|History and memory,
collective and personal experiences against the backdrop of different
conceptions of manhood, power and violence are among the central themes
of Mats Hjelm's installations. In his trilogy "White Flight"
(1997), "Man to Man" (2000) and "Kap Atlantis"
(2002) the Swedish artist (born 1959) combines historical film material
shot by his journalist father in various political and battle scenes
around the world with his own shots, some of which were made in the
same locations and sometimes with the same protagonists.
For "White Flight" Mats Hjelm returned to Detroit, the
city which in the post-war years was the flagship of American industry
and home of a stronger black middle class. In the sixties, this
city was also the site of the worst racial unrest in the history
of the United States. Drawing from documentary shots of the black
power movement in Detroit and the violent clashes between the military
and the black population which Hjelm's father Lars filmed in 1968,
White Flight illustrates how the past continues to have an effect
in the present, how the legacy of a generation can be passed on
to the next one – or possibly be lost. In an interview Hjelm conducted
with a former leader of the Black Panther movement we learn: "We
have lost two generations of blacks." At the same time White
Flight is also Hjelm's artistic way of taking leave from his father
who died in 1996.
In loops of images installed next to each other the various film
sequences merge to form a non-linear narrative – the formal analogy
to a non-chronological structure of memory, its images and effects.
In an interview Hjelm thus emphasized: "I'm searching for the
kind of things I recognize. For things I have a feeling about, for
something that influences me, not as a possible subject of debate
but as an image. ... the foundation of a political position."
"Man to Man", the second installation of the trilogy,
is a formal and thematic continuation of White Flight. Once again,
Mat Hjelms works with his father's documentary material, this time
imagery taken from the war in Vietnam, and merges it with present-day
shots. Here, even more than in White Flight, Hjelm detaches his
gaze from the individual event and draws attention to the structures
of a society that produce violence, that is violence itself, as
Stockley Carmichael, one of the central figures of the black power
movement, states in a passage of this piece.
Hjelm's preoccupation with the ethical underpinnings of politics
and society and the destructive legacy that one generation passes
on to another assumes an almost existential dimension in "Kap
Atlantis". The title was derived from Harry Martinsson's epos
Aniara (1956), a pessimistic vision of the future. 8,000 refugees
are in a space ship on an uncertain journey through space after
Kap Atlantis, a fictive place in Martinsson's "science fiction",
has become inhabitable. In Kap Atlantis, Hjelm uses largely newly
shot film material, making references to both Christianity and Islam.
Indirectly, this final part of his trilogy also refers to the catastrophe
of September 11, 2001 in New York, drawing a line that leads back
to the apocalyptic atmosphere triggered by the atom bomb. This atmosphere
characterized the late fifties – the period in which Mat Hjelm was
born and Aniara was written.
As already in White Flight and Man to Man, the non-linear, rhythmic
narrative structure of Kap Atlantis calls into question the chronology
of events and our idea of historiography. Old and new material,
filmic imagery and texts are superimposed and merged in Hjelm's
trilogy, allowing a dense and "highly personal tale about absence
and loss" (Lars O Ericsson) to emerge.