Bo Bjerggaard

Bo Christian Larsson

15 Sep - 22 Oct 2011

© Bo Christian Larsson
Far away inferno, 2011
Acrylic, pencil, airbrush on paper
150 cm x 148 cm
Still Standing in the Mud of Time
15 September - 22 October 2011

About Bo Christian Larsson's Artistic Oeuvre

An aphorism ought to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world like
a little work of art and complete in itself like a hedgehog.
Friedrich Schlegel (1798)

Ignorance is a blessing.
The Matrix (1999)

Bo Christian Larsson was born in 1976 in Kristinehamn, Sweden - a small town surrounded by forest near Lake Vänern. When Larsson was 18, he left Kristinehamn to go to Enschede, Holland, where he received his education at AKI (Academy of Visual Arts) and graduated in 1998. Since graduating, he has lived a rather nomadic life: in the Mediterranean on a boat; in Sweden again; and in cities such as Munich, Hamburg and Berlin. Though Larsson imagined being an artist when he was very young, things didn't fall into place until Munich, sometime between 2004-2008. There he worked from time to time at the Haus der Kunst as an assistant and technician, which gave him the chance to meet artists such as Allan Kaprow and Paul McCarthy and to discuss the possibilities of art with them.

My first reaction to Larsson's work was that it seemed rather "un-Swedish". This was more an observation on my part than meant as a (positive) value judgment, even if many may want to interpret it that way. My reaction has to do with Larsson's relationship to his own art. There's a drive, directness and an energy that gives Larsson's work a raw attitude and a feeling that something is happening here. Another reason is that Larsson is always in motion, in free interaction between different media such as drawing, object art, videos, installations and performance.

Bo Christian Larsson is interested generally in the inexplicable, religion, the mystical and the mythical, the function of symbols, and, not least of all, how the individual makes the world seem comprehensible. He wonders how people find models for explaining, that can serve as points of reference and compasses for interpreting the world, whether it's a question of religion or conspiracy theories. For Larsson, it's not a matter of understanding the world from a strictly scientific point of view or looking at the world from the perspective of a researchbased conception of art. Rather, it's a question of using a philosophical platform to address complex questions about time and space, life and death, and the individual's place in the world. In the process of tackling such complex questions, Larsson builds up his own systems of symbols, references and referents that recur constantly in a series of different works. His artistic work seems to be driven by an inner logic in which individual works cross-reference and mutate. Over time, this has led to his production creating its own universe in which the observer is invited into a cosmos that exists between the personal on the one hand and common social conventions on the other.

There is an obvious world of symbols in Larsson's art. This can manifest itself in birds (owls and crows), ordinary objects (clocks, family photographs, knives and axes) or items that can be associated with religion (crosses and candles). Nature is always present in his art. According to the artist himself, he was never a "Nintendo kid", but preferred to spend his time in the forest. And it is precisely from the forest, and from the forest's world, that Larsson draws so many references. Wood recurs in different treatments and forms: as an entire forest, a single tree or as material for different constructions in installations, or shaped wood in drawings. Wooden constructions often manifest double meanings in which they can simultaneously look like a cross or a stylized gallows. The recurring elements of knives and axes can be seen as tools necessary in the forest.

In Larsson's symbolic world, the forest's residents are also included. In the current exhibition at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, the installation The Hollow Beach stylized owls comprise a significant element. The owl recurs in a series of different cultures and time periods, from Greek and Roman mythology up through contemporary Harry Potter books. The owl is a mystical character that possesses deep knowledge. Meanwhile, for many people, the owl is a frightening figure because it knows more about us than we do about it. In addition, the owl is considered to have the ability to see into other worlds. Other natural elements that return again and again in Larsson's work are water and fire, often as elements in performances where they are accorded a ritual symbolism. Water can refer to the Great Flood or archaic stories of how human beings left the ocean and crawled onto dry land. Fire can either refer to destruction or serve as an element in a sacrificial ritual.

Alternating conceptions of time are a common element in Larsson's art; this is symbolized by clocks. In particular, he makes use of clocks with a classic face such as mantel clocks or wooden Mora clocks. In many of his works, one can experience a kind of lag, as if the works are being played out in another time. Time can be experienced as frightening. The individual's sense of control over his or her own life normally includes control over time. It is no coincidence that stopped clocks or clocks that show the wrong time are important ingredients in horror films or psychological thrillers dealing with the supernatural. By alternating perceptions of time, the artist slowly renders the observer's control over the works of art insecure as well.

