Anyone with a keen interest in Norse mythology, art and archaeology may find it well worth their time to visit Grötlingbo, a small village located towards the southern end of the island of Gotland, in the Baltic Sea. Behind the medieval stone church in the graveyard, among the scattered tombstones, there is one whose peculiar twisted form separates it from the others: atop a cubic stone base stands an approximately 50-cm-tall bronze sculpture in the shape of a bust. The contorted portrait gives the impression of a lump of clay thrown to the ground. This marks the final resting place of internationally acclaimed Danish artist Asger Jorn (1914-1973). Jorn was well known both for his extensive oeuvre of abstract expressionist paintings and sculptures and for being the founding member of important post-war avant-garde movements such as the COBRA (1948-51) and the Situationist International.
Asger Jorn’s grave in Grötlingbo, Gotland. Photo: Henrik Andersson.
This gives rise to the question: “Why does this famous artist have his final resting place in this particular place on Gotland?” Jorn had no family from the island, but, according to a local artist, the area was something of a spiritual home to him. Throughout his career, Jorn found inspiration in folk art, which he saw as an immediate expression of creativity. Following his break with the Situationist movement, he in 1962 founded , together with a scholarly group consisting of Peter Glob and Werner Jacobsen (National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen) and Holger Arbman (University of Lund, Sweden), the Scandinavian Institute Of Comparative Vandalism (Skandinavisk institut for sammenlignende vandalisme – SISV), which was intended to operate both as a publishing house and as a research centre bringing together different disciplines ranging from archaeology, art and cultural history to the visual arts in order to revisit the legacy of pre-Christian Scandinavia, within the European context. Jorn was working towards what he called “10,000 years of Nordic Folk Art” (10 000 års nordisk folkekunst), a series of 32 books with photographs of historical artefacts based on his research and documentation. The content was to be assembled and edited together with the assistance of both scholars from academia and the publisher, Skandinavisk Forlag. Jorn worked with the design and layout of the extensive photographic material and as editor of the books. His artistic ambitions later proved to be a hindrance to the realization of the series (only one book was published in his lifetime), as the academics grew increasingly critical towards his approach and work methods, which led Jorn to terminate the project.
The archive of the Scandinavian Institute Of Comparative Vandalism is now housed in the Museum Jorn in Silkeborg, Denmark. Together with manuscripts, it consists of over 25,000 photographs (mostly negatives and contact sheets) taken by French photographer Gerard Franceschi and Ulrik Ross, who had been commissioned by Jorn to document historical artefacts during their trips through Scandinavia and Europe. Andersson’s research is aimed at inventorying the archives, while at the same time questioning the accumulated material, its history, and its past and current status and context, as well as the aesthetic and political implications of Jorn’s encyclopaedic comparative method – his work as an artist-historian operating in the field of scientific historical research, with the research itself as his artistic material. (text edited from the artist’s proposal)