Patrik Aarnivaara and Jakob Simonson talk with Sophie Tottie about their exhibition ”Synrand”

Tottie– Given your rather different kinds of work based respectively on sculpture and painting, what made you decide to exhibit together?

Aarnivaara/Simonson– We both work with three-dimensional surfaces relating to the body and to vision. Surfaces that one can move around, place objects on or gaze upon. Surfaces standing freely in a room with a visible support structure. Our interests meet in the border area that cannot be annexed by a building, a picture on a wall or a traditional sculpture as a closed entity. What we share is that our work is in dialogue with different disciplines (architecture, painting, exhibition design and sculpture), and from these influences we create pieces found in their intersection. I (JS) think this was the background for our decision to take on the architecture of Landskrona Konsthall together. It was exciting to see what would happen at the intersection of our respective work, and from the exhibition series Spelplan create a dialogue about the building and the situation.

Tottie– In your work at Landskrona Konsthall your focus is on the building itself. Jaenecke’s and Samuelsson’s glass house is a modernistic icon. Consistently you follow the building style’s seemingly rational logic that dissolves the boundary between inside and outside, with its lack of normally-constructed walls inside the exhibition space. The only walls are the transparent glass walls towards the park and the sea – and inwards towards the japanese-inspired garden. You have removed everything unnecessary inside the exhibition hall in order to reach the logical conclusion of the building. Can one really place verticallyhanging works of art such as paintings in this building and still work in harmony with its architecture? Or can one say that there is a constant conflict between the function of the house and its seemingly endless struggle to become part of the landscape? Is the artist forced to take the building into consideration as radically as the building relates to its surroundings, to give the art a chance of being seen? Or is the art merely arbitrary objects which cannot compete with the architecture without relating to the building itself?

Aarnivaara/Simonson– The alternatives are few. Either you strengthen and underline the structure and character of the building, or you make a radical interference. An example of such an interference would be to build new rooms within the room and ”shut off” the building. The building style is very difficult to inhabit. It is a style that creates opposing reactions, for or against. If you don’t do something radically against it, the building will out-voice the artworks, they will feel out of place. I (PA) think of Jenny Holzer’s work at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin (same style as the Landskrona Konsthall) with LED-displays on the ceiling – that piece works very well with the building. Maybe the solution is working on the surfaces of the building, the facade, floor and ceiling, and that the artwork does not stand out too much from those surfaces. The building is so insistent that even were you to neglect it and do something entirely independent, it would still be extremely visible. Hanging vertical paintings might work if you relate them to the room and the architecture, and then there we are again: the architecture must be allowed a central role. You could say that our interference is a kind of vertical painting or image, but that it begins with, and is almost entirely, a setting-off of the room and the building. We could have left the building alone. We could have emptied it and let it be. But that would have been more like evacuating and abandoning the building. That is perhaps not what we meant or wished to attain. It is there to be used. Now we encourage a kind of (re-) action or response, we create a kind of friction between the viewer and the building so that one does not just see and see beyond it, but instead are slowed down to linger in the mirrored division of sight and room. Constructing a room in the building of Landskrona Konsthall; hiding the existing structure with a new one; building it away. This erasure or hiding of the building is also very clearly related to the building, and actually does not overlook it at all. Although that might be an interesting venture, shutting the building out or in ...

Tottie– Architecture has played a major roll in contemporary art discussions in recent decades. But often a special aspect of architecture seems to transcend the concept of art – and that aspect is the surface area.. You clearly point out that this is a discussion about surface more than about architecture, and how the surface affects perception at the point where your work intersects. It seems natural that it is the border of the building – the glass walls – that is your meeting place. And this despite that your earlier work seems to be based in different disciplines. One could say that there is no opposition in your meeting on the glass walls of the Landskrona Konsthall, and that this is due to the reflectiveness of the surface – reflections which the mind often deceivingly chooses to ignore. By using mirror foil on the windows, it seems that you wish for the gaze to linger. With blocking, reflection and transparency, your exhibition Synrand* delays the limit of sight on several levels. You emphasize how the transparent wall retains both a seen image and an imagined image on one and the same surface. The mirror film reflects the viewer and blocks the view at the same time (somewhat depending on light conditions). Simultaneously, the film is semi-translucent, and allows the vision – or perhaps you could say – it visually captures the park outside. The eye easily sorts out that which is unfocused, but the viewer can still with a conscious effort choose to let the mirrored image and the halfway disclosed image flow together on one surface. It is as if you have created a delayed moment that must be experienced on location. The eye’s need to focus here becomes pronounced. Was this limitation of sight something you thought of when you named the exhibition Synrand? Was it your intention to confront the viewer with the limitations of sight? Or is this effect on the optical nerve a result of trying to stop the architect’s theoretical utopia (a utopia which seeks to erase the difference between outdoors and indoors – and where the glass wall must be ignored if this wish were to work)?

