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The kind of cross pollination between advertising, design, music, fashion and art which before the 1960's was nearly unthinkable is completely natural today.
Nobody raises an eyebrow when Richard Prince designs T-shirts for Commes des Garcons, or when Damien Hirst does album covers for Dave Stewart, or when Chris Cunningham puts as much energy into his twisted music videos for Aphex Twin as his art. If that distinction is even possible to make anymore.
Album covers in particular are a medium that have attracted many artists. Some cover art has received just as much appreciation as the music it covers and has been desirable for its own sake. Robert Rauschenberg's design of the sleeve for Talking Heads' limited edition "Speaking in Tongues" LP is a good example. And Andy Warhol's cover art work for The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones - especially the limited edition peelable yellow banana cover art he did for The Velvet Underground - is unparalleled.
It was, however, no album cover top-ten Johan Svensson presented when Gallery Ping Pong in Malmö exhibited his series of homemade reinterpretations of CD sleeves and cover artwork. If anything, it was his own taste in music that caused him to take on the nearly manic task of transferring the album covers completely by hand without robbing them of their function as packaging. And now he has allowed them to be printed in book form, giving the work an even further dimension.
These are pictures many of us have grown up with. They are images that have secured a place in our collective imaginations; pictures that were originally LP-cover art and were shrunk for their release on CD. They do not advertise a specific artist or a band or one type of music; they speak also of a lifestyle and a unique way to look at the world. The images negotiate a sum total of emotion, ideals and attitudes.
In the moment that Johan Svensson created these images, however, something happened. The pictures were not just moved from one context to another; they became the object of reinterpretation. A cover of a cover, you might say.
By making his own versions of well-know album covers, Johan Svensson's personal relationship was not immediately established with the music, but rather the images themselves. Johan tested his way forward through the metaphorical elements, forced his way behind the polished surface and played with rock music's clichés and stereotypes.
With his unique and somewhat hyper style Johan has opened himself to new inroads and shown the motives behind his work. Sometimes he has just copied. Other times, with few resources, he has displaced, strengthened and varied the image. And throughout the series he has filled the pictures with emotion: a lot of love and admiration, but also a touch of irony and at least as much humor as gravity.
The process of transfer does not only have value as a dedication of sorts, but also, because Johan Svensson started from a well-known group of images, it contributes to a dialogue about the possibilities and impossibilities of reproduction.
In his classic essay, "Art in the Age of Reproduction", Walter Benjamin writes that through reproduction a work of art somehow loses its "aura". Before a unique piece of art we experience a "here and now" which, according to Benjamin, defines the very notion of authenticity.
Walter Benjamin's essay can be read as an attempt to demonstrate how the process of reproduction changes a work of art. Certain values might be lost, but this change also involves a kind of liberation. Through reproduction, the original work evolves to a condition that it would not otherwise achieve.
Since this essay was written, the art world has negotiated the parameters of authenticity, and in countless situations put the relationship between the original and the copy to the test. Developments in digital technology's ability to infinitely mix, sample and manipulate have further affected the notion of authenticity.
At the same time, it is not possible to avoid the fact that Johan Svensson, like other artists before him, has turned this concept on its head. Now he is allowing his personal - and unique - images to be reproduced in book form (without music), with all that implies.
Johan's work is, therefore, exposed to an even further process of transfer and is moved from one context to still another. This means that they are reborn as images one more time.
Journalist and Art Critic