Jacques Zadig & Gerhard Nordström,
Matti Sumari, Ella Tillema

22 September–10 December 2023
Opening Friday 22 September 6-10pm

In October 1970, the exhibition Money or Life opened at Malmö Museum, organised by artists Jacques Zadig and Gerhard Nordström. The exhibition broke new ground in several ways. The museum management gave the two artists free hands and five thousand Swedish crowns (approx. 500 euros) to organise an exhibition on the relationship between short-term profit interests and accelerating environmental destruction. The exhibition was to deal with a very concrete reality, and it was from this concrete reality that the ingredients of the exhibition were taken: the rooms were filled with the sound of pneumatic drills and blaring pop music, a mountain of waste was enthroned on a catafalque with the Swedish flag, sewage pipes were overflowing with disgusting goo that spilled onto the floor, phones were ringing and if you picked up the phone you could hear a conversation between a politician and an industrialist: “It’s not about the future but the present, the greatest possible profit in the shortest possible time”.

53 years later, the theme of the exhibition is just as relevant, if not more pressing. Environmental destruction, consumer society and profitability thinking that was the focus of their criticism has evolved into full-blown environmental disaster, hyper-consumption and an extreme pursuit of profit that reaps everything in its path.

The years that have passed between Ella Tillema’s two diptychs – This is just the beginning I-II, 2012 and This is just the beginning III-IV, 2021 – are the sum total of a time when hope has faded. The urgent call for a better and fairer world has turned into a furious despair at a shortsighted, decadent and dying present. A depleted and dismantled society, a widespread and growing fascism, an impoverished and overheated nature – this is the future we are gifting our children.

The mountain of waste that loomed large in the Zadig & Nordström exhibition was as much a critique of the economic policies of the time as it was a critique of the environmental destruction that was taking place. Money never seems to be a problem in itself, but rather where it ends up and what is prioritised. Never before has Sweden had so many millionaires as today.

Circular economy is at the centre of Matti Sumari’s work, where art, life and money form a fused whole. Someone else’s waste is converted and recycled. Materials are taken care of and transform into memory bearers of their time. Components may originate from Malmö’s shut down cement factory, the remnants of a gentrified neighbourhood’s demolished building or the collective feeling from an opening night that lives on in the melted aluminium of the deposit-free beer cans that have been given a new sculptural body. Managing resources is the difference between living sustainably and consuming ’sustainably’.

The work Mother Sweden by Zadig & Nordström showed how the shit had also begun to penetrate her safe home while she sleeps and dreams of bigger markets, higher production and increased gross national income. “We are simply killing ourselves,” says article after article that highlighted the exhibition in the 1970s. The question is whether that is the only thing we have succeeded in doing.