I first met Ola Pehrson in 2001 when we both
participated in an exhibition titled "Stereo" at Yamaguchi Prefectural
I presented two pieces in the show. One, "Harass Me," was a text animation on a computer monitor set up on wheelchairs. The animation was based on a Web project in which I had encouraged people to send me e-mail harassment messages, including their addresses, times, and dates. The other piece consisted of hangman's nooses made with ropes of LED lights that dangled from trees in the museum's garden and glowed at night.
In 2002 Ola and I participated in another group show called "Art in the home," which originated again in Yamaguchi and traveled to Edinburgh. Each artist's project was presented in a home. Ola and I spent a lot of time together in those days and began to consider some collaborative projects. Ola shot some video footage of a Japanese interviewing another Japanese, added his own confabulated English subtitles to it on subjects as diverse as dieting, Marxism, cannibalism, and the artwork that the interviewee had made -- without knowing what the Japanese speaker was saying – and then looped the sequence. He was obviously playing with the impossibility of his understanding Japanese and their conversations. He projected an image onto a TV screen in the living room to suggest that everything in the work was fake.
At that time I was working on "Non-Broadcasting Time," a project for which I would shoot empty TV studio sets in Japan and abroad, and present them online or in exhibition spaces as a way of reflecting domestic boredom back to the audience. I put together some of those projects and, as an initial collaboration, Ola and I put one of his desktop icon sculptures, "Winfile.exe," back into the computer for an online project at New Media Scotland.
It seemed both of us were working on exchanging media space, materializing the illusion of original forms and media, de-functioning them into objects and their mediums, then presenting these paradoxical results as each of our works. We were also interested in each media space as an individual environment that became a daily obsession.
In 2003 I invited Ola to Yamaguchi again for a
curatorial project titled “Boogie-Woogie
Wonderland." As artist and
guest curator at the A.I.A.V., I also invited Sean Snyder, John Miller,
Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries, Akira Mori, Tetsu Takagi, Mike Bode
and Staffan Schmidt to collaborate with me.
The exhibition was held in an old western type of modernist building in Yamaguchi City. I showed several collaborative screening pieces: the twisted economical impact of the U.S military bases in Okinawa, Japan, in collaboration with Sean Snyder; a costume play of Snow White and the audience at Disney World Japan, but with xenophobic stop-motion photo animations; looping scenes of local malls together with a failed theme park in Japan built on the former base of a cult terrorist group, in collaboration with Tetsu Takagi. The Swedish artistic duo Mike Bode and Staffan Schmidt presented a video piece about a public housing project in Greenland built by the Danish government and how it represented a modernism that was destroying the local lifestyle. To suggest a dying tradition, Akira Mori made a melancholic sound installation of looping music based on their recordings of songs that signal the end of the workday -- five o'clock -- outside 23 city halls in Tokyo. John Miller selected personal ads from several Yamaguchi magazines, superimposed them on views of the city, and mapped them as a re-advertisement of each ad-taker's individual depression. Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries played some historical footage of the Korean War like a noisy music video clip. The material was taken by a small digital camera’s movie mode and then sneaked out of the War Memorial Museum in Seoul. They also helped me to create the Web version of all of the exhibition participants' works.
For the opening of "Boogie-Woogie Wonderland," I invited Ola to contribute, alongside the other artists' works, two different performance pieces. One was his "NASDAQ Vocal Index," a transformation of certain stock market prices at a given time and date into several musical scores performed by a local high school choir. The other piece was a short video titled "Johnny & D." This video shows a mime-torturer covering his face with a knitted cap. There is only a short description by the artist.
"I met Johnny in the autumn of 2002. Ten years ago he took part in an armed conflict. He used to torture people. In front of my camera he agreed to demonstrate a silent series of moves and acts from a specific occasion at that time."
Some in the audience may have noticed that "the armed conflict" in question was the war in Yugoslavia. But there is no more information about the performer. Surprisingly, he performs the mime so skillfully that in his gestures we can guess that he is torturing with some tools. His hand moves like he is screwing something into the invisible body. Ola recorded the mime's performance in two different positions, one in full figure and other of the bust. He edited his moves into a synchronized, tense, silent performance that suggests that the torturer can perform the same movements every time. The quality of the performance proves how he is used to torturing -- tying up and choking his victim -- how it is his everyday life. And all we hear is his breathing while he strains to perform his actions.
There was no specific theme behind "Boogie-Woogie Wonderland." But I was thinking the title could suggest that the art exhibition is a sort of temporary theme park, which was what I was seeing in most contemporary art exhibitions -- biennials winding up being tourism festivals, but not really as enjoyable as a theme park. I tried to show the dark side of it. The artists were all playing with representations from media information or specific spaces materialized by various, twisted ideologies and politics. They abstracted and exchanged various media forms, changing them into analyses of given subjects or sometimes de-functioning them into visual art pieces. For example, Ola's piece symbolizes the conflicts of nations presented like a street mime, the nation as an armed theme park, and the stock market turned into a cute, fake, new-age contemporary musical.
