Text: Lars Andrée. From the book "Fire!" Published during the exhibition at Stockholm "Culture House" Kulturhuset, 2000.
TORSTEN JURELL IS sitting by my side as we leave the Strasbourg motorway and take the slip-road towards Colmar. We stop at a roadside café. Jurell tucks into one of the local hot dogs, 'knacks dans du pain', and drinks a beer: Kronenbourg 1664. He's a bigger eater than I am. A crow flies on its way, but there's no fox to be seen.
The Temptation, painted relief in oak wood 200x140 cm, 1999
We arrive in Colmar on Wednesday 7th March 1990. There's nothing unusual going on at the time. It's a few minutes past one, the French lunch-hour, and the sun is high in the sky.
The shadows under the trees are far too dense.
We park the car in the gloom at the back of a large, pale yellow building - a church maybe, or possibly even a cathedral in crumbling sandstone.
We pay the parking fee for a couple hours and walk up to inspect a map of the city, hesitantly staking out our route and beginning to stroll towards what we think must be the Musée d'Unterlinden.
As a rule, it only usually takes a few minutes for me to get my bearings, work out where north and south, east and west are, begin to find my way around and start to recognise places I have been to before.
Jurell's hair is cut short. Cropped. Almost shaved. He is taller than me and, seen from behind, I can't help thinking how like Jean Genet he is. My hair is long and my unruly beard spreads
like weeds down my neck and over my face.
I follow slowly in Jurell's footsteps, hoping that we're walking in the right direction.
I have a vague kind of feeling that there is some other purpose behind this walk. We start to walk down, towards a swiftly flowing spring stream - it must the Lauch, which flows into the Rhine just a few miles downstream - and, after half an hour, we ask a young girl dressed in the pastel shades of spring if we're going the right way. Smiling, she directs us back up into the narrow, dingy alleys of the town. The hollow bark of a neglected dog echoes from somewhere within the labyrinth.
The air is warm, but it still has the cold smell of winter.
An avenue of trees: the early magnolias are in full blossom, scattering red and white cascades of flowers all around us. Jurell flits along in front of me, his ankle-length lilac-blue overcoat billowing out around him like a windbreak as he bustles on his way.
I'm dressed in the same way as ever, with the obligatory sandals on my feet. We step inside a tiny newsagent's shop and search the shelves in vain for the March edition of the art magazine Artension. Why do I suddenly begin to reflect upon the fact that Jurell was born the year after me, that he will always be one year younger than I am?
The next time we ask the way, an elderly couple bundle us unceremoniously off in exactly the opposite direction to which we have been going, along a busy street lined with department stores. Jurell has longer legs than me and moves more quickly. He takes huge strides, first in this direction, then in that, occasionally bounding to the side without any apparent motivation. I stroll along behind.
His long arms and big hands swing rhythmically by his sides. I'm more of an ambler. Torsten Jurell's father worked as a policeman, patrolling the streets of Göteborg on foot until the day he retired, but Torsten doesn't move like a policeman.
I mention to him that, in the closing stages of the Second World War, Colmar remained under the control of the German occupation forces for a full five months after the liberation of Strasbourg. The war lingered on here, the fighting continued block by block, even though there are no more than 80 kilometres between the cities.
For his fortieth birthday Jurell has said he wants a big, old-fashioned duck press, a proper one in silver. His mother, who worked as a telephone switchboard operator, can trace her ancestry back to the aristocracy.
We pass La Maison des Têtes, the remarkable seventeenth-century house with its gable façade covered in heads. We buy a few rolls of film in Fnac and, for the sixth or seventh time, I ask how to get to the Musée d'Unterlinden. The assistant looks at me with an enquiring gaze before telling us that the museum is almost next door. Just round the corner, in fact.
'Follow me,' she says.
We follow her across the square and end up outside a church I recognise from my previous visits to Colmar. It is the Église des Dominicains and inside is Martin Schongauer's melancholically beautiful 'Madonna of the Rose Garden' (La Vierge au buisson de roses, 1473). But the church is closed for repairs all month. We can't even get the tiniest glimpse of the picture.
