“Silvermine is an archive of half a million negatives salvaged in Beijing”
“Onthisday.com is the world’s largest historical events online database”
With their latest collaboration On This Day, visual artists Thomas Sauvin, Klara Källström and Thobias Fäldt orchestrate an improbable encounter between these two sources.
No History, No Problem
As long as it is not interfered with, supply and demand is a self-regulating relationship that creates balance. That is the simple idea of liberal market economies. But, in financial transactions between producers and consumers, or sellers and buyers, there are sometimes costs that are not calculated into monetary exchanges. These are known as negative externalities.
When you purchase a garment in a store, neither you nor the store pay for the pollution of rivers, stemming from cotton production or fabric treatment. Neither you nor the store pay for cleaning up the generated waste once the garment has been disposed of. Nor do either of you pay for the depletion of natural resources needed for production and transportation, or the cost of educating skilled labour. These, and many other examples of negative externality have a common denominator: privatization of profit and collectivization of costs.
Since that which is not private is often unregulated in the market economy, it is either non-existent or considered to be inherently free to be exploited. Proponents of free market economy see the problem of negative externality as a sign of insufficient freedom of the market. Issues of deforestation, water and air pollution and a general destruction of the biosphere can according to this argument be solved if all of the above are internalized into the economy and given a monetary value. If everything is private, the argument goes, then nothing can be free. If nothing is free, then nothing can be negatively externalized. Since neither our lives nor our future have a price, they are therefore free to be negatively externalized. The same goes for our history.
Much like libraries of the past, search engines are the arbiters of knowledge in the digital world, albeit functioning in a free market economy. In order to generate profit from our search for information, these engines have created a set of algorithms that per definition feed audiences with the lowest common denominator of relevance for the greatest amount of people. Paired with a self-perpetuating reinforcement. Or another way of putting it: different people can be interested in different information, but if cats are universally appealing, cats will be prominently displayed. And if there is a demand for cats, algorithms will provide with even more cats.
This is the equivalent of food stores displaying candy in the most prominent shelves, expanding into other sections, and gradually replacing all other goods as the most appealing, self-reinforced, lowest common denominator amongst consumers.
While the transaction between ourselves and the arbiters of knowledge provide us with access to free information, and hefty profits for the arbiters, history bares the cost of negative externality.
But if there is no collective history, then our private knowledge of history cannot be negatively externalized. Or to paraphrase a quote without its historic recollection: no history, no problem.
The photographs numbered 127, 130 and 134 were taken on March 31 and are to be found in box 610 in the Presidential Photo Archive of Josip Broz Tito and are followed by captions grouped in parentheses: Arrival to Haga Palace with Prime Minister Olof Palme (122-128) Official talks (129–132) Meeting the journalists (133-136)
Today’s remaining story from the meeting between the two government officials is of a kind that cannot be categorized under allotted captions, and is instead represented by a moment when President Tito gets his hand squeezed into a car door.
The End of Hypocrisy: A Good Day for Bad Weather
By the end of the last great war, when the people inhabiting the Western edge of the Eurasian landmass unleashed their full destructive force upon each other and just barely avoided obliteration, something that we like to call Western Values were created. These were a set of ideas that postulated that the horrors of forceful domination and tyranny must be subdued by enlightenment in our ravaged world, lest we seize existing in the next untimely flare. Our departments of war were promptly renamed into departments of defence; our ministries of propaganda gave way to the more modern sounding departments of information. As nations we laid claim to the phrase “never again”. And so, the age of hypocrisy was born.
The act of hypocrisy, far from a modern invention, was a theatrical act used in plays of the ancient Greek civilisation, a civilisation that the creators of Western Values purported to draw our heritage from. While the ancient philosophers considered hypocrisy to be an inappropriate act outside of the world of theatres, the creators of the new paradigm drew on a line from a pastoral play by William Shakespeare in which a melancholy protagonist declares that in fact “all the world´s a stage”. And as such, the public, albeit theatrical declaration of universal values, even if they were not necessarily upheld in practice, was considered to be a virtue of itself. Hypocrisy, it was believed, would be a quilt, or a goal, moderating the vilest impulses of domination and tyranny, playing what Mahatma Ghandi is ascribed to have considered “a good idea”, namely the act of Western civilization.
