You are art!

by Aapo Saask


"Art is in the soul of the beholder." That is the expression that I associate the most with Ture Sjolander. By reaching into the soul of the individual person, the artist contributes to the building of the collective consciousness - the spirit of our society, our cultural inheritance, our collective subconscious.

In the beginning, art was communication, magic and adornment - all at once. A couple of hundred years ago, the notion of "art" came to be used more and more as a synonym for ornamentation in rich people's homes.

Ever since, there has been a struggle between art as expression and art as decoration (and private property, and later on, even tax shelter). Since most artists want to make a living out of their work, it is easy for the money side to win. This has not been the case for Ture Sjolander. He doesn't say: "Look at my work and buy it!" He says: "I am your mirror."

In order to find the roots of art, he travelled to what is today considered primitive societies in Papua New Guinea. He found body painting and learnt about the original meaning of art - communication, magic and adornment. Many artists have been inspired by body painting and developed it into various expressionistic experiments with erotic undertones, but Sjolander left it as he found it. It is of an ephemeral nature. It cannot be sold at Sotheby's and it cannot be exhibited at the Tate (at least not without losing its soul). Perhaps it can be nailed to a cross? Yes, only he who sacrifices himself for his fellow men, is an artist. But sacrifice does not mean that the artist must be good - or God.

After studying the culture of the Aborigines in Australia, Ture Sjolander did not come out with quaint proposals on how to promote Aboriginal Art as others have done. He saw a bigger picture and wrote: "The Aboriginals still have what we lost: cultural dignity. Undoubtedly the Aboriginal is Australia's richest heritage. The British/Australians have historically proved that they are unable to deal with the problem. These bullies, have always been the problem for the Aborigines and still are, as well as they are the problem for today,s immigrants."

Sjolander's study was commissioned by the Queensland Government. But when it was completed it was not published. The newspapers would not publish the summary. No newspaper would even accept the summary as an ad. Finally, it was broadcasted on a local TV-show. And the Aborigines still live their lives on reservations under very primitive conditions. Although most of Australians are of non-English speaking background (the term used is NESB), the queens dutiful convicts still hold a firm grip of the island/continent.

Going from the most ancient to the most modern, Ture Sjolander has been called to Godfather of computer game-players, because he was the first person in the world who created a film with electronically animated images for TV. From Sjolander's point of view, this was not an individual achievement, he was simply part of a collective process of the development of mankind. I claim he had antennae. "Not at all," he says, "just a curious mind."

In 1997, when Ture Sjolander was invited to work in China, the closed fist was still a very strong symbol in this country. Sjolander displayed two gigantic closed penises (marble knots). Everybody, except customs, understood the symbolism. The statues still remain in Changchun as a reminder that there are many kinds of freedom to be won, in addition to the obvious first one, the freedom from poverty.

Was this a political manifestation? Yes and no and certainly not party politics. Real politics is that which makes society progress, all else is a charade. This is what Sjolander showed the Australian public when he caused a government crisis by prompting the Prime Minister to sign a five-dollar bill. As in many other countries, to scribble on a bill is an illegal act in Australia, and the opposition called for the government to resign.

"Aren't there more important things to argue about?" many Australians asked themselves when the debate was at its worst. Many people realized that their cherished democracy was nothing but a game of chess for the power hungry wannabe aristocracies, and that they themselves were nothing more than pawns.

Another "installation", set in Sweden, made it to the front pages of the nations' two dominating evening papers: "Famous Swedish artist threatens to kill Prime Minister."

The back-ground was that American private eyes had been hired by the Swedish Law Enforcement Authorities to act in the Philippines on behalf of Swedish and American courts in a custody case about Sjolander's son Matu. Sjolander wanted to call attention to the fact that private investigators were cheating the Swedish Government for millions of dollars. He travelled to Sweden. Being a famous artist, he got an appointment with the PM, at that time Ingvar Carlsson, but at the last moment Carlsson had to cancel the meeting to go to a state-funeral in Israel.

Sjolander, who was used to censorship and cancelled exhibitions, laconically told the secretary that the PM would soon have to go to another funeral - meaning his, i.e. Ture's, own, as it was well known that his life was threatened by three contract killers from the Philippines!

The secretary misinterpreted it for a threat against the PM. For this Ture Sjolander's spent two months in police custody. When the private eyes found out about this, they thought of a way to hide their million-dollar-scam, and filed additional complaints against Sjolander. He was supposed to have threatened one of them. In court, the only threat turned out to be to squeal to the PM, unless the privates returned the money to the Swedish Government.

