Conny, love,

Kristofer Folkhammar

Malmö, October 2023
[From catalogue, I Kiss Your Eyes]
you’re never as human as when you’re a teenager. Isn’t that what we said, obliquely, when we saw each other a while back. We were at an outdoor café on Friisgatan in Malmö, in this wonderfully unprincipled fall that has compelled summer to last nearly all of September. Eddie sat in your lap, turned to you, perhaps aggravated by the sounds of the city. You put your face close to her nose when you tried to get her to jump down and sit on her own.

When fags get to know each other, conversations about those teenage years serve as a kind of threshold. When did you come out, what was it like for you, what did they say, what happened, what did you like, were you scared, what did they call you. Questions that, if answered honestly, move friends through a portal into a particular form of intimacy. Comparisons and mirroring. An act of recognition which at the same time has to do with displacement. For the stories of how we became who we are vary wildly in how they are constituted. The experiences so similar and at the same time not at all.

When I stand in front of your work, I feel that I am standing before something fragile. But it’s a strange, perhaps even paradoxical form of fragility. You see, when I stand in front of your work, I also feel as though I am standing before something immovable, practically monumental. So precisely do you work with elements of queer and fag history that the narrative fragments become their own slanted wholes, which between them conjure a sheer, practically dream-like force field capable of holding a great deal. I think of how I—as a teenager, in fact—learned the meaning of “fragmentary” and how much then became clear.

In your work, I am pulled into spaces where the identity is specific but is experienced as vague. Sometimes, when I stand before your work, I am drawn back to a place where the I, the fag, is scared to death but open to everything. A nervous state. Alternately tense and intoxicated, which I in your worlds can engage with thoughtfully. Ethereally and persistently.

The Teenage Runner runs his laps in the gallery. Teleported there from a secret forest, where he has come to a halt and been alone with everything he knows about touch. What he knows he knows not only with certainty, but fervently, with a kind of glow. What he knows, he knows ecstatically. The porn magazine’s damp stains across the exposed bodies, the shame plant's tempering way of forgetting, precise metrics for the hand’s ability to detect touch. What he does not know, I imagine, is everything else. Sexuality has not yet yielded into recognizable choreographies, fast-tracked preferences, intimate kinks. Sexuality glows like an unknown, secret longing. A merely inaugurated experience. And it is a distinct experience.

During the solitary run, the fragments which constitute what he knows about touch can coexist. The teenage runner does not know who he is. And here, in the work depicting him, that’s fine. And depending upon where, in what gallery, and depending on which actor wears his softly rustling workout clothes, who fiddles with the peculiar bandage high up on his thigh, the pulse varies. The breaths are varyingly heavy and regular beneath different ceiling heights. The hands require support depending on how close the gallery walls are placed. The soles of shoes squeak against the floor or not at all. And in each version of the piece there is a personal element woven in, specific to that runner, that young actor, who for the day dresses the part. As if to call attention to how identity—what lets itself be formed into stories, politicizing—is repeatable, recognizable, but not consistent. Not at all. Similarity exists. And difference. All at once.

We talked about the longing for heroes. You squinted, the sun directly in your face. The parasols were in storage for the season. We talked about how the interest in history, imagined historical kinships, so easily turn into a longing for grand role models who, spotless and shimmering, let themselves be contained in simplistic epic poetry. We talked about how it isn’t strange to have felt that kind of longing, for that kind of portrayal. A lonely teenager continues to call out from within, a troubled gender creature who, through their gaze toward history, reaches for stable, perhaps even good, predecessors. He is so human that it is difficult to completely outgrow him.

You search for stories and pick them apart. Not subversive or wrenching, not punk. But with care. Warm shadow figures seem to appear. Warm-blooded ghosts. They have something liberated about them. Not understood as the goal of a sexual liberation—whatever that would look like, for any human—but untethered, laid bare.

Sometimes I think it is the airiness, the quiet vortex, continuously breathing in your work, that makes me hold on so tightly to the desolate movements of the wind from Our Trip to France. The space you always let enter the writing of history, in the foundational fagish research your work often depends upon. At the same time, I must immediately contradict myself, revise my own association. Because in that specific piece, the wind is not first and foremost a rejuvenating respite. In Our trip to France, the wind represents something incredibly sad.

