Jan Svenungsson

"The Will to Control meets the Lust for Chaos"

I am interested in systems.
Systems are designed to lead to a desirable result.
When a system works it provides a sense of control and security.
If the system is improperly realised the result will deviate from the plan.

Sometimes I dream of creating a system so perfect that no deviation is possible.
This system I pursue beyond its limits.
In the breakdown anything can happen.

I wrote this text for the catalog of the Rauma Baltic Biennale which was held in Finland in the summer of 1994. I participated in this show with an installation consisting of a photograph and 110 ink drawings. The photograph, its rights bought from a photo-agency, represents the controversial Russian politician Zhirinovsky in a rare moment of calm. The drawings are based on the photograph according to the following system: the first drawing represents the photograph, the second drawing represents the first drawing (line by line), the third drawing represents the second drawing, and so on. This degradation process continues until the original image has been completely dissolved, after which the next drawing once again is based directly on the photograph. Although I tried very hard to be true to the model for each drawing I could not avoid some displacement of lines, and when this inexactness accumulated it gradually led to a result beyond my control. Which at the same time was what I wanted. I had set up a rigid system, theoretically based on a faultless operator, but which, because of the operator's human fallibility, inexorably led to its opposite - to chaos.

I am not a painter, neither am I a photographer or a sculptor. I am an artist who works with ideas that are given form when I momentarily transform myself into a painter, a photographer or a sculptor. Through this division of labour, an inner dynamic is fed into the resulting work: the formal definition of the idea is not necessarily consistent with the emotional demands of the execution, and vice versa.

The first time I used myself as a draughtsman was early in 1992, when I was asked to make an "insert" for the philosophical magazine KRIS, for an issue dealing with a renewed interest in the subject. I presented 20 pages in the centre of the magazine, with 40 drawings of a photograph of my father, all made in a single day. Already in this limited project stress was programmed into the system, leading to the resulting work bearing traces of the tension of having had to complete the whole series in a short amount of time. These traces constitutes an important part of the work's content.

Since then I have continued to develop this idea in a number of projects. Important factors have been the stenographic immediacy of each drawing, its rigid relation to the model and the pre-set rules, the unavoidable transgressions, the shortage of time, and the result's character of overkill .

Each time choosing the model-image has been difficult. With exception of the choice of Zhirinovsky, I have so far limited myself to photos from my private sphere. It is necessary to feel something about the model, for the draughtsman to feel commitment to his work.

Analysing the project above I have come to realise that the same underlying mechanism, i.e., the drive for repetition, where the final aim is to arrive at a content born out of conflict with the system, is latently present in the majority of my work. Perhaps this could be described as being a conflict between the "lust for chaos" and the "will to control".

In order to develop these ideas, using the medium of drawing is direct; the visual result is easy to read and effective, as well as adaptable in scale. But the concept is not limited to one technique and I know it has high potential for further development. I need to study the mechanisms I have put in motion and find out more about their consequences; for example by using these questions:

– What is the true content of a work such as the Rauma installation?
– Wherein lies the importance of the model-image.
– Where lies the border between simulated and real obsession?
– How far can an artist distance himself from himself in order to manipulate his creative persona?
– How do these projects affect the viewer?
– Is there a political dimension?
– What can be gained from monumental scale?

Jan Svenungsson