Swede Dreams: Daniel Birnbaum on OEI

By Birnbaum, Daniel | Artforum International, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Swede Dreams: Daniel Birnbaum on OEI


Birnbaum, Daniel, Artforum International


JORGE LUIS BORGES, who populated many of his most famous works with fictitious Swedes (with names like Runeberg and Lonnrot), and whose interest in the Scandinavian soul was readily apparent, drew attention to the strange predicament of Nordic culture, rich and advanced yet almost unknown to the rest of the world:

  In universal history, the wars and books of Scandinavia are as if they
  had never existed; everything remains isolated and without a trace, as
  if it had come to pass in a dream or in the crystal balls where
  clairvoyants gaze. In the twelfth century, the Icelanders discovered
  the novel--the art of Flaubert, the Norman--and this discovery is as
  secret and sterile, for the economy of the world, as their discovery
  of America.

Things have perhaps changed in the half century since Borges wrote this, and yet I sometimes have the feeling that the best Swedish art and literature remain remote, behind a mysterious glass wall. A case in point is the magazine OEI, probably the most extreme literary journal in the world today--merciless in its experimentalism and uncompromising as it pushes its own physical format. Many issues of OEI contain enough text to fill ten books, and some have grown into rather monstrous synthetic objects, mixing the sensibilities of Tel Quel and the Gothenburg telephone book, Mille Plateaux and technical manuals from the early days of Silicon Valley. "OEI is a journal devoted to virtual cartels and productive misreadings," explain editors Anders Lundberg, Jonas (J) Magnusson, and Jesper Olsson in a statement on the magazine's (all-Swedish) website. Based in Stockholm and Gothenburg, the editors come from the fields of philosophy, aesthetics, and literature. They tend to publish quarterly and have produced thirty-five issues since 1999, including double, triple, and even quadruple issues featuring CDs and DVDs; there is also a book-publishing arm, OEI editor. A few issues have focused on specific writers and groups such as Gertrude Stein, Swedish language artist Elis Eriksson, the Toronto Research Group, and the American Language poets; other issues, the most experimental ones, focus on subjects such as sound art, digital poetry, appropriation, cutup, collage, stupidity and idiocy in art and literature, and the writings of Conceptual artists. The most successful issues are not really about these things so much as they seem to embody and exemplify the themes, letting them materialize in publications that, from pretty much every point of view--not least traditional legibility--are out of the ordinary. An article would never abridge a list of referenced items, including only the first ten and then saying "etc."--perish the thought! OEI never makes for easy reading.

Despite the presence of well-known poets on the editorial board, the editors insist that OEI is not a magazine about poesi (that's Swedish for poetry). That would be too easy. Their philosophy is strictly materialist: Language is matter. Sounds, letters, words, and printed pages are stuff, and it would seem that the point at which concrete poetry transmogrifies into visual art (as in the work of Dieter Roth and Oyvind Fahlstrom) is a place of special interest. …

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