Runo Lagomarsino, Yo también soy humo (I Am Also Smoke), 2020, 16 mm transferred to HD video, color, sound, 3 minutes 16 seconds.

Runo Lagomarsino, Yo también soy humo (I Am Also Smoke), 2020, 16 mm transferred to HD video, color, sound, 3 minutes 16 seconds.

Runo Lagomarsino

In 2003, Runo Lagomarsino made We All Laughed at Christopher Columbus, which showed that sentence as a single slide projection on a freestanding MDF board. Since then, he has continued to make poetic reflections on the colonial background of contemporary life in both gallery installations and commissioned public artworks. His work shows the critical potential of a post-Minimalist tradition that elsewhere seems to have reached a dead end. The day before I arrived in Lund to see his new solo exhibition, “The Square Between the Walls,” I came upon his proposal for a public artwork at this year’s Gothenburg Biennial: a one-to-one “map” of Saint Barthélemy, the Caribbean island that was formerly a Swedish colony. He proposed placing a series of iron rods nearly twelve feet tall in the ground at intervals of about 650 feet to mark the outline of the island on Gothenburg, a city that might not even exist had it not been for the transatlantic slave trade.

But Lund is the city of Lagomarsino’s birth, and at its konsthall his approach was more intimate. The main entry point was the experience of his own family, and especially of his father, who worked at a packaging company in Lund after having studied sociology and spent time as a member of a guerrilla movement in his home country of Argentina. Many of the works on view evoked themes of exploitation, diaspora, and freedom, but subtly and in unexpected ways. In the short video Yo también soy humo (I Am Also Smoke), 2020, a cigarette is stubbed out on a postcard of the Columbus Monument at the end of La Rambla in Barcelona, the city where Lagomarsino’s father—the smoker—arrived, as he himself explains off camera, with his wife and newborn daughter in November 1976, having fled Argentina.

A similar approach to metaphor plays out in Tales from the Underworld, 2020. Forty-nine white matchboxes, half-opened and mounted on the white gallery wall, displayed on a background of newsprint insects found dead in the galleries of the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin, making a connection between the ordering of things in mass media and in the museum. If the understanding of the world as an exhibition has been at the core of colonial modernity, today’s attention economy, where death is a marketing tool, suggests that the contemporary artist can sometimes do little more than remind us that the institution of contemporary art is a problematic space of inclusion and mourning. In doing so, he might provide a moment for contemplation, long enough perhaps for one more cigarette—the aesthetic practice of an audience smelling death in the white cube.

Lagomarsino invited Swedish-Chilean artist Bélgica Castro Fuentes to present her contemporary arpilleras, textile collages she made in her adoptive hometown of Malmö, Sweden, as part of his exhibition. For Castro Fuentes, arpilleras are not just a way of processing the trauma of resisting Chilean military dictatorship, as they usually are for women working in this tradition. The artist instead deals with contemporary disasters and oppression, pointing out connections between the forces that enabled the authoritarian regime in Chile and the intolerant refugee policy in today’s Europe. The portrayal of the refugee in Mi nombre es Mohamed (My Name Is Mohammed), 2017, represents an experience that is not her own, but suggests a solidary community. Castro Fuentes’s work shares this mood of colorful solidarity with Lagomarsino’s poetic post-Minimalism.