The trial was more interesting to me than any of the more spectacular happenings in the 60'es. The dark lounge suit guys had their pants down during the entire trial (half monty) and yet had the nerve to lie throughout all of it - a rock steady picture added by Sjolander to our common understanding of the world. I wish someone would paint it, remember pants down.

Of course, Ture Sjolander was completely acquitted and was awarded a compensation for the months spent unjustly in police custody. The private eyes were neatly fired and Sjolander was not assassinated. However, cognoscenti and literati in Sweden would say "no smoke without a fire" and a leper was once again (voluntarily) exiled. But, you know, if you have not spent a month or two in jail, you're not a real artist.

Had he lived in the 18th century, Ture Sjolander would have died in front of a firing squad already as a young man. Had he lived in the 19th century, he would have slowly wasted away in a dungeon. But since we are talking about the 20th century, he was only crucified a couple of times - and has resurrected himself by recreating himself. In spite of all this, Sjolander says: "I am not art. You are! I am just your tool - mirror."


Aapo Saask 2004-09-13


Papers  from the
"World Conference on Culture"
at Hasselby Castle  in Stockholm Sweden 1998.
The following text was written in 1973


For the creation of paintings, works of graphic art, free-standing sculptures and reliefs there is a fairly limited number of materials and techniques; these have changed relatively little during the last 300 years.


Even though new materials and methods have developed, the artistic techniques in the areas of painting, graphic arts and sculpture have kept their traditional character. A painting on canvas today has a technical structure largely similar to that of a seventeenth century painting.


The possibility of giving pictorial expression to the artist's message is however not tied to traditional methods. For the majority of people in the industrial countries, television, video newspapers and advertising have become the dominant transmitters of pictures and visual images. Television and video in particular have come to extend more and more widely through the global development of distribution systems, and are frequently used as a medium for other art forms, such as film, theatre and pictorial arts.


In this context it should be emphasised that it is journalists, above all, who have been recruited to these areas and who have therefore had an opportunity of exploiting the particular and specialised resources which television and video have at their disposal. The fact that pictorial artists occupy a subordinate position would seem partly to be connected with the fact that art schools still limit their educational role to the traditional creation of static images.




The work of artistic/technical development presupposes that artists have access to specialised technical studio equipment.


Television has been in existence now for almost 50 years. During this period a significant number of cultural programmes have been made by artists. Very rarely, however, have these artists produced works directly intended/designed for this medium. Although television per se is a pictorial medium, it has primarily been used to transmit words. The stress has been laid on 'tele' or the transporting/transmitting aspects of the medium, and comparatively little attention has been paid to the conceptual element of 'vision'; that is to say those aspects having to do with the language of the images themselves.


If one looks back on the history of art and makes comparisons with the visual aesthetics used in television today, one is struck be the fact that the greater proportion of all television production today uses visual aesthetics dating back to the 16th century. As an example we may mention the aesthetics of Cubism: this implied a visualisation of several different points of view being given simultaneous expression and coinciding with the discoveries by modern physics of Time and Space being only relative and not absolutely fixed structures.


Cubism dates back more than 50 years, and yet, in a television programme a few years ago it would be unthinkable to use Cubist visual aesthetics.





This situation is however changing rapidly at the present moment. During the last decades or so, a series of international artists have initiated the construction of elctronic image laboratories, where they pursue the development of new art forms through experimental techniques.


Those internatinal artists who have access to modern electronic technology have been given the opportunity of realising, by a creative process, their ideas concerning a truly visually-oriented language. Artists with many different points of view and modes of expression have begun working with computer/electronics/video, taking their point of departure in their previous knowledge and training. Painters, sculptors, musicians, photographers, composers, choreographers and others have approached this medium with their own particular talents and creative methodology and all have contributed to media development in the area of television film and video and to a visual language characterised by greater awareness and creativity.


International electronic music studios have conducted its work of development in music for nearly 30 years, those artists who have been engaged in similar work within the visual arts field are mostly still obliged to manage completely without any corresponding access to electronic equipment.


In a number of countries considerable sums have been invested, for many years, in facilities for practical experimentation in both the visual and audio areas.






