Jonas Ohlsson is a Swedish visual artist/centipede/teacher in the field of music, art, organizing parties and exhibitions and setting up an own gallery. His headquarter being the Bijlmer (Amsterdam, Zuidoost, formerly a more dodgy area of Amsterdam) but he also operates abroad like in Brazil, China and the United States. Jonas has a profound interest in subjects and approaches that are unneat, not (yet) clearly defined, ghetto or less accepted as long as they burst with energy. Jonas is also part of FUCK, a collective of international artists, DJ's and theoreticians based in the Bijlmer and teaches at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy (Amsterdam)
Jonas from Detroit
Last night, our new-found friends from Chicago came to visit us in our little house on Farnsworth street in Detroit. We talked a lot about art, and again (as it often does here in the Midwest) the discussion turned to the virtues (or not) of community art and audience participation. Kevin was talking about an artist colleague of his who did a project where she would install plastic containers at the toilets of friends and collect their leftovers to produce manure, which she would then later return in a cup, ready to be used in the nearest flower pot.
We talked about how LONG she would be able to sustain this practice and if that was important or not for the project. Or if it was maybe enough that the art worked on a more metaphorical, symbolic level. Apparently this woman was also a great communicator and had managed to get support from powerful people (Patricia Arquette) in high places (Hollywood).
Surely this could be a very useful, green and worthy art project with many possible positive benefits for mankind and the planet as a whole?
And it is usually around this point in the discussions surrounding community art that I fall asleep spiritually and mentally. And it's not ONLY because I am a mean spirited, jaded cynic, who can't value utilitarianism. But because it is so different and alien from my own experience of art and culture. If I look at my own experience of culture I think about what was important to me, what changed me as a human, and what helped me to develop.
I value and respect Greenpeace, the Red Cross (and the Crescent) or Médecins Sans Frontières just as much as the next guy. I just don't think it's art, and I don't think that they see it as art either. It would take some truly hardcore relational aesthetics guy or girl to claim that as an art piece.
There were very few utilitarian reasons for me to listen to Sex Pistols or Throbbing Gristle, or read books by William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski or Jack Kerouac, or laugh myself silly reading Robert Crumb…au contraire! There was NOTHING healthy about it. Which of course was partly the reason why I got into it in the first place. Does anyone seriously believe that people listen to Death Metal or experimental Jazz for any hidden health reasons?
But it did help me to become a more complex person, it did challenge my beliefs and it did force me to open up to new ways of looking at the world. And it did fuck up my mental hard disk and after that I can't process information and ideas in the same way as I did before and I think that's all you can ask of art.Here in the Midwest (as I have written about before) a lot of the little support there is for art, is tied to educational projects. I have no problem with this, I TOO teach, but I don't call it art!
In the 60's and 70's there were huge debates in Europe and USA, usually from a leftist perspective. Wasn't it time for the artists to fianally get off the fence and make themselves useful for the workers and join the revolution? Every artist and writer joined either the Communist party or the RAF, except Salvador Dali who just wanted to make precious GOLD!
"Make yourself useful, go into Bijlmer and help some poor Suriname kids," was the mantra (until very recently) from Dutch politicians who felt that maybe they could finally get some economical and social returns from the parasite artists that they had subsidized for much too long. I am already doing this by the way, but for other more "culturally perverted" (=sound) reasons.
Now the calls come from the cultural right (or maybe the cultural nihilists would be a more correct description). Go and entertain Henk and Ingrid in Apeldoorn (the Suriname kids are of course out of fashion). I don't mind being useful or utilitarian, but I rather call that teaching, giving lectures or workshops to be able to keep my art free, dirty and perverted.
And if you haven't paid attention, most poor, uneducated people ALSO prefers their culture dirty and nasty. See Baile Funk in Brazil and Gangster Rap in the States, etcetera. And they find it condescending when we honkies come up with another well meaning do-good-er project in the Bijlmer, Rio or Detroit.
So let's keep real culture sick ‘n’ nasty and leave the do-good-erism to Greenpeace. And if you absolutely can't restrain yourself and just have to do some good, just call it a workshop and you're off the hook....
Jonas Ohlsson reporting form Detroit thanks to Expodium
How to Make Art
The scary thing with art school is:
- YES you do need to invest soul money in it!
- YES you do need to strip mentally naked and bare your innermost soul for ALL to see!
- YES you will get critique.
