Public art is often, all to often, the last thing to be added when erecting a new building of a certain status; a hospital or a library for example. Either there is art because somebody feels an obligation, because that is what has been decided. Or the art is added in order to create a final, creative je ne sais quoi; whatever it is that artist can be so good at.
That is how things often are. Though no one actually wants this state of affairs. At least not really. Because it is not good. It cannot be good. For it confirms all the prejudices that one may have about strange production processes, about builders and architects – not to speak of art and of everybody’s bad conscience.
One of many special characteristics of Fredrik Wretman’s (b. 1953) art in the new library at Södertörns högskola (Södertörns University College) is that it breaks with this tradition. Radically. The artist was involved at an early stage of the process. And this is evident. Fredrik Wretman has not contributed what artists usually contribute. He has not produced sculptures that amuse of paintings that stretch the mind; work added afterwards, so to speak. True, the pool by the entrance can be viewed as a work of art by most people. After all it has been cast in bronze even though it has been sunk into the ground below floor-level.
But the silent reading room? Little booths for studying in isolation. Really very functional. Booths in which one can read without being disturbed by the other people, where one can concentrate. And chairs like aeroplane seats? Chairs in which one can relax just as in a favourite armchair at home. Is this art?
Well it really depends. Let us, for a moment, drop the issue of art or not art and concentrate instead on the situation and the context. We are in a library. This is not any library. We are in the entrance and in the silent reading room of the new library at the new university college at Södertörn, a college designed to place Swedish higher education solidly in the global future. These are rooms with pretentions. Rooms for creative silnce, for knowledge, for thinking and for new ideas. That’s can’t e bad!
What does it sound like? Like an art room, a gallery room, a museum room – the rooms that, more than any other in our secular society, have taken over the role that churches used to fill. And this means something really exciting in this context: the art room and the library appear to have a lot in common denominators.
It is for this reason that the choice of Fredrik Wretman as the artist for the library at Södertörn was extraordinarily smart. For since the mid 1980s, more than any other Swedish artist, Fredrik Wretman has pointed to art’s room as being the spiritual room for our time. Though he has not done this as high priest.
Fredrik Wretman has succeeded in showing us art’s room in a borderland where he has pulled the pants off that pretentious art that makes installations out of nothing at all-water on a floor-at the same time that people quiver from the profundity of the experience. In this way he has created opportunities for new ideas and for contemplation. Art is not an isolated phenomenon; not something “higher”. But it can be effective for the person using it by concerning itself with its own existence and the ways in which it can find expression.
Fredrik Wretman continues in the same spirit at Södertörn. The pool by the entrance is not some abstract amoeba-like form. It is a cast of a sculpture that portrays Fredrik Wretman himself, as, dare I say, Buddha. Thus it can be seen as the very symbol for the eradication of the ego that is lying there in the room and is reflected by the mirror of the water. Though blasphemically clothed in attributes of his own artistic ego. That Wretman certainly does not seem shy.
Fredrik Wretman always works with all and nothing rather than with all or nothing. He takes over rooms and symbols, plays with them and their values and then presents them in some context that reminds us that we are walking on a slack rope. A rope that insists-alas and alack-that we think for ourselves.
So I do not think that it was a mere accident that he called his reading booths in the silent reading room “Klingons”. The name is borrowed from one of the enemy peoples who threatened Captain Kirk and his men on the Star Trek mother ship. The dangerous outside that threatened the secure inside.
Fredrik Wretman once claimed that airports are the spiritual centres of our age. They are places where we come and go. Places in limbo somewhere between being welcomings and leave-takings. But where we also need a moment of rest of calm and peace before the great trek.
The same can be said of the silent reading room at Södertörn in Fredrik Wretman’s version. We can sit there in an aeroplane seat, expectant of what awaits us in the great world outside. >Students and scholars who read there are not seen as ilotaed existences but become part of a metaphoric dialogue with the world around. We can find peace and concentration in a Klingon – in the external threat.
The world outside is also present in the promised land of books and of knowledge.
Silence is on the attack!