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Those Who Control…

Those Who Control the Past Command the Future – Those Who Command the Future Conquer the Past, Overgaden, 1. september – 21. oktober 2007, With Runo Lagomarsino, curated by Tone O Nielsen

Text from the essay and guide to the exhibition by Tone O Nielsen. (You can read the entire essay in the “text-section”).

Those Who Control the Past Command the Future – Those Who Command the Future Conquer the Past applies a broad notion of ideology as a process of meaning construction, which a) produces a re-presentation of the world and an interpretation of the existing social order, b) presents a model for what is a “good” society, and c) offers an account of the means through political and thereby social change is produced. Divided into three sections, the exhibition presents seven recent works by artists Runo Lagomarsino and Johan Tirén, who for the past decade, both together and individually, have been working with art that takes a focus on current power structures and the historical, ideological, political, and social constructions that sustain them.
In the first part of the exhibition, Tirén presents two projects, which in different ways address the ideological premises for Europe’s recent move far to the right in the political spectrum. In the second part of the show, four works by Lagomarsino put this move into a discursive and historical perspective. The last part of the exhibition presents a collective work by the two artists, which reflects on the possibilities of establishing a future “counter hegemony.”
Common to all the works is their attempt to encircle the moment, when ideology deconstructs; when ideology in a Derridian sense reveals itself as a mere “supplement” for the fundamental absence of any reality or truth outside of it on which to justify its continued operation. Ideology is disclosed as a mere linguistic construct, devoid of any meaning outside of the system of relationships in which it exists.6 With this encirclement, Those Who Control the Past Command the Future – Those Who Command the Future Conquer the Past exposes tiny cracks in the system from where to act resistantly.

The first work to encounter the viewer is Tirén’s large-scale video installation We’re saying what you’re thinking. Produced in 2005/2007, the work is a critical examination of the ideology, history, and strategies of Sverigedemokraterna (The Sweden Democrats), an ultranationalist and xenophobic political party that received wide support in Southern Sweden during the 2006 Swedish election. The work consists of three video interviews projected onto three large freestanding screens, in which the artist discusses the ideologies and growth of the Sweden Democrats with the party’s former secretary, Jan Milld, the party’s former press officer, Jonas Åkerlund, and the journalist Daniel Poohl, who for years has been devoted to the study of right-wing movements in Sweden.

In the work, Tirén applies a deconstructive methodology. Rather than aggressively interrogating the Sweden Democrats in a manner similar to that used by the political opposition and mass media in general, the artist takes his point of departure in a close reading of the party’s program, which he asks the party members to expand on. As such, the interviews become courteous conversations that provide the party members the rare opportunity to express their vision of the ideal society and its realization in full. However, as the interviews progress, inconsistencies and contradictions in the party’s ideology are slowly teased out by Tirén’s method of inquiry. Key concepts like “nation,” “culture,” “Swedishness,” and “normality” emerge as nothing more than representations without an original source or verifiable external reality on which to justify them. The interview with Daniel Poohl serves to analyze these contradictions further and contextualize them ideologically and historically.
We’re saying what you’re thinking becomes a testimony to the general political development in Europe, where extreme right-wing parties are gaining increasing influence at the parliamentary level and have succeeded in shifting the entire political spectrum far to the right. The work exposes Europe’s inability to deal with difference as a result of migration and questions whether it is the response of Europe’s established parties to these right-extremist currents that has paved the way for their increasing influence.

Tirén’s video installation is surrounded by the poster series Notes in connection with the celebration of a National Day, which he produced earlier this year on the occasion of the Swedish National Day. The series takes its starting point in the politically acceptable and often socially supported nationalism, which manifests itself during celebrations of National Days or national sports events.

In the series, Tirén points to the manufacturing of consent described by Gramsci and
examines how ideologically founded values and beliefs connected to the notion of “the nation” and “nationalism” are naturalized so they appear as truths. Juxtaposing idyllically charged imagery with text, the series closely mimics existing discourses and representations known from the social and political field. But by displacing them into the gallery space, Tirén discloses their constructed nature. The series leaves the viewer with a number of questions: What undercurrents do this socially accepted nationalism produce? How do they relate to the nationalism of the extreme right? And where, if at all, do they meet?

The text on the poster reads:
“A sound nationalism is beneficial for the whole people”

The text on the poster reads:
“Nationalism is not ideological but a self-evident part of the origin of democracy”

The text on the poster reads:
“Swedish nationalism has never been aggressive”

The text on the poster reads:
“The nation-state has always guaranteed democratic values”

The text on the poster reads:
“The nation-state is a natural part of our origin”

The text on the poster reads:
“A strong nation is vital is order to create a sense of community”

The text on the poster reads:
“No democratic nation has ever started a war”