Kent Karlsson

Mehmet Öngüt

Kent Karlsson, Tempel of Hope and Doubt
Kent Karlsson, Tempel of Hope and Doubt,
Steel, 19 x 6 x 4 meters,
in situ Lindholmen pier in Gothenburg Habour .
Collection Norra Alvstranden, City of Gothenburg.
Artwork © Kent Karlsson
Artist & Photograph/Image © Mats Ringqvist.
Courtesy of Gallery Thomassen, 2009

As you enter the harbor in Gothenburg, Sweden, a massive image strikes you. In the midst of commercial traffic, seeing the sculpture Tempel of Hope and Doubt by Kent Karlsson is akin to seeing a mirage in the desert. An enormous monument approached from one angle, it may disappear the next time you turn your head to get your bearings in the city’s harbor. As it changes color in the northern light, the work seems to question our sense of reality. While this transparent metal structure appears paper thin, it is an imposing presence at the heart of this coastal city.

Seemingly solid and fragile all at once, the sculpture is a brilliant inquiry into possibilities. It is also a reminder of where art in public space ought to take you. Like Italo Calvino's book, The Invisible Cities (1978), Karlsson's sculptures have elements of both the real and the imaginary. Let us not forget that cities are also made of dreams.

My discovery of Karlsson originated with a sculpture I saw at Galleri Thomassen during Art Basel, Miami 2008. Unlike Kubilai Khan, who in Invisible Cities, relied on Marco Polo's accounts to imagine the farthest corners of his empire, I was transported to the harbor in Gothenburg through the Internet, our new reality, and our new public space, which unfortunately is also a non-place. In Invisible Cities, Marco Polo communicates with Kubilai Khan through sign language. Without Marco Polo or sign language to guide me, I googletranslated an interview with Karlsson in the hopes of better understanding his work. While I now have a better understanding of the structure of the Swedish language, I have little clue as to what the texts exactly mean in English. That's now part of my cyber-reality.

Through the non-place of the Internet, I also discovered Karlsson’s work near the Arctic Circle, while in a fishing village in Brazil. For this I am especially grateful, as I may never make it that far North. Though set in an environment diametrically opposed to Gothenburg’s crowded harbor, Karlsson's work in the Laplands is a counterpart in spirit to Tempel of Hope and Doubt. This northern sculpture is in the shape of a church, entirely made of mirrors, set on the Arctic highway, where sleepy drivers are startled and briefly absorbed into an imaginary world. Fortunately for them, it does not preclude their own fleeting reflection.

When Karlsson received a commission for a work in the Swedish Laplands, he spent some time investigating the area. This Arctic sculpture was to be constructed almost in a void, on the Blue Highway, named after the extraordinary blue light the area receives. An artist could not wish for a more neutral public space or find himself at greater liberty. While it may have been tempting to create something detached and self-referential, Karlsson opted to construct a socially engaged work.

After investigating the area, Karlsson decided to base his work on an unorthodox group of religious revivalists called the Laestadians who inhabited the region. Based on Lutheranism, Laestadianism originated in the Laplands in the 19th century. In recent times, there was a highly momentous meeting in this area for the congregation. Expecting the arrival of what the Laestadians called the Silver Ark, a gigantic vessel meant to transport them to Jerusalem at the end of days, members of the group gathered naked on a frozen lake. The faithful waited. The Silver Ark never came. Thus, Karlsson's sculpture presents itself a gift to this community.

While the Silver Ark legend is an integral part of the work, the sculpture's strength lies in its relationship with the space it inhabits. The work’s most dynamic quality is its reflection of the surrounding environment. As Karlsson commented, People say it changes. It doesn't. It only reflects. If it's green, then it's green. If it's snow, then it's snow.1

Karlsson is interested in public space but not in publicity. From the rare interviews he gives, he seems a no-nonsense artist interested in the essence of things. One wonders what he thinks of the artificial, hyper-intellectual texts suffocating contemporary art. Karlsson is even dismissive of the significance of his own work, stating at one point, It is in the wrong place. That's why this is considered Art, whatever the hell Art means!2 It may be because of his search for purity, Karlsson's sculptures have the most immediate, direct and intense relationship with public space.

Mehmet Öngüt is a traveler and a travel writer who chases art in his continuous whirling. In both his imaginary and real world, he lives in Buenos Aires, Paris, Tokyo, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro and New York. He studied history and languages at Yale University and pretended to do graduate work at Johns Hopkins University in Bologna, Italy, while secretly attending the University of Bologna. While Mehmet has not been to Gothenburg yet, he finds Kent Karlsson's work enticing enough for his next trip.


Jan Bergson, Ideologia II. Nordisk bienal pa Roda sten. 2003.