Sten Eklund

Sten Eklund was a visual artist and graphic artist born in Uppsala. His most famous work is Kullahuset District. Here you can read more about his artistry and the unexplicable suite.

Sten Eklund and the pivotal 1970s 

“In the summer of 1849, a young J. M. G. Paléen went on a field trip in Sweden. On his walk, Paléen claimed to have come across a strange and silent community he later called the “Kullahuset District” – a small area encircled by magnetic fields, seemingly without any human presence but with various activities in full operation – mining, agriculture, and so on”.

This is how the artist Sten Eklund begins his story about the young scientist J. M. G. Paléen and his discovery of Kullahuset, an encounter that came to occupy him for the rest of his life. The story unfolds around 53 prints, meticulously etched and hand-coloured using the same methods as for older botanical illustrations. The solitary scientist continued to analyse the topography, minerals, plants, buildings and vehicles of the area, without ever being recognised by scientific academia. And what is even more remarkable is that the minerals that were mined were useless, as were the plants that were grown. An organised society devoid of economic incentives. 

What were Sten Eklund’s reasons for creating this enigmatic series? Sten Eklund describes how he juxtaposed fantastical stories like Jules Vernes’ Around the World in Eighty Days with theses on natural sciences and illustrations of Uppsala, with its dire legacy after Carl Linnaeus. Paléen is driven by the same scientific impulse to collect, describe and analyse. On the other hand, Eklund often dwells on Paléen’s shortcomings.

He describes his own disciplinarian school years and the inadequacy of language when expressing feelings: 

“Kullahuset describes my experiences and my memories. Paléen goes around with my biases. In school, I was taught: Factuality, objectivity and self-control, all valuable characteristics in a modern society. But I am incapable of relating my sorrow, or my longing, or my dreams, or my misconceptions (not to mention love or tenderness) other than as functions in a social context. Myself I cannot relate at all, since language belongs to society”.

This statement clearly shows that Eklund was influenced by Wittgenstein, whose essay TractatusLogico-Philosophicus (1921) also explores language:

“What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.”We can talk of material things, but we cannot make any definite statements on abstract phenomena such as feelings. However, Eklund’s quote leaves room for a broader criticism of society at the time, relating to how rationalism replaced “the old romantic notions of life and the world”. 

In 1971, the year Kullahuset was conceived, Eklund graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. Alongside Ulf Linde’s influence on art theory, with his passion for Duchamp’s conceptualism and a mystical tendency, the 1968 student revolts also impacted on the times. In 1963, Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was published in Swedish. Maybe even the embryonic Swedish environmental movement indirectly influenced him. Regardless, Eklund was far from the pamphlets and collective rebellions.

His series is more an expression of the individual’s struggles with life’s eternal questions. Like Stalker’s wanderings in the radioactive zone in Andrey Tarkovsky’s film from 1979, he was on his own desert quest. The series can also be read like a warped reflection of modern society’s seemingly rational and incessant efforts to extract and refine.