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Traces, Glimmers, Residues and Specks of Things

"Now there’s a new generation with much more unproblematic and playful attitudes towards gender and marginalized sexualities. To see this progression is such a relief, so beautiful", says visual artist Conny Karlsson Lundgren in our interview about his recent compelling exhibition project 'Traces, Glimmers, Residues and Specks of Things'. The exhibition interestingly departs from revisting Arthur Tress's Teenage Runners (Band-Aid Fantasy) from 1978; an image that used to hang in the wall of his student dorm room and coincidentially was found years later again after a chance enounter with an art collector, in the latter's collection. "It had a profound impact on my yearnings and fantasies during my teens", says the artist.

Der Jugendliche Läufer (Tim), 2019, performance, Neue Galerie Innsbruck. Photo: Daniel Jarosch

C-P: Your practice since long informs the effect of associative history writing, weighing on narratives that put queer communities and their various realities to the fore. To the extent known to me, you strike me as an early frontrunner in Sweden in this regard, working for instance with transgender people whose perspective largely is still absent in contemporary art. Society generally taking time to change and get up to speed with developments within queer communities and art enjoying a certain agency, finding its way out to “haute” rooms, it occurs me what possibly effectual and educational role artists can actually play.

C.K.L I haven’t thought about it like that. Most of my works usually come out of a frustration of some sort, with an interest in language, politics, counter-cultures and the disharmonious line between public and private. It's later on that I've started to acknowledge my practice in terms like queer. My studies coincided when queer theory began to trickle its way out of the academia’s innermost circles and became more visible in a Swedish context. It became an eye-opener and these many voices obviously had a strong impact. Suddenly I had tools to navigate structures. Since the discussions were reasonably new with an undefined power, I found a way of speaking about notions and experiences with a playful seriousness. I worked almost explicitly with queer topics during my academic years, something I was criticized for and later felt framed by. During those years, I was also engaged in working with performance. I did some early close and intimate projects with writers and trans-rights activists that defined my thinking in how to speak about collaborations, authorship, borrowed experiences and rights to historical narratives, etc.

The Teenage Runner (Ali), 2018/2019, performance, Sandviken Konsthall. Photo: Mike Karlsson Lundgren

Now there’s a new generation with much more unproblematic and playful attitudes towards gender and marginalized sexualities. To see this progression is such a relief, so beautiful. Although, the emergence of a new polarity intimidates me a bit. I feel a new hostility, aggression, and unforgiving approach in discussions, which can produce an alienating effect. Still, the various co-existing art scenes might hold power to provide platforms where ideas and attitudes can be tried, tested, and discussed. Most important is to rethink and decolonize a term like queer(-ness) to understand its Euro-American origin and what that holds entirely. Queer(-ness) has become a sort of normative approach, and does not carry universality and cannot be (nor should be) translated and applied to different cultures.

The Teenage Runner, 2018/2019, installation, Neue Galerie Innsbruck. Photo: Conny Karlsson Lundgren

C-P: The title of your exhibition at hand that has been travelling to Neue Galerie in Innsbruck in Austria from Sandvikens Konsthall here in Sweden is very intriguing; ‘Traces, Glimmers, Residues and Specks of Things’. Somehow it appears such a perfect and affecting fit given a broader context of working around notions of memory, intimacy, desire and yearning, relating to exploration and coming to terms with one’s own identity in a certain transient coming out of age phase. What is the proposition you make about the importance of the ephemeral, by way of this exhibition?

C.K.L: After being involved in archival research about others in a series of projects related to leftist movements and counter-cultures, I suddenly found myself following traces of my own hazy memories of intimacy and desire. While digging through my archives and body of work, without realizing what I was in search for, I felt this sudden urge to approach something more ephemeral, such as feelings, senses and sensations – an evasive and searching transitional phase into adulthood. The exhibition consists of works not necessarily made with the intention to be shown together; the earliest stem from the year 2000, and the most recent was specially made for this exhibition. The selection has in common that they speak about adolescence, all anchored in a shared Euro-American queer history. I felt an urgency to freeze time through the lens of my own practice.

The Teenage Runner, 2018/2019, installation, Neue Galerie Innsbruck. Photo: Conny Karlsson Lundgren

The title itself is a quote from the Cuban/American Queer Theorist José Esteban Muñoz, who has been of tremendous importance in how to understand and approach archival research. In the essay Ephemera as Evidence (1996), he reflects on the temporary, the ephemeral as a crucial part for the alternative historical writing of marginalized communities. I keep coming back to his writings, mainly because they are open and in such beautiful language offers intriguing ways of decoding identity. Informed by his discussions on an expanded understanding of ephemera, I’ve been interested in the gesture, a subtle movement of body, which can be understood as a carrier of identity. Muñoz uses the term as a tool to expose social conventions and their demands on how different bodies should be and behave. He explores his physical memories, where the body reveals itself through an unconscious violation of established codes, and illuminates how queer bodies and non-normative movements are exposed and judged by society. This became the point of departure for Gesture (2016), a collaboration with choreographer Dinis Machado (SE/PT) shown in the exhibition, where we retraced the archive of images of memory and subtle movements of our bodies.

