Eugène Sundelius von Rosen
Opening and Artists’ Talks on Wednesday, 7 August at 6–8pm
The diary used to be our most private and secret thing – until it wasn’t. Think of all the diaries (sometimes with a little lock on them) pried open and read by those described in less than flattering terms on their pages. That scene is a common trope in literature, theatre and cinema, just like the diary entry as a narrative form.
Many diarists have dreamt – privately, secretly – about posthumously sharing their life with the interested public. Publishing diaries (and writers’ letters, and artists’ notebooks) has become a whole industry driven by our lust for illicit insight, and ultimately our hope that process will reveal itself as superior to product.
Social media have accelerated this transformation of the private into the public. Today, it seems, little privacy remains. We upload our lives onto insidiously designed platforms, willingly sharing sensitive data with the real clients of Gmail and Facebook and Instagram. When they pursue us with individually tailored ‘prediction products’ we feel only vaguely spooked, although their digital mindreading threatens to deprive us of our human unpredictability and thereby of our free will.
As always, attempts may be made to subvert such dominant systems, but only from within. And as usual, artists are among the more efficient subversives, because they can operate both systemically and individually, both as members of collective communities and as singular free agents. Artists can amplify or distort the messages broadcast by mainstream culture and play them back at such loud volume or with such quiet subtlety that the stream begins to turn.
The three artists whose practices make up this exhibition have things in common. They draw and write prolifically: on paper, on textiles, on public surfaces such as walls or computer screens. They acknowledge few boundaries between image and word, and even fewer between the actual (physical) and virtual (digital) presence of their work, or indeed between ‘work’ and ‘life’ as separate entities. They are all extensively visible on Instagram, mostly for reasons other than self-promotion.
But of course these artists also differ from each other. Babi Badalov (Azerbaijan/France, 1959) executes a site-specific mural painting and shows works on textile. He is internationally known for his ‘think-things’ or ‘alphabet-ornaments’: word-images or visual poems, reminiscent of his time as an underground poet and painter in 1980s Leningrad and interpreting the dire state of today‘s world in idiosyncratic variations on the ‘arabesque’. Its meandering, itinerant, orientalist lines stand in for Badalov himself. He says: ‘In these terrible times – with Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan totally destroyed, with the climate catastrophe and terrorism – I can’t be tolerant and polite about everything.’
Badalov calls his Instagram account, with more than 34,000 posts, ‘a very private visual diary’. Nevertheless, it will be displayed in real-time in the exhibition, just like that of Eugène Sundelius von Rosen (Sweden, 1991). Still a student at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, his production – of drawings, comic books, animations, performance-based video and poetry – is already sizeable. He conjures up a drawn world, with sexless and ageless characters endlessly saying and doing non-descript things, as a counter-image to the ‘undrawn world’ that he also ceaselessly photographs. Counter-intuitively, the narcissist bent of this ‘diary life’ (the neologism is his) comes across as a self-reflexive, productively poetic being-in-the-world. A generous selection of drawn work is shown.
If Sundelius von Rosen’s politics and poetics are more personal and less ideological than Badalov’s (and not only because of the difference in age and experience), Jaakko Pallasvuo (Finland, 1987) combines both approaches, with an ironic edge pointed at the art ecosystem he expertly inhabits. His comic-strip mini-essays – satirising our reliance on hypocritical complacency for survival under platform/surveillance capitalism – have almost 10,000 followers on Instagram, but here the ‘original’ sheets of paper are shown attached to primed canvas, together with other visuals executed in various formats and materials or work using the moving image as its vehicle. Pallasvuo may be using language – both English and Finnish – extensively, but he remains an eminently visual artist.
Image Credit: Babi Badalov’s Instagram account, 2017