16 December Oscar Svanelid

Which were the most memorable art experiences of 2019? Today’s answer is by Oscar Svanelid, critic, art historian and contributor to Kunstkritikk.

Rosana Paulino, A Geometria à Brasileira Chega ao Paraíso Tropical, 2018.

Rosana Paulino, A costura da mémoria, Museu de Arte do Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Brazilian artist Rosana Paulino was merciless in this exhibition, which alternated between ceramics and drawing mixed with critical rereadings of photographs and scientific taxonomies produced by the European colonial powers. In many of the works, she used sewing thread to emphasise traumatic memories of colonialism and racism, as in Bastidores (1997) where photographs of female slaves whose eyes and mouths were sewn shut made me see both the power of the oppressors and of the oppressed. Paradoxically, Paulino mobilised the stitch to show that reconciliation – not even in its Brazilian anthropophagic variant – is impossible.

Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, PublicAffairs

We are trapped in the architecture of the post-digital nightmare, Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff argues in her new book. She describes how, over a few decades, disciplinary power mutates into surveillance capitalism, a demonic biopolitical figure composed of neoliberalism, digital technology, and radical behaviourism. The digital revolution that started so nicely with smart teddy bears and likes is depicted in the book as a strategically planned “coup from above.” The big tech companies have enchanted us with screens, thereby tailoring our updated market-controlled personalities. In my reading, Zuboff’s analysis is not only relevant to post-digital art, but could bring new life to the debate about the importance of social media to the public realm of art.

Tidstunneln (The Time Tunnel) by Patrik Bengtsson in collaboration with White Architects.

Trygg, vacker stad – light art in tunnels, Gothenburg 2005–2019

The centre-right local government in Gothenburg has ended the municipality’s project Trygg, vacker stad (Safe, beautiful city). A minor tragedy, it may seem. As part of the initiative, the municipality has, in collaboration with White architects, installed light art in tunnels located in the so-called vulnerable areas of the city. As the project oozed instrumentalization, it is no surprise that it didn’t result in any works of particular artistic value. On the other hand, Trygg, vacker stad can make visible how public art is used as a remedy for social problems that the social democracy no longer thinks it can solve. Public art continues to represent political power, which in this representation proves to be both superficial and disenchanted.

Oscar Svanelid (b. 1986) is an art critic and regular contributor to Kunstkritikk. He lives in Gothenburg and is working on a PhD dissertation in art history at Södertörn University. The working title is Shaping Life: On constructivism as vocation in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (1954–1984).