Per Jonas Nordell
While my story is about myself, it is also about the place where Stockholm University has its centre today – our campus. Compared to Uppsala and Lund, Stockholm University may seem characterised by a certain lack of history. I want my story to show you how our university deserves to tell its own history and geography on a large and a small scale.
Unique to our university is the campus area, which gives an image and explanation – a message to students, teachers, researchers and stakeholders – about who we are, what we do, and why.
We have heard older colleagues talk about the former Stockholm University College and its premises in the city, and about the move to Frescati and how we became a university. This is something I would like to hear more stories about.
Stockholm University is now located in a historically interesting environment. There are pictures of the old experimental field with Bloms hus in the middle. It is an older academic environment, to which new buildings and new features have – more or less carefully – been added successively to accomplish something unique in the world. This is something I would like to hear more stories about.
I have always been interested in the fine arts and architecture. In my summers spent in the countryside, I had to study extra with my grandfather, who was an old teacher, to improve my grades. He had taken the long route from primary school teacher to secondary school teacher. The first few summers had mathematics and English on the schedule, which later became mostly English and French. Although these exercises seem pretty idyllic today, these were not exactly the kind of summer holiday activities I was longing for. But something changed when, at my request, art history was added to the summer curriculum. We went through everything from ancient temples and column schemes, via the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Empire to Art Nouveau and functionalism.
My interest has moved on to 20th century art and architecture, where grandpa was either unable or unwilling to follow. In a similar way, our Campus is quite unique, starting with Bloms hus (which was named after the architect Fredrik Blom), through Eric Josephson’s agricultural museum (today called Lantis, the student restauraunt), and other buildings from around 1900, and into the modern era with David Helldén, Eric Nyrén och Ralph Erskine. This in itself is a museum of Swedish architecture.
Right after finishing my Bachelor of Law degree, I was admitted to a PhD programme. The topic of my thesis, “copyright of works of visual art, especially in light of digital technology”, was more or less decided by my supervisor, as she knew about my interest in the visual arts. From this perspective, copyright is not as much about deciding what is art, but what an artistic work is, in a legal sense. To do this, you have to delve into the world of art to understand on what grounds something will be protected by copyright law. One means of doing this could be to experiment on your own. I had actually already worked with various materials and techniques, and even worked periodically as an art teacher in schools around Stockholm.
In 1990, a number of buildings were created by the legendary architect Ralph Erskine: Allhuset, Aktiverum and the University Library. Erskine’s more organic forms were considered welcome additions to David Helldén and Carl Nyrén’s neo-brutalist – or structuralist – concrete blocks. Because of this, initiatives were taken to give Erskine further assignments. One of them was Juristernas hus, which was completed in 1990. There was no Aula Magna back then, so people would walk there across the yet unexploited hill by the west corner of Allhuset, where a natural path formed in the vegetation. The path went across a previous settlement, and there was a visible foundation of a farmhouse, as well as gooseberry bushes, flowers, pieces of glass and porcelain, nails, scrap metal, etc. The remains of this can be seen in the form of an old root cellar and the Japanese knotweed that grows there. 
Although the drive has weakened over the years, I have always been something of a “thing-finder”, and one day in the mid-1990s, as I walked along the path to Juristernas hus with my colleagues, I found a thick, strangely twisted steel wire that I took with me. My colleagues asked, on pretty good grounds, what it was good for. On less clear grounds, I explained that it could always be good for something. After carrying it to Juristernas hus and back again, I left it lying on top of a shelf in my office in Södra huset, until I suddenly had the idea to mount it on a frame of black-painted rough wood, against a background of aluminium and something resembling a polished screen which I created by mixing the paint with sand. I left my creation standing in my office until my PhD defence.
Meanwhile, the Aula Magna was under construction, and I nurtured a dream of creating a somewhat bigger project around the found steel wire than to “just leave it”, especially as I had been offered a post at the Stockholm School of Economics. My idea was thus to donate – return – my steel wire – objet trouvé – to its original geographical location.
The art world was my research area. I had previously made attempts to donate my own work – sometimes successfully – but I was well aware that a donation would not necessarily be accepted. It is the National Public Art Council that decides which art will adorn a public building such as the Aula Magna. This is probably a good thing, considering how well the Art Council has done. But should it not be possible for the university to have a say in the matter of its own artistic decoration? Turns out it is.
I mustered the courage to write an email to Vice-Chancellor Gustaf Lindencrona, whom I knew from his time as professor of financial law at the Faculty of Law. I described my piece, how it was created, and how its placement could be realised. The Vice-Chancellor took the piece with him, while pointing out again that the university’s influence in the matter of decorating the Aula Magna was limited, but that he would do what he could. Shortly thereafter, I received the good news that a place had been found for “On the path over the hill to Juristernas hus” in one of the seminar rooms in the Aula Magna – Bergsmannen. It is still on display there today, in the best place imaginable. The inaugural mounting was mentioned in SU News no. 9/1998 in a news item with the same headline as this story, Sakletare hängd i aulan, "Thing-finder on display in the Aula Magna".
Narrator: Per Jonas Nordell