Entrances

I make two journeys simultaneously. One follows the E4 from Stockholm northwards to Nordmaling and further to a cottage outside Lycksele in southern Lapland, to a small village with the bilingual name Vänjaurträsk. “Jaur” is the Sámi word for lake and “träsk” is an old Swedish name for lake, which is more rarely used; when it is used it is often to mean “marshland” or “quagmire”. But Vänjaurträsk is not a place to sink into, in order to gradually settle down there. The local area is getting depopulated slowly, but surely.

It is a slow place, where every day has the same quiet, comforting, rhythm, engulfing us all. A good place for writing. And a good time. For during the summer months in this part of Sweden the sun never sets. It stops half way and remains hanging there for a few hours – a glowing spider at the end of its thread, concealed behind the dense forests which push themselves forward in a wavelike fashion, from the alpine mountains in the west to the coast in the east, illuminating the landscape in a soft bluish light.

*
The other journey begins like any other journey or train of thought in a familiar place. It commences with absolute certainty. I am convinced of what I see, since I have seen it before. And I still stand here in security, by the red dot marking the place on the board. “You are here now.” Yes, where else would I be? But it says nothing more. The board is empty. There is no map.

I have been here before. Both in Lisa Jeannin’s and Rolf Schuurmans’s common geography and in the worlds Lisa Jeannin creates herself. I have travelled by submarine at a castle, been to a tortoise-concert and acquainted myself with spiders, trolls, gorillas, foxes, goddesses, and characters like Robert Safari. Yet I do not recognize the place, now that I am back.

As soon as I leave the board I feel lost even after a few steps. And when I recount the works for someone, it is as if I am constantly missing the essentials. As if the words leak. What I really want to say seeps out of them.

*
There are many ways to understand a world. You can observe it and carefully note down what you see. You can crawl under it, in order to detect the system which should be there somewhere. Or you can blast your way into it with explosives, skeleton keys, and scalpels. Remove organs from the body and sort them out carefully. Distinguish cat from stone, time from space, body from soul, nature from culture, right from wrong. Then you sort away all that is superfluous, broken, and strange. And so it goes go on, until you find the very core – that which makes the world into a world. A human into a human. Language into language. Pain into pain. The core is the code key. The very entrance. A good beginning in a hierarchy of meaning.

*
Jeannin’s and Schuurmans’s art offers resistance to my attempts at burglary. It is as if I select the wrong entrance every time. I get lost. But I do not give up. This is how it should be I think, resistance is good. Then I try again with a new code key. A new entrance. And so it goes on all the time. And after each attempt I stand there with my leaking language, by the empty orientation board which tells me that I am where I am.

*
It is difficult to draw a map when you get lost all the time. When the place constantly changes shape. When it is different each time you visit it. After a while I begin to understand that it is not a map which is supposed to be drawn. No translation should be made. No entrance is supposed to be found. And there is no reason to break in, since this art at hand is not metaphorical, even though it contains many levels of meaning.

It is what it is. A world that does not follow any other rules than its own, but only if it is applicable for the time being; otherwise it can be left alone. Rules can be rewritten in the course of the game. And concepts can be replenished with new, surprising, contents, at any time.

In fact, it is not really one world but many constantly shifting worlds which in various enigmatic ways are interconnected. The characters move in and out of the works of art.

Neither is the course of events tied to determined places or points in time. They can start in one time-place and continue in another. In The Crossing (2006) a spider receives a parcel which is delivered in Enter the Wild (2009). The effect precedes the cause.

Time behaves in any sort of way, here. Just look at the clock in Breaking the Law (2004). One moment the hands of the clock move forward ? only to suddenly leap counter-clockwise. Time is constantly shifting tempo and direction. But the characters in the movie do not seem to mind. The elephant, the troll and the superhero continue their dance. A gang of violent figures in clay take form – perhaps it is the music and the dance which gives them life – and they begin to fire their weapons, only to disappear again.

It is not just the paragraphs in the book of law and the conventions of society that are under attack, but also the laws of nature, logic and obviously the rules of story telling. But in spite of the dramatics the atmosphere is cheerful.

*
“I was always trying to get lost when I was a kid … I soon found out that you can’t get lost though,” says young Colin in Tony Richardson’s film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner from 1962. Hence, he never tries to escape from the juvenile prison where he is jailed, even though he is let out through the gates every morning to practice long distance running.

Today it is even more difficult to disappear. Even the vast forests of southern Lapland are under surveillance. The trees, the reindeer, the wolves, and the bears have been subject to an inventory and the cloudberries have been assessed. The harvest is judged to be of good quality and there are GPS-programs, so that we can always be found. I know exactly where I am.

No one will ever succeed in drawing a map of Jeannin’s and Schuurmans’s shifting terrain. The navigation systems do not work here and what we call common sense does not carry us very far. In other words, it is perfectly possible to find a hiding place here. And the works are full of openings and secret passages.

In the beginning of Enter the Wild a courier drives up to a cottage. A man hands over a parcel to the spider living there. A bit further up, the façade falls to the ground. The house is a stage front. But the door still stands there, in the winter meadow at the edge of the forest. A tortoise opens it and steps in. Disappears. Here are also hollow trees, from which mystical beings appear.

