Exhibition: The Crystal, June 3 – June 25

The exhibition consists of a series of photographs that relate to the site and architecture and at the same time form a story of it’s own about unrealistic thinking and parallel worlds. The Museum of Migratory Birds, inaugurated in 1961, was Jan Gezelius’s first work as an architect. The pavilion-like building has fascinated Bengt Olof Johansson for a long time. About a year ago, he found its absolute opposite in a Nazi building in Berlin, designed to measure the decline of the new capital Germania. This became the entrance to this exhibition – the contrasts in these two buildings may describe some existential conditions of our time. In addition, there are few places the feeling that life is acute appear as clear as on the southern tip of the island of Öland and the little pavilion makes it all comprehensible.

The title of the exhibition – The Crystal – refers both to Gezelius’s idea of the building as a crystalline – something that summarizes and incorporates a complex whole. The title also refers to the idea that viewing is like telling someone’s fortune through a crystal ball – the photograph takes all the viewer’s attention and just refuses to give anything away if you are not willing to bring meaning to it yourself.

The Crystal is the first exhibition Bengt Olof Johansson is doing since 2009. Last year, he finished the position as Museum Director after seven years at Kalmar Art Museum. As an artist, he has done over a hundred exhibitions and projects, including the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Gothenburg Art Museum and institutions and galleries around Europe as well as in the USA, Japan and Australia. He has been a professor at the Art Academy of Valand, artistic director of the project In the Middle of – art and knowledge in Öland World Heritage in 2005, and was for three years running Gallery Sprinkler. Bengt Olof Johansson lives and works in southern Öland.

The exhibition is organized by Konstfrämjandet Öland/ Kalmar (People’s Movements for Art Promotion) in collaboration with Ottenby Fågelstation (research center for migration birds)

June 3 – June 25, 2017
The Museum of Migratory Birds at Ottenby, Öland, Sweden
Vernissage: Saturday 3 June at 14 – 18
Opening Hours: 10 – 17 every day

The Crystal

About eighty years ago, the time span of a human life, Adolf Hitler and his architect Albert Speer began planning a new capital. The plan was to build it on top of old Berlin, after a war that was supposed to lay most of Europe in Hitler's hands. The new capital of the Third Reich eventually got the working title Germania. Among other things, a new main street in a north-south direction would be created by tearing down existing buildings and placing the needs of official institutions and military settlements along the street. The new main street began in the middle of Berlin, next to the current Brandenburger Tor, where a giant building was to be built with a dome that stretched three hundred meters into the sky, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. It was dedicated to ”the people”. The street would end with a newly constructed train station for southward traffic. In between, a huge triumphal arch would also be accommodated. To investigate how the mass of the triumphal arch would affect the fundament and the subsidences that would necessarily come as a result, Speer made a special test building in approximately the same place, where the triumphal arch would later be built. The building consists of a cylinder of solid concrete that rests on a smaller steel cylinder at ground level, what would later become the foundation of the triumphal arch. By studying how much the pressure of the sixteen thousand tons of concrete affected the ground, it was possible to calculate exactly how large the subsidences would be and how it would affect the construction of the triumphal arch. According to estimates, it would collapse if the ground gave way more than four centimeters. After a short time, the steel cylinder had sunk sixteen centimeters. Hitler did not think that was reason enough to change the plans. In other words, one can say that his unrealistic thinking was four times off the mark. With his position of power, this fourfold unrealism had disastrous consequences. In fact, Hitler did not plan a new capital, but from the beginning, a grandiose ruin.

Berlin is situated four hundred and forty seven kilometers south-south-west of the southern tip of Öland. In Berlin, along the canals, a lot of Starlings and Black Headed Gulls from Öland spend the winter. They move by comparing where it is most beneficial to live with how much energy or risk is involved in getting there. An equation that is also enacted by people, either by their own choice or by coercion. Today's tourism could be seen as an example of the kind of movements made by migratory birds, whilst forced migration is its opposite.

The pavilion in which the exhibition takes place, designed by the architect Jan Gezelius (1923-2016), was opened in 1961. It was intended as a migratory bird museum, a feature that other buildings in the area have taken over today. It is in many ways an ingenious piece of architecture. Partly because the building is located on a small ridge in the landscape, a directional shape in keeping with the stretch of the site. Gezelius has said – It’s about explaining the landscape to itself by building in it. Ingenious also for how the exterior's symmetrical and monumental appearance surprises one when entering, because there are sight lines in two directions and light from all directions. The thin wall elements are joined by light rather than by the rails and nails, and the ceiling seems to be hovering above the walls. The building is a compass for an immense outer and inner landscape and we have collaborated together in order to determine which images to display. According to Gezelius, a building can also resemble a crystal, a material that may include and express complex structures. As oracles we gaze into the crystal in order to discern the pattern of which we are a part.

Visibility is the most prominent feature of photography. There is always a lot in a photograph to see, identify and define. Which also risks dominating the experience.  As soon as you enter into dialogue with a photo, you know that you are being robbed. The mechanical representation of photography gives very little back a priori, it demands and takes everything from you, as it is you who give it a sense and meaning. The artist may be absent. In a positive sense this means that we are all producers of the photographs presented as well as producers of constantly new images in that flow. I decided to also behold and observe these photographs and ended up just here in time and space. The Crystal is an instant as short as the shutter of the camera.

Bengt Olof Johansson /translation Magnus Johansson