The creation of electronic images (sometimes called 'video art'), is an artistic development of visual language. Modern 'electronics' can convert sound vibrations into visual structures, and image components into patterns of sound, thereby giving visual expression to basic processes such as growth and change. The essential definition of 'video art' is based on the manipulation of video signals. Apart from the use of video to realise a series of images in a temporal sequence, artists can also exploit television as a physical, sculptural, object. At galleries they make 'installations' or 'environments' by placing one or more monitors or giant screen projections in specific, related positions. Video cameras, too, 'incorporate' the spectator into the work. In this way, it is possible to explore perceptions of what is seen, as well as the psychology of seeing, in a living context.


An electronic image laboratory, however, should not be limited to video. Another related area is the so-called computer animation (computer-assisted and/or computer-generated images). This technique is based on advanced forms of programming and opens up hiterto unimagined possibilities of free-image composition.


With the aid of electronics and laser the static image, too, will have an interesting development in the fields of painting and graphic arts. Attempts in this direction have been demonstrated in the form of 'video paintings', or more precisely, electronic painting and computer art.






Those who claim that we live today in a visually oriented culture are probably word-blind. Today's visual art and visual media, with the possible exception of painting, still bear a master-slave relationship to elite literature and popular journalism - in the beginning was the Word. The word is power. People who can express themselves well and forcefully in speech and writing, more or less automatically achieve positions of power... while people who express themselves well in pictures, must often support themselves through stipends and other grants.


The producers of words dominate the cultural columns of newspapers, control official cultural policy and the most important visual media. And generally exert a damnably important influence on society. The arts in Sweden are infested by the speech chorus and the clatter of typewriters. Authors write screenplays and become film directors. Journalists become television producers (or programme directors) and make TV-films. Our entire culture is beset by word-producers. Authors, journalists, investigators, letter-writers, polemicists and critics. Who, in fact, knows anything about pictures? And why do we understand so little about visual semantics? Photography and motion pictures have existed for 100 years, television for 50. Despite this, pictures have not attained more than a purely illustrative function. Why? Probably, because most of our pictures are created by Word-people. In fact, roughly half the items on TV today could just as well be broadcast on radio instead.


Ture Sjölander 1973




WEDNESDAY, JULY 17, 1991------------------------------------------TOPICS-----------------PAGE 5
Changes needed before we measure up to this Swede's expectations.
The man who would be Mayor
by Mary Vernon
Ture Sjolander is eager to become a citizen of Australia - but he rejects anything to do with Britain or the Queen.
"I love Australia, my greatest concern is that Australians don't love it enough. As soon it is possible to become a citizen of Australia without becoming a subject of the Queen then I will seize the opportunity" he said.
In the meantime ex-artist Ture, 54, will keep his Swedish passport and keep hoping for the social changes he sees as vital for Australia in general and for Townsville i particular.
"I am tired of art, painting has no relevance in this modern age" said Sjolander, whose work is exhibited in Sweden's National Gallery, Museum of Modern Art and other international galleries.
"All of society has embraced technology, to improve performance and to reach as many people as possible except for the artistic world. It is blinkered and tied to the principle of one-off paintings and limited edition prints.
"Perhaps it is still relevant in the Third World countries which have no access to technology but in the Western World  it is finished. It is like making only one hand-written copy of a book".
Ture believes that the art establishment, the galleries and curators are perpetuating an anachronism and he wants no part of it. His plan is to change the world - well, Australia at any rate.
He recently sponsored a public competition to find a new name for the combined city of Townsville/Thuringgova. The winner of the $500 prize was Don Talbot of Cranbrook whose suggestion was "Queensland City".
"There are many things I would like to see in Australia," he said. "We must throw off the British colonial system. The majority of Australians are not of Anglo Saxon origin and they do not want to be part of the British system. Having the British queen as the queen of Australia is ridiculous.
"And the constitution of Australia - it is based on the Magna Charta and it is not appropriate to Australia today. " We must embrace multiculturalism and on that foundation build a strong, self-sufficient country like America. "The minority cannot lead the majority. I believe that on the declaration of the Republic of Australia most of those 700.000 who now hold permanent resident visas, like me, would flock to become citizens."
He first came to Australia 1982 when he visited all the capital cities and the outback and begane his love affaier witk this country.
His biggest shock on that first trip was meeting the great Australian mateship tradition and completely misinterpreting it.
"I had only recently arrived in the country, I was in Canberra and I was thirsty. I found a bar and went in, but when I saw it was full of about 200 men drinking together and no woman I turned round and hurried out. I thought it was the biggest homosexual club I had ever seen"
He laughs now over his mistake, but still believes we must let go our convict past, in which he thinks the mateship tradition is rooted, to grow and expand in a truly Australian way.
After his first trip he come back again on his way to a film project in Papua Guinea. He met his future wife, Maria, a Filipino-born Australian in Sydney and, after tidying up his affairs in Sweden he arrived to settle and marry her in Australia in 1988.
"We came to Magnetic Island for our honeymoon and liked Townsville so much we stayed."
Although they have now separated, Ture continues to live in Townsville with his 20-month-old son, Matu because he thinks it is an ideal place.
When he first arrived, he found that people were much friendlier if they thought he was a tourist. They would welcome him and offer help. If he said he lived here, their concern and interest shut of immediately.
"S I started to pretend that I was a tourist and people in shops and buses and taxis were  extremely friendly. When I saw the same person again I would tell them I was back again on holiday."
Ture has abandoned this game now and hopes for a political future.
His concerns are many and he is passionate about them all. Ture Sjolander not one to remain uncommitted even though some of his views may seem contradictory.
On the one hand he is concerned about over-developement of Townsville. He feels that it is a good size now and double the population, as some developers have promised to do would destroy the lifestyle many find attractive.
"We don't want another Brisbane or Sydney here. Europe is full of cities which have followed this route and have been ruined by over-development and over-industrialism.
"We don't want that to happen here".
He believes it would be preferable to spread developement around among the various North Queensland centres, so that all can grow a little , but not too much.
But on the other hand he is keen to see developement on Palm Island.
" I believe that Palm Island could be a great tourist tourist attraction. It is so naturally beautiful, and so close to the reef. "We should negotiate with the community there to build up tourism, to build a resort, maybe to stage an annual festival there. " It is a great resource and on which is not being used".
While he waits for the republic and his chance at Australian citizenship, Ture spends his time caring for his small son. "I have a single parent's allowance, which let me stay home and look after Matu. Besides that, I have royalties from my books and artworks which are on public display in Sweden. " Under Swedish law, artworks are treated the same way as music and books here. If they are on show royalties are paid to the artists for the privilege"