Walking past the outside of the chancel we suddenly catch sight of our car, and I realise that we have unwittingly been going round in circles. I never trust signs. Even those blue arrows point you in the wrong direction. Now that we have, so to speak, come back to where we started from, we pay to leave the car here for the rest of the afternoon.
I'm not in the least upset.
I still feel calm and composed.
Just a few more steps and we are standing in front of what is, for me, the familiar entrance to the museum: the red granite from the Vosges Mountains, the three steps down and, on the right, the little counter with its books, postcards and souvenirs.
Now, as I'm writing this, trying to reconstruct what happened, our brisk circuit round the centre of Colmar seems like a daydream. My report is a strange fragment from some other chronicle: we are just two people haphazardly fumbling our way forwards, forgetting what we put behind us as we reach out towards the future. This is not so much an account about experiences along the way - that would, perhaps, be a little too simple: it's more like a prologue.
At the entrance to the Musée d'Unterlinden I can't find the films we have just bought. I must have left them at the checkout, but it makes no difference anyway, because, as we pay our admission fee, we are asked to hand over our camera-bag.
Torsten Jurell zig-zags through the Gothic cloisters that enfold the inner garden of the old monastery, peering into the ancient oak wine vats and opening the doors into the galleries.
He doesn't read the pictures as I do: he sees them and follows the forms in them by sketching them swiftly with his hand in the air. He emulates the posture of the sculptures with his whole body, occasionally turning round as if to pick up his chisel and mallet to start work on a new project. Jurell is master of the here and now.
Never, not even for a split second, does it cross his mind to devote the slightest attention to the captions that explain in words what the pictures are about. Sometimes he seems to be listening to these works of art.
What does he hear? A conversation? Music? The sound of the sea?
Jurell uses his hands to punctuate what he is saying. To me his thoughts and his mouth seem inextricably linked to his hands. He passes judgement without hesitation, as we hurtle past the museum's cavalcade of medieval iconography.
Almost by chance he points to Martin Schongauer's youthful engraving 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony' (L'Aggression de Saint Antoine, 1470-1483). Has he forgotten the connection, or is it simply because Schongauer's temptation, like Cranach's is an aerial one (tentation aérienne)? Jurell avoids the metaphysical temptation.
We circle round the three sequences of Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim altarpiece, noting Saint Sebastian, falling under the spell of the unrelentingly mournful crucifixion scene, and at last finding ourselves face to face with the temptation of Saint Anthony (La tentation de Saint Antoine, 1512-1516). For me it is the culmination of a year of frustration. It dissolves before our very eyes and the work can proceed again.
A breathing space.
Task: avoid all pathetic pedagogics.
Our visit to Colmar took place in 1990, the day before Torsten Jurell's impressive inauguration of 'Mister K - a Passion Story' (La Passion de Monsieur K) in Strasbourg's Municipal Hall.
On 28th January, 2000, when Torsten Jurell has a vernissage on the fifth floor of Peter Celsing's Kulturhus in Stockholm with 'The Temptation' as one of the central works, almost ten years will have elapsed since that walk in Colmar which culminated in Jurell's first face-to-face encounter with Grünewald's 'Temptation of Saint Anthony'. At the same time we know that it will be more or less 500 years since Mathis Gothart Nithart, otherwise known as Matthias Grünewald, put the finishing touches to his panels for the Isenheim altar.
I take a moment to place Jurell's 'Temptation' by the side of Grünewald's and take a few steps back. Jurell's relief is more or less the same size as Grünewald's painting, 2 metres by 1.4 or thereabouts, but otherwise, not even at a distance, does there appear to be even the slightest similarity between the two works.
Is there really no other correspondence at all between them apart from their physical dimensions?
A close examination of the motifs certainly reveals more differences than similarities. For Grünewald the monsters of temptation are not merely threatening, but openly aggressive, attacking Saint Anthony, snatching at him and sinking their teeth into his flesh.
The two infernal spirits in Jurell's work have a certain bovine look about them, and, while their chins do brush against the shoulders of the protagonist, on the whole their attentions seem little more than unctuous or wheedling, rendering them relatively human in their seductive obsequiousness.