Aarnivaara/Simonson– We both work with and relate to the concept of ”surface”. In my (JS) work with painting and images, the surface still winds up in focus in a way, but exists all the time in relation to the room, both behind the surface and in front of it. The surface defines the border between two different aspects of room (and ”architecture”), and this surface is therefore almost totally defining for the relationship between these two aspects, the room in which the image is found, and the room in the image. In Synrand these two rooms coincide/meet on the surface of the mirror foil. Through my work I bring with me the attempt to find the image or the border of the image. A phase in which the image is barely an image or just on the point of being an image. The surface uses the space on both sides of itself, and becomes an image, a third room. The effect of putting mirror foil on the windows in Synrand was hard to put your finger on. What did it mean and what effect did it have? Since it is neither an original nor permanent intervention, there exists a with and a without. This means that to some extent one has to relate to two versions. One must compare the room with itself despite the fact that the only thing there to compare it with is it’s own mirrored image. With the title Synrand we looked for a concept that could produce a mental image in the viewer and explain the focus of the exhibition. The working process to find a suitable word was both a thorough analysis and speculation on what the effect of the mirror foil would be. Synrand is not an interdisciplinary work with architecture as in the artist group N55 or Atelier van Lieshout (where the function and social aspects of the architecture seem to be in focus). Instead, it relates to architecture with a certain distance and uses art as a place to reflect on architectural forms and surfaces, architecture as image, representation, sign and sculpture. If one should interpret sculpture as something to walk around and look at and relate physically to, and not as a social sculpture with specific functions and interactive elements. Yes, surface is our common denominator and the ”delayed moment” that you mention is an interesting observation. I (JS) could not imagine that aspect until the film had been applied but we discussed and thought a great deal about how the viewer’s vision and body would be ”spread out” and how the mirror film would make the inside and outside of the building fuse into a single image. What we have done is mirror the construction of the building, the viewer and the surroundings into the facade and incorporate a context in the architecture. In this way the architectural rhetoric about lack of place and unwillingness to relate to its surroundings is broken. The invalidation of the difference between outside/inside is also a part of this rhetoric. It is as though the transparency tries to create an illusion of placelessness by leading your gaze away from and through the building, where it is, and at the same time is not.

Tottie– Landskrona Konsthall is situated beautifully in the park facing the waterfront and the island of Ven. It is hard not to think of astronomer Tycho Brahe’s observatory there when speaking of the limit of what is visible. It seems intentional that Jaenecke’s and Samuelsson’s building was placed precisely here. What Landskrona Konsthall and Tycho Brahe’s Uraniborg have in common is perhaps not so much their functionalism as their vision of transcending what is visible at all costs. Wind disturbed the functional purpose of Uraniborg to suitably house astrological and astronomical instruments to the degree that a new building had to be built next to the first building. Buildings in the so-called ”international style”, including Landskrona Konsthall and Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie, can be included in buildings also failing in function – or at least are extremely resistant to their function as art exhibition spaces. It was perhaps due to the subordinate role of function that the Neue Nationalgalerie easily could be redefined from an office building for Bacardi Rum in Cuba to a museum in Berlin. But, as opposed Uraniborg, no new buildings are built beside these buildings to accommodate art. Function remains subordinate to the vision of the building. In Synrand you seem however to be uninterested in directing an institutional critique of Landskrona Konsthall. As you say, ”It’s there to be used”. Instead you relate to the strong effect of the architecture on everything around it. But is it as an artist (or perhaps even as a human being) possible today to overlook the influence of architecture (and its surroundings)? Is there any exhibition architecture that does not effect the exhibited art? Aren’t all buildings connected with an ideology one must take into account? Mustn’t we also relate to the white cube and the black box – rooms which in reality are designed as the ultimate places for exhibiting art?

Aarnivaara– I would like to imply that it is impossible to ignore the room or place in which a work of art is seen or is a part of. The question is rather how one should relate to the social, cultural and political contexts of the room. An exhibition space is always a part of a context, but having noted that, you have to focus on some aspect of that context, since it is impossible to have a neutral point of view. We deconstruct the building visually by mirroring it in itself. I have a hard time putting my finger on whether it is a political, social or cultural criticism/deconstruction or whether the point is merely (not to belittle) a deconstruction of a modernist construction, by that meaning literally the construction of the building and not its ideological context.

Simonson– We have tried to use Landskrona Konsthall more as an object subject to manipulation, a strengthening or erasure. The Konsthall becomes a tool and a frame for creating a situation where the observation of this frame is in focus. The operation itself becomes the function. That which exists outside this frame has been excluded. At least half of it. The idea of building a more functional art center beside the Konsthall is interesting. Everything is brought to a head when one denies the original Konsthall its function. What then remains? It presumes usage. But using something which has no function ... well, then it is art… it would make the building entirely a sculpture, a monument… eventually a ruin?

/ Sophie Tottie