Drakabygget: A Situationist Utopia or Meeting Place for Displaced Persons

A conversation between Gordon Fazakerley and Jacqueline de Jong with Jakob Jakobsen about Drakabygget at the Expect Anything Fear Nothing Conference in Copenhagen, March 2007. The conversation is a chapter in “Expect Anything Fear Nothing – The Situationist Movement in Scandinavia and Elsewhere”  by Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen & Jakob Jakobsen, published by Nebula Books http://nebulabooks.dk

Expect anything forsideJakob Jakobsen: This session is about Drakabygget which might be described as a utopian project or perhaps a failed utopian project. Gordon and Jacqueline were present at Drakabygget in the early years around 1961 and 1962, when it was founded. Drakabygget was a farm in Skane in Sweden that Jorgen Nash bought in 1960. The idea was to turn it into this artists´ commune or a Situationist Bauhaus. I would like to ask Jacqueline and Gordon about what actually happened there and your personal experiences with the project. So first, Gordon, could you tell about how you got in contact with the Scandinavian artists and the Situationists around Drakabygget?

Gordon Fazakerley: Yeah, I went to live in Sweden to get away from London and that, and sort myself out. I went down to a travel agent´s in London and I said “Please give me a ticket to where nobody had ever gone.”He gave me a ticket to Halandsasen. And, yes, it was removed there, I felt a bit like St. John the Baptist gone into the desert. I knew people up there. I knew Hardy Strid, we were students together at the Central School of Arts and Craft in London, now the University of the Arts. We were both taught at the department of stained glass and Strid had given me an open invitation. And I went there. The Situationist Conference was taking place in Gothenburg in August 1961. Since I was staying with Strid in Halmstad at the time, Nash asked if I could be present at the conference. That was quite impossible, because I was sorting out some of my love life — in another part of Scandinavia. And I didn´t attend the conference. And then I was passing through Halmstad again, and Strid said, well, let´s go and see Nash. So we visited Nash at Drakabygget, and that´s how I teamed up with Nash, to help construct what was to be Bauhaus Situationniste or a Situationist Bauhaus. It was quite incidental. I was on the drift. I liked the idea of a Situationist Bauhaus, I thought the idea was pretty brilliant. Of course we had heard about the Bauhaus in Germany from before the war. And I had in mind at the time something along the lines of Black Mountain College, in America. A kind of experimental school. It didn´t turn out that way. Drakabygget was, it became, it was a madhouse, it was a lunatic asylum, run by the inmates. All sorts of things happened, I don´ t know how much of it you can speak about. It certainly, it certainly wasn´t paradise, or a Utopia. If it had been that, it would have been boring, you know, um … that´s how it came about.

JJ: What was the basic idea about a Situationist Bauhaus …?

GF: We never found that out …With the Situationist Bauhaus we could potentially deal with the new way of life at the time. It was like a railway junction, you had time to reorientate and change destination. Television and new ways of communication were having an impact at the time. As well as the changing of many social habits in European societies. At Drakabygget we could withdraw from the rat race. Well, Nash was also solving Danish problems. And the basic problems at that time in Denmark were …

Jacqueline de Jong: … money …

GF: … yes, there was nowhere to live. It was impossible in Copenhagen. The artists were going to Sweden. And they were buying properties cheap in Sweden, and then they were surviving up there. They would have a bit of antique dealing, or kept a few sheep, etc., etc. And it was a very precarious way, but it was better than living in your mother´s flat … this was the situation for Danish artists.

JJ: Who coined the idea of the Situationist Bauhaus, it was Asger Jorn, wasn´t it?

GF: I take it it was Jorn. I had met Jorn at the ICA in Dover Street in London at his show there in 1959. But I think it was Nash who introduced the idea to me.

JJ: Jacqueline, do you know what his dreams for a Situationist Bauhaus were?

JdJ: Perhaps Jorn originally had an idea of a Bauhaus at Drakabygget, but I think Jorn quickly realised that that would never materialise. I´m not even sure he had dreams about a Situationist Bauhaus, in fact he had an Imaginary Bauhaus before. It was impossible to realise the dream with his brother, Nash, at Drakabygget. But Jorn had this sort of feeling that he could work there, and have a, well, sort of place in Sweden where he could make his work and have a dialogue with dealers, but it was not possible … Well, this was an illusion, but apart from that, there was nothing romantic about it at that moment, if you ask me. It became, in a way, I think, romantic when you, Gordon, came in … as far as I can understand.

