Tomas Lundgren: Bilderatlas

17 March - 22 April 2023
"Save something from the time in which you will never be again"
To understand oneself, and why one's life looks the way it does, it is not uncommon to look at old pictures to find an explanation. After all, the present is a result of the past.
Photographs are strange: in retrospect they seem so obvious, even though they were usually added in haphazard forms. We keep a small square card that we can conveniently hold in our hand. But something has happened with digital technology. We have partially lost respect for the authentic and personal carrying capacity of photography.
In Tomas Lundgren's sensitively executed grisaille painting, which is based on photographic models, an older superstition in documentation merges with today's more skeptical attitude towards photography as a truth teller. The monumental work "Ammit" depicts a detail of a piece of furniture that was found in Tutankhamun's tomb in the early 1920s. According to Egyptian mythology, Ammit was a female demon who ate the people who had not behaved in life and therefore did not deserve a place in heaven. Tomas Lundgren's portrayal of this mythical figure is somewhat reminiscent of the black and white portraits of vampire movie stars from the beginning of the 20th century. The long, narrow face with jet-black eyes and gaping mouth has been captured in profile. She is depicted photo-realistically, but the detailed depiction is disturbed by a subtle grid. The artist's method: he has concealed most of the canvas and painted only one square at a time, not knowing if it corresponds in tone with the rest of the painting. Interesting joints have therefore been formed in the finished work. These shifts not only bring to mind the pixels in digital photographs, but also how easy it has become to spread images to other people and to appropriate them, which Lundgren also does. The story of Ammit becomes dizzying and anachronistic. The distances between the different times and places seem to have shrunk.
In the series "Personæ", Lundgren reacquaints himself with photographs from the first half of the last century, a dramatic period that was distinguished, among other things, by two world wars. Here you can see introverted portraits of more or less famous people, model studies and close-ups of hands, all in a toned-down and brown-grey tone. The slightly dusty and matte color scheme exudes distance and wear. The artist has painted directly on untreated linen, and therefore the depicted people seem to look back at us through a sublime membrane. But most often they look away and are busy with something that we cannot fully follow. The portrait gallery contains famous names: an aged and noble Sigmund Freud has been captured from the side, and the gender-transcending artist Gluck has taken a similar position. But here are also images that are a little more disturbing, even though they look innocent at first. The schoolgirls with shiny hairdos sitting neatly lined up in front of notebooks are members of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (a National Socialist party organization for girls) and the seemingly inoffensive man with a sparse hairline who is in the process of signing a document is the imprisoned Nazi architect Albert Speer. All the works in "Personæ" have something unfinished about them, and this contributes to the impression that those portrayed may unfortunately be ready for a return.
The aspect of time is an important cornerstone in Tomas Lundgren's artistry, and it is therefore not surprising that he tried his hand at Marcel Proust's novel suite "In Search of Lost Time". By copying the author's handwritten manuscript, he also does this by hand, we become aware of the imperfect beauty of the handwriting which nowadays seems to have been lost in the over-efficient contemporary world. These writings also show that works can never be repeated exactly the same way unless they are made by a machine, new deviations and meanings arise continuously all the time. At first, it might be easy to think that Lundgren's color field paintings with stacked monochromes only refer to themselves, but they are based on a French color system from 1905, which was used to categorize the colors of different plants. Even in this case, we are left with a multitude of interpretive possibilities, ranging from mass-produced paint samples from which one can choose in a paint shop to the will of ancient botanists to a clinical and almost colonialist mapping.
The newly produced work "Zeithof", whose title is taken from the fragmentary texts of the poet Paul Celan, acts as a link. Ripe apples crowd around a branch, surrounded by leaves and heavy shadows. The painting is done in a brown-grey, distant color. Apples have a variety of symbolic and religious meanings, above all, they are usually associated with knowledge and the forbidden. The fruits are thus ambiguous. Biting into an apple can be like being showered with impressions, and they don't always have to be comfortable. Knowledge can lead to resistance.
In this generous exhibition, which has been named "Bilderatlas" (Image atlas), after the art historian Aby Warburg, Tomas Lundgren's persistent curiosity about past moments and how they intrude into today's social climate is reflected. The linear narrative is avoided and a hysterical jumble of associations unravels, despite the fact that the works are so matter-of-factly and carefully executed. Tomas Lundgren's art has something in common with Gerhard Richter's. He does not shy away from serious subjects and often focuses on treacherous movements or people who have proven to have done great harm. The worst traumas of the 20th century risk being forgotten over time, and considering how right-wing the winds are blowing in Europe today, it seems we are already a good way along the way. In his paintings, the motifs fade before our eyes, a reflection of what happens when you choose to close your eyes to the crimes of history, at the same time they are free from dictating pointers – the viewer is left to fill in the gaps themselves.
Annie Ernauxs ends her collective autobiography "The Years" with an open sentence that has followed me during the time I have written this text: "Save something from the time in which you will never be again". Tomas Lundgren digs similarly, like an archaeologist, after those distant years. But unlike Ernaux, he has not experienced these years himself and his works are not autobiographical either. The shards that emerge in the process can be likened to an incoherent puzzle, a sensual and valuable complement to the "big stories" that we have become familiar with in the history books. He makes us see them from an unexpected angle.
Sara Arvidsson
Art critic and writer
Installation Views