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"Jan Håfström: Blinky Palermo Never Went to the Belgian Congo - Heart of Darkness"
2002-08-26 until 2002-09-08
Modern Museum
Stockholm, , SE

Immersing oneself in Jan Håfström’s works can sometimes be like going astray in a visual hall of echoes, where a mass of images from different times, places and situations intermingle, collide, form new patterns and new meanings and dispatch us to the inner recesses of our memories. To our childhood. To our dreams and nightmares. But also to a multitude of magazines, books and movies. And to other art.

The colour fields that fill the room he has created for the first exhibition of the Odd Weeks series – geometrically black, yellow, red, like the Belgian and German flags, interrupted only by a map-like green, organic shape – hide numerous memories that are vital to Håfström. Memories from his time at the legendary PS 1 in New York in the second half of the ’70s, and of the mythical young German artist Blinky Palermo’s last exhibition just before he left PS 1 and New York and died mysteriously on the Maldives. The memory of Joseph Conrad’s harrowing novel Heart of Darkness – isn’t that the Kongo River that winds like a red artery through the green map-image? All these echoes, mingling with our own thoughts. To me, the intense colour fields exude a feeling of ruthless violence, of anonymous brutality.

Håfström’s works have always incorporated a political undertone, often alluding to moments of horrific repression: the Paris Commune, Chile, Bosnia and Congo. But stronger than this is always a longing for some form of absolute origins beyond – or perhaps predating – culture. The two texts – one by Tacitus, the Roman, and the other by Conrad – on the outside of the room evoke this feeling, if it wasn’t already there: appalling but seductive.

But a few works are also hung on the outside of the room – five terse paintings after Blinky Palermo, echoing the room inside; and three paintings from the series with Mr Walker, constantly on the move, a shadow from the world of comic strips who has appeared in Håfström’s paintings in later years, sprinting between gruesome death – and romance. Here the deep seriousness of the main room is brought back down to earth and into the world of childhood and the boy’s room. The echo grows louder, the memories more numerous, the dissonances richer and grander: the comic strip character Mr Walker, Ground Zero, Blinky Palermo, Tacitus, Belgian Congo, PS 1 in New York, Conrad and – not to forget – Jan Håfström’s way of drawing and painting, so precise and yet so inimitably awkward, in some ways keeping a distance, but with a personal note that points straight to his earliest works in the Moderna Museet collection, for instance the fantastic Skogen (The Forest) from 1967-68. The Heart of Darkness is never far away.

Lars Nittve

Jan Håfström
Detail from the Painting F.

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