11th May 2007 — 16th June 2007
Peek Freans factory, which had provided Bermondsey with jobs
and biscuity aromas since 1866, was abandoned when production
moved to India in the 1980s. The buildings have since been
rescued - transformed into studios and workspaces, one of which
is home to Gallery Yujiro. It is a fitting location for Bjørn
Kowalski Hansen's show, Håkki(TM),
which concerns a project to revitalise Ljungaverk, a small
town in Sweden, situated two degrees below the Arctic Circle.
The demise of its chemical factory in the late 1990s resulted
in an exodus that severely reduced the population, putting
the community's future in jeopardy.
In 2002 Kowalski Hansen, a Norwegian, joined forces with a Norway based designer, Mats Mourier Stenslet, and Tomas Eriksson, a Ljungaverk artist. The plan was to breathe new life into the town by initiating a grassroots enterprise branded like a multinational, but set up to inspire and enrich the local community instead of exploiting it. And so Håkki(TM) came into being. As an art project is unusual in that it is impossible not to view it in terms of merchandising as it is intrinsic to the premise of the work.
Strangely, in the exhibition's darkened atrium, the Twin Peaks opening sequence has been recreated, welcoming us to Ljungaverk. Although it is many degrees of longitude from Lynch's oddball town, there are parallels between the two, Fishing and forestry are two of them. Although this show is Kowalski Hansen's, the community's involvement, and the participation of the audience and customers creates an authorship whodunnit. The opening credits clear this up slightly, being used to introduce some of the people who play a part in the Håkki(TM) project, including members of 'Willy and the Hitchhikers', the town's rockabilly band, who have reworked the Twin Peaks theme tune in very unrockabilly way. In the main space, they're back in character, strutting their stuff from a record player attached to an intense French mustard-coloured wall that turns into a landscape of homely mountain chalets straight out of a kids' colouring book.
Across the centre of the space hangs a rail of Håkki(TM)'s principal product: limited edition screen printed T-shirts - for sale, naturally. The income from the company goes back to the Ljungaverk community (although the money generated from the T-shirts in this show will be divided between the town and The 5th Collective Studios, which adjoin Gallery Yujiro) and photos illustrate projects which have benefited the Town. Eventually they aim to set up a T-shirt factory in the town to create employment opportunities. On one wall are about sixty other designs that have been produced, all in limited runs designed by Kowalski Hansen in consultation with Tomas Eriksson and sold through dedicated Håkki(TM) outlets in Trondheim and Bergen, and the Håkki(TM) website.
Elements include 50s style cartoon characters, beavers, moose, Viking longboats, and 70s bubblegum imagery, with witty slogans (in Swedish) in rubbery psychedelic letters. A large number feature Eriksson himself (who is also known as Håkki and is the face of the brand). A resident reports that Eriksson has, with the help of the brand's profile, made inroads into local and national organisations in a bid to help the town, and there is talk of him running for mayor. A short promotional video shows him haring around in one of his beloved Volvos, fuzzy dice a-wobble, arriving home, at the sewing machine, and ironing. Hey presto! Another T-shirt!
On another wall, his head sprouts antlers and rifle butts in a curious take on the skull and crossbones motif. 'WIN A HUNTING TRIP' I hear gasps of horror from the good people of London, but promises of 'flying Swedish elephants, spectacular nature, and hunting from the rear window of a 1967 Volvo Amazon' hint at pursuits altogether more innocuous.
The final scheme is almost unbelievable: some tasty bits of Ljungaverk real estate at knockdown prices. In the hope of boosting the population to the one-thousand mark, a motel (in need of repair), and two family homes, are on sale for £4,000, £16,000, and £8,000 respectively. Cheaper than beach huts in Bournemouth. It is hard to imagine that, with the current British mania for buying abroad, they won't be snapped up very soon. It can only be hoped that the contracts come with plenty of strings attached. Oddly, the same offer was made when the show hit Oslo, but the property remained unsold, which must have been quite a surprise. Still slightly bemused about the Ljungaverk film, I look out the original Twin Peaks video when I get indoors and, lo and behold, in the pilot episode, a large group Norwegian businessmen, potential investors in the town, hurry away mid-meeting when a mischievous girl spills the beans about Laura Palmer's murder. Dark humour. I wonder if there is any connection.
Studio Unit A502, Tower Point
Tower Bridge Business Complex
London SE16 4D
Wednesday and Friday, 10am-6pm