ELIN BRISSMAN
 
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Written for the exhibition catalogue for Pines and Powerlines, April 2011

I’m a painter. I love surfaces, materials and the challenge of capturing them on the flatness of the canvas. I paint the façades of buildings that are normally considered ugly, or uninteresting, or that are just simply ignored, unseen – the buildings that form the backdrop to the lives of so many of us, built as part of the development boom that took place in the time between the end of World War II and the oil crisis. We know that they’re there, but their lifecycles are so slow that we take for granted that they look the same today as they did yesterday, and as they will look tomorrow; so we tune them out, allow them to become the background noise of our surroundings. They are neither old nor new; old enough to be worn and needing attention, yet not old enough for us to consider them a heritage and something to take pride in and care of, making them vulnerable to demolition and careless renovations. I think they deserve better than that. By giving them a lot of time and attention, as well as the traditionally high status materials of oil on linen, I hope to make people look at these buildings, form their own opinions about them and not just dismiss them out of hand.
                                                                
I was born in Sweden in the early 1980s, in a small old town where the medieval stands side by side with the modern. I was taught to treasure the old, and I do, but the modernism that is the most dominant part of this, and most other towns was treated as if it didn’t exist; or at least as if it didn’t have any other value than that of providing shelter. But I grew to love this forgotten architecture.

Sweden grew rapidly during the years after World War II, and building politics was used both to boost the economy and to create the welfare state. The idea was to create the right environments to foster democratic citizens and prevent what had just happened in Germany to repeat itself here. Extensive developments were carried out all over the country in preparation for the calculated, and largely overestimated, population growth and increase in the number of cars. The old towns were considered bad, demoralising, crowded and dirty; and the modern housing clean and healthy, full of light and fresh air. Separated from traffic and safe for the children, the new developments would make living better for all. Even the largest new suburbs were built to mimic smaller towns, with a centre providing all the necessary services, and housing spread out in circles with large apartment blocks shrinking into lower blocks and garden suburbs. In 1964, a political decision was taken to increase an already high building level to 100,000 homes per year, and to keep this up during a ten-year period. This has become known as miljonprogrammet, the million program, a word that has almost turned into a derogatory term and that is closely associated with the large estates on the outskirts of the largest towns. After having been misrepresented in the media almost since they were new, these areas are stuck in a vicious circle of low status, bad maintenance, poverty, segregation and unemployment. Sadly, many politicians believe the roots of these problems to be the buildings themselves, and not society’s views of them, and large renovation programmes often include the demolition of multi-storey blocks to make way for small houses in an attempt to attract the white middle classes.

But miljonprogrammet is so much more. It houses a quarter of our population today, often without their knowledge. More than half of it consists of small houses, one quarter is low blocks, and only about one quarter has six or more stories. It has left a huge and diverse mark, and should be appreciated for what it is and what it stands for. Good housing for all is the backbone of our welfare state. We have a class system just as in every other country, but it is probably less pronounced than it would’ve been had we instead taken the route of social housing.

I’m fascinated by this period for so many reasons. The mix of pessimism and almost euphoric optimism, a feeling of death or glory, nuclear winter or almost boundless progress through science and enterprise. The first picture of Earth seen from space came from Lunar Orbiter I in 1966, and I think that changed us. Seeing Earth from the outside, against the vast blackness of space, made it blatantly clear that our resources are finite. When man really did walk on the moon in 1969, it was not only an amazing achievement in itself; it was an inspiration, proof that we can achieve greatness.

I want to celebrate the quotidian, and the beauty in the mundanity of much of our surroundings. It is the days we don't remember when they’re gone that make up most of our lives. The ability to see the beauty and complexity of our everyday environment will make life richer, just as any acquired knowledge opens up new ways of thinking and perceiving the world.

”Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.”
Philip Larkin, I Remember, I Remember.