Johansson is one of the most common Swedish surnames. In other words: When having a typical average Swede in mind, one would most likely name him Johansson. However, if one stood at the foot of the Kvarntorpshögen mountain near the town of Kumla and found this simple name in huge Hollywood characters mounted to its peak, one would wonder in amaze: why has something that common been staged in such a manner? ”Well, simply because it’s possible, because its confusing and because it’s a wonderful way to confront every single visitor with the question of Swedish identity in public space”, perhaps one of these Johanssons, to be more precise Peter Johansson, creator of Utan Titel, would answer. Johansson (born in 1964), comes from the Swedish province of Dalarna and is an expert in symbols of Swedish identity and their decline to become clichés: small red Dala horses, folkloristic costumes, nudity and Sauna, the typical color Falun red and the Swedish sausage Falukorv. But instead of negating these alleged Swedish icons for fear of ending up in the IKEA box, Johansson attacks these bogged down interpretations. He rearranges the cultural symbols, joggles and yanks them, takes them to extremes and lets the observer become part of his remarkable artworks with a baffled grin. For instance, for his work Ole Kunst museet (1997) Johansson put a typical Norwegian wooden house (husmansplass) behind glass, inside he set up an exhibition of paintings by the previous owner, made a catalog and offered guided tours. While the concept of this small art-universe behind glass could hardly be more straightforward, he proved with other projects that he can strike softer tones as well. However, one should never feel all too certain with Johansson, because that’s when you may end up half naked in a sauna along with sixty other exhibition visitors (The Sauna Project, 1997-98) or in a room decorated with various tubular elements and the Swedish pork sausage Falukorv in buckets, on posters or in form of a huge toothbrush.
Accordingly, caution is also advised at Gallery Kuchling, which Johansson has now proclaimed his new territory for some time. Church benches, baptismal fonts and pulpits are lacquered in the characteristic Dala horse red and – Hallelujah! – placed amidst the gallery room. Even though this color-intense installation may be disconcerting at first sight, it is, most of all, one thing: an homage to his father who was church painter in Dalarna. While Johansson was still a child his father introduced him to the works by the Swedish impressionist Anders Zorn. In 2012 Johansson eventually created a number of works on the artist’s life and work for the Zorn Museum in Mora, among them the aforementioned installation Halleluja. In doing so he always had memories of his father Gunnar in the back of his head. The other rooms are not less Swedish either: in Archetypical Swedish Innocence nine motor-driven Swedish flags wave unceasingly. Additionally, the artist declares countless Dala horses, some lying on plastic plates, some mounted in glass boxes, dubious objects of Swedish identity. But it is not only his own national identity that Johansson scrutinizes. In German Pigs! we find Johansson staring at the camera with a grim facial expression. His head covered with a side-parted strip of bacon and the small bacon moustache makes one thing blatantly obvious: this greasy caricature of Adolf Hitler shows that he is not only juggling with Swedish nationality. This time around it hits the Germans. Just as it is the case in Sweden, neo-Nazi tendencies are a danger that mustn’t be underestimated in Germany either. A danger that Johansson strikingly faces – especially in context of his home country – in many of his works by means of an exposing exaggeration. But despite the issue’s seriousness, another thing becomes obvious as well: the fatty Hitler hairstyle shows that Johansson never looses his charming sense of humor.
May Johansson be the most common family name in Sweden, this particular Johansson is definitely more than your average cliché Swede. This Johansson is unique and guaranteed to have something in store that will rock our idea of our own identity and reality and the creation of national and cultural symbols. Hallelujah!
Exhibition from 9th NOVEMBER 2013 – 2nd FEBRUAR 2014