In an earlier work the spectator is invited into a submarine, where the periscope functions as an entrance into something else. In The Visitors (2010) the passage between two worlds consists of an airway through the heavens at night. And in The Crossing (2006), the graveyard functions exactly as in classical zombie-movies ? as a connection between life and death so that the undead and the living can be united in a mutual tai-chi-exercise.

The different worlds are not separated from each other. Neither are they horizontally located next to one another. Rather they are intertwined.

*
The talents of the long distance runner Colin give him privileges. He is the apple of the prison boss’s eye and an exemplar of the penitentiary. In the big running competition between the penitentiary and an upper class school, he gets a safe lead. But at the finishing stretch he gets a whim. He slows down. And when there are only a few metres left, he stops completely. The spectators do not understand what he is up to but he only smiles and allows himself be overtaken.

To choose to be defeated is to reject the language that maintains the authoritarian order. In doing so he becomes free. He does not escape prison by running away but by ceasing to run. The real exit from the penitentiary is not the gate. It is an attitude – to follow an impulse and to act beyond the instruction manual.

Even Jeannin and Schuurmans display signs of alternative attitudes acting as escape routes towards new possibilities. In this fashion their worlds are openings in themselves. Entrances and exits.

*
In the sphere of the market economy the overriding objective is success. Success means growth. The greater the growth, the greater the success, and as long as the economy grows, we are free to do whatever we want.

The goal gives us meaning and keeps track of things. We share it with each other and are reminded every morning as we wake up and read the newspaper,
which reports the situation.

Sometimes alternative goals crop up, wanting words and actions to point in other directions. But this is not particularly worrying. For as long as we have an objective, whatever that may be, our opinions and actions are easy to diagnose and treat.

But what happens when our actions cease to be loyal to our intentions? When they suddenly just happen without asking permission from the guardians of reason and without pointing forward?

The tortoise-human in The Visitors leads the way.

He sits alone on a branch high up in a tree, at the end of his world. He shows us an enigmatic text. Word by word. Papers, one by one, falling through the air.

Then he jumps, straight out into the unknown, not knowing where he will end up. This is the important thing. He just jumps. If he would have had a goal, he would have landed in what was already known to him, with a thud on the ground, close to the trunk of the tree. But by leaving reason behind him he manages to move from one reality to another. And when he lands among “the creatures” it is as someone else.

The long distance runner Colin in Tony Richardson’s film is liberated by assuming the same position as the tortoise-human. By means of the sovereign act he punctures the establishment. Certainly, it is still there but for him it has collapsed into insignificance.

*
An identity is a collection of attributes which follow one everywhere. You need it to identify yourself. Otherwise the certificate of identity would not prove anything; neither would a fingerprint, nor the DNA-code. They are only valid if you are identical to yourself.

You can have an identity and you can lose it. You can look for it and you can give up looking. Like Lee Lozano. “I will give up my search for identity as a dead end investigation”, she writes in September 1971. And she is serious about it. She liberates herself from both her name and from the art scene in New York – the context that gives the name meaning. Instead she continues up to her death to be active under the signature “E” for “Energy”. As if she wanted to empty herself of so many meanings that she could signify anything at all.

“I am changing” it says on one of the notes which the tortoise-human holds up before he jumps. Previously he was a tortoise. Now he is a tortoise-human. When he lands among the creatures it will be as a human being. Jeannin and Schuurmans show that context creates identity – and that new contexts give rise to new modes of being. Perhaps the reverse can also be true, that new identities produce new realities.

In the complex Gorilla Goddess Gangster and Goblins (2009), a gorilla and a gangster both find themselves in separate halls of mirrors. The gangster moves restlessly around the room looking for the right image of himself – his true identity. When he cannot find it, he shoots the mirrors to pieces and flees from the room. He subsequently shows up in various places, always as frightened of what is unfamiliar to him.

The gangster is so afraid of loosing himself and of changing, that he chooses to destroy every picture representing a possible version of him. The gorilla does the very opposite. She chooses affirmation. She puts on a pair of glasses and walks around the hall of mirrors and tests different identities, as if she was in a changing room. She is also accompanied by a figure which suddenly appears in the hall of mirrors only to vanish again through one of its reflections in the mirror. But the gorilla remains – fascinated by the realization that she is so many.

Both the identity-games and the sovereign actions destabilize established truths, multiplying possibilities without ranking them, creating space for new modes of being, beyond the reach of disapproving glances from the calculating, utility-maximizing common sense. And why, perhaps someone wonders. Well, among other things: it becomes much more enjoyable that way.

*
One can let the experience of the wild and the unpredictable maintain its place within art if one wants. But one can also discover a piece of paper in the pocket as one returns to the orientation board. With a message reminding of the fact that there are more meanings than one. The impulsive tortoise jump is one way of discovering them. The gorilla’s affirmation of multiplicity is another.

Jens Soneryd

Translated into English by Ambrin Carlstein

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     Still from The Visitors