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I Kiss Your Eyes

I Kiss Your Eyes (Jag kysser dina ögon)

Conny Karlsson Lundgren Bonniers Konsthall, February 14 - April 7, 2024

Curator: Joanna Nordin

Conny Karlsson Lundgren, I Kiss Your Eyes (Jag kysser dina ögon), installation view, Bonniers Konsthall, February 14 - April 7, 2024

A week after seeing this exhibition and the image of the gentle touch of a hand is still with me as I sit down to write. Or, not even the image so much as the feeling of it. It’s not that the hand is doing anything particularly special. It’s the space of the fingertips against a surface that echoes.

This lingering sensation parallels both the content and the structure of the exhibition itself, as so much of the experience within is about exactly that: the feeling of a gesture very much alive in the present, having traveled a great way from the time and place in which it was originally born. A mid-career survey spread out over several rooms, I Kiss Your Eyes includes scenographic installations, videos, photographic works, and performances, along with a selection of artworks from a private collection interspersed throughout.

Detail from Screen (After Verfaillie); archival photograph within the installation Our Trip to France (Mont des Tantes), 2021.

The exhibition itself is a slow burn. Both Conny Karlsson Lundgren as an artist and Joanna Nordin as a curator share an attention to detail throughout, making for a confident and carefully spatialized

exhibition. Ideas about time, afterimages, echoes, and reverberations find form within the works themselves and in the exhibition as a whole, bringing forth a new language for dealing with Swedish gay history. In some ways it is a language of ordinary objects — an umbrella, a sheer curtain grazing a yellow wall, and hanging clothes, including the skeleton of a pair of jeans, like a line drawing. And the images of these forms repeat: echoes of a flashing bulb, for instance, appear throughout different rooms. Upon entering the first room, a red lightbulb pulses like a heartbeat. Later, it returns in the form of the clicking sound of neon. And, you might notice it appear yet again, a tiny hanging bulb in a David Hockney drawing. Karlsson Lundgren has an eye for surface, for anticipation, and the subtleties of gesture – which is also what transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary here.

Much of the content within the exhibition material itself is difficult. The heaviness of the historical archive comes through here: a newspaper article from the 1920s illustrating a time of overt anti-gay persecution; letters from the turn of the century, used as criminal evidence and resulting in a prison sentence for its writer, a young man in love. But this material is both re-presented and transformed in equal measure, through the time-bending and liberatory practices of photography and through the temporary and shifting qualities of other works on view which make space for softer gestures. The things that make the exhibition special also make it difficult to write about, difficult to contain. I’m left with a feeling of the ephemeral that I don’t want to pin down. A new way of feeling through images, a sensitivity – which is in itself a great offering.

Detail from within the installation Prologue (The Gothenburg Affair), 2021

Photography holds a strong presence throughout this exhibition. Within the installation Prologue (The Gothenburg Affair), a black and white photograph is framed and laid flat on a plinth – a viewer might reach their own hand over the hand in the image, serving almost as a mirror, taking on the position of the image-maker hovering over the marble countertop below. The installation for the durational performance I Kiss Your Eyes (A Year in Eight Weeks) also gives a subtle nod to process: a photographic negative is framed and displayed upside-down, the way it would have appeared through the glass of the large format camera when making the image. And, in an image by Duane Michaels, Homage to Cavafy/The old man photographs the young man, we see a photograph of the image-making process itself (Photography about photography).

Yet, when it comes to Karlsson Lundgren’s treatment of the medium, it seems to be more about circulation and after-images than the process of photographing necessarily. As opposed to, for example, Åsa Johannesson’s recently published Queer Methodology for Photography, Karlsson Lundgren’s work feels like it’s about the images themselves – about where they go and how, about their circulation as objects, and their social function – and less so about a methodology in relation to the camera. Here, the inclusion of selected artworks from a private collection is a testament to how photographs operate beyond their representational role. It is both what the photographs make visible, but also the role they perform in the lives of the people who have them around; in the case of Åke’s Collection, the collector in the countryside of Sweden, an expression of desire and assertion of self.

