Contemporary art from Sweden

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Johan Furåker

Johan Furåker
 

Unlikely life stories; truths stranger than fiction: such are the territories that John Furåker explores through works that simultaneously elucidate and mythologise.

One of Furåker's first such projects featured Stefan Erikkson or 'Fat Steve', a Swedish mobster whose dubious, conspicuously lavish lifestyle led him first to London, then Los Angeles.

This trajectory is recounted in a series of tableaux depicting definitive locations, people and events in the gangster's life, often annotated in mock heroic style.

Thus we are introduced to Erikkson's wife - a partner in crime and 'Louis Vuitton Mom' par excelence. We're provided with views of his Bel Air mansion, and made privy to Erikkson's near fatal crashing of a Ferrari (below).

Johan Furåker
 

This incident was to prove his downfall, alerting the Californian police to the gangster's possession of stolen luxury cars worth $3.8million and his somewhat inexplicable presence as a highly undesirable Los Angeles resident.

More fascinating still is the story of Jean-Albert Dadas, a Frenchman diagnosed in the late 19th century with the first recorded case of dromomania, a rare, uncontrollable urge to wander.

Johan Furåker, Swedish art now

Having travelled on foot to cities as far-flung as Prague, Vienna and Moscow, Dadas retained no conscious recollection of these journeys, the details of which could only be extracted under hypnosis and became the subject of a celebrated medical dissertation.

Furåker leads us through a colourful survey of Dadas' 'pathological tourism', depicting sights the Frenchman would probably (as well as less possibly) have encountered on his unorthodox travels.

Throughout, the artist makes use of a highly detailed, yet curiously flattened realism, riffing on fairground art and its visual language of sensationalism and showmanship, as well as the late 19th century introduction of the photograph into printed media (this early use of half-tone, which quickly replaced the engravings in use right up until the 1880s, often appears strangely depthless).

A more recent collection of works eschews biography for an investigation of historical synchronicity and overlap. Through cross-reference to three political entities - the Roman Empire, Nazi Germany and the USA - The Culture of Fear focuses on cruelty and misuse of power (below).

Johan Furåker, Swedish contemporary art
 

We're made aware of coincidences such as a common adoption of the eagle as emblem, or delve into curious visual histories such as the symbolism of the Ace of Spades playing card within the American military.

More dense than its predecessors, yet arguably less engrossing or substantial, The Culture of Fear reminds us of the fundamentality of anecdote in Furåker's work, and the fact that, should such narrative falter, his paintings struggle to make real impact.

But this, of course, is equally true of the many artists for whom visual and conceptual production is intertwined. Greatness lies in the ability to beguile and instruct with every facet of an creative undertaking, and if by this reckoning Furåker is not a leading artist, he's certainly a solid and interesting one.  

Johan Furåker, art from Sweden
 

 

Johanna Billing

Johanna Billing: Swedish contemporary art
 

Johanna Billing's video works deal with recital, learning and performance, typically depicting groups of young adults or children grappling with tasks such as perfecting a dance routine or song.

Such parameters allow Billing to focus on the discrepancies between group and collective effort, sometimes, of course, with poignant or comic results.

Music has always featured prominently in Billing's life (she worked briefly as a music journalist and has run her own record label since the late 1990s), and is equally central to her videos, often instigating or directing the action of her cast. Paralleling mainstream cinema production, the carefully chosen soundtracks are also available as vinyl releases or downloadable files.

Other examples of Billing's work focus quite specifically on a process of music-making, perhaps most notably the ambitious ongoing project 'You Don't Love Me Yet' (initiated 2002) which invites performers from around the world to create a cover version of a little-known Swedish pop ballad from which the piece take its title (below).

contemporary art from Sweden - Johanna Billing
 

With literally hundreds of carefully documented covers completed, the project very specifically addresses, as in all Billing's works, the notion of individual creativity versus a common objective (it also facilitates the development of an oddly numinous community of performers, most of whom have never met).

Billing's emphasis on the production/promotion of largely obscure Swedish bands has led some to compare her videos to offbeat pop promos. Her response is that "It could always be that the videos are close to other fields but it's this kind of confusion I quite like. On the surface it's similar to something you recognise, but there's something a bit different also."

Johanna Billing - Swedish art
contemporary art from Sweden - Johanna Billing
 

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