Uncovered in smoke

by Andrei Craciun

While the contemporary art practice that engages the socio-political realm is divided between exploiting the power of questioning and the power of action as alternative solution, there are few artists who position their practice somewhere in the middle. Klas Eriksson is one of them.

His art aggressively intrudes the viewer's space, while tackling social and political aspects of one's daily life, usually in a comic and entertaining matter. His approach transcends questioning as a suggestion, but refuses to impose an autonomous model of action, even a hypothetical one. His practice stimulates public debate, while asking for responsible acknowledgment and further participation from the public.

A powerful aspect of Klas Eriksson's artistic practice, is the disproportional relation between the minimal effort as means of production and the level of impact that his work has, over the attending public. This happens due to the blown up aesthetics, or higher level of intrusiveness within public space, exploiting stripped iconic symbols, pulled out of their natural context, from mass culture and subcultures as well, involving different demographics as possible audience, in strictly limited time and space. His approach transforms his works, either performances or installations, in temporary structures of exposure and debate, sometimes reaching to a monumental state.

Eriksson explores in his practice aspects of the social and political, related to control, power relations, limitations. He extracts his strategies of approach from mass culture, while tackling identity factors of subcultures and involving the history and architecture of the site. Through the expression power of performance art, installations and video, he creates ironical and aggressive situations that require from the public contemplation and participation. Rituals specific to the football terrace, clubbing and anarchist youth subcultures are usually present in his works, as fetishist aesthetic elements that will stimulate the audience and engage collective consciousness.

Klas Eriksson explores mass culture in order to identify resources for his conceptual frame, as well as ways to approach and engage the public. He sets up the premises of his works using clean symbolic elements that he links with the architectural, historical and institutional contextual frame, generating the stage of unpredictable further development. One could easily identify the stripped means of communication specific to mass culture, incorporated in the infrastructure of his art, but with a self-ironical twist, that inflicts both on the artist, as well as the viewer.

The resulting set is characterized by it's assimilation capacity, transforming the present viewer, the space, the reactions, into constituent elements of the work itself. Even though, at first glance, due to the simple and raw aesthetics, usually projected at large scales, one could interpret the work as being more poetic, longer exposure reveals the links between the symbolistic and the context, simulating familiar situations and inducing a feeling of appurtenance, that transforms the viewer into the relevant participant. This holistic approach underlines the monumental character of Eriksson's work, with emphasis on both commemorative reflection and critical reaction.

I had the chance, not only to experience his art, but the whole process of production for two of his performances, commissioned for Bucharest Biennale 5, curated by Anne Barlow.

The first performance, Com'on you Reds, took place during the opening of the biennale, in the University Square, an important landmark of Bucharest, a symbol of freedom. During the action, 100 volunteers occupied the top 14 floors of Intercontinental Hotel, which dominates through its height Bucharest's center, and simultaneously burned red flares for approximately 4 minutes. The 5 stars hotel is also an important landmark and symbol of Bucharest, before '89 was considered the monument of luxurious living and an exponent of the western cosmopolitan life, when it functioned as a hotel designated only for foreigners.

The title of the performance, comes from a well known British football chant, but it functions on two levels, connecting with the collective memory regarding the historical context of the site, as well as with the recent protests that took place in January in the University Square, when the ultras from the most important football clubs from Bucharest and the near cities had an important and controversial role during the events, as politically maneuvered agitators and instigators to violence on one side, and first line of defense against the gendarmerie abuses on the other. Few protesters continued to occupy the square after January. They were present in the square, protesting, in the evening of May 24, 2012, when for 4 minutes, Klas Eriksson, with the participation of 100 volunteers, transformed Intercontinental Hotel in a spectacularly flaming temporary sculpture.

He continued the same conceptual approach for his second performance, titled Curva Viola, the name of the ultras of Fiorentina football club. It took place the next day at Make a Point, one of the venues of the biennale, a community cultural center, an independent initiative, located in an ex communist textile factory, situated in Pantelimon, one of the disadvantaged areas of Bucharest. This time he took the role of the performer, when he lighted several violet and pink smoke bombs in the courtyard of the factory, marking the community center's presence within the neighborhood. The performance intended to simulate an action of the italian ultras during a football game, that the artist got to know through some b&w xeroxed photographs, emphasizing the role of reconstruction, intending to raise awareness over the social importance that such areas have in the city context.

One of the guards from the factory became a constituent part of the performance when he tried to stop Klas Eriksson from covering the grey communist neighborhood in violet and pink smoke, considering that this action will undermine his authority and periclitate his position within the insitution.

Andrei Craciun, cultural manager, he studies anthropology at Bucharest University. He curated his recent projects "Destroying Public Harmony" at Brukhental Museum and "Utopia of Exotic" at PAVILION center. Since 2008 he is the coordinator of PAVILION center and since 2010, the executive director of BUCHAREST BIENNALE. Lives and works in Bucharest.