Installation views from Light Sleeper, Heavy Dreamer at Brillo in Stockholm, 2014.
The power and resistance of symbols and the co-option of such images by market-driven forces is explored throughout the work of Karl Grandin. Channeling different media and popular references, his works could be seen as emblems of commodified desire, transformed, estranged and détourned in order to reveal a spectrum of associative readings. Marked by his interest in radical cultural expressions and the margins and boundaries of what is accepted in civil society, he fuses familiar concepts into new and volatile combinations. While drawing upon sources such as vandalism and religious or esoteric subcultures, Grandin’s posters, illustrations and objects speak of resistance. At times Grandin’s imagery connects with the politically confrontational and conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s, and the anti-disciplinary actions by Swedish artists such as Carl-Johan De Geer or Sture Johannesson.
‘Light Sleeper, Heavy Dreamer’ is not only an exhibition about values, it is about our relationship to the cultural environment around us. It channels specific popular references in order to highlight contrasting states of mind. The remodeled RAF neon sculpture ‘Light Sleeper, Heavy Dreamer’, which lends its title to the exhibition, can be seen as an ironic expression of how the thrust of revolutionary movements has become absorbed by popular culture and commodified as images of dissent. Here, advertising is exposed as the ultimate example of a leveling tolerance that incorporates any gesture of dissent in the homogenization and commodification of culture.
Grandin’s experimental design practice exposes restraints by reproducing or exaggerating them. ‘The Proper Way To Dispose of A Swedish Flag’, a video of a wood fire fuelled by flags, brings to mind Carl-Johan De Geer’s flag desecration from 1967. It also responds to a series of recent debates around censorship in art academies in bureaucratized Sweden. ‘Hoop Dreams’, a work which relies on the resemblance between a basketball hoop and a dream catcher, is a sculpture which is directly speaking of alienated desire. The work alludes to young peoples’ aspirations and the predetermined socio-economic structures that restrain them. It is a design-based adaptation of the 1994 documentary with the same name, that tackles the aspirations and hopes of two African-American high school students and their dreams of becoming professional NBA players.
As a designer who addresses both the contemporary human condition and his own conditions of production, Grandin admits to his own complicity within a system. The flux between ambivalence and conviction, which is manufactured by the effects of late-capitalism, is often difficult to confront. We as consumers are trapped between having an aversion to something and, at the same time, being seduced by it. This crisis of self is reflected and resisted in the works of Karl Grandin.
Photos by Gustav Karlsson Frost.