Alfredo Jaar, Ronald Jones

Magasin 3 Projekt (Djurgårdsbrunn)

Both Alfredo Jaar and Ronald Jones belong to the post-avant-garde that uses art to scrutinize the relationship between politics and culture. In the spirit of Marcel Duchamp, they infiltrate and manipulate various systems of representation. By acting as a couple of “undercover agents,” they attempt to undermine the infrastructure of the assigned, detached order of the world.

Jaar created an installation specifically for the context of this large space. As in most of his recent work, this three-part installation consists of photographic transparencies installed in light boxes. But in distinction to the works exhibited at the 1986 Venice Biennale and at Documenta 8 in 1987, Jaar’s work here does not show the victims of oppression, but the victimizers: manipulated photographs of the Argentinian military. The images are generic enough, however, to represent military oppression universally. Titles such as Fading and No More (all works 1988) underline a message that is, even without them, eminently clear. This is Jaar’s most overtly political installation so far. It embodies a shift from the politics of representation to a more explicit representation and critique of politics. Jaar particularly wanted to show this piece in Stockholm in view of Sweden’s international role and because many Chilean refugees found a sanctuary here after the coup in 1973. This political explicitness results in a flattening of the semiotic space that threatens the subtlety of the installation. But fortunately, this threat is defused to a large extent by the works’ seductive, esthetic qualities and impeccable craftmanship.

Jones showed a mixture of old and new works. Untitled, 1987, a work based on proposed designs for the table used at the U.S.-Vietnam peace talks in Paris, has been exhibited in different context before. And Untitled, 1988, simulated “Brancusi-bronzes” that, contrary to their formalist appearance, actually represent an AIDS-virus and an onco-gene, have also been shown elsewhere. Jones, however, also showed a new site-specific work, Untitled, 1988: it manifests the kind of visual cunning that over the years has become his trademark. He placed on the floor two rectangular forms, each with a square tab attached. The material is Napoleon marble, a blackish stone that exists only in Sweden. This seemingly abstract, minimalist work is based on the construction plan for the atomic shelter under the Swedish central prison at Kumla. What Jones found while studying this plan was that the shelter is designed to hold no more than 50 individuals (the staff at Kumla consists of 35–50 people). According to the cynical planning, the several hundred prisoners are, thus, meant to fry in case of an atomic attack. This information—in the form of a written note next to the work—makes the polished marble look more like fallen tombstones than a Modernist sculpture. Any purely esthetic pleasure that the viewer might have experienced prior to this uncanny insight is suddenly mediated almost out of existence. That Jones’ work, unlike Jaar’s, relies so heavily on language could be regarded as a weakness. But this objection presupposes a premise that Jones rejects, namely that language is an illegitimate art form.

Lars O. Ericsson