By Sonia Ulliana
in Townsville
ARTIST Ture Sjolander will spend $10.000 of taxpayers' money raising the ire of north Queenslanders.
Mr Sjolander, of Townsville, a Swedish expatriate, says he will expose the harsh realities of the social issues affecting the area i a series of two-minutes segments of "electronic art" to be aired weekly on television.
he will buy the air-time with a State Government arts grant.
"This is not a paint brush, it is a power tool," Mr Sjolander said.
"I will criticise all the things that people ignore or don't want to think about to make them aware through art. "So much art doesn't touch people anymore, or has no relevance."
Mr Sjolander, a passionate and outspoken man, has been involved in art from painting to videoproduction, since 1962.
He has written several internationally published books, including Garbo, a pictorial biography of movie star Greta Garbo, and was commissioned by the 70s Swedish rock phenomenon Abba to create a tapestry.
Mr Sjolander was also commissioned by silent screen star Charlie Chaplin to produce an art portfolio.
In Townsville he is seen as a controversial figure.
He recently held a public competition to create a new name for the combination Townsville city and Thuringgova shire under the Electorial and Administrative Review Committee's amalgamation recomendations.
The winner was Don Talbot, who received $500 for his suggestion of "QUEENSLAND CITY".
The competition provoked debate around the town.
With the help of his Creative Development Grant, Mr Sjolander hopes to tackle a host of controversial issues; Townsville General Hospital's Ward 10B - subject of the Carter inquiry into the treatment of mentally ill patients, violence among Aborigines on Palm Island, X-rated videos, tattoos, politics and religion.
"These are all the things that happen in this area and they should be expressed in art to reflect the area," Mr Sjolander said.
He believes art in the modern world should be expressed using technology and says that paintings are out-dated.
He has even devised a plan to exhibit art on the walls of Townsville Airport terminal "for all the world to see".
The large vacant walls in the terminal should be used to hanf paintings and tapestries, and sculptures could adorn the flight deck, the first-class lounge and the departure lounge, he said.
His proposal suggest that the artworks be acquired on a six-montly basis and artists may have them on for sale.
"Art can be anything at all," Mr Sjolander said.
"So there is no limit to what you can do."
Text from
Townsville Bulletin
Friday, November 29, 1991
(page 5)
Local artist paints picture of a unique airport environement
A PILOT project to display art on the vacant wall spaces at the Townsville airport has been proposed by local artist Ture Sjolander.
Acting Townsville airport manager Phil Roben said the suggestion was interesting and a meeting to discuss the matter would be held next week. " I believe such a display could complement the terminal very well," he said.
Mr Sjolander believes that as the airport is the first point of contact for businessmen, domestic and overseas tourists and returning residents, there was no reason why the airport itself should not become an attraction.
"I propose that the large vacant wall spaces be used for a semi-permanent art display which could include a number of large paintings and tapestries. " In addition to this, a small number of free standing sculptured piece could be easily be accomodated."
Mr Sjolander believed the flight deck, the first class lounge and the departure lounge were other attractive areas where graphic and smaller size artworks could be displayed.
"These could be accomplished with minimal installation of lighting and hanging equipment," he said.
"The pilot project for Townsville airport can be realised with very little outlay, mutually benefiting the professional contemporary artists of North Queensland and the Federal Airports Corporation".
From this experiment could evolve the creation of a unique airport environement which could become the blueprint for others, Mr Sjolander said. He also envisaged the formation of an art investment consultancy group under the airport corporation for future interstate exhibition exchange.
