There is a Visitor #13: Footnotes in the State Darwin Museum Moscow

In the meadow stood a little birch tree; 1 Anatomical Theater; 2 A dysfunctional categorization by branching out into the museum room; 3 Utopia, whatever!; 4 19 Years; 5 nanoq: flat out and bluesome; 6; 7 Initial; 8 r/evolutionary narratives – associative stories from the albino/melanino animals; 9 Made in Denmark; 10 Act On Instinct; 11 Flash Fiction and the Flaneur’s Relation to Nature; 12 Vanishing Point: Where Species Meet; 13 The Vitrine with Pheasants; 14 Subject: Re: Preparing for The Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art : September 19 – October 20; 15 Utopia, whatever!; 16 A stand with buttons and birds; 17 A Grey Matter; 18 OAK a2263; 19 Stills 1 – 8; 20 Photo; 21 Fragments; 22 There is a Visitor!; 23 All the birds from the Swedish Pattern Book XIII, In the meadow stood a little birch tree; 24) A FAILED PERFORMANCE; 25 Kinnekulle and Billingen; 26


  1. Cecilia Enberg – In the meadow stood a little birch tree: Installation with drawings and old needlework patterns from Sweden and Russia. The things we do everyday create patterns in our lives. We seem to have a need to organize and structure our reality, as an attempt to make sense of it. Patterns give us meaning. To understand is to see patterns! 

  2. Ann Korzhova – Anatomical Theater: In a series of performances of The Anatomical Theater I combine different species (organisms and their parts) as the details of arrangements in the new substance. This is the research of border between tradition and “habit” and a mutation characteristic of contemporary reality, the birth of a new. With the help of surgical instruments, I put into the fish (symbol of traditional) foreign bodies which are alien to them (pork hearts, stomachs and brains), by that I deprive them their familiar and natural essence – guts. The action of each performance varies, it evolves every time. During a performance a camera is disposed in front of a table on which there is a “transaction” and it takes a close-up as study guide of surgery. This video is broadcast on the big screen, which is located behind the table or in another room. The viewer is free to choose what to watch: general perspective or dive into the very essence of the process of change and observe movement within the large virtual picture displayed on the screen. Implicit mysterious reality or virtuality showing clearly all the details. 

  3. Karin Lundgren-Tallinger – A dysfunctional categorization by branching out into the museum room: A curio cabinet where most of the artifacts come from nature, some are worked on art direction, others are cultural tools and is available in its original form. These items are presented in a Museum showcase and similar major art objects located in the museum room, for example a upholstered branch hanging from the ceiling, or a textile banner with bats. The texts and the names of the objects in the showcase have no obvious meaning or logical relationship to each other, but are more an attempt to disrupt humanity’s need to arrange and classify. 

  4. r a k e t a – Utopia, whatever! The song will be very large. Even larger! The song will be moved around, transported, carried, dragged, packed and unpacked. In other words it, too, like Utopia is in constant transfer. Utopia, whatever! is a work-in-progress where progress must now be used in the most inventive, interconnected, even most dangerous way. Utopia should be navigated through ignorance as much as awareness, through stupidity as much as sovereignty, through arrival as much as departure. Just as there is always an enigma to any departure, an anxiety about arrival and a thrill at traveling, utopia is always now deferring its own arrival whilst living out its own present.
    Let us not mistake our impatience, if utopia is postponed, incomplete, ‘whatever!’, then that process itself must be utopian. And in such reclamation of the streets, the landing strip, in the current poetics of movement, unrest, discontinuity or displacement, utopia, whatever must also undress itself. Like going in and out of meaning, utopia whatever! is that zone where we leave one world for another, occupying it, reclaiming it for minutes, for hours, for days, for lifetimes.
    Utopia, whatever! is this work in progress, open to erasure, decay, re-definition and refinement . And like the large song carried throughout the city, this transfer is open, negotiable and self-monitored by each traveller, each visitor, each occupant of the song. And as chance becomes part of the process, the song is an expanded, postponed, delayed and deferred site in which utopia explores its own continuity, its own cliché. The song is surely a user’s manual for a potential life. Remember: the future only lasts a long time if you think you will not be part of it. Utopia, whatever! only happens somewhere else if you allow it. 