The age of hypocrisy gave birth to declarations of universal rights, human rights, laws, treaties, institutions, and not least the profession of journalism which became the moral arbiter, unearthing and attempting to bridge the gap between what was declared and what was actually enacted. Careers were created and destroyed, with hypocrisy as the sole motivator. Hierarchical systems of power arose, where those who bore the least public guilt, or had been caught with the least heinous moral crimes were propelled to the top. Military and financial powers were forced to employ complex “narratives” and “discourses”, “public-relations” and “educational programs” in order to conduct military adventures, genocide and oppression of their subjects. The kingdom of Sweden arose as a moral superpower, an international enforcer of values.
When what became known as the Western World entered the Age of Information, the Age of Hypocrisy was bound to come to an end. The gap between what was said and what was done could simply no longer be meaningfully maintained, not when access to information had become so readily available. The very fundamentals of the institutions of power, the particular hierarchical structures upholding law and social order, were faced with insurmountable strains in maintaining their legitimacy when moral superiorities were suddenly so publicly questioned. And even though the age of hypocrisy had clearly outlived itself, there was no given answer as to which of the two logical ends it would meet; through that which was declared, or that which was enacted.
The end of hypocrisy was not the end of the world, only the end of a theatrical play, and an end for the role played by its actors. And that end proved to be a great day to talk about the weather.
The Swedish Matter – or the issue of the gramophone mind
In September 1943 British journalist Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen-name George Orwell, resigned from his war-work position at the BBC´s Eastern Service, where he had been tasked with engaging hostile propaganda challenging Her Majesties control over the British colonies. Simultaneously, discharging himself from the home-guard service, he set out writing what came to be one of his most famous books, Animal Farm.
Meanwhile, on the Swedish island of Djurgården, industrialist and banker Torsten Kreuger was overseeing the reconstruction of his torched mansion Villa Ekudden. Torsten Kreuger, the less famous brother of the deceased Ivar Kreuger, Match King and richest man in the world, had recently gained national notoriety because he had set out on a mission to prove that his brother had fallen victim of foul play.
After initially being refused by four publishers on behest of the Ministry of Information, the fictional novel Animal Farm subsequently became mandatory reading for millions of school-children across the Western world, earning itself the status of a classical tale of the perils of Communism. In the much quoted final phrase of the book, it’s mostly young readers were shown the political and moral corruption of seemingly egalitarian movements through an analogy of animals rising up against their human masters only to realise that their animal masters were no better: “the creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which”.
Being the proprietor of Aftonbladet, one of the largest newspapers in the country, Torsten Kreuger had engaged in a protracted investigation into the alleged suicide of his brother and was able to uncover a number of irregularities. Reaching the conclusion that his brother had actually been murdered, he simultaneously launched a number of court cases against the bankers and government officials who were engaged in what he charged was the looting of some 200 companies of his brothers’ estate. In the court filings Torsten Kreuger made the case that these companies could not be considered worthless, and that their takeover should be annulled.
It is safe to say that to millions of people across the world, Animal Farm became the one most important book epitomising all that is bad with Communism in general, and all that was bad with the Soviet Union in particular. However, that was never the authors intent. And that particular interpretation of the book could only have been reached because the preface of the book where George Orwell in his own words describes its meaning, was cut out: “For all I know, by the time this book is published my view of the Soviet regime may be the generally-accepted one. But what use would that be in itself? To exchange one orthodoxy for another is not necessarily an advance. The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment.”
