Text by Pernille Albrethsen
originally written for the exhibition catalogue "Repeat
Pattern", Studio K/KIASMA, Helsinki, 2004.
The Klingberg Manual
Aesthetics of Everyday
Taking off your shoes, watching television, posting a letter, waiting
for the bus, drying the dishes, walking down the street, making a phone
call, buying a ticket, riding a bike, standing in line, making coffee...
Although the list of plain, everyday doings may be continued indefinitely,
the essence of quotidian life is not easily framed. The performances of
everyday life are so uneventful, uninteresting and boring that we hardly
notice them. In fact, invisibility might be their only common denominator.
So how do we formulate an aesthetics of everyday life - of something that
by definition seeks to make itself scarce?
The taken-for-granted world is invisible except under special conditions
- as when Gunilla Klingberg brings prosaic life into focus through sheer
repetition of the banal or by transforming the utterly ordinary into something
else. As when she produces a seemingly florid tapestry or patterned linoleum
flooring with allusions to oriental-style ornament, but where the pattern
in both cases is made up of mundane logotypes from cut-price stores like
Spar, Lidl, Aldi or Tesco. Here, the logotypes become tokens of quotidian
life. They enter our everyday lives in a steady flow. They pile up in
our minds and homes as we write a shopping list or when we bring back
a plastic bag with a logo printed on the cover. They are part of our daily
rhythm and are integral to the substance of our brain cells - the link
between our public and private spheres. In Klingberg´s world, the
logotypes signify the invisible flow of everyday life - the aesthetics
of everyday life.
"Is it possible to turn even the most ordinary rituals into something
The Collective Unconscious
Spar Loop (2000-2002) is a video animation by Gunilla Klingberg in which
colourful logotypes from cut-price supermarkets Aldi, Spar, Lidl and Ed
are interwoven, forming a constantly changing, symmetrical pattern. In
spite of the rather unglamorous supermarket logotypes, it is quite an
alluring experience. The kaleidoscopic animation creates colourful, symmetrical
figures, which make you think of complex flower buds, elegant rose windows
in the Gothic style or the inner geometry of a delicate snowflake. There
is something almost hypnotic about the manner in which the circle formation
alternately opens and closes, expands and contracts. Like a moving mandala
- the cosmological diagram used as a focus and guide for Buddhist meditation,
and which psychotherapist C.G. Jung introduced to the Western world as
a therapeutic tool that could help viewers recreate mental balance and
get closer to their inner selves. Klingberg might not have quite the same
aspirations. Still, her logotype mandala is an image of how our daily
rhythm of commonplace doings enters into our lives and minds deep down.
And it might be seen as her way of pointing to something which - to use
a Jungian term - belongs to the collective unconscious.
"I criticize my own boring, basic needs." /G.K.
American artist Barbara Kruger put the record straight in the yuppie-1980s
with her simple, but epoch-making piece - a shopping bag bearing the printed
statement: "I shop, therefore I am". But she was not one of
the first to point to consumerism as one of the existential backbones
of modern life. In his writings about the Parisian shopping arcades of
the late 19th Century, The Arcades Project (1927-1939), philosopher Walter
Benjamin gave an early account of how commodities, their alluring display
and the social life around them, represent one of the pillars of modern
urban life - how our desire for and acquisition of commodities can bring
us to a momentary state of ecstasy, which we hunger for in a paradoxically
absentminded or disinterested manner. Since shopping is such an ingrained
part of our lives and of the daily flow of events, the very act itself
- though hallucinatory in one sense - is quite uneventful and not much
of a spectacle. People rarely beam with excitement when they do their
shopping. In fact, they often look quite bored. But boredom also only
occurs in the uneventful, taken-for-granted world where people feel secure
taking part in something that is neither surprising nor shocking. Or as
Benjamin put it: "Boredom is always the outer surface of unconscious
Gunilla Klingberg´s video animation Unfold (2001) is inspired by
a true shopping experience in one of the shopping arcades of our time
- namely, a 24-hour shop-till-you drop event in IKEA. The animation is
made up of recordings from inside Ikea, where the gradual transition between
the kaleidoscopic images reflects the truly hallucinatory experience that
Klingberg witnessed that night in IKEA.
