HAVANA FROM OUTSIDE
by Fredrik Liew
The leaves are starting to fall, Sweden is getting darker, the sun's natural light is being replaced by an artificial light. Winter is around the corner. These shifts remind us of the passing of time and I find it difficult to imagine better conditions for Moderna Museet to present David Svensson's new light-based work Havana. It is a work of light and brittle beauty, steeped in history.
The history extends much further back in time than to the moment when Svensson initiated his work. The point of departure has been a number of antique chandeliers that the artist brought from Cuba to Sweden. At some point in history, these chandeliers were shipped to the island - together with large quantities of furniture and marble and porcelain objects - mainly from Europe when Cuba was a Spanish colony (1511-1898) but also from America in the 1950S during the US-supported Batista dictatorship. The transformation of the chandeliers into an artwork once again provided them with an opportunity to travel. Antique chandeliers are now part of the Cuban heritage which means that they, amongst many other things, are not allowed to leave the island.
Many visitors to Cuba can testify to the special patina of these objects. It is easy for the uninitiated viewer to become enchanted, not least because people's relation to them is as far removed as it can be from our rampant consumer society. But, as so often is the case, what we see is dependent on perspective and knowledge. Studying the situation, one cannot help but be struck by how the romantic decay is on the verge of becoming nothing but tragic ruins and how the tender relationship to things is largely the result of necessity and poverty.
In our conversations, David Svensson, influenced by his impressions from his travels, has described the Cuban society as existing in a quagmire of time. The people are longing for, waiting for and dreaming about change, while, at the same time, fearing what may happen. It is now clear to me how his work carries this entire paradoxical complexity forward. Faced with the beautiful chandeliers, I am compelled to reflect on the larger issues which fundamentally, are about freedom, system order, humanity. Issues where nothing is simple and everything has two sides. For example, I see captivity and isolation in the textile swathing that Svensson has used to cover the chandeliers, which can be interpreted as a cage. At the same time, it makes me think of an insect's cocoon or how pieces of furniture are meticulously covered with protective fabrics in the home of someone recently deceased.
The weave of metaphors created by Svensson's utilisation of these antique chandeliers makes me almost dizzy. One thought leads quickly to another. Having said that, I do not think that his work is only about Cuba. Rather, it is about how the artist, in this particular situation, has located a position in which it is possible to discuss and visualise states of emotions, contradictions, nuances, contrasts, and existence itself. Subjects which are a continuation of the issues Svensson is constantly grappling with.
Many of the formal characteristics of Havana are reminiscent of his previous work. The lamps, the textiles, and the rounded shapes can be found in the series of light sculptures he calls Illuminators, light being a central theme that runs through his production. The chandeliers are also an addendum to the rugs, tablecloths, doors and screen walls he has worked with before.
The fact that David Svensson's works are often constituted by interior design features contributes to focusing the attention - both formally and poetically - on the spaces in which the works are exhibited. The architecture of Moderna Museet, with its strong spatiality, can present difficulties for an artist. With David Svensson, however, it is different. His work interacts with the space and accentuates its characteristics. This is largely due to a tactile sensibility, but we can also think of a simple thing such as the fact that the work hangs from the ceiling, rather than, as is the "norm", on the wall. It makes us raise our eyes and take in a larger part of the room and the lantern - one of the museum's characteristic architectural features - perhaps for the first time.