The satirical monument

Charlotte Bydler
PhD in Art History, art critic and curator. Teaches in the Institution for Media, Art and Philisophy.

Gustavo & Ingrid

Today many artists try to entice their public to see their surroundings in new ways, perhaps by taking a somewhat closer look at their neighbour or their ordinary grocer. The focus of this relational aesthetics is the framework, the very recognition or staging of what we call art, rather than any object or monument. The consequences for the public are however an oft neglected matter, to which I will return. In the 1990s it has become increasingly common among artists to work with objectless projects financed with anything from more salable works of art, bread-and-butter jobs, or scholarships and grants. When FA+ started working in this way, it was not so common in Sweden. Over the years they have not only left their distinct mark – the August Strindberg quotes – in Drottninggatan in downtown Stockholm; the physical traces are the framework for the intended public’s subsequent activities.







In various different group projects under the signature of FA+, Ingrid Falk and Gustavo Aguerre have assumed a position in contemporary art, not least for the purpose of problemising ideas about the lonely genius and the Great Artist. In the Italian pavilion at the Venice Biennial in 1999, FA+ for example presented a lunch on the theme of Contagion – an international and interdisciplinary project that was started in 1995 in order to dirty national purity and wipe it out in various forms of cooperation. The participants’ signatures were manifested in letter combinations resembling long molecules (in a metaphorical extension to be compared with the “element”, the individual artist’s signature). FA+TLK are by the same logic both the title of and the signature on one of the works produced in 2004. TLK, The Latin Kings, were hip-hop pioneers in musical Sweden in much the same way as Falk and Aguerre were in the field of art. The work of art in question monumentalises them as naturalistic sculptures, in the company of the artists. The flirtation with the people is almost cheeky: the invitation of highbrow culture to youthful, popular and chastely anti-commercial/
revolutionary movements. The question is now whether this is not about an exchange, a negotiation, instead of an invitation. The framework is made up of an avant-garde world of art and a media landscape, including the commercial cultural arena in which there are less commercial success stories such as The Latin Kings, and a system in which government scholarships and project money are allocated. Negotiations, in short, with an unusually large number of interested parties for a context such as avant-garde art.
The strategy of the monument is, as we all know, to grasp at that which is larger than its material expression: the thing to be attached to memory is ideally more durable than the material that tells its story, more established and reputable in wide circles. Therefore the artist as originator of a monument is more its appendix than its signature. The form exists already in the public consciousness, so it is just up to the artist to call forth its memory from the material. For this reason it is perhaps no coincidence that spontaneous or collective works are found among more successful monuments. Nobody
stands, so to speak, on the shoulders of what is monumentalised, and contents without a customer are negotiated and established only in interaction with a public. All monuments function like this in the end, however. They become relational art.

For the Elite Only
This brings me to the issue of the public in relation to relational aesthetics, or place specific art, in Falk and Aguerre’s version. These pioneers in the field of place specific art have often employed a provocative and activistic approach. At a release party for Tidskriften 90tal (‘The Journal The 90s’; 1997), FA+ arranged a reception where the guests could choose between a VIP lane for “Stockholm’s cultural elite” and an entrance for “immigrants/ordinary people”. Both queues led up to the same door and ticket window, but those who considered themselves members of the cultural elite were asked by the doorkeepers about their place of residence, income, and occupation/profession. Those who did not give satisfactory answers had to join the “ordinary” queue. The consequence was obvious to the queuing crowd: a rebuke for the attempt to claim rather meaningless privileges (similar privileges make up large parts, however, of the award system of the non-profit cultural sphere).