GF: When Erroll Flynn arrived.

JdJ: But I mean it was, it was somehow a place where a bunch of exiled artists or displaced persons could get together and experiment. And together with the Dutch sculptor Carl Pelgrom, you know, you remember when we had an exhibition in Holland called Three Displaced Persons, because we were all displaced one way or another. And we were displaced persons. And, I mean, when all these people came, it became a sort of artistic commune, but, I hope you agree, Gordon, it was not a paradise. But Nash was very generous, and so was his wife, Katja Lindell, so that´s a good thing to say about it, so everyone was welcome, but to say that it was, well, a paradise for artists or for Scandinavian Situationists, at the time we came down, you can´t say that, because it was a complete confusion all the time through. But the good thing was that people could just show up and do whatever they wanted to. SPUR came, and this sort of cooperation and working together started. But Jorn was rarely there when all the others were there. He came, well, because of all sorts of, let´s say, family reasons, and practical reasons, from time to time, until he refused to come any more. Originally perhaps he intended to make something with his brother at Drakabygget but they fell out and Jorn stopped coming to Drakabygget.

GF: One thing to say about Drakabygget, at Drakabygget, there was loads of information lying about. And, what was particularly interesting, there was information from Helhesten, there was information from the COBRA period, and from the rest of it. Also, Franceschi and Jorn came, when they were photographing in Skane. And you had this complete archive that was on the table, what was going on, and you could see all the historical architectural monuments they´d photographed, and everything like that. And there were many discussions that took place at that time. So there were a lot of things going on, people sharing ideas and experimenting with art as well as life.

JJ: How did you survive?

GF: Nash was pretty well living …but it had nothing to do with agriculture if you think so … he had a billy goat …

JdJ: A horse!

GF: Yeah, he had a horse … and this damn billy goat. All it did was piss on you. If you´ve ever been pissed on by a billy goat, well, that´s quite something. But Nash was mainly making his living by selling paintings.

JdJ: Fakes.

GF: Yeah, although there were some real ones as well.

JJ: What kind of fakes?

JdJ: Well, they were fake Jorns!

GF: And he sold a bunch of Strid´s work as well. I don´t know whether Strid was ever paid.

JdJ: And he sold them and kept the money. He also sold paintings by you and me …

GF: Well, I mean, I was living there. I didn´t quite object to not having a cut of the money, it wasn´t so interesting. And there were all these SPUR pictures. And, we´d get in the car and drive to Denmark, and then he would operate as an art dealer, and go around and sell and sell and sell. And, yeah, the other income … There was also income that was coming from Jorn, he was paying a lot of the bills. We did something, we did get some money, real money … Drakabygget was very noisy, although we were a long way from the main road. And that was because the ground was water-logged, and the noise travels through the water. So we decided to get some of the drainage on the land working, and we started on the project. Because things would tremble. And, then the local farmers mentioned to Nash, that as far as doing this work, that you could get money off the government because you were creating agricultural land. So we cleaned all the drainages of roots, and everything like that. We got the water back in these very old water ditches. It was actually very pleasant work to do. And the water began to flow after that, and we got money for it. So the funding of Drakabygget was supplied from the money Nash was able to put together.

JJ: So the ambition was to make the farm self-sufficient with Nash, setting himself up as a farmer …

GF: All Nash´s ideas about himself as a farmer was bullshit. I can´t imagine Nash as a farmer, to be honest.

JJ: But, also to connect it to what Peter Laugesen said about people meeting and connecting and developing ideas and bringing different backgrounds together, this kind of catalytic process, was that happening when the Germans were coming there, and Guy Atkins was coming there, as well as you guys coming there …

JdJ: I do believe that wherever there is someone, I mean, Nash was, once upon a time, very important, and he did attract people to come, and much more than being a Situationist commune or a community — it was just that people came there, it was a very interesting place. And, as I said, with the generosity, it was very easy to stay. But I think that was it. It was not more than that. It was not a Situationist commune, it was not exceptional.What was exceptional was — in a way, I´m wondering if you agree on that, Gordon, that Nash made it into a sort of publicity stunt. Which became the Drakabygget story, the idea of the Situationist group at Drakabygget. Nash staged it as much more than in reality it was. And I don´t know, but anyway, the time we were there, um, could have been anywhere, and with anyone, of the group, or the people, around. It was not specific because Nash and Katja were there, it was specific to the time of the early 1960s.

