive out to the industrial neighbourhood where the steel buildings became increasingly box-like whereupon one discovered a flag with the AMU logotype and one realized that one was approaching AMU land. Since the AMU group, as it was called, had its own flag, its own bags, track suits and pens one could readily see the organization as its own, enclosed state.
When I started working on this there was an economic recession in Sweden, almost an economic catastrophe. I had a feeling that people in the countryside were being put into AMU camps. There they were equipped with AMU T-shirts, AMU pens and given computer training to keep them quiet.
Now it is time to conclude this work, or to change it, since the climate of society has changed. The AMU group has changed names this year and is now called Lernia. But I find it difficult to stop because I can't stop noticing these buildings and I seek them out as soon as I get a chance. Perhaps I should make a Lernialand.

You have exhibited in Greece, Spain and France for example. How have people reacted to your work there? What have they seen and how have they interpreted your images? Are you differently received than in Sweden?

AMU-land as such has never been shown outside of Sweden. I find it difficult to believe that it could mean anything to anyone who does not know or can guess at the context (some of the buildings have been photographed in Norway and Finland). But I think that it is a work that is dependent on special references on the part of the viewer. I do not think that people who have grown up in the larger cities in Sweden have the same possibility of absorbing it. Nor, in all honesty, the majority of those who live in the countryside on acount of the lack of distance.
The works that I have show most abroad are Tribute to the Tribune and the Who is...? series. Tribute... is in some respects a documentary work. It consists of texts and of wax pictures of people's portraits published in the newspapers. All these people are dissatisfied and consider themselves maltreated. Some of them feel that their honour and reputation is threatened while others think themselves the victims of conspiracies. They are famous people, tenants, pensioners, ice-hockey trainers (very many ice-hockey trainers - they are over-represented), golfers, patients, priests, etc. They all want redress or some form of compensation. Both Tribute... and Who is... are narrative works. The texts that are included in the works are received in more or less the same way in different countries. Tribute... is seen primarily as a visual work since the wax figures have a certain, fragile beauty and their considerable number creates a mass effect. Within the visual experience I have noticed different reactions. Both in Spain and Greece the work was interpreted to a greater degree as an invocation with references to the votive offerings of the church. In southern Europe wax does not have the same everyday aspect that it does in Sweden but is more ritualistic, liturgical and seriously charged.

There is an aspect of your art that you have touched on but that I should like you to comment further. In the series Who is..., as you say yourself, several fields of interest are united, not least texts which are often fragmentary with you and which frequently contain a biographical element. The first time that I saw one of the Who is...-"works in the group exhibition "Little Big Stories", which had been curated by Suzana Milevska and shown in Stockholm in 1998. The interesting thing was that not only did this work fit in very well in the context but that the title of the exhibition functions as a very fruitful entry to many of your works. Brief narratives about everyday events and phenomena that together make up our lives but which we seldom think about until something changes or ends. You seem to have an almost literary relationship to narrative and I am reminded of authors such as Auster and Borges. Can you say something about your view of narrative?

