Öyvind Fahlström (1928-1976)

U-barn (1968) (1975)

Author of the first manifesto for concrete poetry, published in 1954, Öyvind Fahlström was a painter and poet who made works that incorporated pop imagery and vocabulary, particularly the language of comic strips, in a radical and critical way. An acute observer of the global political events and financial processes around him, Fahlström made interactive works that illustrated the manipulation of information and data during the Cold War era. His thorough analysis of the international economic and political forces of the 1960s and 1970s is directly reflected in his work through the metaphor of the game and the presence of moveable elements. Conceived as poetic-visual arrangements of signs, his ‘variable paintings’, some of which are also known as ‘game paintings’, are theatrical and performative, requiring the active participation of the viewer, and as such offer a plurality of readings.

In 1961 Fahlström moved from Stockholm, where he had lived since the age of ten, to New York City. Five years after moving to the USA he orchestrated Mao-Hope March, a street demonstration in the city comprised of seven people carrying placards featuring portraits of American actor Bob Hope and one of Mao Tse-tung, Chairman of the Communist Party of China. The demonstration was filmed, and in the accompanying soundtrack passers-by can be heard responding to the question ‘Are you happy?’, the casual and often humorous answers to which reveal the cultural concerns and political preoccupations of 1960s America. The film and the placards were first incorporated into Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, the title of Fahlström’s contribution to 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, a series of performance, theatre, music and dance events that took place in October 1966. As an ironic and sharp critique of the political and entertainment industries, Mao-Hope March, and by extension Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, exemplifies Fahlström’s interest in revealing the forces that shape Western society.

Elsa Coustou
September 2015

Öyvind Fahlström< in UbuWeb Sound