GF: Nash loved publicity and he´d always been involved in it. He had all these cuttings from the past, and,

you know, he never had time to read them even though he always wanted to read about himself.

JJ: But from the Drakabygget, even though it´s been repeated several times that there was no Second Situationist International, but still, the Declaration, The  Drakabygget Declaration, came from Drakabygget and was written there, somehow. Do you remember the circumstances?

GF: Well, I remember there was a letter in the post saying I had signed it …

JdJ: Yes, exactly, the same happened to me, and other people might have been in the same circumstances. I mean, this … Nash made it up on his own. It´s not, it´ s not an attack that we say the Second Situationist International did not exist. I´m sorry, the Scandinavian, well, the Second Situationist International, didn´t exist. It just simply … there was not a First Situationist International, so there can´t be a Second, there´s just a Situationist Movement. But Nash made something up for himself. It would be more accurate calling it the Drakabygget Movement, or something like that, instead of making a problem with all the other Situationist participants that had been around. And Drakabygget was a movement in itself, don´t you agree, Gordon? I mean, there was something going on, only not as a, well, not as family or a Situationist commune, it was more a sort of spirit for coming and going and, and just living from your art and getting, well, in my case, not getting paid. I don´t know if, if, if it´s fun, but I think it´s fun. At the time I was living in a very small, dank little room in Paris, and this gallery owner, Westing, well, he wanted to make an exhibition with me in his gallery in Odense, so he came to Paris because he wanted paintings from me. And Nash came with him, and said “You have to sell him all these paintings!” And  I said,  “Yes, but he never paid me for the paintings he has already bought”” And this is an anecdote, but it´s typical of what happened. Then Nash said, “No, he paid me. “ And then Westing, the gallery man said, “But … the money was for her.” And then Nash said, “No, I bought a horse for the money from that painting, because Katja, she needed another horse.” Anyway, this is, this is the sort of the ending, when it all happened, so …

GF: Well, the story didn´t quite end there, because there was a court case.

JdJ: Did they have a court case?

GF: Yeah.

JdJ: Did I make a court case?

GF: No, Nash took Westing to court, for not paying, so Westing paid twice. I went to the court case in Odense where Westing was prosecuted. Nash won the case.

JdJ: Yes he did.

GF: And, my wife, we were there when the money transaction took place. I didn´t know any Danish at the time. And I was paid, and the rest of the money was given to Nash, and what was lacking, Nash took some of the money in furniture, this cabinet. So we were there, actually, we testified on behalf of Westing in the court. It was Robert Mikkelsen who defended Nash. Robert Mikkelsen is a very nice guy. Afterwards, we met in town, and we had a drink, and I said, you know,”Nash has pulled the wool over your eyes on this one”, because I was there, and, he was a lawyer and he could take it, but then that was the case.

JJ: Could you tell about Gruppe SPUR? They published a magazine, and they were said to be “in exile” at Drakabygget because they were expelled … Could you tell about the SPUR Group, the background to their “exile” at Drakabygget, in 1961?

JdJ: It was, it was, because of the trial in Munich at the time, where they were prosecuted for obscenity. That´s why they were exiled and living in Sweden. I mean, they were at risk in Munich, the case was still going on, it was being defended by Werner Haftman, who was a very important museum man in Germany.

GF: What I remember was, I think the last number of your magazine, Situationist Times, that you published …

JdJ: Exactly … well, not the last one.

GF: And there was a picture in the magazine of Hans-Peter Zimmer with his tongue out, kissing a vagina. And this seemed to really have annoyed the German authorities. And they rang up to the Danish police, and they came down to the printer Permil´s place, and they said to Permil, ”Well, this is pornography.” And Permil looked at them and said, “you´re kidding!” And then he opened the drawer, and he pulled all these girlie magazines out, and said  “this is pornography.” So they didn´t press on with it.