Amongst the most famous of the Kreuger-companies subsequently deemed virtually worthless by accountant Hugo Stenbeck, were the paper mill SCA, the ball baring industry SKF with its subsidiary automobile industry Volvo, the gold mine Boliden, the iron ore mine LKAB, the production company and cinema chain SF, the phone company Ericsson, the real estate company Hufvudstaden and the crown jewel of the Kreuger empire Swedish Match, that at the time produced some 60 percent of the world matches. The Wallenberg family who entered into a power-sharing agreement with the ruling Social Democratic Party, took over most of these companies and became the wealthiest and most powerful entrepreneurs in the country. Likewise, the accountant Hugo Stenbeck amassed an immense wealth with which he founded the investment company Kinnevik, later known for Tele2 and Viasat Broadcasting. During the resulting court battles Torsten Kreuger was placed in solitary confinement at the Långholmen prison after which he was sentenced to four years of forced labour in a camp in the north of Sweden for alleged accounting crimes. The charges were later dropped and instead the High Court upheld the sentence by formulating a new crime: fraud against the public. A few years later Torsten Kreuger sold the newspaper Aftonbladet to the ruling Social Democratic Party.
In his preface to Animal Farm, entitled “The freedom of the press” George Orwell describes the Western system of censorship, self-censorship and taboos that were shaping the description of the world, something he had much professional experience of while working as a journalist at the BBC. He writes of what he saw as intellectual cowardice leading to “an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question”. This was according to Orwell’s own preface the essence of Animal Farm. Rather than a critique of a country that he had little knowledge of, Orwell was in fact using the analogy of the Soviet Union to criticize the orthodoxy of his own society, the lack of freedom of thought and exchange of opinions, the lack of a freedom of the press as the title implies, and the perils of a society run like an animal farm.
The remainder of his life Torsten Kreuger attempted to clear his reputation and that of his brother, and in 1962 having gained access to secret government archives, he was able to prove conclusively that the enterprises of Ivar Kreuger had indeed be raided by a sinister cabal of bankers and politicians in cahoots with one of the largest media moguls in Sweden. He published his findings together with copies of some of the secret documents in two books, but could not convince any of the large newspapers to give them any credence. Most of them had by now ended up belonging to the very same enterprises and political interests that he charged with being part of the plot against his brother.
In the millions of copies sold across the world, the preface of Animal Farm was never published. Ominously, in his later works Orwell would write about this living fabric of history and the power of interpretations and re-interpretations in shaping our understanding of the world: “who controls the present controls the past, who controls the past controls the future.” And so “The freedom of the press” was simply purged and buried in the dustbin of history.
But history having its own ways, seems to take offence of being buried anywhere, and so it has a habit of resurfacing, much like any other living matter.
”On 19 May 2017, the Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation into rape accusations against Julian Assange and applied to revoke the European arrest warrant. On Swedish Midsummer, 23 June 2017, when the case was dropped, Källström and Fäldt visited Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in order to take a portrait of the man who had put Sweden in so much lime-light. On the longest day of 2017, they used the Sunny 16 Rule, which in photography is a method of estimating correct daylight without a light meter, to catch a frame of the man whose week in Stockholm seven years earlier was no longer of interest to the Swedish state.”
Excerpt from introductory text by Johannes Wahlström, 2017
In the spring of 2014, Klara Källström and Thobias Fäldt travelled from the US to Cuba in the spirit of visiting the country before it would change. They had brought along analogue camera film that they feared was damaged by the x-rays of the security controls, so they went searching for new film.
In the streets of Havana, they accidentally ran into one of Fidel Castro’s former private photographers. He took them to a camera shop, where despite the general lack of photographic equipment in the city, there were three rolls of film bearing the inscription “Lucky”. The salesman handed over the rolls and said: “These are the last rolls of Cuba.”
The expiration date on the “Lucky”-rolls was marked to 1994. They were sent to Cuba from the Soviet Union as part of the former Soviet-Cuba trade agreements that subsequently ended in the 1990s. Källström and Fäldt photographed during two weeks in Cuba unknowing the conditions of the rolls and whether they would still be sensitive to light after such a long time had passed since due date.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the leadership of the United States came to believe that Cuban socialism would wither away on its own, and that all that was needed was a little push in the right direction. Therefore, the “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act” was adopted by then president William Clinton in March of 1996. This new approach to regime change provided the United States government with a legal and economic framework to bring about “democracy and market economy in Cuba”.