The question is, as always, who the provocations are directed at, who is their actual target, and only finally what the provocations are aimed at. The message of the favourite question of relational aesthetics, “What will happen if I do this?” (or the follow-up question, “What would happen if everybody did this?”) becomes manifestly evident after some delay. The privileged audience are seldom those who take part in the realisation of a relational work, but rather a bunch of invulnerable late arrivals who laugh last and best – often at the first audience’s inability to handle remarkable experiments in typical Candid Camera style). Motivationally it is not particularly effective
to embarrass one’s audience. It is of course irrelevant, if it is only the subsequent presentation context that is of interest, but the whole thing is a bit unfortunate in view of avant-garde art’s reputation and dependence on government support. From a pedagogical point of view it is problematic at any rate. A natural remedy is humour and a modicum of self-distance in the avant-garde art world. In the case of “Stockholm’s cultural elite” the assault/approach is justified by the affected audience being identical to the subsequent presentation audience and, above all, by this not being a work that hits downwards. It is possible to joke about most things, if it is only done in consideration of the distribution of power among those involved.

Triple Chris

It is quite natural that involvement in concrete matters is not very cool – it is difficult to express in an artistically dissociated manner. Irony and humour are however things that can provide some distance, but at the cost of lost coolness. I am thinking of a particular example here. It is well known that contemporary avant-garde art has certain problems with its credibility among people in general (if they have any opinion at all). Pretentious and esoteric, or provocatively commonplace, both are used as terms of abuse about artistic practitioners who, with the best of intentions, are trying to reach a larger public. The prevailing attitude is a kind of damn if you do, and damn if you don’t, a state of alienation that is only to be regretted. This may explain the agitation that FA+ caused with the blow they gave to the art world’s dignity on TV, in the world of art as well, when the very popular anchorman of cultural programmes Christoffer
Barnekow turned out to have two copies in the studio. Masked in Barnekow’s characteristic glasses and thick hair, FA+ manifested something of the pedagogical dilemma of art: how to explain that a benevolent but often condescending subculture may actually have an important message – even be funny and enjoyable – without at the same time foisting the desired answer on one’s audience?

Triple Chris

The exhibition was a convincing argument in favour of the potential of humour and satire. To those in the know, the Barnekow triplet was also a refreshing contribution to the debate on mimicry, a strategic mimesis or imitation, and the utopian “third room”, the third way that so often figures as the way out of binary oppositions. How does the authority cope with the satirical repetition (in two parts to boot, and only two steps behind the original)? Rather badly, of course, on the verge of a breakdown. The point is that two clowns not only repeat the anchorman’s gestures as a distorted mirror image. They cannot be reduced to representing themselves as an exception or special interest. The displaced repetition is of course the “third room’s” specialty, combined here with a pleasure-filled distortion of strategic mimicry
(quite in order). The almost identical is a flattering recognition of an authoritative subject position, albeit in the less flattering form of parody. But a parody of (or on) the parody, what is that?

SIKB (r)

The death of the politically committed art is considerably exaggerated, as has been demonstrated in no uncertain way by the work that FA+ has been performing for twenty years. They have shown up social charity, development aid, or the effects of the European Union on nationality and other kinds of identity. The art stage is a natural part of our common reality, as it seeks for and creates links that do not exist as a matter of course. The great international interest in biennials on contemporary art may be seen as a symptom of this striving for identity. Falk and Aguerre’s artistic careers also draw out a geopolitical aesthetics. The Venice Biennial has been mentioned; in 2000 and 2002 they participated in the Buenos Aires Biennial, in 2001 in the Tirana Biennial, in 2001 and 2003 in the Nordic Biennial Ideologia (Gothenburg). In 2003 they arranged their own biennial: SIKB(r) Söders Internationella Konst Biennal (r) (‘the International Art Biennial of Southern Stockholm (r)’) with 54 participant artists.


The traffic roundabouts of art are not only an official culture, and the official culture’s credibility, values and capital can be shifted to new tracks. The logic is present in the collective/spontaneous monument. The prerequisite is a consequence analysis that does not play merely by the rules of the avant-garde art world. Halfway between the traditions of monuments and satires, FA+ perhaps put both the artists’ and the public’s dignity and integrity at stake, but this is always done with highly enjoyable humour.