"A brass band was playing ëWhen the Saints Go Marching Iní
and all through the night special offers were announced over the public-address
system. As I watched these whole families wandering around in IKEA in
the early morning hours with grey, worn faces carrying their sleepy children
in their arms, it made me think about what is important in life - what
would make the whole family stay up? Apparently a 24-hour sale would.
It was a true gathering and a hallucinatory experience."/ G.K.
Perhaps a twilight-state get-together in the shape of a true shopping
marathon is one of the basic collective experiences in society today.
This is a hallucinatory sensation, which paradoxically originates from
the experience of a rather uneventful event. Even if people are bored
or half asleep, they partake in the collective hallucination, which makes
them feel safe and puts them at ease. As in Benjaminís definition
of boredom: "an index of participation in the collective sleep"2
"In some cultures - in India for instance - ancient symbols and images
still play a vital role in the daily doings of everyday life. I experience
a lack of essential symbols in my own culture. It is not a romantic urge
for pattern and ornament - but I am trying to replace something."
Ornament and Crime
The public were outraged in 1911 when the scaffolding was taken away to
reveal architect Adolf Loosí famous building on Michaelerplatz
in Vienna. The smooth, unornamented and puritanical facade of ëLoos
Hausí was a far cry from the historicism and eclecticism that marked
the architecture of the period. Being the number one enemy of the ornament,
Loos had carefully made sure that the building was completely stripped
of cornices or any other kinds of decoration normally found in the wedding-cake
architecture of the time. Loos regarded the ornament as a sign of primitivism
or of degenerate culture, and as something that only criminals - e.g.
with their tattoos - would make use of in the 20th century. In his seminal
essay "Ornament and Crime" from 1908 he argued that all ornamentation
must be removed from objects of everyday use, since the ornament is a
crucial impediment to the very evolution of culture.
Today, the ornament is still a crime. Especially in the Nordic countries,
where the ornament functions as a cultural stigma. We cherish the pure
and simple design for which we are famous, employing the ornament only
in a strictly ëcivilizedí manner - in a simple and honest
Marimekko-pattern or in an Ikea beanbag whose trendy textile reflects
a restrained flirtation with the Far East. Otherwise, the ornament is
left to play the part of silent marker of those who are different from
us. They might have taken up residence in our countries decades ago, but
their richly decorated homes, highly tuned cars and patterned clothing
reveal who they are. The ornament is a token of that which challenges
our deep-rooted habits, our ways of organizing our societies - and of
that which, ultimately, threatens our rationality.
Adolf Loos´ battle for simplicity, rationality and functionalism
lasted until his death in 1933. He was buried under a gravestone designed
by himself - a smooth, unornamented granite block - probably not unlike
the ones the majority of Scandinavians would choose today.
"I employ symbols that are visible in everyday life. The logotypes
and brands I use are neither glamorous nor 'loaded' brands like Nike,
which we tend to - at least after Naomi Klein's "No Logo" -
more easily recognize as something 'evil' because of their horrible production
conditions, with child labour, sweatshops etc." /G.K.
The Aldi Family
We usually focus on luxury items and high-street brands such as Louis
Vuitton, BMW and Sony when we criticize consumerism in its ultimate form.
And we rarely refer to everyday commodities from cut-price supermarkets.
But, in fact, the owners of the Aldi corporation, the brothers Theo and
Karl Albrecht, are rated number three in Forbes' 2003 list of the richest
people in the world. Moreover, rated as numbers 7, 8, 9 and 10 are Alice
Walton, Helen Walton, Jim Walton and John Walton - all heirs to Sam Walton,
the founder of the world´s largest retailer, Wal-Mart.