During the same period, Ola was also working on a multimedia installation titled "Cook Book+" at IASPIS. From this project we published in the catalogue of "Boogie-Woogie Wonderland" some of the many obsessive handwritten cooking recipes made by his mother. It was also during this period that I started making music clips using synthetic voices and midi music. In a music CD produced in collaboration with the Japanese gallery Soap titled "Holiday," I brought together music created by some of the visual artists. Ola took part with his sound piece “Mom, She Cooks” from the "Cook Book+" project.
In 2004 Ola and I received funding from IASPIS in Stockholm, for a collaborative curatorial project titled "Scream" at Fargfabriken. We invited two of the same collaborators from "Boogie-Woogie Wonderland," John Miller and Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries, as well as two Swedish artists, Daniel Westlund and Mija Renstrom, and, finally, Ola's partner Lena Gustavsson. Each artist also held a workshop during the show.
Ola and Fargfabriken organized the exhibition perfectly. I was mentioned as a co-curator, but my only role was to make collaborative pieces with John Miller and Heavy Industries and to prepare the publication and its online project with Ola. Ola also organized a performance of "NASDAQ Vocal Index" for the opening of the show. The Uppsala Chamber Choir, conducted by Erik Hellerstedt, gave a perfect performance. With Ola afterward I compared the performance to the aforementioned amateur performance by the Yamaguchi high school choir. I said to him, "So maybe it was too good?" He responded, "Yes, I know what you mean, but I needed to have the piece done with this quality at least once."For "Scream" I concentrated on bringing together fragments of media information that would somehow complement "NASDAQ Vocal Index." With Heavy Industries I used some spam mail as material, and with John Miller I combined some personal ads from a New York publication with a panoramic scene of downtown New York. Then I made songs with synthetic voices into fake promotional video clips for each of the subject materials. I also made a synthetic-voice version based on the score of "NASDAQ Vocal Index" for our online collaboration.
In 2005, while I was living in Malmo, Sweden, and preparing an exhibition at the Rooseum, I visited Ola in Stockholm. He was working on an imitation of a TV documentary called "Hunt for the Unabomber," which he intended to present at the Istanbul Biennial. He was replacing all the original images and portraits with clay sculptures, paintings, animations, or small models made with everyday items and junk, leaving only the original soundtrack. This time he was performing the mime himself, mimicking the roles of all the participants in the documentary.
I asked him why he had chosen this specific program, and he told me he didn't know except that he was fascinated by the narration -- a typically overacted American TV performance that dramatized the visual materials. He wanted to go over the top by faking materials showed as facts in the documentary program, by turning fact into fiction through all of his reenactments and representations of media itself, by overloading the narration in an obsessive manner. His work process was to follow the way the mad mathematician made bombs out of everyday items and junk.
A month later Ola came to see my show at the Rooseum. In the museum I showed a double-projection of a looping piece that depicted a series of short photo sequences taken from shopping malls or food courts in Sweden. This was my way of presenting the discipline of everyday life standardized with consumerism and the movements of people. I presented the moment as a sort of photo/sculpture where literally both image and time endlessly looped and mirrored one another.
We liked the developments in each other's work, and talked about doing some collaborative projects in the future. We were planning collaborative pieces that would produce some variations of mime performances by non-professionals such as factory workers, a cook, a housewife, and so forth, together with both of our solo projects for an exhibition space.
Later that same year, Noriyuki Tsuji of the A.I.A.V. organized a series of exhibitions titled "Re Play," which included a solo project of artists who had worked with the institution in the past. Both Ola and I took part in it. Although Ola couldn’t come to Japan, he presented "Hunt for the Unabomber."
At the same time, with some collaborators in Kitakyushu, Japan, I was preparing to establish Art Institute Kitakyushu, a nonprofit organization that would be the foundation for the first Kitakyushu Biennial in 2007, and a new Web project called "artonline.jp". These projects became the basis of a continuation of all of my previous collaborative projects.
While planning the exhibition program with him in late 2005 and early 2006, I also asked Ola to participate in an online sound project at artonline.jp with recordings of "NASDAQ Vocal Index." We exchanged some e-mails and waited for technical support before beginning the project. His sudden, tragic death put an end to it.
I know many of Ola's work ideas were related to his personal life and family. But he hid this from the public by abstracting, re-contextualizing, and materializing his subjects into visual art. I believe that the artist only exists in his artworks. He is different from the person who made them. I have avoided writing about the friendship between Ola and me. Instead, I have presented how we shared our thoughts and sometimes differences by describing each of our works in chronological order and some of our future plans. I leave to others in this catalogue the deeper analyses and critiques on the same works. My only hope is that I have shown another point of view by one collaborator who appreciated working with Ola during those years.
Text for the catalog : Ola Pehrson. Retrospective. Ljubljana. Belgrade. Stockholm. 2008