There is, of course, a link between my work and literature in that I have produced several works in which texts form part of the whole. Raymond Carver's short stories, to name a particular author, influenced me greatly when I read them in the early nineties. Otherwise it has been more concentrated forms of narrative, poetry rather than prose, that have been important to me in my textual work. A collection of poems that I often return to is Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. Written in the first decade of the twentieth century, the book can be described as a collection of necrologies from a fictitious small town known as Spoon River. Each poem summarizes one person's fate in a remarkably light but often tragic manner. There is much in the book that seems dated, of course, not least the rather exalted used of metaphor. But the condensed "actions" in each poem often penetrate the time barrier. There are the same disappointments and joys in Spoon River as in any contemporary town. A man who has invested all his money in building a house with "spires, bay windows and a roof of slate" has daughters who "grew up with a look as if someone were about to strike them". A woman who had lived a life in finery, “forever eating or traveling, or taking the cure at Baden-Baden" comes back to her native town where no one asks where she has been or whom she has eaten dinner with. It is this desire to create an extract from a long series of events or a whole life that interests me. The greatest possible economy of narrative is also to be found in the medieval ballads. But one also finds condensed narrative in quite different areas, non-literary areas, that interest me even more. I am thinking, for example, of the extremely brief notices that sometimes appear in the newspapers as accounts of highly complex events and the television supplements' descriptions of films. The story of an entire film can be told in a few lines.
But most interesting of all is listening to people discussing a mutual friend whom they have not seen for a long time. One hears them saying: "He went to the USA. When he came back he was different. He had got thinner."
In the concentrated narrative an under-pressure is generated. Everything that is not said, the lack of explanation, creates an enormous pull. There is an obvious level. Everyone knows that there is something unexpressed but no one knows exactly what it consists of. So one has to flesh out the narrative oneself and create links between the clues. After reading the awkward descriptions of films in the TV supplements one can watch the film in one's mind's eye. Someone who reads a very short account in the newspaper of an expedition that got lost in the jungles of South America and was obliged to eat the rare butterflies that had been collected during the expedition is not satisfied with what is in the account but imagines a great deal more. This thought, that a few words say more than a thousand words, also has a history in pictorial art with the likes of Lawrence Weiner and Jenny Holzer.
My first biographical work was produced in collaboration with Peter Andersson in 1993. This consisted of an insert for the periodical Tidskriften 90TAL with the title Vitae Parallelae - Olle Granath and Bosse Dynamit. The title was borrowed from Plutarch's method. Some 2000 years ago he wrote about fifty comparative biographies of leading Greeks and Romans. The form of our version was the surface biography. A surface biography is a brief summary of a career assembled from materials in the public domain such as excerpts from registers, newspaper cuttings and suchlike. A biography of this sort thus presents the various phases of a person's life as seen by "register eyes". Olle Granath was (and is) director of the National Art Museums; Bosse Dynamit was a thief. During the seventies he made a name as a "dynamiter" and an escape artist. He seems to have been extraordinarily skilled at breaking in and breaking out but he never managed life in freedom for long at a time since he was constantly being arrested. Besides their slightly similar sounding names Olle and Bosse were (and are) about the same age and similar in appearance. Assembling Olle Granath's biography was no great problem but for Bosse Dynamit I was obliged to sit hour after hour in the Södra Roslagen court reading court records, police interrogations and examinations.
Otherwise there are no direct literary references in my works. The exception was the exhibition Bergtagen (The Magic Mountain) in which there were references to Thomas Mann's famous book. For me the literary references were really of a more private character. The exhibition was dedicated to my friend Kjell. In the winter of 1986 he borrowed my blue duffel coat whereupon he disappeared without trace. He went off and has never been heard of since. When I installed the exhibition at various places in 1993 I had the action of the novel as a sort of private hope. In Mann's novel the hero returns seven years after his disappearance. The same thing could happen with Kjell, I thought. But this was not the case.
Bergtagen was constructed round a series of postcards where I had photographed a sentence that was written on the back of the card. I showed this sentence together with the postcard motif and in this way the motif influenced the contents of the written message. The postcard texts formed, for me, a sort of mini-story: "Have you entirely forgotten that Bosse exists?", "This time I feel we have luck", "It will be nice to leave this place and to do what we want", "We thought it would be nice to become real people".
In the Bergtagen catalogue I explained how I came to realize that a year of my life was almost entirely blank, that I only had a few distinct memories from this period and that, therefore, I wanted to exert myself to become more present. In connection with this I started to work with a sort of memory-training technique in which I tried to remember details pertaining to people I had met. This is the method, if one can call it such, that I have made use of in working on the Who is series. I write 24 compressed texts about the people whom I portray. Some parts of this one might term information or facts as though taken from a CV. Other parts have a totally different character. They are details or quotations by the people. The texts have been presented in different forms. In some of them I have let visitors to the exhibition wind them forth on microfilm readers. The readers are somewhat obsolete even though they are still used in many libraries but the ones I use are entirely new. I purchased them from the USA and they are splendidly designed. Placed in groups they manifest sculptural properties. Like the kiosk models from the Eastern bloc that I photograph, one can never be sure whether their design belongs to the future or the past.
Fundamental to Who is...? is that it is a presentation. That is why I make use of posters and Styrofoam letters in these installations. In an exhibition in Zagreb I used panels fixed to the walls of the gallery. Association was directed at information boards in the countryside or in museums that tell one what one should be looking at after reading the text. In the exhibition one could also lift one's gaze from the panel and look at one of the people that the exhibition dealt with, at least at the opening. One of the people portrayed - Zdeno Buzek - was exhibiting at the same time. In another context - the exhibition "Ventspils Transit Terminal" - in Latvia, I installed the texts on a reader in the library. The work was customized to the environment without making a great deal of noise. But even if the texts fitted into the library they did not fit a given horizon of expectations, to borrow an expression from hermeneutics since they were not contained in books but "ran out" directly onto the table top.

In recent decades there has been a reorientation of the political system and of political debate in Sweden. The earlier social-democrat vision of a Welfare State has given way to a neo-liberal free market and social deprivation and differentiation has increased, something that polemicists such as Göran Greider and Johan Ehrenberg continually remind us of. What is your attitude to this development?

I have often reacted at the claim that "ideology is dead". In Sweden, and even in the rest of Europe, rightwing ideology is in full bloom. This applies both to the consumer-oriented and the extreme rightist ideology. For people living in Stockholm the effects of privatization - which is entirely an ideological movement - are to be seen more or less every day. In the seventies the entire political scene moved to the left. At that time even the young liberal politicians could speak of their role in the coming revolution. Today the opposite is true. The social-democrats have adapted themselves to the wishes of the "market". I hope that the right will lose ground; there is nothing I wish more.
I am not certain that art can be used directly in a political cause. Art gives rise to far too contradictory feelings. Political language has to reduce reality so that it can be dealt with. Art transforms reality into a "special case". Yet this special case tells us more about reality than what is conveyed by political language. In this sense art has a political dimension with long-term or stealthy action like some poison.
My work “al4a could be read in political terms. But I have changed my attitude to my own material: from an aspect of media criticism to a sort of celebration of the media. I am in the process of evaluating the work once again. I slide back to the feeling that the media use such complaints as crumbs for a frustrated populace or as entertainment. Perhaps I need to rename the work. One cannot be as vacillatory as a politician.

And to be honest, what is your attitude to conspiracies?

I am basically out of sympathy with conspiracies. Perhaps that is why I am so devastated when they turn out to be true. My problem is that I find it difficult to understand such intrigues. Conspiracy theories challenge my ideas about what is unintentional in life and about the role of chance in our lives.
On the other hand I have a lot of potential as a dogmatist in that I often think that things must be totally "right". Many times I have dreamed Hamlet's nightmare: that I have arrived at a dreadful truth, that I have realized how everything fits together or that I have been badly treated. I described this on a wall in the entrance hall to the museum of art in Uppsala:

"One tries to communicate to the world around the sensational, initially calm and level-headed, later all the more anxious. Nobody is listening. One raises one's voice. People turn their faces away. They speak in falsetto. They turn their gazes back to one but they are empty, indifferent."