The Last of the Lucky / You Can’t Always Get What You Want (2014–16)
In spring 2014, Källström-Fäldt travelled from the US to Cuba in the spirit of visiting the country before it would change. They feared the analogue camera film they brought had been damaged by the airport security X-rays, 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 second part of the project presents screenshots from Twitter amassed by Johannes Wahlström, as well as information about a USAID programme from the 1990s intent on creating a “Cuban Spring”. The project begins with the announcement of a free Rolling Stones concert in Cuba in March 2016 – interpreted as a symbol of change in the Americas – and is framed by efforts to incorporate Cuba into US capitalism. One such endeavour was creating a social media platform called Zun Zuneo which enabled Cubans to demand change on a grassroots level. But radical change was happening in the US instead, with the project also tracking the race for presidential power via Twitter through the accounts of Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Donald J. Trump.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt and Johannes Wahlström, 2014–16 Book made together with 1:2:3 (Axel von Friesen and Petter Törnqvist), B-B-B-Books, 2017
The series revolves around two archives. One is the Beijing Silvermine, founded in 2009 by Thomas Sauvin. It consists of 850,000 discarded photographic negatives from 1985 to 2005 that were collected from recycling stations around Beijing in China. The other archive is the website onthisday.com, the world’s largest repository for recording events in history. By bringing together the intimate, personal, and date-stamped snapshots from China – discarded and found – with the overwhelmingly Americanised record of daily happenings listed on the internet, the artists create new narratives and perspectives from two incomplete sources of information about the world.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt and Thomas Sauvin, 2018–21
Text by Johannes Wahlström, 2018
Text by Daniel Palmer, 2021
Exhibition project FG2, 2018
Book made together with Axel von Friesen and Michael Evidon, B-B-B-Books and Beijing Silvermine, 2021
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 (2019)
The archive of the Museum of Yugoslavia in Belgrade, Serbia, provides the source material for this project. The artists were looking for photographs of the only trip that Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito made to Sweden in 1976. They explore images of the president’s meeting with Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. Upon exiting his car, Tito’s hand was trapped in the car door. The incident became the focus of Swedish media coverage and helped turn attention away from political tensions between the two countries. Correspondingly, the artists have isolated images of the bandaged hand. By enhancing only one fragment of the event, the artists allude to the fragmented nature of all history writing.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt and Museum of Yugoslavia, 2019
Text by Johannes Wahlström, 2019
Exhibition project FG2, 2019
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 (2018)
Trees bear significant meaning in a separate but connected part of the Russian Bang / Ryska smällen (2012) project. In The Swedish Matter – or the Issue of the Gramophone Mind, Källström-Fäldt and Wahlström tie together a part of Swedish industrial history with George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm.
In 2018, artist Aleix Plademunt visited Sweden to photograph the world’s oldest living tree – a small pine tree located in the county of Dalarna – as part of his extensive photographic project on matter and the origin of all life on Earth. During Plademunt’s visit, Källström-Fäldt introduced another aspect of Swedish biomass history, namely the story of the Kreuger industrial empire. It was a major part of the Swedish economy until the 1930s, laying the foundation for important infrastructure as well as media houses. The biggest Kreuger company was Swedish Match – once the world’s largest producer of safety matches. In the essay “The Swedish Matter – or the Issue of the Gramophone Mind”, writer Johannes Wahlström retells the story of the fall of the Kreuger empire and combines it with the unpublished preface to Animal Farm, titled “The Freedom of the Press”. In it, Orwell speaks of the lack of freedom of thought in Western societies – particularly in the media. He wrote: “The enemy is the gramophone mind, whether or not one agrees with the record that is being played at the moment.” True to their associative way of working, Källström-Fäldt, and Wahlström are drawing on the tree – whether it be in the form of witness or matchstick – to illustrate the power and danger of dominating media narratives.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt and Aleix Plademunt, 2018
Text by Johannes Wahlström, 2018
Exhibition project FG2, 2018
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.
The third part of the Wikiland project is set in 2017, when Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation into rape and applied to revoke the European arrest warrant. On Swedish Midsummer’s Day, June 23, 2017 – marking the brightest day of the year – Källström-Fäldt visited Assange in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, equipped with an analogue medium-format camera and one roll of film. In accordance with the Sunny 16 Rule – which is a method in photography of estimating correct daylight without a light meter – they took ten portraits of Assange. However, as the light conditions in the room were so poor, the portraits turned out completely dark. The last frame was taken with a flash and the resulting image only revealed Assange’s silhouette. Once again, his portrait remained elusive.
