Carl Michael von Hausswolff

Gallery Niklas Belenius

The arc of Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s thirty-year career suggests that at some impressionable age, he encountered Bruce Nauman’s 1967 spiraling neon The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, took it as the gospel, and never looked back: His oeuvre is pitch-perfect ecumenical esotericism. As composer, artist, and curator, von Hausswolff uses remote sensing devices, not least radar and sonar, to explore “electricity, frequency, architectural space and paranormal electronic interference,” as he puts it. In case you’re wondering, paranormal electronic interference means detecting voices of the dead in radio static (tune into 1485.0 kHz), and von Hausswolff is an expert. His art roams so freely that even “emancipated” and “experimental” seem too restrictive as designations.

Von Hausswolff is a propulsive showman, and there is nothing wrong with that; his work is built for it. With panache, he has organized concurrent projects in Stockholm: an evening’s light installation in a graveyard, Red Night II, 2009, and the Birdcage Project, 2009, a broadcast of sonic messages from the dead; he also screened his new film Electra, Texas, 2008, and curated the exhibition “Adoptations: Tu est l’autre” (You Is the Other) at Gallery Niklas Belenius, its title an ungrammatical play on Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre.” All four are loosely confederated, but I’ll focus on the exhibition, itself a knotty conundrum. Seven people, counting von Hausswolff, are included as subjects—but also as artists—in the show: two artists, two mothers, one astronaut, a KGB agent, and an anonymous contributor, each with a plucky story to tell. Von Hausswolff curated this “group” exhibition while simultaneously declaring it his own art. That’s not as unreasonable as it sounds. What all seven yarns share is that they exhibit von Hausswolff’s brand of quixotic courage. Proclaiming this improbable troupe to be artists and dubbing this a group exhibition seems arbitrary, and it is, unless you give in to his irregular aspirations for art; he himself is allergic to any justification. A checklist considerately provides the backstory of every project. There is the 1927 account of Olga Eriksson, who miraculously rescued her two-year-old from an oncoming train; both escaped injury. Von Hausswolff’s framed reproduction of a newspaper clipping detailing the rescue is his work of art, while a sketch of Eriksson’s life, found in the checklist, includes the dubious entry: “1927 Performs her first, and presumably, only art work ‘Mother threw herself in front of a train to save her 2-year-old child.’” Then there is a newspaper picture of Wu Ping’s “nail house” in Chongqing, China, perched atop a finger of earth encircled by excavation for a new mall. Wu famously refused to leave her home to make way for urban development, saying, “I’m not stubborn or unruly. I’m just trying to protect my personal rights as a citizen.” Nearby the nail house are two flat screens; one shows stunningly vivid footage taken in 1971 by astronaut James Irwin, as he steered his lunar rover around during the Apollo 15 mission. Irwin’s trip to the moon swelled his belief in God, with the result that back on earth he led several intrepid but unsuccessful expeditions to uncover Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, recounted on the second screen. It is obvious, from these testimonies, that von Hausswolff places the greatest value on an against-all-odds brand of individual sovereignty, artistic and otherwise.

Neither Irwin, Ping, nor Eriksson understood they were making art; it took von Hausswolff to reveal that mystic aspect of their condition. Like every other subject represented here, from the KGB agent—betrayed and subsequently imprisoned, as seen in a documentary film shot by Staffan Lamm—to Anonymous, whom the agent would obviously envy, represented by stills from a scrap of found film, von Hausswolff has conscripted them all. What should this tell us? In art as in life, the impracticable, supernatural, and an against-all-odds spirit may be appropriate now more than ever, because, ironically, they strike just the right note of confidence.

Ronald Jones