Carl Johan Erikson

TANK 1 – 46

Exhibitions and book.

Tank 1 – 46, 1998 - 2003

Adult baptism, the full immersion of the body in water, was an important ritual in the Swedish Christian revival movement (Baptists and Pentecostals) and remains so today. Baptism involves consigning one’s old life to the past and emerging reborn, and thus becoming a member of the congregation. In the mid-19th century, it was illegal for free Baptist groups to perform these ceremonies – the Church of Sweden had a monopoly on sacred sacraments – and imprisonment and exile occurred.

One of the first baptism tanks I photographed was in Alsen, Jämtland, in 1998 (Tank no. 2). I was there with my father to fetch a pump organ from the Pentecost chapel that had recently closed down. My father, who had been part of the Swedish religious revival all his life, tried to save at least the organs when chapels in rural districts were shut down and sold. He had collected about a dozen pump organs and stored them in a barn in a village in Jämtland. Today, many years later, I realise the collecting was part of a grieving process, a way of preserving the reality he lived in and for, but which was disappearing before his very eyes. I used a similar strategy for the project TANK 1 – 46. Instead of collecting artefacts, I used the camera to systematically document and register an era that was fast disappearing. It was also a way to try to understand that world I had grown up in, which had formed me and many others. Between 1998 and 2003, I travelled in the rural areas of Sweden and documented a fraction of the many baptism tanks housed in Pentecostal chapels. Most of these tanks no longer exist today.

Carl Johan Erikson

Excerpt, text of Jan Håfström, Tank 1 – 46, OEI editör, 2015:

“It is the descent to the dead that is shimmering,” writes Lars Norén, “not the ascent from them.” This fragment acknowledges the death wish that permeates life and holds out the light that can change the world at a single stroke. All encompassed by this epithet: “shimmering”.
When did this journey begin? When, for the first time, did it become a possibility? Is there not a double movement involved: a clouded experience, something forgotten that always needs to be dragged along. The journey’s invisible baggage. Who knows when the unknowable will take shape?
There is no immediate answer to the question, but let us consider a work by Swedish photographer and artist Carl Johan Erikson: TANK 1 – 46 (1998 – 2003). It purports to be a systematic, photographic documentation of what is called baptism tanks. They were used in Baptist and Pentecostal environments around Sweden and still are today. Yet no one knows how many are in use. What is interesting is how Erikson’s photographs find a place on the international art scene. Gordon Matta-Clark and, much later, Miriam Bäckström, to take two shining examples, both utilised discarded building materials in their pictures of rooms. An artistic practice with roots in minimalism. Bäckström’s sceneries abolish the difference between chance and order. You could say she changes the very conception of “place”. Gordon Matta-Clark exposed geometric shapes in the postmodern ruins he created. A project reminiscent of Cézanne: deconstruction of classical, European landscape painting...