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So the concept of "human art" became a political slogan

2019-09-21T06:08:18.231Z

"Human art" has become a political fashion word used to illustrate politicized culture - a kind of antithesis to the popular. But how did that happen, and what is it really meant? The cultural news has traced the concept's origins, from a noted exhibition in Gothenburg 2014 to a contentious signal word among Swedish party leaders 2019.



In 2019, more about human art than ever has been reported in Swedish media. Last week, SD-led Sölvesborg emphasized that "provocative contemporary art" should no longer be purchased by the municipality, and the answer to the question of what kind of art is intended, the answer became clear:

"The general public probably does not want human art," Rolf Hans Berg (SD), chairman of the Recreation and Culture Committee, told the Culture News at the time.

The decision was also supported by party leader Jimmie Åkesson, who in an interview with Expressen also illustrates bad art with the new fashion word.

- Instead of buying a painting with human art, maybe you could have a bust of some previously prominent person from the municipality.

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Hear Rolf Hans Berg (SD) about why "human art" is not welcome in Sölvesborg. Photo: SVT

Art debate without art

The decision is the first concrete political measure following a recurring tendency to use the concept of human art as antithesis to good art.

And statistically, 2019 is undeniably the year of human art: The term has been featured in more than 200 articles so far, peaks in Google's keyword statistics and appears almost daily in political discussions in social media. Not since Göran Hägglund's expression "the people of reality" has an expression attracted as much attention, by painstakingly succeeding in painting a contradiction between elite perspective and peoplehood.

With one exception: No actual human art is visible. And haven't really done in a long time. Virtually all mentions depict human art without giving concrete examples, such as a political signal word, rather than actual phenomenon.

So where does this concept come from? The media archives, Google's keyword statistics and the frequency of use in social media point to one and the same event: The exhibition Period pieces in Gothenburg, five years ago.

Human art sees the light of day

In the spring of 2014, eleven artists from several countries interpret menstruation in a joint exhibition, and the median impact for Period pieces will be great. The queue for the room rang down the street on the day of the vernissage, the organizer remembers today.

- I was overwhelmed by how positive the reactions were. Many felt that it was an aspect of their everyday life that was finally acknowledged. That it could be raised to art was very fulfilled by people, says Josefin Persdotter, initiator of Period pieces and a PhD student in gender science at Gothenburg University.

One of Arvida Byström's photographs from the exhibition Period pieces 2014 (from Kobra, autumn 2014). Photo: Arvida Byström

At that time, the interest can be seen in the context of a growing political atmosphere around menstruation. The starting shot will be Liv Strömquist's Summer in P1 on the theme of mens history 2013, and with Period pieces the debate takes the step into the cultural world.

In 2014, the men's debate becomes a wave of opinion articles, books and research on the theme, the SVT program Kobra devotes an entire program to the ongoing mens talk and the phenomenon culminates with Liv Strömquist's serial album The Fruit of Knowledge the same year, which deals with both the vaginal and menstrual history of culture. The book also becomes an exhibition at the Landskronas museum, under the name Blood mountain.

Part of a feminist movement

The cultural critic's art critic Dennis Dahlqvist believes that human art must be understood in its context. That it is a Swedish phenomenon, closely associated with political trends that prevailed around 2014 and 2015 - during a period when the now thinning party Feminist Initiative was on the rise.

- There is really no established human art as a genre. It is part of a type of contemporary art that existed since the 1960s, where body fluids were used to express different ideas.

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See Liv Strömquist tell about his controversial menus in Kobra, autumn 2014. Photo: SVT

Dahlqvist points out, among other things, that blood was used in the art during the HIV epidemic, and that feces was used during the 1960s to mock modernist ideas that everything can be art.

- Human art is instead about feminism, it tried to dramatize menstruation as a political project, says Dennis Dahlqvist.

- It is also very Swedish, if you raise it out of its context it does not feel so interesting. But if you look at what happened in Sweden during the same period, on the other hand, it will be very interesting.