I remember writing to you after I had seen the film for the first time. Thanked you. Brief and breathtakingly incomplete from Götaplatsen in Gothenburg. I stood with snot dripping down on my phone screen, blinking away tears in the biting wind and light rain. Deleted. Re-wrote. I’d had a reading at the city library earlier that day and was rushing to make it to the gallery. Several people had told me before going to Gothenburg that I couldn't miss your piece at GIBCA, the Gothenburg Biennial. My thoughts had been deep in my own projects, I was feeling tightly wound, but was immediately drawn in by the peculiar concentration and rhythm of the video installation. I sank into the dark room at the far end of the gallery. The sounds and images pulled me down into a low, clear pit.

The wind trembles the ivy. It tickles the foliage and ditches surrounding the fields in the gently earth-toned, southern French landscape. The sky, a child's drawing with fluffy clouds, hangs carefree above the landscape. Grasshoppers and katydids are faintly audible beneath the fierce sun. Otherwise, the landscape is quiet and unpopulated. The buildings that can be glimpsed here and there are deserted. This, Montaigu de Quercy, is where a delegation from the Gothenburg-based left-wing group Röda bögar (Red Fags) traveled in 1977. They were going to participate in a “camp for young people,” a general meeting of sorts for fags from various European countries. Partying. Dancing. Political discussions. Consciousness-raising around how patriarchy and capitalism had shaped them and their self-perception. Community and liberation. Fear and butterflies in your stomach.

Across the placid summer landscape, shifting toward night and shadowy, blown-out interiors, can be heard excerpts from the Swedish participants' diary entries. The camp is both a haven and a site full of challenges. Someone feels disgust and contempt when faced with queens and drag. Someone else comes alive from the sensation of sheer dress fabric fluttering around him. Someone is drawn to someone new in the hot night, but thinks of his boyfriend, wonders to what extent he really wants to challenge the norm of coupledom. Someone else thinks about how much space is crowded out by alcohol. Someone encounters feminism as a transformative ideology. Someone else struggles with erectile dysfunction: “Please body, act like a proper fag.”

The young men burn with conviction, horniness, lust for life, curiosity. But at the same time, they give voice to so much confusion, frustration, loneliness, newness. And what takes such hold of me lies in the contrast between the words of the tentative pioneers and the unpopulated, desolate landscape, where the indifferent wind rages. Young fags in Europe in 1977. In a few years, this community, these communities, will be contaminated by AIDS. Their project of political consciousness raising, their desire to challenge both society and their own internalized fears, coded by homophobia and patriarchal masculinity, will be entirely determined by the immunodeficiency syndrome that hit the gay world so ferociously in the 1980s. The emancipatory project that carefully and tentatively begins to take shape in the notes of Röda bögar will abruptly come to an end. In public, of course, since AIDS will reactivate the stigmatization of homosexuals. But perhaps also internally, intimately. “You shut down,” says a friend who was a young fag on the Stockholm scene during the early 1980s. “Emotions were cordoned off.”

The landscape where the wind plays is desolate. You have traveled there to film. Their words are heard—written down, then. And a reunion would most likely not be possible.


The same year that Röda bögar traveled to France, the poet Willy Granqvist published the book Du är ett barn nu (You Are a Child Now). It includes the beautiful suite “Poems to an Impossible Love.” Those texts depict a dizzying moment of erotic devotion that glimmers, elevating everything, and then ebbs out into a sense of delusion. The tone is reminiscent of the textual fragments in your video. Both Granqvist and the travelers to France write as if standing outside their own lives, trying to understand their places in the world in a tension between brutal passivity and burning zeal. Psyches like satellites, considering whether they must accept their powerlessness or if change is possible.

At one point in his matter-of-factly nervous studies of intimacy, Granqvist arrives at the hand. For him, it is a careful but twofold agent—one that communicates itself in writing and one that caresses. There we can read: “The movement of a hand. Something chewed three times in the heart that then wants to escape.” With Granqvist, the hand is what is most urgent. After the fear, before shame.

And I come to think of Granqvist's words when I think of another thing you said when we were sitting on Friisgatan. I said it's so fucking lesbian of you to drag that many hands into your fag work. Maybe you found me a bit annoying. But you chuckled. And said that you saw the hand as a shapeshifter between private and public. Another form of duplicity. In your work, one could perhaps even call the hand a double agent. An intimate mirror. A self that is revealed or strengthened: The limp wrist of the silly little queen. Or a raised fist that revolts.