- YES you might find out that there are things that you thought were clear and definite for everyone
but… it is only clear and definite for YOU, and if you have the will to communicate with others (which is basically what art is all about) you will have to change your ways. Or accept that no one gets it. Or even worse, maybe they get it, but they don't give a shit.
SOOOO… just keep being open.
I have been going to art schools for 8 years (3 years in Sweden, Rietveld for 3 years, 2 years of Sandberg.) I remember in Sweden having this attitude that I was afraid that the teachers would influence me too much and that that which was unique in me would be ruined. I was making comic drawings and making music and I had this idea that I KNEW what I wanted to do; I didn't need no asshole teacher to tell me what to do.
At that time I was clearly not ready to go to art school.
I COULDN'T receive, couldn't take IN, and wouldn’t let other people take part in my process. SO I stayed in a defensive mode. I basically didn't change much during art school in Sweden, just did my thing and was proud of it. After 3 years of art school I came out pretty much the same person/artist I was before.
After that I had a studio on my own for a year and did my thing. But when I was sitting there on my own I realized that SHIT, I just wasted 3 years of my life! I can ALWAYS do my own thing. You don't need to go to art school to do your own thing. You go to art school to get messed up in the head and to get new ideas that you would not come up with on your own.
After that, when I got a second chance at Rietveld, I decided to take that chance with open arms. Yes, I had assessments where I almost cried; I got so much shit from the teachers!
AFTER art school (I promise you this) you’re going to have the rest of you life to do ‘your own thing’. Like ALL of us (no matter if you are successful or not) you will be sitting in your dark studio somewhere in an industrial area or at home. AND you’re going to MISS those days when you had 20 people talking about your work and giving you shit and praise.
Good luck in trying to call 15 people to come over to your studio to see your art in five years from now. You'd be lucky to get ONE person to come over to see it.
So realize what a unique time this is, GRAB the art school experience with both hands and feet, tongue, brain and whatever else, otherwise you are just wasting your time, energy and money. USE us as teachers, use your fellow students. No one is here to hurt you, but we ARE here to give your ART shit (if needed) to make it bigger, better and stronger.
And the MOST important thing is your process:
- HOW you make art.
- HOW you talk about your art AND just as important, how you talk about OTHER people’s art.
- HOW you share your process with the rest of us.
- HOW you come to your results.
- HOW you present your ideas and work.
- HOW you make decisions.
- IF your process is open, transparent and inviting, then you are on the RIGHT track.
So, just let art school mess with you for a couple of years, it is not going to destroy you, it will make you stronger. And DON'T worry, that which is unique in you can NOT be hurt by information, assignments, other people’s ideas, or modes of working or talking. It ONLY gets stronger by more information!
And if after 5 years of Rietveld you think that all the stuff those teachers told you was just PURE bullshit, well, after that you will be stronger and more knowledgeable. Then at least you will know what you DON'T believe. And that is a MUCH stronger position than to NOT know that.
So in that sense you are in a win-win position.
AND if you then think, shit, this gets VERY personal and intimate very fast, well, the art world out there is EVEN more hard, lonely and ruthless. So this is like a safe haven where we can ALL experiment and be insecure together.
I also don't have the answers; I am also nervous and scared. I have a big show coming up in Frankfurt in December and I am scared SHITLESS!!! I want it to be NOT good but GREAT, because I’m exhibiting with artists that are world class! So the nervousness starts to creep in: who the HELL do you think you are Jonas, exhibiting together with Jim Shaw and Jeremy Deller? Who the FUCK is Jonas Ohlsson??!!!! The only thing you can do is the get USED to being nervous and scared, and to try and suck energy out of that feeling, and to let that fear help you to make the best work you have ever come up with in your life.
If you are NOT nervous and scared, then you are not investing enough soul capitol into your art.
You can, of course, also be nervous because you feel that you haven't DONE enough, but that is the
WRONG kind of nervousness. You should work your ass off and STILL feel nervous, that's the right kind of nervousness.
Maybe you sometimes feel that SHIT, I am tired of being in this vulnerable situation as a "student"; I want to be all knowing, self-assured and arrogant! Well, the fastest way to get there is to listen a lot, go see TONS of art shows, buy TONS of expensive art books (yes, buying expensive art books REALLY works as a way to increase your involvement), make a lot of art! Talk a lot about your art.
To EXPOSE your fears, doubts and insecurities is the fastest way OUT of unnecessary fear, doubt and insecurities. But you can't get to that level WITHOUT passing that stage. So just get it over with!!!
The longer you try to hold it out, the longer it will take you to get to the DESERVED position of an all knowing, self-assured, and arrogant brat.