  5. Jon Brunberg – 19 Years (Length: approx. 60 sec. depending on equipment. Format for exhibition: looped DVD. Master format: Updatable Flash animation/application. Programming by Marc Bjersbo Asp): 19 Years is an animation that displays over 1800 events in almost 600 places during the period 1989 to 2007. It uses a very compressed “time scale” where one year in real life is one second in the animation (approximately 1:30.000.000). Each event is represented by an orange circle that lit up on a political map on the approximate location where it took place while generating a sound that creates a static noise that changes in intensity depending on the number of dots displayed at the same time.
    The work could be seen as an attempt to describe a specific type of human activity as nature – perhaps as a contagion or a proliferation that spreads over parts of the world during various periods in history. The events presented in the animation are popular mass protests or similar collective manifestations in which several thousands of people have gathered in one physical space during one day to express their discontent. The original version of the work is a software application which creates the animation programmatically from a dataset. I’ve collected the data from the internet, predominantly from media websites, using my own definitions and specific search criteria. The underlying data, the methodology and the sources are available at the website of the project.
    The work was originally produced for the jury-selected exhibition Changing Matters – the Resilience Art Exhibition which was shown at the Museum of Nature History in Stockholm in 2008 in addition to the international conference Resilience, Adaption and Transformation in Turbulent Times at Stockholm University, a summit which discussed ecology, economy and society using a resilience perspective, where man and nature was studied as an integrated whole. The work has subsequently been shown at Moderna Museet in Stockholm and Ballroom Marfa in Marfa, Texas. 

  6. Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson - nanoq: flat out and bluesome (Video and Photography, 2006) As part of the project, in 2004 the artists borrowed 10 polar bear specimens and exhibited them in the contemporary art space, Spike Island in Bristol, UK. This film, the journey documents the removal of four of these bears from their cultural homes and the subsequent process of installing all the specimens within the gallery. 

  7. Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson - nanoq: flat out and bluesome, centres around the artists’ survey of taxidermic polar bears in the United Kingdom they conducted between 2001-2006. Having located the polar bears, the artists visited the private and public zoological collections to photograph each specimen in situ. During this time they researched the respective provenances, tracing each back to the moment, place and circumstances of the living bear’s encounter with man in the arctic.
    Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson’s works at the State Darwin Museum Moscow entitled respectively; nanoq and Vanishing Point: Where Species Meet demonstrate Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson’s on-going research into human and animal relations and how these contact zones inform us about human behaviour and our relationship to the environment. nanoq involves ‘dead’, stuffed animal bodies and Vanishing Point depicts the offering of hospitality to living beings – a contrast of significance drawn in anticipation of a critical engagement with their context here the collection of the State Darwin Museum. The common denominator, in siting these two works is the human interface, – without the human-contact there would be no zoology collection. To open up this ‘seamless’ space between life and death in the museums’ glass vitrines we propose as a starting point the imagining of life, lived previously in these bodies. The boundaries and possibilities of meetings between human and animal is then further tested in Vanishing Point when the cultural acts of hospitality and the gift are offered as proposed for a meeting between species. Together the works probe questions regarding the culture/nature construct and possible alternatives to anthropocentric approaches in pursuit of sustainability. The nanoq work will be a two screen video work, comprising a film called the Journey documenting the demounting, travel and re-installation of stuffed polar bear specimens in Spike Island, Bristol, together with a video slide-show built on the archive of photographs depicting polar bears within the context of museum collection and private/stately homes. The 3-channel Vanishing Point has been re-edited into a single screen video work and sound installation made specifically for the State Darwin Museum Moscow. 

  8. Helena Granström / Imri Sandström / Jakob Eklund / Benjamin Quigley / Helene Ringberg – Initial (video 12 min): Initial is a conversation between three voices: a child’s, a mother’s and a father’s. The film is set in one room and as one act. It is a here and now, where time and space continuously refract and merge in an intimate and intrusive ongoing. 

