Hunt for the Unabomber

Hammer Projects: Ola Pehrson

Ola Pehrson's Hunt for the Unabomber (2005) is a recreation of a documentary film on the notorious American terrorist Ted Kaczynski. Though the subject is dark, the video's black-and-white images have an eerie, ethereal quality of their own: one slowly realizes that the filmed scenes are not in fact real, but rather created entirely of small maquettes made of polystyrene, cardboard, string, and other odds and ends. These false documents—some similar to the originals, others not—take on a truth of their own. The film will be displayed along with the objects in the Hammer's lobby. This exhibition was planned before the artist's recent untimely death.


Ola Pehrson (1964–2006) was born in Stockholm, Sweden. He studied art at the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin, and received a master of arts degree in 1997 from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm. Pehrson’s solo exhibitions include those at Galleri Lars Bohman, Stockholm; Galeria Noua, Bucharest; and Collective Gallery, Edinburgh. His work has been included in group exhibitions in Sweden at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Malmö Konsthall, and in Japan at the Yamaguchi Museum of Art. Hunt for the Unabomber was included in the 9th International Istanbul Biennial in 2005 and the 27th São Paulo Biennial in 2006. This is the first solo exhibition of Pehrson’s work in the United States.


By November Paynter

From 1978 until his arrest in 1996 Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber (university and airline bomber), targeted individuals with a campaign of mail bombings. In all he sent sixteen carefully crafted bombs to academics and scientists, members of the air force, airline officials, and individuals working in public relations and in computer stores, killing three and injuring a further twenty-nine people. The mistake that led to Kaczynski’s capture was his demand that his anti-technology manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” be published for full public scrutiny in a major national newspaper. In the end the US Department of Justice agreed to the publication in the hope that it would help with the capture of the Unabomber, and the text was excerpted in the New York Times and published in full in the Washington Post on September 19, 1995. It was Kaczynski’s younger brother David who recognized the arguments against an industrialized society and the style of writing as those of his brother. Based on this evidence, the suspect’s identity was finally reported to the FBI.

In 1998 Kurtis Productions Ltd. and Towers Productions Ltd. produced a half-hour documentary based on Kaczynski’s notorious bombing campaign and life story entitled The Hunt for the Unabomber. Ola Pehrson spent several years re-creating this documentary in his own unique way. Pehrson’s process was theoretically very simple. He selected a series of stills and animations from the original documentary and then modeled them in a variety of everyday materials such as clay, junk, thread, and polystyrene. Nearly all his creations were formed as three-dimensional objects, and they included everything from newspaper clippings, which he made and then drew and wrote on by hand, to environments, locations, and photographs that all became intricate three-dimensional models. Even the documentary’s on-screen quotes took the form of handcrafted speech bubbles, rather than being applied via computer during the editing process. Although the number of objects kept rising—because, as Pehrson stated, “the reality of the quantity and form of models required for this remake remains elusive and utopian”—he eventually assembled enough handmade re-creations to shape almost every detail and scene to be found in the original documentary, and he personally acted out all the included interviews. Once these elements had been filmed in the correct order, and the original soundtrack had been added, a new documentary that is just one step further away from reality and yet no less authentic than the original was created.

 Hunt for the Unabomber 

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 Hunt for the Unabomber

Note: All quotations from the artist are from e-mails sent to the author in the spring of 2005.

November Paynter is curator of Platform Garanti CAC in Istanbul and is currently on leave to work as a consultant curator at the Tate Modern in London. In 2005–6 she was assistant curator of the 9th International Istanbul Biennial.


Hammer Projects is made possible with major gifts from Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. 

Additional generous support is provided by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Good Works Foundation and Laura Donnelley, L A Art House Foundation, the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles, and the David Teiger Curatorial Travel Fund.