On the opening night it became clear that this is an emotional exhibition for those who knew the artist, Richard Vogel. The ordinary chatter and absent-minded looking at openings was replaced by concentration, tender hugs and knowing laughter. Vogel, who passed away in 2015, taught for many years at Kristianstad’s art school and several of his former students were there.
John Skoog came to know the older artist while growing up in northeast Skåne, and is now exhibiting Vogel’s works together with a film and new works based on Vogel’s archive. The exhibition is not an attempt at a complete representation of the artist’s career. Rather, the objective is seemingly to highlight parts of Vogel’s world and approach, with the film Hamlet (1997) as the key work. Toward the end of the exhibition, the journal Filmögon will release a publication about Vogel’s work that includes texts by, among others, artists Annika Eriksson, Kristina Matousch and Fatima Hellberg.
The exhibition is divided between two spaces. Hamlet and series of Vogel’s printed t-shirts are shown at Johan Berggren’s new space on Båstadsgatan, where a cluster of galleries now resides. The gallery on Monbijougatan, which is soon to be vacated, shows an installation by Skoog centered around the jointly made film Nosferatu (2016). The work oscillates from melancholy to ordinary and easy-going. The word “sausage”, and an image of a sausage, recur both in Hamlet and on the t-shirts. An iteration of this joke in Skoog’s Untitled (2016), in which a collection of electronic gadgets from Vogel’s home is neatly lined up on a shelf, demonstrates the familiarity that pervades the exhibition.
Hamlet is a montage that merges disparate sequences from Vogel’s film archive. As in Shakespeare there is a play within the play: in the film, Vogel’s students rehearse Hamlet in short cuts that appear throughout the work. One of the longest, most coherent scenes is a discussion about Hamlet with the artist Paul Hollender, who is slightly inebriated (Who was murdered behind the curtain? Does the scene even appear in Hamlet?). Slowly, everything starts to appear significant. In the last sequence a child’s voice calls “daddy, daddy”. It is summer. Vogel emerges dressed in bunny ears and sits down on the stoop. The child giggles, and then starts to complain about the heavy camera. The film ends.
Vogel rarely exhibited, and the press release states that the best way of approaching his work is without any preconceptions. By relating to his own films as found material, and to himself as the main character, the artist has made clear that this is a deeply personal practice. Vogel painted too, but video appears to have provided a form for continuous production and experimentation. Skoog employs a similar method by integrating Vogel’s material into new works. Two Rooms (2016), a series of photographs that he made together with his father David Skoog, is an inventory of Vogel’s camera collection created by using each of the 432 working cameras to photograph the next. To the extent possible, Vogel’s own film and batteries were used for the project. This exhaustive exactitude creates a respectful gesture of remembrance, but also a piece of photographic history, a last document of something that is about to disappear from our recent past. The work will be published as a book at the end of the exhibition, with a complete list of the cameras and other technical specifications as the only text.
Nosferatu is the shortest of the films (31 minutes). It was begun in 2009 and was completed by Skoog earlier this year by editing together material filmed by both artists and adding sequences from Vogel’s archive. The work is constructed in a way similar to Hamlet, but has a more integrated form, where a simple graphic – made by Vogel in the 1990s – marks the different chapters. The streaky VHS-image produces a dreamlike filter, both indicating time and functioning as a sign of authenticity. The film sets out from a move between two houses and shows Vogel moving around indoors. The camera moves across the interior to look outward through the window blinds. The silent film aesthetic of expressionist mime is replaced by inner reverie.
The exhibition is in part an homage, where Skoogs’s tribute consists of highlighting collaborative practice as a natural component of art making. The relationship between the younger and the older artist is not presented as one between student and master, although one can of course speculate that Skoog’s frequent use of collaboration is a habit influenced by Vogel. I understand the demonstration of support for Vogel as a person and artist to reflect his teaching method of using himself as an example, indicating different ways for others to explore. The drama of the exhibition is in the frictions of the everyday, how a life is lived, yet it nevertheless emphasises social relations as an important principle for life and art.
An image of Vogel in his bed appears in both films. These private images are perhaps the utmost representation of personal life as material for art. In Nosferatu there is a bed sequence where Vogel looks at his hand as though it were Yorrick’s skull. This displacement of never quite playing the part in the well-known narrative heightens the mystery of the exhibition. At the same time it points to an art practice where selection and experiment – with everyday images, characters and techniques – was a way of noticing patterns and correspondences, leading onward.