Standard Length of a Miracle at Tensta konsthall
The castle of Waldemarsudde, once the residence of a Swedish prince, Eugen Napoleon Nikolaus, has been an art museum since the early 20th century. The prince was an artist himself, known for symbolic and fateful landscapes paintings from the turn of the century. Waldermarsudde is situated at Djugården in Stockholm, a beautiful green area which, except the castle of Waldemarsudde, contains the open air museum Skansen. Skansen was initiated as a museum to preserve and manifest Sweden’s rural history in 1891, and has since been exhibiting furnished houses as well as farmsteads and extracts of landscapes. The politicized landscapes of Skansen are rather different from the paintings of prince Eugen’s existential, inner landscapes, for example the famous The Cloud from 1895, where a small road leads the spectator towards a hill, over which a single cloud swan, possibly threatening, in any case curious in its almost supernatural appearance.
Djurgården and Waldemarsudde is a context that provide some background for further reflections on the work of Goldin and Senneby. Their works are on display at Waldemarsudde until May 15, as part of the exhibition Standard Length of a Miracle, produced by Tensta konsthall. At Waldemarsudde the main focus of the art works are land and property, and the post war economic turn that drastically changed the landscape policies in European politics.
On display at Eugen’s castle is, among other works of Goldin and Senneby, Not Approved (2011) which consists of small photographs taken by bureaucrats, depicting rural settings that were denied subventions from the EU agricultural funding. The photographs are provided more background through a text by speechwriter Simon Lancaster, Shifting Ground, which was commissioned by the artists in 2009. The text it describes how the EU went from agricultural subventions based on number of crops, to subventions based on the visual quality of the landscape. This, it is told, happened because of a fear, expressed by farmers, mostly in France, of the loss of the characteristics of the open rural landscape, tightly connected to ideas of national aesthetics. Simultaneously, there is a more structural logic of the disconnections between the physical qualities of land and money when it comes to farming during the second half of the 20th century: namely the general disconnection between money and the actual, physical world, a topic ever present in Golden and Senneby’s work.
Goldin and Senneby remind us that within representations of landscapes, depicted by a wealthy prince in the 19th century as well as by bureaucrats of today, beauty and idealization is not something that can be disconnected from economic and political discourses. This is maybe most clear in the work After Microsoft (2007) in which Goldin and Senneby revisit the site where the photograph known as “Bliss” was once shot. Bliss became an iconic, ubiquitous image as the default wallpaper on Microsoft’s Windows software. The site for the image has been re-photographed by Goldin and Senneby, and is presented as a digital image with a voice over by the photographer Charles O’Rear, who gives his explanation as to why the hill, normally covered by vines, was at the time of the shooting of the original Bliss covered with grass. This is because the vines suffered from a phylloxera invasion.
The resemblance between Eugen’s painting The Cloud and Microsoft’s Bliss is more than prominent. It is also clear that these two landscapes are as much mental concepts, made to provide a certain idea about inhabiting a virtual landscape, as renderings of reality. In the case of Eugen, the landscape offered a site for contemplation, and melancholia; for Microsoft, the sunny Californian hill of Bliss was a metaphor for the digital freedom provided by a digital software.
Standard Length of a Miracle is spread out throughout the city of Stockholm – apart from the historical art museum Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde, it takes place at the Stockholm School of Economics, the Third Swedish National Pension Fund, the Financial Supervisory Authority, the clothing store A Day’s March and Tensta konsthall. Some special programs also take place at Cirkus Cirkör. In addition to the exhibitions a small booklet with a text written by the Swedish writer Joans Hassen Kemhiri accompany the exhibition. A short story is also read out loud by the staff at Tensta konsthall at 2:12pm every day.
In his novels, articles and essays such as Ett öga rött (One Eye Red) from 2004, Kemihiri has been developing a very refined way of manipulating and twisting power, and structural power relations, inherent in language itself. In the essay written for Tensta konsthall, carrying the same name as the exhibition, we follow the character Anders Reuterswärd, a cover up for the text’s real narrator that remains unnamed, and his reflections on feelings of exclusion and inconvenience when trying to be part of the art world. The text also describes the artistic ambitions of Anders, who envisions an exhibition at an art space which sounds very much like Tensta konsthall itself: in the “innermost room, where the audience comes in and the high ceiling makes them dizzy,” Anders imagines a tree, “an actual fucking tree, it is growing up out of the cement floor, the roots have forced their way through the foundation, somehow or another this oak ended up here”. Now, this is exactly what encounters the visitor when entering Tensta konsthall. An oak tree, seemingly too big to have passed through the entrance of the building.