Larsson's use of specific symbols can be seen as a kind of recurring prop in his artistic work. However, his use of symbols is ambiguous. He knows that special meanings and connotations can be attributed to individual symbols. These meanings and connotations can be deeply religious at the same time as the same symbol can be considered a complete cliché, utterly devoid of all meaning. This ambiguity is something that the artist exploits and even exaggerates. This contributes to a tension and uncertainty in his works. When Larsson uses his array of symbols to build installations, they often take on the character of staging elements or décor. The installation The Hollow Beach can be interpreted as a stage on which something can be performed. It can be seen as a kind of possible passage to another world. This is alluring, but it may also be something that hides darker secrets for those daring to enter. One is tempted to think about films like The Beach (2000), in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays a person searching for a way out of his earlier life. By means of a secret map, he finds the path to a world that is romantic and beautiful, but which conceals secrets worse than those in the world he left. However, he can no longer go back.

In the current exhibit, there are also sculptures and objects with elements that one finds in everyday homes: clocks, furniture and photographs are objects that everyone can relate to at the same time as such objects are often personal because of sentimental value and the owner's history. Larsson has also put together these objects to create absurd props such as clocks with large hands or feet. Another element is a clipper at full mast, painted black, possible a ghost ship on which time has stood still. The artist may be playing with the innumerable myths about ghost ships which hold both secrets and horrors. For example, ghost ships occur in the myth of "The Flying Dutchman", used by Wagner and later by Hollywood in endless variations - for example Ghost Ship (2002) and in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003).

Performances play a significant role in Bo Christian Larsson's work as an artist. Sometimes he alludes to the Christ role, but, perhaps more often, he takes on the role of the shaman. The shaman's function varies depending on the culture, but in particular it refers to a person who can move between different worlds - from this world to a world invisible to normal mortals and back again. The shaman has the ability to pass through these worlds for the purpose of helping people in the normal world, but this ability also gives the shaman power - for good and for evil - over normal mortals. The shaman is assumed to have a strong connection with nature. The character that Larsson assumes as a shaman can make one's thoughts turn to "paganism". Many beliefs from pre-Christian times lived on long after the Christianization of Europe, and there are regions in Europe where pre-Christian rituals and belief systems are still very much alive. It may be worth mentioning that Bo Christian Larsson also considers the execution of his drawings a kind of performance. The drawings can be seen as a kind of score outlining his artistic oeuvre. They are done in a sort of flow where the artist's ideas are processed and shaped in real time. In the drawings, elements from his performances or installations can appear. The drawings contain no representations of humans, even though traces of human presence are apparent. The drawings often seem to assume an indirect overhead perspective which can give the viewer a feeling of looking down at another world from the position of an outsider. Perhaps the artist has the ability to look at our own world obliquely from above, just as the shaman or owl has access to another world. This is the artist: able to access our world, just as a shaman or an owl has access to another world. This access is something that people with near-death experiences can bear witness to. These individuals claim to have seen themselves from a position not directly overhead, able to see what is going on while others have tried to save their life. One wonders: exactly what world is Larsson attempting to portray in his drawings? Is this an alternative world, or a reflection of it - or simply a dystopic vision of the future?

Larsson's artistic oeuvre is full of symbols and references with which he constructs and shapes his world. This world can appear to be a fiction, but just as in Alice in Wonderland, this is no story in the usual sense, but very much a depiction of a reality with which modern humans have lost contact" no matter whether it is interpreted as an alternative parallel world or the individual's own subconscious. In Larsson's art, the observer finds himself or herself interacting with the personal and the general. It may not be the psychological per se that interests him, but rather the sphere of common meaning and the systems of reference that are to be found in culture and between the individuals that are a part of it. He depicts a world of symbols into which the subject is born and cannot possibly escape. But perhaps these symbols are meanings, simply props in the collective memory of human beings which we simply take for granted and to which we attribute greater meaning than what they actually have. Or, as Baudrillard claimed, our time is characterized by symbols that refer to other symbols, but the original meaning has been lost.

In Larsson's artistic world, fiction and reality collapse into each other in an unpleasant union. Ultimately, it becomes difficult to distinguish one work of art from another, where the art begins and ends. Everything becomes a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk which includes both art and life. Bo Christian Larsson's art is a labyrinth between fiction and reality in which the observer gets farther and farther from the exit the more he or she seeks an answer.

Martin Schibli,
director of Exhibitions,
Kalmar konstmuseum, Sweden

Tags: Allan Kaprow, Bo Christian Larsson, Paul McCarthy