Contemporary art from Sweden

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Hanna Sjöstrand

Hanna Sjöstrand: Swedish contemporary art

Hanna Sjöstrand's work prods and provokes. A recent series of paintings of dogs' anuses, for example (below), forces us to view something we'd almost certainly rather not - despite the fact that canine bottoms are, realistically, a common enough sight.

Hanna Sjöstrand: Swedish contemporary art

Another piece involving rears - human in this case - is rather bombastically titled An investigation of the Semiotics of the Backside and takes the form of a 'puppet show' in which faces are replaced by butt cheeks.

What's going on here apart from an apparent predilection for posteriors?

We should make it clear that Sjöstrand's subject matter is far more diverse than this rather opportune pairing suggests. But fundamental to both pieces, of course, is her insistence that we confront potentially unpalatable realities - and in other works by the artist this message becomes particularly urgent.

The striated canvases comprising the series Monitor (below) assume the appearance of striking abstractions, but in fact depict Iraqi civilian corpses as seen on a badly malfunctioning computer screen.

Hanna Sjöstrand
Hanna Sjöstrand: contemporary art from Sweden

A similarly inchoate self-portrait is included in the series, and alludes to the artist's acute sense of complicity in innocent deaths: as Sjöstrand points out on her website, "Sweden is a major arms exporter. Today USA is the 3rd top purchaser of Swedish weapons and these weapons (were) used in the war in Iraq."

This issue, abhorrent to Sjöstrand and a surprising blot on her homeland's squeaky-clean image, resurfaces throughout the artist's work; most recently in the 1:8 paintings (page base), which depict anti-tank weaponry at an eighth of its actual size.

Hanna Sjöstrand: contemporary art from Sweden

Yet despite the polemics underpinning Sjöstrand's practice, she eschews the blunt sloganeering common to much political art.

In fact, her work could almost be said to consciously inveigle, adopting appearances that intrigue rather than ignite.

Missile test ranges are depicted through vibrantly beautiful plein-air studies (above and top). The works comprising the 1:8 series (below) are, like those of Monitor, dressed up as compelling abstractions.

Even the aforementioned doggy butts invoke the feel of an old master, while there's an undeniable, quite literally cheeky, humour underpinning her performance piece for bottoms.

Masking outrage behind canonical convention and vocabularies pilfered from works with purposes quite unlike her own, Sjöstrand seeks to entice the timid into politicised engagement.

Her strategies of confrontation are far more subtle than they may at first appear.

Hanna Sjöstrand: Swedish contemporary art


Caroline Mårtensson

Caroline Mårtensson

In Caroline Mårtensson's work, a long-term interest in our urbanised relationships with nature provides trenchant commentary on contemporary western culture.

The installations Begoniaceae and Ground Control (above and below) illustrate the industrial commodification of begonias, a popular houseplant.

Caroline Mårtensson

"(U)nnatural method(s) of producing potted plants" collide uneasily with their "symbolic" connotations" such as natural beauty and untainted, wholesome purity.

Our longing to commune with nature becomes deeply ironic, undermined by the very processes of mass production and commercialisation we fondly imagine the plants somehow contradict.

The photographs that comprise Vanitas I-III (below), again focus on commercial plant cultivation, depicting piles of discarded, rotting blooms and the vast greenhouses in which they are initially nurtured.

While Mårtensson's adoption of the vanitas seems a standard commentary on the inevitability of decay and death, these images are more a meditation on the pivotal role of continual deterioration and replenishment in today's consumerist culture.

After all, there's nothing intrinsically natural about the life cycle of the plants depicted, which have simply become a commodity.

Contemporary art from Sweden: Caroline Mårtensson
Caroline Martensson, Swedish art now

Mårtensson's acute scrutiny is perhaps at its best, however, when reviewing western society's particularly paradoxical relationships with animals.

Frequent references are made in her work to hunting - an activity still widely practised in Sweden - and its relevance to a culture which haphazardly defines certain species as protected household pets; others, such as rabbits and deer, as adorable yet literally 'fair game' and others still as simply undesirable.

Danish Velour (below) cloaks taxidermied animals in soft, pastel-coloured fabrics (the Swedish term for such cloth provides the name of the piece). Masquerading as children's toys, the rigid bodies, teeth and claws felt beneath the surface disrupt expectations of the cuddly and cute.

Caroline Martensson, Swedish art now

Sweet Traps, which reconstruct hunting snares in candy, play even more subversively with ideas of innocence, pleasure, cruelty and entrapment (below).

Aligning children's treats with objects of extreme brutality, Mårtensson's deceptively complex metaphor focusses on a highly disjunctive view of animal life ranging from childhood Disneyfication to maiming and killing in the name of sport.

Caroline Martensson, Swedish art now

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