In Grünewald we can trace the religious elements from God the Father, visible in the vaults of heaven, via the angels fighting the good fight against the demons, down to the Latin legend at the bottom right-hand corner which, in translation, reads:
'Whilst Thou were here, dear Jesus, whilst Thou were here, why didst Thou not come to heal my wounds?'
Presumably it would not be a religious over-interpretation if we were to suggest sacred allusions in Jurell's picture too. He doesn't even give us the chance to hint that, for him, temptation might have lost its Christian background. The remarkable thing is that, even if there is nothing in the picture which is typical of any faith, you can hardly claim that his temptation is secular in character.
There are glimpses of modern cityscapes in the background, but the underlying tone is spiritual. In actual fact he expands and affirms unreservedly all the dimensions of the trials and tribulations of an existential situation.
The gleaming book clasped in the hands of Jurell's protagonist could well be the Bible, for it may be so that the very presence of the words make temptation perceptible.
And besides, an analysis of the fields of energy in this work of art shows that the book is one of the points of convergence.
Grünewald places Saint Anthony's book far down in the left-hand corner of the picture in an unexpected context where an ailing figure, severely deformed by boils is holding the book's cover. This wretched, pot-bellied being is the only one in Anthony's immediate vicinity that is not launching an attack the saint.
Grünewald's altarpieces were commissioned by the Antonine Monastery just south of Colmar, whose monks offered shelter to the sufferers of a plague-like disease. The symptoms were gangrene and boils, and the ailment was known as 'the Holy Fire' or, in later years, 'Saint Anthony's fire' since Saint Anthony was perceived as the patron saint of the sick.
According to the regulations of the holy order, the feverish souls suffering from this disease should be shown the altarpieces as part of their initiation rites and at regular intervals afterwards. It has been speculated that the shock provoked by this direct contact would have a cathartic effect and thus promote recovery.
If you move from side to side in front of Jurell's 'Temptation' and try to capture the facial expression of the protagonist, you feel that this changes from admiration to fear, or conversely from trepidation to surprise. The picture speaks directly to us while the features of the face fall into place.
The fact is, we experience different things to what we actually see with our eyes, more than what our eyes alone can tell us. As we observe the protagonist, he gives us a presentiment of what he himself has a presentiment of, and, at the same time, follows us with wide open eyes, slightly vague, evasive yet penetrating, firmly trained on the future.
His eyes are the second focus of the picture. Together the two focal points of the work of art form a T that helps to reinforce the vertical line of energy.
We find a similarly emotionally charged expression in Grünewald's Saint Anthony, where every focus on or magnification of the face reveals a new state of mind in a grand sweep from bewilderment to deep despair and terror. Both works expose vision rather than miracles, and this means that the down-to-earth element is intensified to emphasise the far-sighted effect.
By consciously eschewing symbols, what is easily manageable and utilitarian in its nature, without for that sake abandoning his affinity for the emblematic, Jurell comes closer to the artistic temptation: a gruesome realism where metaphors alone remain.
This attempt of mine to find links between a work of art from the 1500s and one from the end of the millennium is, of course, unwarranted. Who knows, it may be nothing more than the titles - 'The Temptation' and 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony' - and, even then, only the single word 'temptation', that has prompted me to juxtapose the two works in this way.
But the name does not explain the picture. For some artists the name is part of the picture, while for others it adds a new, external aspect. Jurell excludes Grünewald's direct reference to the Saint Anthony of history and to his hermit existence as it is described in literature.
But back to Jurell.
Consumed by fire!
What is the import of the pungent flames flaring up in front of the main figure?
The tongues of flame lick at the protagonist's rib cage and threaten to totally engulf him. The fire is both inside and out: lechery and destruction. The fire recurs higher up in the right-hand part of the picture. Jurell's works are always unusual. He organises the invisible and makes it accessible.
Jurell works with more than inspiration and impulse: by dint of self-esteem and strength of will he transports himself from external constraint and destiny to free will.
His works are no more the mere manufacture of yet another beautiful illustration to complement the artist's signature, than they are copies, reproductions or representations of any actual state of affairs.
