Henrik Håkansson

These two exhibitions amounted to the first substantial showing in Stockholm by one of Sweden’s best-known younger artists. Henrik Håkansson’s exhibition at the Riddarhuset was part of a series organized by Moderna Museet in various venues throughout Sweden while the museum building on Stockholm’s Skeppsholmen Island is temporarily closed. Index, continuing its process-oriented approach, showed Håkansson’s recent audio piece Nightingale Love Two Times, 2002, next to a new work developed in collaboration with local ornithologists.

Both presentations were experimental, but in different ways. Installing contemporary video-based art in a baroque palace is quite unexpected for Stockholm and adds “richness” to the work. Håkansson says he doesn’t really differentiate between specialized art venues and other spaces but looks only for a pronouncedly cultural environment for showing his nature-based work. This particular interior brought out new nuances for reading the artist’s intentions, modulating both content and formal presentation, overwhelming the atmosphere of privacy and direct, unsanitized contact with the work that you would expect from a modern art space. Even the smell of dust and the limited visiting hours added to this sensation. A piece like Flight of the Bumblebee, 2002, came across as strongly illusionist, with slowed-down and blown-up footage of the flying insect projected on the ceiling, which seemed to open up directly onto the sky.

At Index, on the other hand, the viewer encountered a clean art-context display, which facilitated a more “neutral” look and at the same time underlined Håkansson’s extensive collaborations with partners outside the world of art. The intriguing and simple Because the Night (Luscinia luscinia), 2003, shown for the first time here, consists of slowed-down black-and-white footage of a nightingale singing in a bush. Every visitor could get a map with the location of this particular bush marked on it and could go there to check out the reality of the situation. Although I guess most of us didn’t make the trip, the possibility injected a pleasant touch of connectedness. Because the Night lacked the cinematographically attractive packaging so pronounced in most of the pieces exhibited by Moderna Museet. It looked rather like a “shadow of the real” or a look through a surveillance camera—which it actually was. Such scrutiny of otherwise hidden secrets is part of Håkansson’s modus operandi. His art tends to be seen as based on a straightforward contrast between nature and culture, but his passion for observation and the delivery of a simple and beautiful message gives his works their specific substance, leading us to territories that are far beyond this dualism.

Although nature has been Håkansson’s focus for years, his approach and motivation has undergone a few significant changes. He seems to be moving away from the “natural science” installations that often provided a variety of informational or experimental situations involving animal species, such as the construction of living environments or stagelike arrangements of “clubbing time” for frogs with microphones amplifying their croaking. Instead, he’s adopting a much more observational mode of work. The result is a presentation of visual extracts that delivers more of an emotional charge. Håkansson says that, along with his ambitious and detailed collaborations with scientists, he now tries to deliver a simple sound or image that can even be reminiscent of the immediate visual impact associated with Abstract Expressionism. This interesting development infuses Håkansson’s work with new simplicity and allows us to experience it with greater intensity.

Liutauras Psibilskis