  9. 70°N / Magdalena Haggärde, Gisle Løkken, Berit Steenstrup – r/evolutionary narratives – associative stories from the albino/melanino animals, 70°N’s contribution to footnotes in the Darwin Museum. Darwin’s Tree of life evolves into a Rhizome of life – a non-hierarchic system, where inheritance occurs in all directions, vertically and laterally, with innumerable crossings and interconnections. There is neither a beginning nor an end to the mystery of existence. In a Pattern of Thought, any point can lead to yet another, following lines of flight that lead far away from the initial point of randomness. By following and cultivating the imaginary with an open attitude, and freely connect facts, myths and fiction, new associative narrations form.
    Two black wolves in Moscow can take us on an imaginary journey far away from their home in the Darwin museum. Their tales of historical events, scientific ideas, geographic localities and personal destinies form a complex cartography. As old fairy tales and myths served a mission in an unenlightened society, these new narrations open for interpretations into a present reality, and the dichotomy linked to valuation of diversity and otherness. 

  10. Timo Menke & Nils Agdler – Made in Denmark, 2013 (video, 15 min, 2013). In their artistic practice Nils Agdler and Timo Menke both share a common interest for contemporary social phenomena, storytelling and history. Based on a previous collaboration on electricity and electrical hypersensitivity (Fugitives from the Fields), they have developed a project dealing with anonymous sperm donors. A donation is often regarded as a selfless good deed and is expected to be voluntary, free and anonymous, although it may raise sensitive ethical questions. The short film “Made in Denmark” is a cinematic study focusing on the commercially organized distribution of sperm in Denmark, from the anonymous donor’s perspective and point-of-view. Danish legislation (unlike most European countries) allows for anonymous sperm donations, leading to an increasing fertility tourism. Sperm Banks operate in a complex gray area on several levels, marketing human sperm as a processed product. Special focus was given to issues related to masculinity and fatherhood, and how masculinity is manifested at the clinics.
    Some of the questions raised in interviews conducted with anonymous donors: What motivates you to become a donor? How do you relate to the children you will never meet? How would you react if one of “your” children would succeed in finding out that you are his/her biological father? How do you reflect on a future scenario, where more men choose to donate and more women select anonymous fathers to their children? In conjunction with an exhibition of the work they propose possible seminars / lectures on related issues, e.g. sperm donation as a business concept. As engineered genetic genome becomes available easier, cheaper and safer, what kind of future scenarios are there for man and mankind in a post-human evolution? “Made in Denmark” as shown at the Darwin Museum is an excerpt from the film, investigating the international commercial distribution of premium Danish genetic material from the anonymous donors’ perspective. Special Thanks to Martin Ekman 

  11. Elin Magnusson – Act On Instinct (video, 10 min, 2013) Through pine groves and oat fields, amongst elk and woodland lakes – a deer is passing by with three small fawns on a leash. She has recently become a mother and is trying to adjust to her new role. She is nature, this is her land but still she can’t shake the feeling of a slowly growing panic and the emptiness of being an outsider. Meanwhile, in a parallel world, we hear her thoughts about family norms, breeding and fear. In this white room she claims her right to be heard which was not possible in the woods – a space where she is allowed to ask questions. What do you do when the fear of never being left alone is stronger than the fear of being left behind? What is the punishment for not loving your child? What happens if the biological clock never starts ticking and tells you that it’s time? Will I end up alone? The deer is my mirror image and in a costume made of synthetic fur I ask where the longing for a child comes from, if it’s natural and why it has not come to me. 

