|TWIST AND SHOUT
by Daniel Birnbaum.
Published in: SIKSI #3-4 1998.
Peter Geschwind's works are often marked by the dual atmosphere of jokiness and brutality. He occupies a long tradition that has distinct Swedish overtones.
Swedish machinery is the best in the world. This is a theme that seems to entwine its way through modern Swedish art like a fine red thread, periodically becoming invisible, but then shining through once again. This thought strikes me when I look at some works by a young Swedish sculptor: Peter Geschwind. There is a carousel controlled by a foot pedal. Five plaster dolls are spun around and smashed to pieces against the posts. On two monitors we see them whiz past, new and fresh, but in reality the dolls are soon very much the worse for wear and wretched, and one is about to break loose.
Several of Geschwind's works are marked by the same dual atmosphere of jokiness and brutality. Two jeans-clad legs in gym shoes hang from the ceiling, and a very small personage in similar clothes revolves endlessly around on the floor with its feet in the air. The story does not tell us where the rest of these cut-off bodies have got to. Another work, SodaStream (1996), is variable in an infinite number of ways. A three-hundred meter long hose winds through the whole space, along the floor and up the walls, finally leading into an apparatus that moves by itself: with a repulsive little plaster head occasionally tipping over towards a bucket and spewing out a green liquid that splashes across the floor. The whole thing is powered by a simple pump hidden inside the bucket. The work has already been installed in numerous different variants, in Los Angeles, Moss, Norway, and in Stockholm.
This is not some great, profound statement, rather, these contrivances exhibit a direct, drastic humor. The carousel, the Merry-go-round (1995), is actually appalling. It is fun to press a pedal and see what happens: faster and faster the poor creatures rush round, and are beaten black and blue. This in itself is already a somewhat sadistic classic. Geschwind's art is entertaining, but occasionally also disturbing. He occupies a long tradition that has distinct Swedish overtones. This tradition is presumably carries on from Dan Wolgers' mechanistic arrangements, but its roots go much further back. In Wolgers' world, everything has been transformed into mechanisms. Early on, he made mechanical devices that threw spanners in their own works. Their logic is often self-contradictory; they are short-circuited by themselves. If a machine is expected to produce a certain outcome, Wolgers manipulates the mechanism so that the opposite happens instead (a small machine is expected to accept a coin, but instead fires it back). Some of Wolgers' most talked-about projects have extended mechanics to incorporate not just the viewer but also the entire art context. If we turn one of the 'machine parts' upside down-let's say we steel some objects from a museum instead of bringing new works into an exhibition-the entire mechanism breaks down.
The whole of this mechanical way of looking at things, according to which we can twist and turn situations as though they were parts of a machine, is a late offshoot from a long Swedish stem. A key figure in this tradition, of course, is Pontus Hulten, who in several exhibitions in the 1960s and '70s brought in Swedish engineers, and confronted them with machine artists like Duchamp and Tinguely. Peter Geschwind again brings this whole tradition to mind: Wolgers, Hulten and the 'witty' student paper Blandaren, P 0 Ultvedt and the Swedish ur-engineer, Christoffer Polhem. But there is something else here too: a strained psychology and an interest in American subcultures. It is as though, here, the Polhelm-Ultvedt-Wolgers line meets the Californian underworld. Geschwind: a new, monstrous machine of the best Swedish quality.