Swedish Pop Politics
In spite of the fact that the Swedish artist Öyvind Fahlström
operated in the midst of the American Pop art movement in New York, his
version of Pop art is far more political than that of his American colleagues.
Fahlström deals with the worldís moral and political problems
- the war in Vietnam, imperialism and capitalism. This does not make his
work boring or particularly self-righteous. In spite of its topics, Fahlström´s
art operates in a both playful and poetic manner - e.g. in his variable
paintings, the Monopoly series from the 1970s, in which you can us magnets
to alter the international economic world order in a game of Monopoly.
Even though the Monopoly works deal with world trade and international
power games, the critique is marked by a certain soft, sophisticated and
diplomatic tone, which has often characterized Swedes on the international
political scene. We know the Swedish politician in the classic go-between
role of the international negotiator, as with Dag Hammarskjöld, Olof
Palme and Hans Blix. This sane, diplomatic approach, nevertheless, also
has a determined, radical dimension, as when Hans Blix questioned the
legitimacy of the American attack on Iraq - or when in 1967 Fahlström
produced ESSO-LSD, a piece made up of two plastic signs, one replicating
the logo of the Esso Oil company, the other spelling 'LSD' in the same
colours and identical graphic layout.
Supply and Demand
Feedback Soundtrack #1-3 (2001-2004) is a sound installation by Gunilla
Klingberg, composed of amplifiers, effect boxes and a couple of microphones
which reverberate with feedback. As long as the equipment is switched
on, it releases a strange repetitive sound - a mixture of an eerie soundtrack
from an early Sci-Fi movie and the sound of meditative chanting. The sound
goes round in a loop. Like a kind of sound mandala running on its own
energy in a closed circuit. A totally self-supporting system carefully
reflecting supply and demand - like a basic capitalistic system.
"I used to play in a band where we used this kind of equipment. These
are Marshall amplifiers which have a connection with punk rock - with
something like the Sex Pistols. All this equipment has some sort of freedom
built-in - a revolutionary potential. Only, in this case, that potential
has been taken away." /G.K.
It makes you wonder about the avant-garde and revolution. How do we know
when the revolution is fulfilled, or even if the potential was ever really
there? In fact, the story about the Sex Pistols illustrates the problem
in a nutshell: Was the Sex Pistols´ short but momentous career of
four singles, one album and a lot of media hubbub a result of manager
McLaren´s manipulations? Or were the creativity of the music and
the spectacular stage performances in fact the real creative power of
the Sex Pistols? The discussion has been going on for years and we will
probably never really know - but it does show that music and marketing,
art and capital, were, and still are, as thick as thieves.
Immediately after the attack on the World Trade Center, the Bush administration
urged mourning Americans to show their patriotism by going shopping -
on the face of it, a rather odd response to air planes crashing into downtown
skyscrapers. However, the attack on New York's financial district was
far from being only a symbolic act. The American economy was seriously
wounded. And since constant economic growth is one of the chief goals
of capitalistic society, patriotic shopping may not be the most deranged
response to the brutal attack.
One of Gunilla Klingberg´s key works, Repeat Pattern (2003-2004)
underlines the fundamental status of shopping in our time. The piece is
basically a pattern composed of ordinary supermarket logotypes in black
and white. It exists as a tapestry and as linoleum flooring - and as a
total environment where the pattern is spread on the wall, the floor and
onto various cubic shapes, which seem to mushroom up from the floor. Here,
the viewer can move about freely within the pattern, but is also always
embraced by it - just like the consumer, who is basically free to make
her own choices in the world of consumer goods, and yet is also always
surrounded by seductive advertisements on all the possible surfaces in
public and private space - ranging from magazine pages to television screens.
So who has the final power over our behaviour patterns, choices and habits?
The truth is that it cuts both ways - as consumers, we both fuel and depend
on the consumer world in which we exist. After all, the great ideological
conflict of the 20th century was not won by socialism or conservatism,
but by unrestrained consumerism.
1 Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften V, Suhrkamp 1982, p.1006. (translated)
2 Op.Cit., p.164. (translated)