The Julian Assange case has been described as one of the biggest legal scandals in Sweden and an instance of human rights violations. One example of the misconducts is the correspondence between authorities in Sweden and the United Kingdom which reveals major flaws in the handling of the matter over the past decade. The imprisonment of Assange remains one of the most egregious attacks on press freedom of our time.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt and Johannes Wahlström, 2017
Book made together with Mane Radmanović, B-B-B-Books, 2017
In 25 Lemon Trees, No Gardeners, the artists explore the media depiction of the Greek economic crisis. A fake news story about a hospital in Athens that supposedly employed forty-five gardeners but had no garden became a metaphor for the idea of Greek wastefulness, one of the presumed reasons behind the crisis. The hospital indeed had no garden, but neither did it have any gardeners. It did however have twenty-five lemon trees.
After the Greek bailout referendum in 2015, the media focus shifted to the refugee crisis until June 23, 2016 – the day of the UK Brexit vote. On January 31, 2020, the UK voluntarily ceased to be a member of the EU. On the same day, the first case of the Coronavirus was confirmed in the UK.
This series of world crises paint an eerie yet precise picture of the never-ending news cycle. An issue that is all consuming in the media eventually becomes completely overshadowed by the next. By pointing out the exact dates on which one event is silenced and replaced by another, the artists visualise the concrete shifts of dominant narratives.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt, 2015–20
Text by Kajsa Ekis Ekman, 2013
Book made together with 1:2:3 (Axel von Friesen and Petter Törnqvist) and Mane Radmanović, B-B-B-Books, 2016
American actress Angelina Jolie allegedly dreamed of playing Cleopatra in Martin Scorsese’s planned film. Supposedly, it was suggested that she would be cast in that role if she starred in a second film about Evelyn Salt, the CIA operative accused of being a Russian sleeper agent. This information was revealed through email correspondence between Hollywood and the Pentagon in the Sony Pictures hack in 2014. The project Who Is Salt?, initiated by Johannes Wahlström, explores the military–entertainment complex. The notion refers to the increasing co-operation between Hollywood and the Pentagon to help steer public opinion and political narrative to promote US interests. As much as one-third of the hundreds of manuscripts the Pentagon receives each year result in collaborations. The movie Salt 2 serves as an example of the phenomenon.
Jolie’s potential involvement in both films was once listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), which Källström-Fäldt documented – freezing a moment in time and confirming the information leaked via the Sony Pictures hack.
Johannes Wahlström and Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt, 2015
Book made together with 1:2:3 (Axel von Friesen and Petter Törnqvist), B-B-B-Books, 2015
Inspired by Robert Frank’s seminal photobook Les Américains from 1958 (republished in English as The Americans in 1959), in which Frank strived to capture the religious, social, and economic diversity of the US, the artists embarked on a photographic road trip in Quebec and Ontario, Canada, with an ambition to shed light on the colonial past of the area. They photographed specific sites and paired them with their indigenous names, rather than those currently used, thus unveiling buried histories. The work exposes the gap between present-day events and the historical processes that shape them, which is also reflected in the title of the project. The name “Canada” derives from the word “Kanata” – the indigenous name for “village”.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt, 2013
Book made together with 1:2:3 (Axel von Friesen and Petter Törnqvist), B-B-B-Books and VU, 2015
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.
After Wikiland (2011) the project has evolved into an inquiry into the entertainment industry. The focus has shifted to the so-called gun-camera video from July 12, 2007, which was leaked by American soldier Bradley Manning (now Chelsea Manning), showing civilians and Reuters photographers being gunned down by the US military from an Apache helicopter in Baghdad; this video came to be known as “Collateral Murder”. The video was published by WikiLeaks on April 5, 2010. “Collateral Murder” was once again seen in 2013, but this time in the Touchstone/Disney feature film titled The Fifth Estate. An hour into the film, Källström-Fäldt pressed ‘pause’, taking a photograph of a stained computer screen showing an image of actor Benedict Cumberbatch playing Assange. At the core of the project is a desire to highlight the film industry’s capacity to render harmless the documentation of war crimes which had shocked the world when they were revealed a mere three years earlier.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt, 2014
Book made together with 1:2:3 (Axel von Friesen and Petter Törnqvist), B-B-B-Books, 2014
A series of photographs taken along the beach in the Arab city of Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, Israel/Palestine, are presented with a photograph from the same place by French photographer Félix Bonfils in 1880. The buildings that are visible in Bonfils’s photograph are now demolished to make way for a modern boardwalk. The construction is a result of the occupation of Palestine and is part of the gentrification and expansion of Tel Aviv. The only signs left of the previous architecture are pieces of mosaic from floor tiles found on the beach in Jaffa, accompanied by writer Johannes Wahlström’s childhood memories.
Furthermore, the artists have extended the work into an enquiry on how a gallery context affects cultural heritage by giving it monetary value. When displayed at antique dealers in Stockholm and Paris, the floor tiles from A Beach were juxtaposed with exquisite objets d’art. They were accompanied by precise miniature replicas of the tiles, common for priceless artefacts.
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt and Johannes Wahlström, 2013-16
Miniatures made by Maria Safronova Wahlström, 2015
Book made together with 1:2:3 (Axel von Friesen and Petter Törnqvist), B-B-B-Books, 2013