  12. Mikael Granlöf – Flash Fiction and the Flaneur’s Relation to Nature: Experts agree upon the fact that Mikael Granlöf was born in 1960. However, on all other points, they seem to disagree. Some claim that he learned to walk and speak already in 1961 in a small village called Käckelbäcken in the north of Sweden, others claim that this is not true. He already – by then – knew how to crawl, both on all fours and on his belly, even backwards. In the archives, there is no mentioning of him ever having mastered fully the purposeful walk. It is an enigma in many ways how he became a man of some renown in the capital. Well, of course, many in the village knew him, and also in the school he attended for a few years, as well as in the provincial university, well, yes, sure, they knew him. “That’s Mikael Granlöf over there” one would say to one another, nodding discretely in collusion. Yes, there certainly was something about him, but what that really was eluded a more precise understanding. For many years, his walk was, to be true, pretty … nothing to brag about. It was a sort of tiptoeing at the same time pushed-around kind of clenched-fist-in-his-pockets kind of walk. But at times, all by a sudden, he would transgress into another state of walking, a floating sort of motion – away over the hills and the landscape and into nature. Nature. He spent a lot of time in nature. He liked animals, and they him, it seemed. There was a sort of mutual understanding. Well, he didn’t exactly hold any grudges against plants either. Or any other kind of multicellular organisms. And do not do the mistake of believing that he would hold any grudges towards unicellulars or minerals either. He really loved all those things. He spent nearly all his time there, among them, strolling about. 

  13. Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson – Vanishing Point: Where Species Meet (3 channel Video, 2011) Vanishing Point: Where Species Meet is a three-channel video work documenting a meeting between a human and various species of gull around a specially built table at which food is prepared and shared. In their long-standing collaborative art practice the artists have explored specific human animal relations and what these can tell us about human environmental behaviour. Focusing here on hospitality across and between species, they challenge anthropocentric perspectives and values, acknowledging biological and behavioural interdependence within ecologies. 

  14. Susanne Skog – 1. The Vitrine with Pheasants: A composition for four voices. Each played by one of the four glass walls of the vitrino with Pheasants. The music consists of tonal transformations of field recordings, sounds from pheasants. I intend to put four small vibration speakers inside the vitrine. The speakers are connected directly to the glass with suction cups, one on each wall. The result will be that the music will be transmitted out in the room by the walls. The vitrine itself will be the sounding instrument. Talking about nature, translating it into form and language. A story always resembles its storyteller. It’s looking back. Is it possible to watch a bird without turning it into a human? 

  15. Anders Widoff. I’ve indicated that I want to remove objects from the display cases at the museum. How many objects (animals) and how many stands, and which was, and is still unclear to me. Probably I limit myself to one field, e.g. birds. The stands or display cases, the animals are removed from the replacement with a thin layer of sifted dust. The bases or bottoms from the removed animals may leave a dust-free fields, an absent clean surface. (This can e.g. done by I cut the cardboard the same size as the sockets before I put on the dust. These are then removed. And voila!). The engagement can naturally associate to extinction animal species, but also to an escalating disinterest in solidarity with our common nature. On another level, it talks about how easy something or someone is lost or deleted. From yet another direction, I hope that it may have a sculptural clarity, a forgetfulness and a melancholy in relation to the abundance of information and enlightenment that every museum today exacts itself. Practically speaking, I just need to dust and a fine sieve. I should be able to take with me. Maybe I can ask all participants to not throw their dust bags. I need them. I need of course also permission from the museum authorities to remove and store the animals and the objects from the stands I choose to remove. And their help to eventually vacuuming up the dust! That is all. For now. Anders 