In 2008 the US Department of State notified Congress that it would provide funds to the USAID for projects that “hasten the end of the Castro dictatorship”. One of the most famous of these projects was the Twitter-like Cuban social network ZunZuneo which received its first funding in the summer of 2009 under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This and other similar projects continued to be funded during the rest of the tenure of Secretary Clinton with the proclaimed aim of “increasing the flow and access to accurate, independent, and uncensored information”. The essence of these projects was to circumvent the Cuban state monopoly on information by supporting non-governmental organizations and creating social networks for communication between citizens.
In march of 2016, US president Obama visited Cuba and Havana would witness a free concert by the rock band The Rolling Stones. The concert, featuring the 1969 hit song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, was, some were convinced, the symbolic concert of change in the Americas.
Meanwhile, the little known senator, Bernie Sanders, from the state of Vermont in the United States took the lead in opinion polls for the presidential nomination to the governing US Democratic Party, and at the same time the main candidate for the Republican Party, Jeb Bush, seemed to be losing the nomination against the real-estate tycoon Donald Trump, known for promoting US financial protectionism and political isolationism.
With cruise liners once again mooring the Havana harbour, US artists gearing up for further concerts, and US airlines taking flight reservations to the Island, the American spring seemed to bring much anticipated change to the Western hemisphere.
In the spring of 2016, author turned couch photographer, Johannes Wahlström set out to document the change manifesting itself in messages sent over the US social network Twitter leading up to the US presidential elections later that year.
In 25 Lemon Trees, No Gardeners, Källström and Fäldt follow up on the media depiction of the Greek crisis, a continuous project first published by B-B-B-Books in 2011 (Europe, Greece, Athens, Acropolis).
In the summer of 2015, Källström and Fäldt happened to travel along the decision making of the so called Trojka – the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, and the meetings that started off in Brussels on June 23rd, continued to Berlin and subsequently lead up to the bailout referendum held in Greece on July 5th.
The vantage point for 25 Lemon Trees, No Gardeners is a fake news story concocted by some of the major European news outlets. The headlines exclaimed that the Evangelismos Hospital in Athens had 45 employed gardeners but no garden and this came to be a perfect metaphor for the reasons behind the Greek economic crisis, and presumably Greek wastefulness. The truth of the matter however, was that the hospital indeed had no garden, but neither did it have any gardeners. Upon closer inspection, it did however have 25 lemon trees. In the early morning of 27 June 2015 Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced that a referendum was to be held on whether the country should accept the bailout conditions proposed on 25 June by the Trojka. The polls published by the European media prior to the referendum showed a clear advantage for the Yes side. However, they were all unexpectedly proven wrong, as the No side won by a landslide. With some good old strong-arming the No was turned in to a Yes and austerity was implemented.
During the first half of 2015, the media predominately reported on a presumable Grexit. After the Greek bailout referendum, the focus shifted to the refugee crisis leading up to June 23rd 2016 when the UK voted Brexit. The cover of 25 Lemon Trees, No Gardeners carries a photograph taken on the day of Brexit when Källström and Fäldt find themselves anew in Greece – this time in the port of Kavala where thousands of refugees had set foot throughout the elapsed year.
25 Lemon Trees, No Gardeners was first shown at Bunkier Sztuki in Krakow as part of the exhibition Imagineering – (Re)Activating the Photographic during Krakow Photomonth 2016. On the occasion of the opening of Källström and Fäldt’s solo exhibition 45 Gardeners And So On at Gallery Magacin in Belgrade in December 2016, B-B-B-Books launched 25 Lemon Trees, No Gardeners along with a translated excerpt from Swedish writer Kajsa Ekis Ekman’s book Skulden. Eurokrisen sedd från Aten (Broken Spring. Engl Trans.) (Leopard förlag 2013) where the becoming of a typical Greek crisis myth is depicted.