The hand communicates itself through the writing. It nestles around its longing. From your teenage diaries you have pulled three words: “need        love tonight.” The scribbled note elevated into gasping neon. The promising seal of urbanity and nightlife. Intertwined with rhythms that ooze sex. And sorrow. These beats also emanate from a specific place in history, from musicians who fell victim to AIDS. Even in that work, what is ready to spring into action is in its infancy, emergent, must encounter what comes afterward, what has been extinguished.

In another piece, you have picked up still another written phrase and, in a way, done something similar. The phrase aims to instill courage and comfort: “You can't isolate yourself just because you're like us.” Yet another piece of Swedish minority history from the 1970s. RFSL Umeå repeatedly writes this in its letters, “you can't isolate yourself,” in response to people who contact the organization.

A simple sheet, where the text can only be glimpsed. Something repressed has risen to the surface and can be sensed. The ambiguous hand, again: Handwritten letters, a loving hand across the bedlinens, a working hand that has embroidered, and washed, prepares again and again. The sheet where someone has made love and worked as a site of protest. That can only be sensed. The shimmer of white letters against the white sheet makes me think of my daughter's experiments with invisible ink. How she erases so that written secrets emerge, makes them glow against blotchy shadows on her paper. In awe of the magic.

I can’t decide if the work is hopeful or sad, elegiac. Most likely, as is so often the case with your work, there is plenty of both. Even here, where the markers of political protest, banner drops, are so evident. The insurgency is broadcast with such tenderness that the work also gestures toward the hidden and that which is too late; toward the barely distinguishable, toward the sensually heartfelt, but also clearly reminiscent of a kind of embalming.


On Friisgatan you asked me about letters. What I think about using that form. I probably said something wooly about the articulated recipient as a demystified muse. But when I think about it, for me the letter form is above all related to what the hand is to you. A similar possibility of moving between private and public. Insisting on a specific connection, a trust, which carries its inwardly sloping games of longing, power, knowledge, belonging, struggle. And to then connect this intimacy to something vaguely public. To write a literary letter is to stage an exposure. And a game of tricking time—weighing words via a form that radiates immediacy and the present tense.

From a marginalized position, such a specific extension can entail an effective intransigence. The intimate can become somewhat confrontational when it is allowed to sail out into the world. The internal becomes mixed up with something general. It is decided to whom the letter is addressed, but a literary text is always written for just about anyone.

To instead make something out of extant letters entails standing in the middle of an already existing crossroads of desire. Sorting among intimate remnants. Experimenting with an alien, specific relationship. Carefully examining what someone probably stated in relative haste. Holding the connection up to the light to study linkages and cracks.

When you take on the letters that were mobilized as evidence in a morality case during the early 20th century in Stockholm, it is not the brutal law, its absurdity, which emerges. Nor do any complete or realistic destinies take shape in the shadow of unreasonable laws. The condemned are not permitted to step forward and receive redress; they are not offered the love of our time. I have to make this explicit—what I think the work does not do—since, as we discussed, there is such a powerful norm, such a basic tendency, to want to rescue and celebrate those who came before, those who in some ways also are us, and who paid for some of our opportunities with their bodies and lives.

But in I Kiss Your Eyes you create a tentative, repetitive performance tale with a ritualistic, slightly manic, signature. As if to reflect the Fabricator's choleric longing for his Sailor. A longing that spans oceans, class differences, and legal boundaries.

The Fabricator’s longing is killing him. He will go mad with love. That doesn't make him a hero. He becomes moody and controlling. Tries everything he knows to assert his right, his place—yes, a ways into the madness of love, he may even try to claim that his obsessive way of loving is inevitable and reasonable. Base, desperate forms of affect are at work in the ceremony of the piece.

I Kiss Your Eyes constitutes an alternative to the trial and the conviction. This is also a work of mourning. In its ramifications on the one hand, in its retakes on the other, the work seems to consider, to wonder: What could have been? Through what forms, what bodies, could this longing have manifest itself? No, it is not the historical figure in the shadow of the law that emerges; instead, a new, open space is being prepared, beyond the law. A new order. Dreamy and eccentric.

Conny. I think of how you turn around and look back. I think of how you patiently attend to a history that you relate to with great care, but which you hesitate to idealize. I think of hands that gesture too fiercely, of hands that reach for each other, of hands that create. I think about what crisp air does to an emotional charge.

You’re so great.


Your Kristofer

Kristofer Folkhammar is a poet, writer, and literary critic. His publications include the 2021 epistolary novel Baby, Is It the Kids? The poetry collection Måla will be published in spring 2024.

 ©MMXIV Conny Karlsson Lundgren