  16. r a k e t a – Utopia, whatever! The song will be very large. Even larger! The song will be moved around, transported, carried, dragged, packed and unpacked. In other words it, too, like Utopia is in constant transfer. Utopia, whatever! is a work-in-progress where progress must now be used in the most inventive, interconnected, even most dangerous way. Utopia should be navigated through ignorance as much as awareness, through stupidity as much as sovereignty, through arrival as much as departure. Just as there is always an enigma to any departure, an anxiety about arrival and a thrill at travelling, utopia is always now deferring its own arrival whilst living out its own present.
    Let us not mistake our impatience, if utopia is postponed, incomplete, ‘whatever!’, then that process itself must be utopian. And in such reclamation of the streets, the landing strip, in the current poetics of movement, unrest, discontinuity or displacement, utopia, whatever must also undress itself. Like going in and out of meaning, utopia whatever! is that zone where we leave one world for another, occupying it, reclaiming it for minutes, for hours, for days, for lifetimes. Utopia, whatever! is this work in progress, open to erasure, decay, re-definition and refinement . And like the large song carried throughout the city, this transfer is open, negotiable and self-monitored by each traveller, each visitor, each occupant of the song. And as chance becomes part of the process, the song is an expanded, postponed, delayed and deferred site in which utopia explores its own continuity, its own cliché. The song is surely a user’s manual for a potential life. Remember: the future only lasts a long time if you think you will not be part of it. Utopia, whatever! only happens somewhere else if you allow it. F.H / Raketa 

  17. Susanne Skog – 2. A stand with buttons and birds: On the cards there will be a picture or drawing of an extinct bird, together with its name and the date when it was seen for the last time. The sound that you hear will be a tonal interpretation of the sound of this particular bird, whose sounds is gone forever – the sound consists of tonal transformations of the sound of a human voice who says the name of the bird. Talking about nature, translating it into form and language. A story always resembles its storyteller. It’s looking back. Is it possible to watch a bird without turning it into a human? 

  18. Conny Blom – A Grey Matter: 72 sheets of grey paper, text, lecture notes from Professor Marty Sereno’s lecture series Neuroimaging (University of California 2006), explaining how MRI images are obtained
    The title is “A Grey Matter”. This is a joke with words that might not translate. “Grey matter” is an often used name for brain substance, whilst “a grey matter” could also mean “a grey topic” or “a gray issue”, implying something boring, or something “in the gey area” meaning “shady” or “undefined”.
    1. The human brain is, contrary to popular belief, not at all grey but pinkish. When preserved in formalin a dead brain will however turn grey, and this is likely why the brain so often has been portrayed as grey in popular culture.
    2. In contrast, MRI images are all in greyscale. The data retrieved during a brain scan is first organized in the so called K-space, a greyscale raster containing all the coordinates of the collected data and from this a 2 dimensional black and white image is constructed.
    3. A finished MRI image might be colourized to enhance clarity or to make for a more spectacular presentation, but these colours are not directly based on information collected during the MRI scan, and are subjected to a fair amount of speculation. Depending on what a scientist wishes to show with the image, the colouring can be used to enhance certain areas of interest, whilst making other areas seem of less significance. These images, with strong catchy colours look very convincing and scientific, but we have to remember that the colours only tell us as much as we are willing to trust whomever have been digitally editing the images for the presentation.
    4. What comes out of the MRI scanner is always limited to greyscale.
    5. There is not one person that understands the whole process from the actual scan to the interpretation of the results. In this, engineers, radiologists, data analysts, neuro-physicists and/or neuro-psychologists are all involved. Translations between several different types of languages are required.
    6. When attempting to recreate what a subject is seeing with the help of the brain activity info obtained with an MRI scanner, little effort has yet been made to recreate colours. The focus has been on shapes, textures and semantic content.
    7. In laboratory conditions human subjects are able to discriminate between 700 and 900 simultaneous shades of grey.
    8. Experiments have been made to recreate people’s dreams with MRI technology. The biggest problem has not been to record the brain activity of the sleeping subject, but to confirm the results. Memories of dreams are notoriously elusive.
    9. In the mid 20th century it was commonly believed that we dream in black and white. This was probably due to the fact that a lot of everyday imagery was still predominantly black and white in those days, be it newspapers, photography or television. Dreams might be of unspecified colour, but there is nothing preventing us from dreaming in colour.
    [Notes to translator: there are a couple of scientific terms in the text. MRI = Magnetic resonance imaging. K-space is specific for MRI and NOT the same as a coordinate space with x and y axles. Thank you very much for the help] 

  19. Johan Carlsson & Georg Jagunov / JacStudios – OAK a2263 (2013, digital animation, length: 250 years). OAK a2263 is about creating and taking responsibility for future generations, by creating and designing for a life year 2263. It is the creation of visions that revolves around an oak, planted in 2013 and realized over the next 250 years. 

