Jan Svenungsson

"The invisible identity of the chimney", in: De Chirico, Max Ernst, Magritte, Balthus – A Look Into the Invisible, Mandragora 2010

I read Hebdomeros while still at art school and everything changed. The book became a house I did not ever wish to leave. Since then, more than twenty years have passed.

In order to make it my own, I began to translate Giorgio de Chirico’s 1929 novel into Swedish. This struggle went on for years, on and off, while my visual work came into its own and settled into a few paths that I continue to follow today. At one point I decided to translate Hebdomeros also into images, and travelled to Volos with a large format camera. I wished to find out whether de Chirico had used real places and buildings, remembered from childhood, as models for the landscapes and situations that he renders in such a hyperrealist light in his book. If I could find no such traces I had decided that I would make them up. As it happened, I did both. I published my double translation of Hebdomeros in the form of an exhibition. The book had now truly become a space in which to move around.

Meanwhile, one of the paths of my work had become the construction of brick chimneys. Hebdomeros would have nodded in approval, I’m sure. First, I had made irregular frames for photos of an old industrial chimney in Stockholm. The resulting works had an uncanny capacity for making viewers want to ”read” the image: to trigger in them the urge to invent the content of the work. It was always different, of course.

One day I was invited to exhibit at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. I decided, not only to show my photo/frame works, but with two bricklayers to build a three-dimensional representation of their subject, right outside the museum. It became the First Chimney, 10 metres high. It looked perfectly real. I guess it was ”real” – but it did not emit any smoke. In this respect it did not differ from the chimneys that litter the horizons in Hebdomeros and so many early paintings by its writer. They too, are closed to smoke – but open to interpretation.

A guard at the museum came up to me when we were finished. ”Make it higher, make it higher”, he said. ”Why?”, I asked. ”The chimney is too close to the building. The smoke will destroy all the paintings”.  He had seen us building for weeks. But never could he imagine that a chimney might be a work of art. Its identity was invisible to him.  I felt happy.  The most important things are invisible.  The years that followed have seen me build eight more chimneys, in different parts of the world. Before the church in a medieval city; at the edge of a pine forest; in the middle of a river; at the centre of a world fair; beside a giant bunker... Common to all chimney sculptures is that they change the place where they are introduced, like a virus.  Hebdomeros once did something similar to me.

Each time I build a chimney I make it one metre higher than the previous one, in order to convince myself that there is progress, also in art.

Jan Svenungsson