Support for the venture has been pledged by Perc Tucker Gallery director Ross Searle and artist  and James Cook University art teacher Anne Lord, both of whom have expressed wish to join Mr Sjolander on the selection committee for the first exhibition.
Men in Business - Advertiser, August 3, 1989
Sjolander a pioneering artist
Mr Ture Sjolander's artistic work represents more than one technique, from traditional tapestry work to visualisation of electronic computing.
He is a pioneer in video-art. His work contributed to the development of the video-synthesizer.
Mr Sjolander has earned an international reputation for his multimedia art work since his debut in 1960.
"Mr Sjolander has also served as a member of the board of the Swedish Artists Society," former Minister for Cultural Affairs in Sweden, Mr Bengt Goransson.
"He is represented at the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm, the Swedish Government, the City of Stockholm and the Royal Fund for Swedish Culture have awarded him grants for his work."
He received the top grant for scientific art research from the Royal Swedish Academy of Art.
Mr Sjolander has produced television programs for Swedish Television including The Role of Photography, Time, Monument, and Space in the Brain.
He is skilled in all kinds of printing techniques and is also a professional photographer.
Mr Sjolander has written several internationally published books.
For example he wrote a pictorial biography of Greta Garbo titled: "GARBO", for one of the largest publisher in America, Harper and Row (Harper&Collins) and the book had world-wide distribution.
He initiated work on a pictorial essay on Charlie Chaplin. The dummy work was purchased by Charles Chaplin and the finished work was titled "My Life in Picture", 1973.
He was also commissioned by Chaplin to produce an art portfolio which was signed by both Chaplin and Mr Sjolander.
Mr Sjolanderwas commissioned by the Swedish band ABBA, to produce graphic prints and a tapestry used in the sponsorship of the 1977 America's Cup.
He established an electronic picture laboratory in Stockholm, VIDEO-NU, for artistic research and was the administrator of the laboratory from 1980-1986.
Mr Sjolander has created monumental sized interior artwork for large industrial complexes in Sweden using various techniques.
He has had a large number of seminars and exhibitions throughout Europe and he participated in the Fifth Biennale in Paris.
He has given lectures throughout world on art and technology, includinga lecture last year at the Australian Film Institute in Sydney.
One of the topics of his lectures is possible establishment of multicultural communication by satellite.
This would include a three week international TV high tech and arts festival, the commersialisation of peace via satellite and the formation of an internatinal lobby group to connect all Television systems of the world.
He is presently involved with negotiations with Uplinger Enterprises (USA), the organisation which organised Live Aid and Sport Aid, about establishing an annual three week satellite link up.
Campaign co-cordinator of One World or None, Janet Hunt said the idea was marvelous. "The idea is a logical extension as we move into the 21st century and we certainly support it." Jane Hunt said.
Mr Sjolander has conducted research into Townsville's history and the city council have received a proposal to revise the history of the city.
His research has shown the first European to land in Townsville arrived 49 years earlier then previously believed.
The discovery may be celebrated with a special Townsville Day and a 220 year celebration in 1990.
He is also skilled in radio productions and TV production.
Mr Sjolander is interested in establishing an international artist's centre in Townsville to display exhibitions from international artists.
He is a member of the Perc Tucker Regional Art Gallery and believes i Fusion Business.
He is neither political nor religious but believes in authentic humanity.