For Jurell, a work of art is constituted in a contradictory transformation. In a work of art many problems are condensed when the distance between an experience and the interpretation of that experience is eradicated.
Let us return to the four reliefs in 'Mister K - a Passion Story', which was shown in Strasbourg, and place them by the side of 'The Accusation 1-4' which arose in conjunction with Jurell's work on 'The Temptation'.
The format, the strict structure and the leitmotif are confusingly similar in both compositions. In both works there is a certain Mr K who accepts a task, playing the game, as it were, only to
subsequently transgress the boundaries.
But in the intervening years between the two stories something has happened. The timbre and the contours are accentuated in a new rhythm which makes the figures stand out as if they are taking part in a totally new context.
What appears to be cloisonné on Jurell's website is more like leaded church windows when you see the reliefs themselves. The playfulness and creative zest from 'The Water Carrier' conjures up a new world around Mr K. When Jurell loses himself in his work for art the world becomes human.
New metaphors all the time.
Only the person who changes can see and shape the transformation.
Mr K's temptation consists of becoming 'one of them', as they say, to become for example like Prochor Petrovich in 'The Master and Margarita' - an empty suit which signs yet another report, or launches another enquiry and who must continue to do so: for, in the same instant that the man in the empty suit stops doing what he is doing, he will remember that he is dead.
Secondly you can, if you, so to speak, connect 'The Temptation', 'Mister K' and 'The Accusation' in series, expose a strange displacement in time, and in so doing discover two new aspects of time.
The very names themselves suggest that 'The Accusation', which was produced at a later date and works with a new, metaphorical truth, is placed experientially prior to 'Mr K - A Passion Story'. The chronological arbitrariness, the dating problem is replaced by experience and common sense.
style="text-align: justify;">The relation between the two works becomes dynamic. Jurell does not turn round. 'The Accusation 1-4' absorbs, preserves and goes beyond the Mr K suite
'Temptation' is, in other words, a meditation on a different level, or a discussion which casts new light on Jurell's entire production, and by that I mean all his work both before and after the year 2000.
Jurell's work takes him through phases which are similar yet nevertheless vastly different and, as his creativity develops in spirals, every manifestation of it is a new synthesis which opens our minds. With each new picture we move one step further up the ladder.
The finest works of art put us in the same position as the artist and let us grow with him. I would like to say that what we are witness to here is a bildungsroman, one that is traditional at the same time as it is peculiarly modern.
The two figures vying to lead the protagonist astray in 'The Temptation' appear therefore also as teachers or mentors.
To indirectly expose the sublime element in Jurell's work I now approach the totality from a new angle by juxtaposing three heavy wooden reliefs: 'The Dialysis Case' from 1991, 'The Temptation' from the summer of 1999 and 'Gamajon, The Bird of Hope' from the autumn of the same year.
I place slides of them one on top of the other like X-rays, projecting the three pictures simultaneously to produce a kaleidoscopic effect with an accusation, an affliction and a possible assurance, or, if you prefer, a claim, a contrast and on top of it all, a new concentrate.
By looking straight through the pictures you get shifting impressions of them as compatible and incompatible, analogous and disparate. The more you study them, the more living and credible they become.
Between them there is, at one and the same time, similarity and contrast, harmony and disharmony. I interpret the subtle irony of these pictures as an expression for an innate sense of solidarity with an artistic commitment that is constantly on the move.
Umeå, Sweden, Sunday 7th November 1999
In addition to several useful visits to Torsten Jurell studio where I've seen the progress of the pictures, the following literature has been of great benefit and joy when I wrote The Temptation:
Aristoteles. 1994. Om diktkonsten. Nyövers. Jan Stolpe. Inl. Arne Melberg. 92 s.
Athanasios av Alexandria. 357; 1991. Antonios liv. Översättning och kommentar av Tomas Hägg och Samuel Rubenson. Artos. 144 s.
Berger, John. 1999. När Rembrandt hängde en duk framför spegeln. 59 egendomliga självporträtt. Ill. Aftonbladet 99-07-04. 2 s.
