John Skoog: Redoubt (2014)


As if they know what awaits them in adult life, children are drawn to castles, fortresses and hideaways. This was also perhaps the case for John Skoog.

The Swedish artist tells me he grew up 40 minutes from the mother of all imaginary dens: a bunker, made in response to WWII, which took one man some 30 years to build.

“I kept going back there and photographing it and trying to come up with, what kind of work? Since I was drawn to make a work about it, work with it,” says Skoog.

Now the giant concrete panic room stars in a 14 minute film at Towner in Eastbourne, also once the site of fortifications against a feared invasion by Napoleon.

As the camera tracks around the scarred facade, you can meditate on the post-war fears which drove farmhand Karl Göran to construct such a thing.

“It looks like some kind of weird, post-minimal macho american sculpture,” observes the artist. Indeed, it has a rugged and inhospitable texture. It menaces.

Göran was poor and reinforced the concrete with whatever came to hand. “He didn’t have any money so he took whatever he could get and put it into the drying cement.”

So now the film reveals a bike frame, various buckets and cans, even the springs from a bedstead. This is outsider architecture of the highest order.

Voiceovers to the brooding film relate anecdotes about Göran. Skoog discovered that his muse used a bicycle to bring all the material to the site. Facts like this “charge” the work.

These disembodied voiceovers drift in and out or the silence which emanates from the so-called house. So I ask why the artist opted not to anchor the piece with a narrator.

“For me, it is a very, very straight documentary,” he says with a laugh. “I think I am excited by films which perform what they are interested in or what they work with.”

Skoog complains about the voiceovers used to state the visibly obvious in documentaries made for TV: “I always think that’s kind of rude to the people watching”.

The location is animated with four long tracking shots, which feel like a single take. “In the last image you see where you started so it is really circling the house,” says the artist.

As a result it is a disorienting film. “With Göran’s house it is very hard to know what’s a wall and what’s a ceiling, what’s a floor. That’s maybe what gives this very physical presence.”

Remote and ominous as this Redoubt may be, Skoog finds something “really beautiful” about the fortress, which was never called into use to to shelter rural locals.

“It’s clear he had another effect,” says the artist. “He kind of questioned something of how one lives, how you live your life . . . how do your deal with fear?” How indeed.

This film can be seen at Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, until 6 April 2014. You can read a longer interview with this artist and a collaborator at Bad at Sports.

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