(Above) Gesture, 2016, film still. Cinematography: Maja Dennhag , (below) I Need Somebody To Love Tonight, 2018, installation. Photo: Conny Karlsson Lundgren

Another work in the exhibition, the pulsating neon sign I Need Somebody to Love Tonight (2018), use traced scribbles from my teenage diaries, which just happened to be the words in Swedish, repeated by the black, gender non-conforming disco diva Sylvester in the song with the same title from 1979. Music has such immense power in its ability to offer a space to breathe, and can provide guidance and comfort through times of fragility and insecurities. I remember listening to this on repeat. I attach my own narrative, growing up in a small town in the 80s–90s, into a broader queer history. At the same time, the words in the sign are dismantled, just as the memory slowly fades. The individual words in the exhibition title can also be seen as entries and alternative titles for the four works in the exhibition. The new performance The Teenage Runner (2018–2019) even suggests that the images of memory become vibrations. That they remain in the layers of our skin, like “traces, glimmers, residues, and specks of things”.

C-P: One of the works in the exhibition, Residues (Kanazawa), 2000/2018, departs from how public spaces throughout history have always been used to create “safe” and clandestine realms for reciprocal exchanges of intimacy, e.g. “crusing” in queer culture. The work relates to a performative project in Japan in the year of 2000 and obviously much has changed since, both there and from a universal perspective, everywhere, considering increased global exchange and the transition of traditional societal norms, and digitalization of private spheres. I can really see the interest in wanting to revisit the work today and the relevance of doing so. Tell me more about this work.

C.K.L: I was spending a semester as an exchange student in a Japanese university town. At the turn of the millennium, sexual and gender minorities, and even premarital erotic encounters were still widely questioned in Japan. At the same time, the obvious presence of (straight) sex and porn on many levels in the everyday life in this patriarchal society was deeply disturbing. Contradicting, I found myself being censored during my own lectures and presentations speaking about my practice, with its focus on queer lives and alternative sexualities. The historical settings of Kanazawa, with its many gardens and ancient shrines, became a stage set for a series of interventions (or residues) I made in public spaces. Parks offered a clandestine venue, a temporary pleasure garden for nocturnal lovers to act on their desires while providing a “safe” space for marginalized communities. Even young straight couples that often lived with their parents until marriage, visited parks, and love hotels.

(Above and below) Kanazawa (Residues), 2000/2018, installation. Installation photo below: Mike Karlsson Lundgren

The act of cruising, with its coded behavior, has been an essential part of queer culture, but has rapidly transitioned into different forms with the emergence of dating apps. When I was searching my earlier works I found a series of slides of one of these interventions. Late at night I had entered a temple garden, one of the few cruising spots in the area where I had lived. A bronze statue depicting a young man guarded the entrance. He was wearing only a pair of revealing and tight denim shorts. I painted his nipples hot pink. The soft interventions could be painted “comments” like these, or small signs placed in the greenery surrounding an ancient shrine, meant to accentuate alternative sanctuaries for desires that has organically evolved – and now in times of digital intimacy cultures seizes to exist. The original three slides are projected as a loop in the exhibition, accompanied by a set of new slides with edited diary entries recalling the events of the evening.

C-P: Your work “The Teenage Runner” appears a perfect example of how expansive your projects can be, turning disparity into the semblance of a whole and joining together various contributing voices, in the midst. It’s essentially a performance that is performed by an actor and weighs on five parts that together compose the “set”. Stemming back to the inception of the project, it supposedly began with a chance encounter with an American art collector at one of your lectures and interestingly calls to mind a history of yours of working in dialogue with existing art collections.

C.K.L: The collector is Swedish, but his collection has a lot of post-war American photography, and also includes gay-centric “big” names such as Wojnarowicz, Michals, Hockney, Elmgren & Dragset, Leiderstam and Gupta. We met after a lecture I did in Sandviken, a city in the North of Sweden. The astounding surprise of finding these works in a rural area, in a village close by, triggered my interest; how a collection like this can be an intimate act, a projection of our desires, a part of identity processes, a way of creating both a social context and a room of one’s own. The collection offered such a case study of these notions and remained in my thoughts.

Conny Karlsson Lundgren. Photo: Mike Karlsson Lundgren

When I was invited to do a solo exhibition at the local konsthall/art institution, I immediately felt this collection needed to be addressed. By coincidence one of the collector’s most precious items happened to be a photograph by Arthur Tress, Teenage Runners (Band-Aid Fantasy), 1978, which reminded him of his first erotic encounter with a childhood friend. The photograph portraits an intimate act; of one young man’s removal of a Band-Aid from another young man’s thigh after a run. On the wall of my dorm room, I had a reproduction of the same image, so it had a profound impact on my yearnings and fantasies during my teens. A coincidence like this made me reflect on the trans-generational quality of specific images and how they trigger certain group’s desires and memories over time. The performance center’s itself on the removal of a Band-Aid on one’s thigh, how this act connects to memory and unfolds a series of images related to the sense of touch. While catching his breath the performer combines a series of voices in a monologue after an extended run; the collector’s memories of his erotic encounter in a forest glade, the photographer's recollection of how the image came to, my own memory fragments from the aforementioned dormitory, it adds texts on haptic science and how a sensitive plant can learn to forget. It speaks about the essence of love through poetry and philosophy.

The monologue becomes a way of reconstructing and revisiting the memory of a single event – while it examines how an artwork has been transposed into a collection. At this point, it has been performed by two actors in their teens, which bring different energies to the piece. They add their own experiences to the script; Ali speaks about a moment of escape being close to someone during a rough/troubled period when he first came to Sweden, through the double meaning of touch in Farsi. Tim speaks about losing the sense of touch in his fingers on a cold day on his way to school in the mountains, the same fingers that used to touch his lover’s spine. All these collected narratives transpire through the performer’s body while making an argument for that the sense of touch actually might be our soul. Yes, it’s all very Proust.

The Teenage Runner, 2018/2019, installation, Sandviken Konsthall. Photo: Mike Karlsson Lundgren

To learn more about Conny Karlsson Lundgren; www.connykarlsson.se

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