With around 97 percent of its landmass uninhabited, Sweden is famous for its natural beauty – boasting 29 national parks and more than 4,000 nature reserves. Endless summer days foraging in the forest are practically engraved into the Swedish conscious, with collective guardianship of the environment written into the national constitution under Allemansrätten, guaranteeing public access to nature. This intimacy with nature expresses itself in land art, the physical and conceptual body of Swedish Contemporary Art. Exploring our connection to land, how it informs identity and what temporality can teach us about our status on earth, Swedish artists pose questions increasingly urgent for a species contemplating a future we may not recognize.
Implementing a broad network between cultural organizations, local councils and artists, the project XSites curates land art and installation across Sweden. In 2017 artists such as Simon Gran Danielsson, Gertrud Alfredsson and Rezan Arab were invited to produce artistic interventions across the Halländsk and Skåne landscape along Kattegattleden and in Sjuhäradsrundan. Artist Ida Bentingar weaved gigantic veins of red cotton between trees; “The sculpture resembles the veins of a plant, or our human blood system. It triggers the imagination. Some find it beautiful. Others frightening.”
This year more artists are set to take over the Swedish landscape with artworks which investigate space and take the art event out of the gallery into the world. They frame nature as a site of creation, both of works of art and of the self. Seven more installations have recently appeared in Gotheburg, including Svanbon by Gunilla Bandolin, in Torsviken in Torslanda; Touchstones by Monika Gora, in the Lärjeån valley in Angered; Hjärtats väg by Helle Nebelong, in Positivparken in Frölunda; and The Golden Tree by Tetsunori Kawana, in Bergkristallparken in Tynnered.
Another touchstone in land art history is Ladonia, an independent state with its own royalty, citizens and online newspaper. Formed of the towering sculptures of driftwood Nimis and Arx in the Kullaberg nature reserve in Skåne, Ladonia was created in 1980 by the infamous Lars Vilks. Discovered two years later by local authorities, the works resulted in a series of legal battles debating the status of art in public space. Despite various appeals the Swedish state eventually ruled in favor of the council, prompting Vilks to found the microstate of Ladonia in protest, in June 1996. Despite having become a tourist attraction, the Swedish state’s rejection of Ladonia is marked by its absence from maps and local signposts.
Literally baptized in fire, Ladonia raises the political implications of land art and how we are embodied in physical and social space. It demonstrates how tangibly rights such as freedom of expression and access to land are curtailed by the state. While abstract for the average city-dweller, these are problems with practical consequences most often for indigenous peoples. We see this in the continued struggle of the Sami people for representation in Sweden.
Another interesting project is Anders Webeg’s Longest Film. Part film project – part performance art, following its premier on 31 st December 2020, Weberg’s Longest Film will be destroyed. Featuring 2 performance artists, The Longest Film will be filmed in one take with no cuts, and is set to document 720 hours of performance at a beach. Weberg describes his process as a collection of light representing “the emotion I try to express.”
Ambiancé – the short Trailer, 2016 (Credit: Anders Weberg, Stina Pehrsdotter, Niclas Hallberg, Martin Juhls
He continues, “There is an inherent irony to this film that will be destroyed after its first screening. The fact that the product is gone, but its legacy lives on… is a reflection of death too. That the physicality of the body is gone, but the spirit, the memories live on.” The Longest Film raises fascinating problems for a digital contemporaneity obsessed with identity politics. It poses the existence of something which is no longer objective but exists in memory. While not as concrete as land art works, The Longest Film poses the performative aspects of the environment, which takes place over time: changing, transforming itself, remaining the same. The sheer duration of the film documents the art event as an experience; of light, of nature, of time.
In the forest, on the beach, obscure or institutionalized, land art composes one of the most fascinating facets of Swedish contemporary art, and maps a vast and almost uninhabited country. Often difficult to document, exhibit or collect, these works of art belong to nature, as we all essentially do.
Rachel / Kunstportal