Human art disappears

But about a year after Period pieces, it becomes quiet. Hits for human art on the web, in social media and newspaper archives are rapidly falling to zero. Influencer Clara Henry releases her book "Yes I Have Mens, Right?" In 2015, and the hits quickly flicker again. But in the coming years, the time of human art in the limelight seems to be over - the only really noticeable impacts for the art debate in art form are in the rear-view mirror Liv Strömquist and Josefin Persdotter's exhibitions.

So why is human art becoming a political bat today, several years after the debate on menutabut? The human art frequency online points to an event in September 2017, when SL's art council, which since the 1950s has arranged art exhibitions in Stockholm's subway, organizes the exhibition The night garden with works by Liv Strömquist, on the theme "pastoral idyll".

Among dozens of drawings at the Slussen metro station, depicting nature motifs and female characters, are three drawings from the Fruit of Knowledge and the exhibition Blood mountain 2014.

Arouses anger afterwards

Shortly after the inauguration, the exhibition is vandalized, but the political reactions fail. Six months into the exhibition, with just under six months left for the election, the Swedish Democrats in Stockholm County Council, however, react. They demand that the "human art" be replaced, and launch a political campaign in which one of the drawings from 2014 is displayed alongside a picture of the 18th century painter Johan Sevenbom. "What image do we want to give of Stockholm?" The party asks rhetorically.

The play is supported by SD's cultural-political spokesperson Aron Emilsson, and the new role of human art as a political slogan takes on national politics shortly before the 2018 election.

Liv Strömquist's art becomes politics in Stockholm. Photo: Screenshot / Sweden Democrats SLL

In the spring of 2019, the Christian Democrats party leader Ebba Busch Thor applies the concept, when in March 2019 she publishes a debate article in Aftonbladet, where she uses human art as a synonym for "less important issues".

"While the recurring feminists on TV sofas discuss gender stereotyped Lego characters or human art in Stockholm's subway, a wide range of real issues await," she writes.

Today, Ebba Busch Thor does not want to comment on the word choice, and has declined to participate in this report. When the decision in Sölvesborg is met by someone putting up a doll - dressed in national costume and bloody panties - in the city, KD responds locally that the initiative represents "an 'art' that we in KD do not stand behind! This kind of 'art' is something we want to protect our children from! ”.

One hit in the air

It may seem paradoxical that an artistic theme that has mainly reached the public through two smaller exhibitions in 2014, today is a bat among Swedish party leaders - and realpolitik in Sölvesborg. Although Sölvesborg Art Director Sofia Lenninger tells the Culture News that the municipality has not bought any contemporary art in the last ten years - and never ever on the topic of menstruation.

In the latest episode of the podcast "A wolf seeks its pod" Liv Strömquist comments on the political reactions to her artwork from 2014:

- It's just symbolic politics, says Liv Strömquist in the podcast.

Liv Strömquist believes that the political use of "human art" is made to paint a fictional conflict with "hard-working people" and the cultural world, and that by discussing the issue at all, it buys the premise and thus reinforces it.

- A baby understands that politicians should not interfere in artists' activities. It is insulting to everyone's intellect that one should say that it is wrong, and it is more offensive than the event itself, says Liv Strömquist.

The wind has turned

Period pieces initiator Josefin Persdotter believes that the reactions to human art show that it is needed, and that it can be good from a feminist perspective:

- Now it is established. Now it has been in Slussen and has become a belligerent word. It has gone to history, she says.

In contrast, cultural news art critic Dennis Dahlqvist sees the reaction to human art as closely linked to the feminist debate it was a part of in 2014. A politically charged concept that suddenly changes direction, and bounces back on the feminist expressions it sprang from.

- Human art is so highly political, and associated with a political movement, in a way that much other art is not. When you react to it, it can be understood as a kind of backlash for feminism, he says.

The cultural news has in vain sought the Swedish Democrats' party leader Jimmie Åkesson and the artist Liv Strömquist for a comment. Christian Democrats party leader Ebba Busch Thor has declined to participate in this report.

Source: svt

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