Images here have a life of their own, and they travel – reappearing in new places physically while living on in memory in other ways. Central to the exhibition, and to one of the performances in particular, is this image of the teenage runner. Karlsson Lundgren describes having been struck by a black and white photograph from 1976 by Arthur Tress; Teenage Runners (Band-Aid Fantasy), an image of a young runner putting a bandage on another boy’s leg. This lingered in the artist’s mind, and many years later the two crossed paths again as the photograph appeared once more in a quite unexpected place, as part of Åke’s Collection. From here Karlsson Lundgren worked further with this same image in various forms: displaying here the original photograph by Tress, a photograph of the framed original photograph within the private collection, Karlsson Lundgren’s own restaging of the image, and also as a performance.

This attention to traveling images and their echoes further comes alive here through the structures for Karlsson Lundgren’s performances, stage sets which remain in the space even when not activated by a performer. These structures are uniquely evocative in this still and silent state. The scaffolding for the performance of The Teenage Runner suggests a presence through a pair of sneakers, previously worn socks, and a simple staircase made of untreated birch plywood. Approaching this scene invites curiosity as to how someone might move in relation to these objects. In my case, I feel the absence of activity on those steps, a sense of distance, and with it, a kind of longing. So too with the plant. Not just any plant, but one which responds to human touch by folding gently in on itself.

Sensitiva (mimosa pudica); detail from the installation The Teenage Runner (Oscar), 2018/2019/2022-

This sense of the ephemeral exists within individual works as well. In a split screen video work Our Trip to France (Mont des Tantes), a moment in history is once again re-worked. Decades later, contemporary voices read historical diary entries from a small group of young gay men during a trip to an international gay liberation camp in Southern France in the 70's. As we listen to these diary entries, we also take in images from the now empty buildings of the farm where the camp took place, with archival footage woven in as well.

For me, the setting of this work recalled an experience I had working at a summer camp in Vermont over a decade ago, a camp which enjoyed a progressive reputation while also instructing us camp counselors, in no uncertain terms, to withhold information about our own sexual orientations. This, they said, was none of the campers’ business. To construct and maintain heteronormativity, to actively put forth the assumption that we were all straight – that was the directive, even when most of us were not

Our teenage campers surely knew this, and I wonder what they think now when they look back on our gathering. But back to the present day, where these temporary spaces still hold special potential. Spaces fill and spaces empty. They give the promise of some kind of engagement, but also insist on something that slips through the fingers, like queerness itself which cannot be pinned down. It tells us there is a language here, even if we don’t know it ourselves.

This emphasis on the temporary and the ephemeral pulls us out of chronological time, something which in my mind is always welcome. The empty structures in the video, and the performance installations too, break down ideas about time as linear, hinting instead towards a much messier push and pull, towards nonlinear time as rich and reparative. Nothing exists neatly in any single time or place here. What better way to address this history, full of grief and full of longing? The time of both are loopy, as most of us know. For this reason, I found myself turning away from the video documentation of previous performances which are also on view in the exhibition. Their inclusion puts forth a stricter, less associative frame, inserting a language quite different from the rest of the exhibition. Dipping into them took me out of the floaty time that I was enjoying so much, as my relation to the objects was framed by the camera and no longer by my own eyes and body.

A letter, reproduced from the archive, National Library of Sweden; detail from the installation I Kiss Your Eyes (A Year in Eight Weeks), 2024.

Earlier, I wrote that the hand is not doing anything particularly special. But that is not entirely true. The hand might not be doing much but the gesture is – a communication to others, a subtle expression. It also points towards an ongoing archive, one which extends far beyond the specifics of any of the archives here. I think immediately of Carly Ries’ images, who has one of the most tender approaches to image-making I’ve ever encountered, a sense for body language and gesture that is uniquely their own. I enjoy this connection across the ocean and I enjoy thinking about how this archive will grow.

I pick up my own copy of one of the love letters on my way out the door, for later.

Erika Råberg

Erika Råberg is an artist and curator originally from the US. She is the founder of the forthcoming publication series Working Title, which publishes conversations between artists here in Stockholm, and also hosts projects in her apartment as Occasional Gallery.


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