The Nonlinear Time of Images: Conny Karlsson Lundgren’s Work as an Embodiment of History

Lisa Rosendahl


Curator and writer and Associate Professor of Exhibition Studies at Oslo National Academy of the Arts.
[Short excerpt from catalogue, I Kiss Your Eyes

and know these moves as vast storehouses of queer history and futurity
Jose Esteban Muñoz 

A naked, red light bulb hangs from the ceiling, its light pulsating insistently. It blinks at 120 beats per minute, the standard tempo of electronic dance music. On the wall behind it there is wallpaper reproducing an article from a 1920s Swedish weekly tabloid. The text recounts how the magazine’s editor has infiltrated a private party held by two brothers for friends and other like-minded people in their apartment just outside Gothenburg. The headline— ‘A Homosexual Plague Hearth in Partille’—is unquestionably homophobic. But, reading between the lines, the editor’s description of the men’s supposedly degenerate activities seems to reveal more complex feelings of fascination and longing: ‘There sat two of them cheek to cheek with arms wrapped tenderly around a narrow waist and over there another leaned in with his head so fondly placed on his neighbour’s breast and over there another couple sat close, so close together.’ 

Although the article, printed in a publication with pronounced homophobic leanings (not to mention an anti-semitic editorial ethos), bears witness to the history of criminalisation and public shaming of homosexuals in Sweden, it is also—implicitly and paradoxically—a portrait of tender queer relations, gestures and kinships. In Karlsson Lundgren’s 2021 installation Prologue (The Gothenburg Affair) this double gaze is accentuated further by the photographs included in the work. At first, the black and white images resemble forensic photography presenting evidence from a crime scene. In each frame a hand introduces the viewer to an object—a pearl necklace, a white sailor’s hat—described in the magazine article. However, the hand gestures exceed the detached, functional aesthetic of crime photography, suggesting instead a more sensual form of touch with layers of hidden possibilities and meaning. 

The double gaze staged in the photographs brings to mind the idea of a “double consciousness”(1) experienced when a subject or group is denied voice and agency by hegemonic hierarchies of power. Developed as a survival tactic, the double gaze onto the world and oneself allows for the conflicting needs of finding one’s own language and community, whilst at the same time learning the behaviours and codes of conduct required to be accepted by the dominant one. Perceiving the double consciousness at work here is also a reminder of the possibility of re-reading historical archives, unearthing alternative truths and perspectives that may lie dormant therein, to be mobilised in the struggle for justice and restitution. 

The pulsating red light bulb, meanwhile, brings the histories portrayed in the installation into proximity with our contemporary bodies and bloodstreams. Its presence in the exhibition space suggests a continuous throbbing movement; a heightened pulse produced by dancing, perhaps, or by a desiring heart or a political struggle—the light of an intoxicating love as well as a locus of pain that is impossible to ignore and forget. 

Prologue, as well as its continuation, the installation and performance We Feel a Desire for Caresses by Men (The Gothenburg Affair) (2021—22), is characteristic of Conny Karlsson Lundgren’s practice in several ways. A body of historical material becomes the starting point for an exploratory process that gently breaks open and expands the existing representations and understandings of the original event. Layers that commonly remain unarticulated in more traditional historiography—the presence and potential meaning of subtle movements, sensual registers and contradictory emotions—are given room and encouraged to emerge. The installations often take an inter-generational approach, weaving together the past and the present. In doing so, the works function as vehicles for understanding oneself through the experiences of others, but also as spaces for the practice of care and acts of solidarity with those whose voices were previously misrepresented, unheard or silenced. 

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The text in full is published in the artist’s monograph, Jag kysser dina ögon (I Kiss Your Eyes), produced in conjunction with the exhibition at Bonniers Konsthall, spring 2024. Find your copy here. (1). An idea developed by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk (1903). 
 ©MMXIV Conny Karlsson Lundgren