Summer 2002

Artist Project / The Disappointed and the Offended

Complaints in a minor key

Magnus Bärtås

My ongoing work, The Disappointed and Offended, is based on reading Sweden’s evening newspapers on a daily basis and finding low-level stories of failure where someone has been offended, hurt, snubbed, disappointed, or otherwise given cause to complain. I reproduce the newspaper’s photograph of the person using the simple technique, often used by children, of dripping molten wax on the image. When dry, the wax is carefully removed with an imprint of the face on it. The wax medallions are hung on long walls from pieces of thread embedded in the wax. A list of printed one-sentence texts nearby tells the stories behind the disappointed and offended faces, thus making the work vascillate between empathy and malicious pleasure. Begun in 1994, the series now has more than 650 portraits.

The work is evocative of a wailing wall—the fact that complaining and wailing, even when it concerns “trivial” ordinary problems, needs a public space. Maybe the most important part of the work is its story-telling—that each face contains a complete story that is condensed into the one sentence exhibited alongside the portraits. The texts are never directly correlated to the faces, and it is up to the viewer to imagine which face connects with which text. These stories from the newspapers are normally consumed in an ephemeral way. By using the candle wax technique, it is possible to freeze this stream of complaints. In that sense the work has a documentary aspect (an alternative title could be Disappointment in Sweden from 1994 until Today). Christian Boltanski once made an artwork consisting of portraits of dead Swiss citizens. Boltanski claimed that these people, living in one of the safest countries in the world, had had no reason to die. The Swedes, living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, have no reason to complain, and yet they do.

the reserve officer who does not get to keep his official gun
the man who is considered too fat for his job as a bus driver
the man whose dog got an electric shock when it sniffed a lamp post
the smoker who had his pay cut for the six minutes it took him to smoke a cigarette
the fireman who went to a call on his bicycle, arrived late, and got dismissed
the man with a whiplash injury who thinks that the doctors are not taking him seriously
the girl whose five rabbits were killed by dogs
the ice hockey coach who thought he would be getting a Christmas present when he was called to the clubhouse but instead got the sack
the former nazi who is not believed when he says he has left the nazi movement
the singer who had 1300 calls to his mobile telephone from the same woman
the woman who is threatened with eviction because for many years she has been feeding birds on her balcony
the woman who worked for a sect-like company in which those who succeeded were praised ecstatically and those who failed were humiliated
the boy who was not allowed to be in the class photo because he was wearing a T-shirt that said “Made of Swedish Steel”
the woman who lost 50 kilos but who thinks she lost her identity because of the new body
the artist who thinks that the graphic arts have lost their legitimate status
the two parents whose child was forced to change schools due to magnetic fields
the woman who is called a “psycho” by an insurance company and is refused further compensation
the lottery saleswoman who wonders why the disabled have to move to make room for the election stands
the boy who got stuck against the gratings of the water circulation system in an adventure swimming pool
the woman who was cheated by her friends after winning a prize in the lottery
the headmaster who was beaten up by the father of one of the students
the man who was robbed by a person from the domestic help service
the man whose dead mother’s diaries have been destroyed by mistake
the wrestler who was excluded from his club when he supported a wrestler in a rival team
the tuberculosis sufferer who was sent home from the hospital with aspirin and cough medicine
the woman who was advised to drink a lot of water during a yoga course whereupon she drank seven liters and lost consciousness
the man who has been fooled by an impostor who called himself “a special messenger of the Vatican”
the woman who was in the elevator going to her boyfriend’s apartment when the elevator fell three meters and she became so scared that she forgot to take her pill and became pregnant
the boy who found live caterpillars in a mint chocolate
the girl who was knocked down by a car and is now stalked by the car driver who says that “their lives have been joined”
the man who for the past nine years has had the hiccups when awake and has tried everything imaginable to get rid of his hiccups
the politician who claims that he has been frozen out by his colleagues
the two young socialists who discovered that the international conference was overflowing with drugs
the woman who waited eleven months for her gallstone operation
the woman who discovered that Maryland Cookies can be fatal for people with nut allergy
the couple who are afraid of their neighbor
the woman who was supposed to fly to a bridal shower and whose airplane crashed in the water
the rock musician who was swindled by his manager
the two female taxi drivers who can’t stand the customers’ constant pesterings any longer
the tenant who lives in a house damaged by underground construction blasts
the chairman of a golf club who discovered that 3,000 golf balls had been stolen from the clubhouse
the man who has received double invoices after buying shirts with his credit card
the soccer fan who got a bottle in his head while sitting in the stands
the man who accidentally shot himself in the leg and had to wait one and a half hours because there was only one ambulance in the district
the family who has been evicted because the neighbors are tired of their children playing soccer in the yard
the dismissed director accused of sexual harassment and tax fraud who claims he is the victim of a conspiracy
the woman who was sacked by her own husband
the man who was forced to move because the rent was too much
the detective superintendent who was accused of ignoring information from a fortuneteller
the woman who discovered bits of glass in her minced meat
the man who feels swindled by the national lottery’s new rules
the owner of a florist shop who wasn’t given enough time to come up with a quote for a church’s Interflora Flower Relay
the tenant who has to pay twice as much rent as his neighbor with an identical apartment
the car mechanic who is three centimeters too short to get a job with SAAB
the book publisher who says he has wasted “millions on meaningless books for people who can’t understand them”

Magnus Bärtås is an artist and writer based in Stockholm. In 2000, he published a collection of essays Orienterarsjukan och andra berättelser (together with Fredrik Ekman). His recent exhibitions “Satellites” and “The Museum of Homeless Ideas” were shown at Roger Björkholmen Gallery in Stockholm and OK Gallery in Rijeka, Croatia (together with Zdenko Buzek).

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