”A tough female action-hero finally updating the modern role-model that our children so desperately need. Or maybe a figment of imagination that an artist has interlaced with contemporary social critique. But then again, perhaps merely a product of the Military Entertainment Complex.So, who is Salt? This question is waiting to be posed to the hundreds of millions, through writings on the walls, through whispers between friends, on our ways, and in the comfort of our homes. But we, we have preceded it. This is Salt.” Johannes Wahlström, 2015
Who is Salt? deals with the notion of the Military Entertainment Complex. Angelina Jolie hesitates to undertake the role as agent Evelyn Salt, but is nevertheless dreaming of the role as Cleopatra. This is a cooperation of mutual benefit revealed through email conversations found on IMDb (Internet Movie Database) and in the Sony Hack of 2014 between Hollywood and the State Department.
Who is Salt? was released at B-B-B-Books in November in 2015. After, the related IMDb file was changed and the publication of the Salt narrative postponed until yet unknown date. The project was shown at Bunkier Sztuki in Krakow as part of the exhibition Imagineering – (Re)Activating the Photographic during Krakow Photomonth 2016.
”Village explores a complex web of language politics of Canada and the very format of a photobook. The project was conceived during a three-month stay in a residency in Quebec, when photographers Klara Källström and Thobias Fäldt were repeatedly confronted with Canadian language politics.
No tongue is truly neutral. Words we choose to express ourselves have meaning besides the obvious definition of sentences constructed. “Motherland” or “patrie” may expound a markedly different connotation. Language is both means for communication and a platform for politics in Canada. Especially in Quebec, where despite its memorable motto – “je me souviens” (“I remember”) – exists a sadly forgotten layer of linguistic history. It is the remnants of languages of the once-proud indigenous inhabitants, who, despite losing to the process of colonization, left a strong, if hardly visible, cultural mark in the geographical names of the region.
Källström and Fäldt undertook this exploration with rigour and touch of lightness that borders on poetry. The former is manifested in a traditionalist photobook agenda and a strict set of rules followed in the process of making pictures. Photographs taken at various sites were “pinned” geographically with a help of mobile devices. The native names of these sites were later unearthed with a help from institution VU in Quebec. These names were then translated into English and French and used as photographs’ captions. This presents a backbone and structure of the book. Yet, lightness is prevalent and humour abounds. A place may be called “A gathering place” in indigenous Míkmaq, but when there is a supermarket there now, as stoically noted by the photographers’ camera, one is left with a sense that History, perhaps, has a profoundly delicate sense of humour. Alongside local exotica, the well-known visual signifiers of Canada mark the book. The flag, ice-hockey, food. The Swedish duo has cloaked themselves with a position of strangers in the land, presenting a visual index of their journey.
In its core Village is a document of certain time and place, thus by extension a project of documentary photography, but one with concept and attitude. Layers of politics, history and culture are revealed to a curious viewer (who should approach this book as a journey of her own), as she gets deeper into the narrative presented in the book’s pages. Sensitive irony and lightness of touch is succeeded by a politically charged attention to language, while the history of photography and duo’s own inspiration is suddenly made clear as one flips through the pages. One in particular is worth mentioning. A Swiss in America – mirrored by the relationship of photographers own foreignness in Canada – Robert Frank undertook a journey subjectively documenting the country. It resulted in a highly-influential The Americans (1958), which is now considered a classic example of photography book. Källström and Fäldt employ Frank’s poetic licence to document Canadian culture and people. Village’s uncompromised print quality, dust jacket and cloth cover are all signifiers of the photobook and suggests a sense of the medium’s history at play. Källström and Fäldt even take a step further. It is done through a conceptual use of the tool that is concomitant with the very idea of photography book – a caption. Captions traditionally pin down images, geographically and historically.
To caption something is akin to making an utterance – staking a claim of a link between a photograph and a certain place which spawned it. This indexical connection is of paramount importance for the history of photography theory. It is significantly different – say the photographers – to lay a photograph‘s claim to Canada or Kanata, latter being the aboriginal name for “village” from which the country now hails its name. By staking claim with their photographs to the indigenous names of lands, the photographers both reflect the problematic language politics in Canada today and highlight the sense of history, by which certain languages get to be forgotten and overtaken by others. The dissonance between what the caption says in Village, and what the photo elicits is quite striking and presents the very politics of captioning itself.
