No man is an island – Artistic forays into the Stockholm archipelago
The Stockholm archipelago has been the subject of many poems, songs and paintings. Today, however, the ideas of the archipelago increasingly appear as nostalgic tourist clichés, including the rather dubious artistic genre of “archipelago art”. The exhibition No Man Is an Island enlisted visual art from the end of 19th century until today, in an attempt to elaborate on the image of the archipelago with the point of departure in concepts such as class, gender and identity.
The exhibition included a number of artistic forays into various eras with the aim of reflecting the changes that have taken place in regard to the idea of the archipelago.
The industrialisation of Swedish society at the end of 19th century set off a migration from the countryside to the urban areas. This prompted a development of public transport, railways and steamship traffic, which was a prerequisite for a mobile lifestyle. Perhaps even more important is the paradigm shift that occurred in relation to the concept of nature, which had been seen as a production resource and now was regarded as a resource for leisure. It was in this context that the archipelago turned into an attractive place for an active outdoor lifestyle. Artists were also affected by this new life pattern and archipelago life became a central aspect of many artistic practices, not least the Stockholm archipelago which is the territory that the exhibition was focused on.
In the exhibition No Man Is an Island we began our discourse with the artist generation that depicted the archipelago from the end of 19th century. Prince Eugen, Anders Zorn, Albert Engström, August Strindberg, Axel Sjöberg and J A G Acke represented this first generation of archipelago painters. Despite their vastly different points of departure and artistic approaches, they have come to represent the artistic diversity that forms the foundation for our ideas of the archipelago. We chose to include the most prominent representatives and their most iconic works, which are still widely employed in marketing and which are also reference points for the discourse of younger generations.
Late 19th century archipelago life is often associated with the summer holidays of the upper classes and the ensuing cultural clashes with the local people of the islands. However, in the 1930s the middle classes began to venture out to the archipelago for the summers. With this new group, modernism came to play a more important role in archipelago life. In contrast to the large, tawdry villas of the nouveaux riches, the houses of the middle classes were modest in scale, designed in a modern idiom with inspiration from artist’s or writer’s studios. For this new type of dwelling, the furniture designer Axel Einar Hjorth created so-called sport cabin furniture which he gave archipelago names such as Utö, Värmdö and Sandhamn and which came to represent the radicality introduced by the middle classes. The exhibition included an entire section devoted to this type of furniture. This was the first major presentation of Axel Einar Hjorth’s sport cabin furniture, which have created a sensation in the international auction world in recent years.
However, the idea of the archipelago was not only established in painting and design. Equally important are the songs composed by Evert Taube. In the exhibition we chose to create a gallery that celebrates Evert Taube’s song writing.
Modernism had a great impact on cultural policy and on the planning of modern Stockholm, but not on the art of the archipelago. Closest in this regard is Olle Nyman who employed abstraction in his paintings. At the end of the 1940s and during parts of the 1950s a group of artists including Evert Lundquist and Ebba Reutercrona, Roland Kempe and Staffan Hallström congregated at Nyman’s family estate in Saltsjö-Duvnäs, living and working together in what became known as the Saltsjö-Duvnäs Group. They were not a close-knit group with a common programme and neither did they have a direct relationship to the landscape of the archipelago; rather, they explored the materiality of painting, from the small perspective, with the point of departure in the poetry of rural everyday life. Perhaps one could say that the part represents the whole. This section of the exhibition also included the ceramic artist Anders B Liljefors who was employed at Gustavsberg Porcelain Company where he developed an experimental approach to ceramics as a free artistic form that approaches nature’s idiom. Also represented were Torsten Renqvist and Rune Jansson, who both resided permanently in the archipelago and who depicted the archipelago’s special spatialities in sculptural as well as painterly form.
In the 1960s the idea of the archipelago was greatly influenced by Astrid Lindgren’s television series Vi på Saltkråkan (We on Seacrow Island) that turned the Stockholm archipelago into public property of the Swedish people. The artists who made their debut in the 1960s were hardly inspired by the idyllic portrayal in the television series. It was rather the mass media image of the archipelago that interested them. The mass media created a cliché of the archipelago, in which late-19th-century artists also played a central role. Ulrik Samuelson reused a number of Prince Eugen’s most important paintings. In LG Lundberg’s work there are connections to Prince Eugen’s painting, as well as Strindberg’s paintings from Dalarö, where LG Lundberg is based. In Jan Håfström’s practice there is a source of inspiration which is not from visual art but from literature. It is Carl Jonas Love Almqvist and his ideas of the mystical island from which all life emanates.
The 1960s generation is still active today and has inspired many of the artists who broke onto the scene in the 1980s. In the exhibition this generation was represented by Rolf Hanson and Ernst Billgren who have continued the discourse of the major 19th-century icons of archipelago art.
The exhibition also included a younger generation of artists located in a borderland between Artipelag and the nature outside. These are site-specific works that relate to the archipelago, but in a rather more physical and tangible fashion. Marcus Eek’s paintings of the sea and its boat traffic were situated in a spatial territory between inside and outside. The other artists were outside the white cube of the art gallery. Carl Boutard collected fragments from nature from Artipelag’s immediate surroundings which he compiled in a kind of natural alphabet that has been cast in bronze. His sculptures populated Artipelag’s roof terrace as strange hybrids between nature and culture. Further out in the nature around the building, one could listen to Madeleine Jonsson Gilles’ soundpiece Sjökort Fem öar that represented five different places in the archipelago. At the steamboat pier, Anna Lidbjörk created an installation which was reminiscent of an archipelago café. It is a reminder of the tourist invasion that makes the archipelago into a cultural rather than a natural experience. Furthest away from the building was Ebba Bohlin’s sculptural project which was installed out on the water, which is not necessarily related to nature, but rather to our exploitation and colonisation of nature. The young generation of artists is very well aware of the archipelago’s changed contemporary circumstances; from an original nature to a kind of reservation for mass tourism.
Artists in the exhibition
Axel Einar Hjorth
Anders Bruno Liljefors
Madeleine Jonsson Gille