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Art and National Identity – Sweden and Lithuania

Andersson, Fred LU (2001) In Mutations
Abstract
The purpose of this paper is to present some reflections on the relationship between the production of contemporary art and the function of national identities in our Scandinavian and Baltic countries. The main assumption of the paper is a non-essentialist one: the author assumes that national identity, like art and the context(s) of the art-world(s), is something which is produced and socially constructed. The author don't wish, however, to simplify the issue of national identity or to deny its relevance as a personal, individual experience. Rather, the aim is to say something about the ability of artists to critically investigate both the production of national identity and the role of subjectivity in this production. The "problem" of... (More)
The purpose of this paper is to present some reflections on the relationship between the production of contemporary art and the function of national identities in our Scandinavian and Baltic countries. The main assumption of the paper is a non-essentialist one: the author assumes that national identity, like art and the context(s) of the art-world(s), is something which is produced and socially constructed. The author don't wish, however, to simplify the issue of national identity or to deny its relevance as a personal, individual experience. Rather, the aim is to say something about the ability of artists to critically investigate both the production of national identity and the role of subjectivity in this production. The "problem" of national identity, which is referred to in the title, should here be seen primarily as a fundamental conflict between subjective experience and collective symbols.



The argument will proceed from two rather common experiences of this problem. Firstly: the inability of very young children to understand statements like "our house is in the town X" or "the town X and the village Y are both in the country Z". Secondly: the experience of the "spirit" of a place and the connection between the concepts of Place and Nation in the production and historical reception of landscape painting. This second, historical point will be illuminated very briefly by some examples of the symbolically significant motive "house in landscape" in Swedish and Lithuanian painting from the first half of the 20:th century (Carl Larsson, Petras Kalpokas, Antanas Samuolis).



The analysis then extends into a presentation of the contemporary Swedish artist Peter Johansson and his installation "Little Sweden" during the Skulpturprojekte in Münster, summer 2000. This work consisted of a raft floating in the middle of an harbour, and on the raft a "typical" red Swedish cottage. The work also included two actors who played the roles of nationalist "skins": they lived in the cottage, drank a lot of beer, screamed and waved Swedish flags. As a caricature of some basic concepts and symbols of national identity (the Place, the House, the People), the comical effect of this installation/action could be explained as primarily an effect of distance - one could safely laugh at the small "Nation" on the raft because one didn't experience oneself as being a part of it.



By contrast, the Lithuanian contemporary artist Arturas Railas work "Under the Flag", which was shown at the Berlin Biennale in 2001, rather includes the spectator as a part of the process and the place. Railas work consists of two video screens on two opposing walls in a dark room. On one screen is shown some documentary material from an Austian election campaign. On the other is shown the reactions of some Lithuanian neo-nazis when they see this material. An original situation is thus re-created in the room of the gallery. The position of the spectator, standing between the screens, is of a dualistic and active kind. He/she might here be supposed to recognize himself/herself as a part of a process in which national identities are simultaneously produced and reflected upon. This notion of subjectivity, which means that the artist/spectator should be seen as a part of the process rather than being merely a distant and critical onlooker, will be elaborated further in connection to some writings and public actions by the Lithuanian artcritic Raimundas Malasauskas. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceeding
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Peter Johansson, Arturas Raila, Carl Larsson, Antanas Samuolis, Petras Kalpokas, Visual Art in Lithuania, Visual Art in Sweden, National identity, National symbols, Raimundas Malasauskas
in
Mutations
editor
Civinskiene, Kristina
publisher
National M K Ciurlionis Museum
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
93a42fee-3afc-4c97-8b1e-896bdb9c252a (old id 607338)
date added to LUP
2007-11-25 23:21:30
date last changed
2016-04-16 08:34:49
@misc{93a42fee-3afc-4c97-8b1e-896bdb9c252a,
  abstract     = {The purpose of this paper is to present some reflections on the relationship between the production of contemporary art and the function of national identities in our Scandinavian and Baltic countries. The main assumption of the paper is a non-essentialist one: the author assumes that national identity, like art and the context(s) of the art-world(s), is something which is produced and socially constructed. The author don't wish, however, to simplify the issue of national identity or to deny its relevance as a personal, individual experience. Rather, the aim is to say something about the ability of artists to critically investigate both the production of national identity and the role of subjectivity in this production. The "problem" of national identity, which is referred to in the title, should here be seen primarily as a fundamental conflict between subjective experience and collective symbols. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
The argument will proceed from two rather common experiences of this problem. Firstly: the inability of very young children to understand statements like "our house is in the town X" or "the town X and the village Y are both in the country Z". Secondly: the experience of the "spirit" of a place and the connection between the concepts of Place and Nation in the production and historical reception of landscape painting. This second, historical point will be illuminated very briefly by some examples of the symbolically significant motive "house in landscape" in Swedish and Lithuanian painting from the first half of the 20:th century (Carl Larsson, Petras Kalpokas, Antanas Samuolis). <br/><br>
<br/><br>
The analysis then extends into a presentation of the contemporary Swedish artist Peter Johansson and his installation "Little Sweden" during the Skulpturprojekte in Münster, summer 2000. This work consisted of a raft floating in the middle of an harbour, and on the raft a "typical" red Swedish cottage. The work also included two actors who played the roles of nationalist "skins": they lived in the cottage, drank a lot of beer, screamed and waved Swedish flags. As a caricature of some basic concepts and symbols of national identity (the Place, the House, the People), the comical effect of this installation/action could be explained as primarily an effect of distance - one could safely laugh at the small "Nation" on the raft because one didn't experience oneself as being a part of it. <br/><br>
<br/><br>
By contrast, the Lithuanian contemporary artist Arturas Railas work "Under the Flag", which was shown at the Berlin Biennale in 2001, rather includes the spectator as a part of the process and the place. Railas work consists of two video screens on two opposing walls in a dark room. On one screen is shown some documentary material from an Austian election campaign. On the other is shown the reactions of some Lithuanian neo-nazis when they see this material. An original situation is thus re-created in the room of the gallery. The position of the spectator, standing between the screens, is of a dualistic and active kind. He/she might here be supposed to recognize himself/herself as a part of a process in which national identities are simultaneously produced and reflected upon. This notion of subjectivity, which means that the artist/spectator should be seen as a part of the process rather than being merely a distant and critical onlooker, will be elaborated further in connection to some writings and public actions by the Lithuanian artcritic Raimundas Malasauskas.},
  author       = {Andersson, Fred},
  editor       = {Civinskiene, Kristina},
  keyword      = {Peter Johansson,Arturas Raila,Carl Larsson,Antanas Samuolis,Petras Kalpokas,Visual Art in Lithuania,Visual Art in Sweden,National identity,National symbols,Raimundas Malasauskas},
  language     = {eng},
  publisher    = {ARRAY(0xb4d03f8)},
  series       = {Mutations},
  title        = {Art and National Identity – Sweden and Lithuania},
  year         = {2001},
}