  20. Magnus Petersson – Stills 1 – 8 (Photography). Sound imaging of a shipwreck shot with the aid of a side-scan sonar, an instrument used in marine technology to read the seabed by means of diagonal sound waves, which are then digitally rendered into images. An objective eye is directed towards that which remains invisible to human vision, thus recording a world beyond the attainable. The wrecks also become important internal ecosystems slowly bringing back the ships into nature. 

  21. Anastasia Ryabova (in co-author Varvara Gevargizova) – Photo 

  22. Evgeny Yufit – Fragments, 2012: Yevgeny Yufit is a member of Russia’s Parallel Cinema movement. He first became famous for his macabre short films, which often look as though they were made during the 1920s or 30s. In the 1990s, Yufit began making features similar in style to his shorts, with plots often centred on genetic experimentation and pseudoscience. He is often described as a ‘necro- realist’; he uses elements of horror and science fiction cinema and combines them with the bleakest aspects of neo-realism to examine humanity’s relationship with death and decay. Yufit examines the metamorphoses of corpses as a metaphor for cinema: expired celluloid and careless editing are seen as cadavers, suicides or zombies. He courts complete madness, filming endless ideological battles at high speed, struggles in which ‘us’ and ‘them’ are indistinguishable. 

  23. r a k e t a – There is a Visitor! Uppsala – Venice – Kaliningrad – Kalibukbuk – Rejmyre – Nashira – Stockholm – Moscow
    Raketa is running interdisciplinary, collaborative projects and experiments within art, design, architecture and digital media. Raketa has been operating since year 2000 as an ongoing experiment; a laboratory-in-progress! 

  24. Cecilia Enberg – All the birds from the Swedish Pattern Book XIII, In the meadow stood a little birch tree: Cross-stitch patterns from an edition called the Swedish Pattern Book XIII (1930), Drawings (2013 

  25. Dmitri Plax – A FAILED PERFORMANCE, By Daniil Charms, Adapted, directed and produced by Dmitri Plax for Radio Drama dept. of Swedish Radio, With: Janna Granström, Erik Bolin and Martin Rosengardten, Sound: Frida Englund. © Dmitri Plax, Swedish Radio. To understand Charms’ creations, it is important to be aware of the time aspect. A story about a person who bought a Polish loaf takes on a different dimension when you consider the constant informing that prevailed in the Soviet Union in the thirties when the text was written. A seemingly meaningless dialogue about “cutting-off women’s rumps” suddenly becomes comprehensible when one contemplates the helplessness of Soviet citizens in the face of sadistically inventive powers-that-be… But probably one should not interpret all of Charms’ texts as being firmly anchored in time. Some of his shortest pieces are of clearly existential character; others can be read as surprisingly relevant comments on our own time. And this particular short audio drama piece can be taken – among many other interpretations – as an illustration of the artists fear of audience and public institutions in general – whenever we are speaking about museums, theaters or other spaces where artist have to meet the public…
    Life is absurd, but hopefully not meaningless; and that is what Charms claims with his sometimes-childlike playfulness and naivety. The apparent lack of explanatory text makes us fill in our own, to become co-creators in the same way that we are co-creators of our own and other people’s lives… At the height of the German siege of Leningrad, Daniil Charms was arrested for a second time and he disappeared for good. It would seem that the Soviet powers had nothing better to do than to arrest and kill a poet. This is not entirely illogical, since perhaps the only thing that all totalitarian regimes are terrified of is meaningless (in their view) humor: it is impossible to counter the absurd with ideological polemic. 

