Dr. Gary Svensson on Ture Sjolander


"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." This is a quotation from a paper "The impact of New Technology on the Development of Culture" presented by Ture Sjölander at the

World Conference on Culture
Stockholm Sweden 1998.
The following text was written in



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

Ture Sjolander (b. 1937) has become known as an experimental photographer and avant-garde artist. He made his artistic debut in 1961, with a solo exhibition at the Sundsvall Museum. Unlike many artists presented here, there is some documentation on Sjolander. In the magazine Konstrevy (1:1963), there is detailed presentation of him, as well as in Aktuell Fotografi (12:1977). The earlier presentation was written after the exhibition at the Gallery Observatiorium with Lars Hillersberg och Ulf Rahmberg, at a time when Sjolander has just established himself as an artist. In the same year, he participated in a group exhibition at the White Chapel Art Gallery in London, and also qualified himself for the Swedish Government Artist Grant (Statens Konstnärsstipendium) and the Stockholm City Cultural Grant (Stockholms Stads Kulturstipendium). The article from 1977, was written after Sjolander had designed a big tapestry based on his own ABBA-photographs, for Polar Music AB.

Sjolander was a pioneer in what came to be known as "new media". In his preface to the exhibition in Sundsvall, Öyvind Fahlström wrote: To the photo-graphic artists, as he calls those who feel dissatisfied with the dialectics of the traditional photographer's relationship with his motif: when he looks around for the motif, he is its superb master, in command of every choice. But at the exact moment when he presses the button, he has already turned into a slave of the motif, and he no longer has the painter's freedom to rearrange, exclude or accentuate anything in his picture - other than in a strictly limited way. (From Öyvind Fahlström's preface to the exhibition in 1961, "On the photo-graphic art of Ture Sjolander".)

In 1964, much was written about Ture Sjolander in connection with his exhibition "You have been photographed", at the Karlsson Gallery (19-24 - 11-13). It is likely that this controversial exhibition gave the gallery its place as one of Stockholm's most influential galleries in the domains of political art, as well as in sub- and counterculture. At the time of Sjolander's exhibition, many people (among them Ulf Hård af Segerstad) voiced criticism against this seemingly dadaistic version of photography. In the same year, another acquaintance from Sundsvall, Sven Inge de Monér, exhibited his works at the Gallery Karlsson. Along with another artist, Bror Wikström, Sjolander and de Moner began working together on various projects in the 1960's. The three men were interested in electronic experiments and Sjolander's contacts with the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation proved crucial. Sjolander does not want to describe the 1960's as a revolutionary time, but rather as a re-evolutionary one. Later on, he has explained how he, as an artist, tried to work with different types of techniques. An example of this can be seen in the films Time and Monument. They have been broadcasted on Swedish television, and have also received attention abroad. He was a driving force in the "multi-art" project, which was led by Kristian Romare, the producer of Monument. This is what Rune Jonsson writes about it in 1977: "In the news program Aktuellt, Ulf Thorén showed part of the exhibition, and Sjolander coined the following expression: "I want to exhibit, not to inhibit" [ om man skall ställa ut så skall man ju inte ställa in] . Some 10,000 visitors came to the exhibition during the two weeks that it was on. Many of the viewers were attracted by the television news-program and this made Sjolander think about new ways of distributing visual art. It should be possible to attract more visitors with the help of television and outdoor exhibitions. ("Ture Sjolander, a revolutionary in Swedish photography," Aktuell Fotografi 12:1977).

Ture Sjolander was widely noticed for his artistic activities in the 1960's. The experimental films Time and Monument were to be his most successful pieces of work in the 1960's. Included in his more recent projects, is Video Nu (Video Now) in Stockholm. He was again in the public eye in the 1970's, for taking the first colour photos of Greta Garbo and using Charlie Chaplin as a model. Ture Sjolander now lives and works in Australia.

Gary Svensson.


from the book: Digitala Pionjarer, Datorkonstens introduktion i Sverige - 2000 - Carlssons Bokforlag Stockholm Sweden.