Blum, Lucien. 1958. Martin Schongauer. Peintre et graveur colmarien. Ill. Alsatia. 47 p.
Bosing, Walter. 1991. Hieronymus Bosch, omkring 1450-1516. Mellan himmel och helvete. Ill. Benedikt Taschen. 96 s.
Brumter, Michèle. 1983. Le rétable d'Issenheim. Ill. Ouest-France. 32 p.
Bulgakow, Michail. 1967; 1998. Mästaren och Margarita. Övers. Lars Erik Blomqvist. Norstedts. 376 s.
Derrida, Jacques. 1978; 1996. La vérité en peinture. Ill. Flammarion. 440 p.
Dufrenne, Mikel. 1991. Sartre/Barthes. Ill. Revue d'esthétique. Hors série. 117 p.
Dürer, Albrecht. 1498; 1964. Apokalypsen. Dürers träsnitt. Ill. Text: Johannes Uppenbarelse enligt Gustav Vasabibeln. Efterskrift av Erwin Panofsky. Sällskapet bokvännerna. 68 s.
Dürer, Albrecht. 1996. Œuvre gravé. Ill. Commissariat scientifique Renouard de Bussierre. Les musées de la ville de Paris. 319 p.
Flaubert, Gustave. 1872; 1957. Hjärtats begärelse/La tentation de saint Antoine. Ill. Översättning och kommentar Per Meurling. Ehlins. 240 s.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1997. Sanning och metod, i urval. Övers. urv. och inl. Arne Melberg. Daidalos. 213 s.
Hansson, Riber. 1999. Millennium. En berättelse om konst. Ill. Svenska Dagbladet 99-10-31. 3 s.
Heck, Christian (Éd). 1989. Le rétable d'Issenheim et la sculpture au nord des Alpes à la fin du moyen âge. Ill. Bulletin de la société Schongauer, numéro special. 179 p.
Heck, Christian. 1982. Grünewald et le retable d'Issenheim. Ill. Editions S.A.E.P. Colmar. 66 p.
Heck, Christian. 1985. Martin Schongauer. Ill. Editions S.A.E.P. Colmar. 66 p.
Heidegger, Martin. 1960; 1987. Konstverkets ursprung. Övers. Richard Matz. Daidalos. 95 s.
Huysmans, Joris-Karl. 1988. Les Grünewald du musée de Colmar. Des primitifs au Rétable d'Issenheim. Ill. Ed. Pierre Brunuel, André Guyaux et Christian Heck. Hermann Éditeurs des scieneces et des arts. 140 p.
Jurell, Torsten. 1987. Rävjakten. Om statsvälvningarna i Sverige 1809-1810. En pjäs. Ej publicerad. Ej paginerad, ca 100 s.
Lund, Hans. 1982. Texten som tavla. Studier i litterär bildtransformation. Ill. Doct.diss. Liber. 205 s.
Ricœur, Paul. 1975; 1997. La métaphore vive. Éditions du Seuil. 409 p.
Ricœur, Paul. 1986; 1993. Från text till handling. En antologi om hermeneutik. Red. Peter Kemp och Bengt Kristensson. Övers. Margareta Fatton, Peter Kemp och Bengt Kristensson. Brutus Östlings bokförlag. 244 s.
Rådström, Niklas. 1986. Den helige Antonius frestelser. Böner, världsförklaringar & Stenarnas sånger. Roman. Wahlström &Widstrand. 248 s.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1952; 1963. Saint Genet. Actor & Martyr. Pantheon, New York. 625 p.
Schongauer, Martin. 1991. Le beau Martin. Gravures et dessins de Martin Schongauer (vers 1450-1490). Ill. Commissaire Pantxika Béguerie, Conservateur au Musée d'Unterlinden. Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar. 497 p.
Séginger, Gisèle. 1997. Naissance et métamorphoses d'un écrivain. Flaubert et Les Tentations de saint Antoine. Honoré Champion, Éditeur. 442 p.
Strieder, Peter. 1982. Dürer. Paintings, prints, drawings. Ill. Transl. Nancy M. Gordon and Walter L. Strauss. René Coeckelberghs. 400 p.