Goldin and Senneby’s artistic approach, to suggest a scenery, and comment upon it through meta fiction in written format is amusing. It does also create curiosity, and at its best it underlines how value, artistic as well as economic, is not something given, but something purposefully created. Through outsourcing, and the splicing of multiple voices, the recapture of these disparate narratives under the name of Goldin and Senneby themselves, Standard Length of a Miracle perhaps does not question the fundamentals of the institutions creating the fictions in question, but opens up a space to actually think about how powerful, and socially sanctioned, narratives are actually created in the real world.
This is, however, not always what happens at the other venues part of the exhibition. At the Stockholm School of Economics, two works are set up in the school library: Zero Magic (2016) and Banca Rotta (I Dispense, Divide, Assign, Keep, Hold) (2012). Zero Magic consists of a computer program, and a vitrine, comparing magic to hedge fund activities (and other manipulative methods such as intelligence activity). In the vitrine it is, possible to read about John Mulholland, who was hired by the CIA to develop techniques in the “Art of Deception” to teach agents how to deliver mind weakening drugs to unsuspecting victims. At the computer screen set up at the library, there is a patent application for a hedge fund explaining how hedge funds actually work, again referencing magic to pedagogically underline the ability to create value out of nothing. One can also use the computer to test out the hedge fund described in the patent application. The structure and function of the application is appropriated from an existing US hedge fund by Goldin and Senneby.
In Zero Magic the adaption of one discursive field to explain another seems slightly forced: yes, market speculation does create value out of nothing, but this seems to be a truism. The oak tree-installation at Tensta konsthall, and the reflections on land and capital at Waldemarsudde, invite the spectator to different levels of fictions, that in themselves can be said to create reality. I am doubtful that this is actually the case with magic, which seems after all to be a limited part of the discourse shaping our relationship to ourselves and the world around us. Magic, perhaps, is just another fiction.
Some of the sites where The Standard Length of a Miracle takes place do also contain objects, which work as symbolic comments upon the web of conceptual narratives carried out by Goldin and Senneby. For example, at the library of the School of Economics, a striking Banca Rotta-table is cut in two pieces, imploding on itself. The table is said to be a money changer’s table from the 17th century. In the exhibition material, it is said that the table relates to the fact that “When a money changer in Florence went bankrupt, his trading table was destroyed—“banca” became “banca rotta,” broken bench.”
Another object within the exhibition, placed at The Third Swedish National Pension Fund, has more of a metonymical relationship to the work of Goldin and Senneby: here, an oven used by the alchemist August Nordenskiöld (1754-1792) in the 18th-century, is placed in a vitrine. G & S has been working with the history of Nordenskiöld, and his attempts to, contrary to the will of his employer the king of Sweden Gustav III, create so much gold that the metal would lose its value to help mankind escape the tyranny of money.
The oak tree mentioned above works in a similar way – it is not only part of Kemhiri’s story about Anders Reuterswärd, but is also a symbol refering to George Bataille and his secret society Acéphale, Greek for headless, which Goldin and Senneby, not least in the meta crime-noir novel Headless from 2014, has compared with the facelessness of contemporary economics.
These artifacts are presumably there to make the viewer enter into the different levels of Goldin and Senneby’s narrative, but it remains unclear that these objects – with the exception of the oak tree, which is cleverly charged with layers of significance – are entangled enough in the real world to give the spectator a further understanding of how connections between material artifacts, ideologies, ideas, utterances and economical discourses constitute capitalist fiction.
In his text “Image, raison, déraison,” Roland Barthes reflects on the scientific posters of Diderot’s 18th century Encyclopédie. He remarks that the posters depict objects, machines, tools and landscapes as if they were set apart from their context in the real world and placed in an Utopian totality where everything is under the control of Man. A separation that is not free from uncanny undertones, where the objects themselves seem to necessarily escape the restrained world they are set to inhabit. This type of “déraison,” the uncanny will of objects to refuse categorization, is unfortunately – even though it occasionally occurs – what is somewhat too rare in Goldin and Senneby’s work: their narratives, objects, histories, and concepts often don’t seem show any tendencies of escaping the fiction created for them. They, as well as the spectator, are expected to take part in a game – one that deals with important narratives of magic and markets in a post-industrial society, the capitalization of land and the accessibility of contemporary art, but unfortunately ultimately close in on themselves.