JdJ: The SPUR journal made by Permil was pornography, very funny though, and the distribution couldn´t go on. They sent, I think, a hundred or two hundred to Holland, to my father. “They” were Gruppe SPUR, and they sent them from Denmark, not from Drakabygget. But the Dutch authorities confiscated the magazine, at that moment. And then my father had to get them out of the Customs Office. And the Customs Office said, “Why do you get all these magazines?” “And he said, “Well, I´m a stocking manufacturer, and these are, what do you call it, publicity for stockings.” All of them, they´re publicity for stockings. So he got it down. And from Holland on, we could distribute them. I don´t know how many there were, but there were many … And then, the problem was really that they couldn´t get into Germany. They couldn´t get intoFrance. At that time they were still in the Situationist International. But, I mean, SPUR were being supported by Permil and Rosengren to make this magazine. That was an important thing to do, but they didn´t make it at Drakabygget.

JJ: The court case was also the background to all the focus on the freedom of expression at Drakabygget …

JdJ: Of course.

GF: I remember SPUR´s exhibition in Halmstad in 1961.

JdJ: Yeah. We participated in that.

GF: It was in an exhibition in a furniture store. And it was a man named Johansson who had it. And there was a big patio outside. And somebody had the bright idea of hanging all the paintings, hanging many of paintings outside. And so, actually, you had a drive-in gallery, and it was the only drive-in gallery I´d ever seen in my life.

JdJ: But then, I mean, one of the Utopic things we had, I mean, I … don´t know if I mentioned Situcracy, well, we had, in Gothenburg, we wanted to have an island, a Situcratic island. Jorn went to Italy to meet this collector Paolo Marinotti, to talk over this Situcratic island. And this was a big item, you know, in the conference in Gothenburg. And I was going to read a letter Asger wrote for the conference, to tell there is going to be economic possibilities in order to buy this Situcratic island, and that island was going to be somewhere between Sweden and Denmark. And it was never realised. I mean, there was very much talk in Drakabygget about it; how are we going to realise it? I mean, that´s one of the things that might have been, was definitely Utopic, but was actually a paradise, but it never materialised.

JJ: But Drakabygget was a Situcratic island, in a way, or the idea was …

JdJ: No!

JJ: But the Situationists …

JdJ: No! Why don´t …

JJ: I´m just asking because there must have been …

JdJ: No, no! It was not Situationist. It was something else, it was Nash´s project. I mean, it was not in any way, any longer Situationist. What is Situationist about it? It was a situation like … in my opinion, that could have been anywhere.

GF: Although to the bourgeoisie, it was outrageous.

JdJ: It´s true. It´s a pity that we have to, to say this, but … Well, you tell me, what you think was Situationist

about it.

JJ: I´m just asking because you said that the main topic of this Gothenburg Conference in 1961 was about …

JdJ: The island.

JJ: This Situcratic island, it must somehow link — that was after Drakabygget was founded — and it must somehow have been linked to Drakabygget, this art centre, this commune that was developed …

JdJ: Well, the Situcratic island was still in the hands of the Situationists.

JJ: Yeah, yeah.

JdJ: Was still what the whole Situationist …

JJ: But anyone can be a Situationist, you wrote …

JdJ: That I wrote after I was expelled. I have the guts to say, “We´re not gangsters, we´re Situationists.” But, I mean, that was my own opinion. But I still believe that this, this is apart from that. And the island was a physical island, and there was really going to be one of these many islands around Fyn, and then making this, well, urbanisme unitaire and, you know, the whole architectural thing … The possibilities which were within the Situationist International, how it was going to be, I don´t know.

GF: The thing about Drakabygget, you could paint anywhere. They were painting all over, Gruppe SPUR were painting all over … it was very pleasant to see. And just move around, paint, follow the lines around … We were painting outside and inside. There was lots of old masonite there we painted on. Especially during the summer in 1961. Hardy Strid organised the paint, there was lots of house paint round. I got on very well with Zimmer. I didn´t know the others so well. Zimmer was my age and Strum and Prem was older, you could see it on the handwriting. They wrote in Gothic lettering. With Zimmer that wasn´t there. The principle was that you could make art out of anything at Drakabygget.