  26. Cecilia Grönberg and Jonas (J) Magnusson: Kinnekulle and Billingen – 2 plateau-mountains in Skaraborg, Västergötland, Sweden. A stratigraphic study by Skaraborgs museum museum. The two plateau-mountains Kinnekulle and Billingen were created both by sedimentary strata and volcanic flows. Parts of their characteristic stratigraphic rock series – bedrock, sandstone, alum shale, limestone, slate, and diabase – are laid bare in open cast mines in the mountains. Kinnekulle and Billingen are studied through an inventory of strategies of visualization used by different individuals and institutions that have approached these mountains.
    Kinnekulle: Map of Kinnekulle, established in 1877–82. Facsimile print by Skaraborgs länsmuseum, 59 x 44 cm, scale 1:20.000. Filmpostcards from a limestone quarry at Kinnekulle, 12 min. Limestone sample from Kinnekulle. Diagram depicting the geological strata of Kinnekulle, 13 x 18 cm. Model of Kinnekulle (made by Johannes Heldén), 21 x 30 cm. Tourist information leaflet on Kinnekulle, 10 x 21 cm.
    Billingen: Map of Billingen, established in 1877–82. Facsimile print by Skaraborgs länsmuseum, 59 x 44 cm, scale 1:20.000. Filmpostcards from a limestone quarry at Billingen, 12 min. Limestone sample from Billingen. Diagram depicting the geological strata of Billingen, 13 x 18 cm. Model of Billingen (made by Johannes Heldén), 30 x 21 cm. Tourist information leaflet on Billingen, 10 x 21 cm.
    Kinnekulle and Billingen – 2 plateau-mountains in Skaraborg, Västergötland, Sweden. A stratigraphic study by Skaraborgs museum museum. Skaraborgs museum museum is an artistic and literary project run by Cecilia Grönberg and Jonas (J) Magnusson and devoted to experimental museology, alternative historiography and site-specific investigations. This stratigraphic study will feature diagrams/maps, document-based films on ipads, and rock-samples in two display cases. The display cases will be devoted to one mountain each, and should be placed next to one another, in order to create a “stereoscopic” effect. The two plateau-mountains Kinnekulle and Billingen were created both by sedimentary strata and volcanic flows. Parts of their characteristic stratigraphic rock series – bedrock, sandstone, alum shale, limestone, slate, and diabase – are laid bare in open cast mines in the mountains. We are studying Kinnekulle and Billingen through an inventory of strategies of visualization used by different individuals and institutions that have approached these mountains, from 18th century naturalists to early 20th mining industries and contemporary “geo-tourism”. 

Birdo…fåglo…whammo – New monster languages

Birdo…fåglo…whammo – New monster languages

Short introduction to Öyvind Fahlström’s Birds in Sweden

To grasp both Öyvind Fahlström’s artistic development and the basic idea behind his compositions for the radio, there is only one way to begin – with his “Concrete Manifesto”, written in 1953 and one of the first of its kind. At this time the author was leaving his surrealist poetry to find a new way of expression.

Fahlström often emphasized that the manifesto came into being at a time when he had just discovered concrete music (musique concrete, Pierre Schaeffer) with its novel manipulation of the sound material. When Fahlström created his monster languages birdo, whammo and fåglo at the very beginning of the sixties it was also the fulfilment of many of the ideas in the manifesto. This was at an expansive period of his development. In 1961 he had moved to New York and in contact with Robert Rauschenberg and other American artists he had realized that he was free to work with ”the entire repertoire of life” in his own art.
In the same year in an article entitled Bris (Breeze) (Rondo 3/1961) he had presented an international overview of contemporary experimental poetry. Besides summarizing some of the current trends, the article also contained a farewell to the poetry of the printed page in favour of acoustical presentation. Fahlström also played with the idea of ”false dialects” and asked why no one was writing suites of poems for these invented dialects. Birdo, whammo and fåglo were his own reply to the question and at this period he made use of ”false dialects” both in his poetry and in his theatrical art. In the studios of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation Fahlström had discovered ”the possibilities inherent in tape technology for ’concrete’ kneading and processing, multiplying, layering, fragmentation and so on of the sounding material”. He now concluded his poetic concretism in grand style with a half-hour radio collage entitled Fåglar i Sverige (Birds in Sweden) (1963) which makes use of fåglo and whammo. Prior to this the artist had, in New York, notated birdcalls in his large painting Sunrise, thereby creating his first work of art in which words and images are fully integrated. In a letter to the Swedish radio producer Börje Lindell (1962) Fahlström described the origins of the work:

“I don’t really know why I started in on birds. In New York I did a large painting [Sunrise] with illuminated branch-like forms, glowing in the east, of a rising invisible sun which awakens each branch, each bird family and its song (painted = written on the canvas). Americans have their own way of translating bird songs (jingles, mnemonic phrases), and Swedes have theirs (“lettristic formations”). The translation itself (from natural sound to phonetics) was the fundamental experience. It linked up with my old ideas about creating new “concrete” dialects – contorting, stretching, kneading the language as “concrete material”. By analysing and cataloguing all birdsong syllables in Rosenberg’s Birds in Sweden, I was able to uncover a certain phonetic vocabulary. When normal words are then translated, such as Börje Lindell, we get expressive contortions due to the syllabic vocabulary’s characteristic limitations, to wit Görrkjä Zilltell.”

Fahlström’s intention with the new dialects was not to establish a secret or transmental communication – even the Russian Zaum poets had sought to create the language of birds and stars – but he was
principally interested in drawing our attention to the fact that much of what we take for granted, as in the mirroring of the world in language, is a highly arbitrary construction. The author touches here on something that Novalis had noted in one of his fragments (c. 1798): “There is really something ridiculous about talking and writing; a real conversation is just a play on words. One cannot but be fascinated by the absurd mistake people make of believing that they speak on behalf of objects. The peculiarity of language, that it is only concerned with itself, is something that no one knows about.”

If we study the birdo catalogue we can see how Fahlström listed the transcribed birdcalls according to the vowels of the phonetic alphabet and then in alphabetical order. In this case the author used the transcriptions of birdcalls he found in A.D. Cruickshank’s A Pocket Guide to Birds (1960). He proceeded in similar fashion in preparing the catalogue for whammo (which is built on onomatopoeic expressions from the world of comic strips: wham, slurp, fsst, thunk, etc.) and fåglo. In the latter he made use of Erik Rosenberg’s classic ornithological fieldbook Fåglar i Sverige (Birds in Sweden) (first edition 1953). If we compare the bird catalogues with the original sources we see that Fahlström often chooses a portion or syllable of a birdcall and that he constructs his own ”syllabic repertoire” in order to establish building materials that are easier to use. When he then comes to translate, to ”sculpt” the words, fragments of the phonetic transcriptions are combined until he arrives at the most similar and attractive combination. Birdo, whammo and fåglo become, in other words, mocking-bird languages.

“At the same time, the actual translation concept related to the games and role-playing that occupy me nowadays. Assuming the basic principle that anything can stand for anything, I want to move from a pure Cageian approach, i.e. where new things continually stand for “x” to a state where by determining that a certain thing stands for “x”, you can create an incentive to build contexts, make games based on these “rules”, or define roles. Thus our regular old linguistic sounds start playing bird- sound roles. Then the bird-sounds can start playing linguistic roles. What would a nightingale call itself? Jitetingegay!” (Letter to Börje Lindell, 1962)

Fahlström emphasized that he found the birdsounds in birdo and fåglo beautiful but that the most significant aspect as far as he was concerned was the translating situation itself. He observed that what happens in our perception of reality is that we translate according to different systems and that all systems are equal and that every combination is possible. In this way the monster languages were not exclusively a poetic language-game for Fahlström who associated them with fundamental questions about mankind’s relationship to the world around.

The radiopiece Birds in Sweden was airplayed in January 1963, it was introduced as “a piece of concrete poetry” by the programme host.

This work had a powerful impact on a number of Swedish authors/composers which have testified that this composition opened their eyes to the potential of radio, a development that soon resulted in the emergence of a completely new genre in Sweden: text-sound compostions, with authors like Bengt Emil Johnson, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Åke Hodell, Ilmar Laaban and Sten Hanson.

Teddy Hultberg