Logotype (2008)

Text: Niels Henriksen

In both senses of the word a gag will shut you up: the physical device to place in someones mouth, so as to prevent them from speaking, and as a practical joke, which will leave its victim baffled and speechless.

In the educational setting, the question of how art communicates, may be more pressing than elsewhere. Assuming that art is a form of communication, one must ask what language or mode of address students at an institution educating artists, are taught. What defines that language or mode of address outside its institutional frameworks, or to put it differently, what does the student take with her or him?

Klas Erikssons work LOGOTYPE addresses these questions on multiple levels. In the work we see the artist facing the camera, being tattooed on the back of his right shoulder by a tattoo-artist. The film patiently follows the work of the tattoo-artist and the nervous twitches on the face of Klas Eriksson. Finally it cuts to a view from the opposing angle, showing the nearly finished tattoo, which is of the seal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, the educational institution that the artist is attending.

The act of the artist in the work is an act of branding. Not unlike that of institutions such as the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, in approving the status of its graduates as artists by royal insignia. Secondly, the act of the artist is a crime, because it is illegal to reproduce royal seals and insignia in Sweden. This conflict with the law testifies to the logic of exclusiveness, branding and privilege that the power of the system rests on, while maybe also asserting a fundamental deviousness of artistic practice (even more so in that Klas Eriksson paid for the tattoo with production-money from the academy).

On the whole, the actions of the artist might strike the viewer as slightly overblown, baffling and somewhat meaningless. One wonders what Klas Eriksson is hoping to achieve by getting a tattoo and committing a crime at the same time, going through such pain, risk and effort, seemingly to very little concrete result.

To return to the beginning of this text, LOGOTYPE borrows a recognizable narrative structure of a gag or one-liner. It stays with a situation long enough for us to feel familiar with it, and then releases more information, which will surprise and amuse us. This is a sort of timed release or withheld release, that is also characteristic to gesture. In fact gesture is very similar to gags and one-liners, except that gesture applies to a wider range of uses and is not exclusively funny. Gesture has a persuasive power that does not work by logic, consequence or intimidation, rather it is a language or mode of address that works by its non-lingual quality. Like the actions of the artist in the present work, gesture is always slightly overblown, meaningless and a little bit mute. It is in the muteness that it becomes autonomous, it offers resistance and thereby gains a life of its own. This mechanism of power is neither democratic or subversive by definition, if anything it is illicit, irresponsible and in that sovereign.

As such, more than offering a critique, Klas Erikssons action, in its criminal meaningless-ness, offers a critical consideration of notions of sovereignty and autonomy in art and art-education.