JJ: Maybe we could end by talking about The Seven Rebels exhibition in Odense in 1962. Who were The Seven Rebels, first of all? How come they were rebels, against what were you rebelling?

JdJ: Against society. We were rebelling against society.

GF: The exhibition was organised by Nash …

JdJ: … and Jens Jorgen Thorsen …

GF: … And a journalist called Peter Lerche, who worked for, I think, Aktuelt? He was a nice guy. Just never drive behind him, because he always threw beer bottles out the window. And it was, it was a set-up, you know, it was set-up to get into the newspapers.

JdJ: The exhibition?

GF: Yeah. And a fight broke out. And you got a black eye …

JdJ: Yes, I did somehow … But I mean, it was an exhibition of paintings done at Drakabygget, more or less … Hardy Strid did his in Halmstad. The people who were in it were … you and Jens Jorgen Thorsen, Jorgen Nash, Ansgar Elde, de Jong, Zimmer and Hardy Strid. That´s the seven.

JJ: So they were seven expelled — semi-expelled — Situationists.

JdJ: Yes, but not all the SPUR, but only Zimmer. And then this man Westing came and bought the whole exhibition — and that clearly brought publicity — because the entire exhibition was bought by one man. He went on as a gallery for many years … his daughter still has it, I think.

GF: Yeah, because they called us “The Seven Students.”

JdJ: And then, a year afterwards, this modified version of the catalogue came out … Well, we were really shocked, because then Nash and Thorsen made an act against … us. They modified the original catalogue of the Seven Rebels show. The real one was made for the show in Odense, and then they made a fake one for a show at Galerie Moderne in Silkeborg the year after. That´s when Co-ritus really started being Co-ritus, and instead of going against society, they were just going against their friends, comrades, whatever we were until then. And they just … well, you and me, we got completely ridiculed. Nash and Thorsen painted on top of our paintings and the photos of us. I got a moustache. Well, I didn´t want to have anything to do with this.

GF: We got genetically engineered, so to say.

JdJ: And this was the end of me, in the catalogue I was transformed into another artist, who was staying then at Drakabygget called Roy Adzak. I got a beard and so on … Well, that was, that was a sort of absolute act against us, against comrades. Then that was also the moment, in 1963, when Nash started sort of blackmailing his brother due to our relationship … And when he started doing things, more and more with Thorsen, that were publicity things.

GF: Yes.

JdJ: And so, at least for me, the whole, let´s say, connection ended. But it was impossible to ever end with Nash because whenever he turned up, he was very sweet and very charming, but I wanted to have nothing to do with it.

JJ: With the second version of Seven Rebels — the one where you were defaced — the relationship ended, or, your time at the Drakabygget as a visiting artist ended …

JdJ: Yes … but then other people came. Quite a few, that´s why I think one should consider Drakabygget as something which went on until Nash´s death. And it has its own sort of, well, aspect within, within anarchism, but separate from what we did.

GF: I was inclined to … Well, Nash had a very fine sense of the vernacular, in architecture. And the whole rustic atmosphere of the place, you could relate it to the “bonde” — peasant culture, in Dalarna. And, aesthetically, it was very very pleasing. There was this continuation, there were remnants of folk art in a way. It was pretty smashed up, but that was the interesting thing about it. I learned very much from Nash about vernacular architecture in Scandinavia. I got access, from Nash and Strid, to the tree plantations, when they planted trees going up to the house, the whole culture behind that. Looking at the culture in a different dimension … As a painter, as an artist, you take it in, also me. Another thing about living in Sweden at the time … The world of course had changed with the 1914 war, and the Second World War, lots of things were destroyed. You were able to walk in the Swedish landscape. It was un-destroyed by all these terrible events. So there were gateposts, there were storm walls, there were boulders … And you only knew of these things from your parents´ memory. And you saw them as if it was the remnants of belle Europe, you know, and what had happened to belle Europe afterwards, the Swedes knocked the fucking place down as well. That´s a different story. That was very clear. For a painter, that was a very sensual landscape to live in. Also, one thing most people don´t know about Drakabygget,  on the positive side, it was a very sexy place to be. Bubbling over, you know. I mean, you had all the sexual frustration that is going on on Katja´s part, because she was changing sex — and everybody, and then everybody was looking for a woman, and things like that, …

JJ: Thank you very much.

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