This double adventure, into a territory of a foreign land and the history of photobook, is something that probably could not be defined as glamorous within the market of today’s art photography. Shying away from the more fashionable themes, such as materiality or distributive-potential of a networked image, Källström and Fäldt root their practice in a contemporary reading of the historical construct of documentary photography, especially the belief that deeper truths can be revealed by a camera of a sensitive spectator. Photographers succeed in as much as viewers are attentive to details, multiple suggestions to uncover various layers of the book. As every true explorer, the photographers ask meaningful questions rather than offer ready-made answers. By doing this, they remind us that powerful questions can be asked in any language, even if it’s a tongue of a curious kind of documentary photography. Between the politics of language and acuteness of vision, Village presents a narrative of a photographic exploration, suggesting layers of conflicting meanings on its apparently two-dimensional surface.”
Text by Paul Paper, 2015
In exhibited form, Village was first shown in Stockholm in the summer of 2014. In 2015, in San Francisco, Källström and Fäldt made a follow up of the series adding “Kali Forno,” the alleged indigenous name for California that describes its mountainous terrain, using similar methods of cultural investigation to examine how the Mission district–and, by extension, the greater San Francisco Bay Area–has evolved over the years. The Village/High Hills project was on display at Aimee Friberg Exhibitions between February and March 2015.
”Wikiland deals with images reported by the media in the Wikileaks and Julian Assange case during spring 2011. The photographs were taken in Norfolk, England, where Assange had been placed under house arrest, and outside Belmarsh Magistrate’s Court in London, on February 24 and 25, 2011. The series doesn’t reveal any close portraits of Assange and by these means, the gaze is turned towards media’s reporting during this time as well as our own expectations on documentary photography when events like these are depicted.” Wikiland, 2011
Since 2011, the work on Wikiland has continued and the time span has changed to 2007-07-12–00:59:46. The project now revolves around the leak of a so-called gun-camera video from July 12, 2007, when civilians and Reuters photographers in Baghdad were gunned down from an Apache helicopter, a video which later came to be known as The Collateral Murder. The publication of the material in 2010 by Wikileaks shocked the world, but the focus shifted away from the event soon thereafter. Three years later, The Collateral Murder reoccurred in its original form, but used as a narrative element in the 2013 Touchstone / Disney feature film The Fifth Estate. The time 00:59:46 is one out of many moments in this movie where a typical depiction of a political hero, or antihero, appears. In this case, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch plays the role of Julian Assange. The photograph alludes to the many images we carry as part of our collective visual domain. The use of such familiar framing effectively dismisses the boundary between the real and the fiction of a made up story which was never approved by Assange and in which he personally asked Cumberbatch not to take part.
”Like pebbles on the sea-shore, a reminder that time can turn mountains into sand, our memories are polished, eroded and transformed in our minds until we can no longer be sure if they bear any semblance to what they once were. A Beach is an exploration of the erosion of history. A History, so dangerous, that its elimination has become physical.” Johannes Wahlström, 2013
A Beach consists of photographs from the Arab city of Jaffa south of Tel Aviv, along with a photograph of the same place taken by French photographer Félix Bonfils in 1880, and a childhood memory. The buildings that are visible in Bonfils photograph are now demolished to the ground to make way for a modern boardwalk as a result of the occupation and as part of the gentrification processes in Tel Aviv. The only sign of the missing houses are the pieces of mosaic from the tiles found on the beach in Jaffa.
A Beach is published at B-B-B-Books and was released at Offprint Paris 2013. In exhibited form, A Beach was first presented in Stockholm in 2015 at Skajs, a renown Swedish antique dealer where the stones from Jaffa were displayed next to selected objects of the antiquarian. In 2016, the project was part of Photo Saint-Germain and shown at Gallerie Jean-Pierre Gros in the heart of the antiquarian quarters of Rive Gauche in Paris.