Point by point
1. Stay and travel in China and along the Silk Road
The project starts out in China. I had applied for a residency scholarship to stay and work for minimum 3 and maximum 6 months at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, but it was turned down in early July. The residency at Swatch would, naturally, have tied me to be in Shanghai only.
Nothing is so bad that it isn’t good for something. I shall now get more time to explore China on my own and develop more diverse relations with artists and art institutions elsewhere in China, rather than only in Shanghai.
It will permit me to also travel along at least parts of the Silk Road that I either have experienced earlier or have never visited.
I formulate it now as “less Shanghai, more China and more Silk Road”.
2. Existing material dimension
I have lots of photos from around China in 1983, a historic moment where, for the first time, people saw huge posters for Sony transistor radios in the streets and began to dress and move more freely. Believe it or not, there were still farmers living with pigs and chicken some hundred meters from the Tiananmen Square. Some of these documentary photos of people and places will be combined with photos of today’s China, Shanghai not the least.
Between that time and today, I’ve shot quite diverse images also in Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Iran, Syria during the war (Aleppo in particular) and Venice.
Here one from my Iran Collage Series (left) and one from the liberation of Aleppo in December 2016:
This quite large photo history archive will serve as one reservoir in the shaping of new creations. The stay in China will, naturally, add scores of other images and non-photo materials such as everyday objects, artefacts, and whatever I come across.
As of late, I have experimented with photo collages where original photos are torn or otherwise re-made/changed and combined with acrylic paint, oil/paint stick, cloth, artefacts and everyday objects – to be explored further.
3. The Silk Belt & Road Initiative – BRI
Initiated in 2013 by China’s president Xi Jinping, it’s a multi-dimensional mega-vision to connect some 60 countries in terms of infrastructure, trade, communication as well as education and culture. It’s of course inspired by the ancient Silk Road (130 BCE-1453 CE) about which you may read here. And here one of many documents about this fascinating project by the Chinese government.
While the – ageing – West hasn’t paid much attention to BRI, there are countless books, articles and videos about it, one small source with a fraction of it all being built at The Transnational of which I’m the co-founder and director. Much more here on Wikipedia.
In contrast to the present world order, the Silk BRI is conceptualized to be horizontal, inclusive and cooperative rather than vertical, confrontational and exploitative and it has no military dimension.
Here a short article on why Xi Jinping and the BRI could merit a Nobel Peace Prize.
4. Preliminary thoughts about the work
As pointed out above, the project already stands on some foundation in terms of photographic materials, structure and connection with the Silk BRI.
Staying for an extended period of time in China, and travelling around, of course opens huge new vistas. Being in China, creating new images on the go, learning on site from Chinese art history and techniques, integrating one’s own materials with whatever new (also non-photo, multimedia) that comes by during such a stay and perhaps encountering people with compatible interests and co-create something – well, it would be beyond words overwhelming, intense and stimulate my “high-temperature” production.
It would probably lead to the creation of works also beyond what could be shown at Palazzo Mora.
And, furthermore, this 2018-2019 project could turn out to be just a beginning and be extended into the future beyond 2019. It will depend on what develops and the experimenting process by its very nature causes ideas about the final result at this point to be rather vague and adaptable as time goes by.
But in principle, at the moment I see limitless possibilities – while, of course, there are limitations to take into account.
One such limitation is the price of the wall space at Palazzo Mora and the funding to pay for it (see below). Secondly, there is the transport from Shanghai to Venice of whatever works may result (types of materials, size, fragility, material flexibility).
It’s difficult to imagine the form of presentation at Mora in Venice, but it could be one large collage-like work stitched together in up to, say, 4 x 3 meter. It could also adapt to a Chinese presentation form such as a series of vertical or horizontal scrolls – or other forms and combinations.
In my thinking at this early stage, one inspirational model would be one of my favourite artists, Robert Rauschenberg’s ROCI – Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange (no comparison otherwise) that he conducted with colleagues 1985-1990: working together with people where you are and let your works be heavily influenced by the local historic and contemporary aesthetics and materials.
Another would be Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie whose multi-media production and “Total Art” philosophy appeals a lot to me.
5. The European Cultural Centre and Palazzo Mora in Venice
The invitation came from the Dutch Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation to participate in the exhibition “Personal Structures – Open Borders” subtitled Time • Space • Existence, organized by the GAA Foundation and hosted by the European Cultural Centre in the context of the Venice Biennal 2019. It takes place at the Palazzo Mora in Venice. It was a wonderful surprise for me.
Over the years I have held exhibitions only in my studio in Lund and used my photo homepage, this blog, Instagram and Vimeo as a sort of online exhibition of my works and reached out by irregularly emailed messages that I call PostArts. I had obviously been found via the Internet by artist Rene Rietmeyer who initiated the Personal Structures concept back in 2002 and was, he told me, searching for ways to focus more on photography than in the previous years.
I felt strongly that was an opportunity I must give my best to realize. So in November 2017, I went down to Venice for the Biennale and then also met with the GAA people and saw the exhibition (as I had also in 2015). It contained so much creativity, quality and diversity by both known and not-so-known artists from 50 countries around the world.
And as you’ll see in the pictures here, it is an incredibly beautiful venue with several floors, a great variety of rooms and light, renovated while maintaining the ambience of the classical palace style. It had attracted no less than 300.000 visitors worldwide from May to November. My contacts there are now Lucia Pedrana – who, by the way, is also developing GAA’s relations with the Chinese art world – and Alessandra Valle.
The project will be documented on this blog, on my Instagram account and on Facebook and Google+. It shall open up the possibility of interaction, cooperation and synergy with people who, for this or that reason, take interest in it, may help or find contacts too. And I am thinking also that of producing a book with the works as well as the process of creating them.
6. Exploring relations
eclecticismBuddhist thinking is more about both/and than the Western/Occidental either/or. I like holism and diverse perspectives, even eclecticism.
This project is about:
• art and peace or, perhaps rather, peace in art and art in peace; we have too many images of violence and too few of what peace could be;
• the emerging world order, Old and New Silk Road (history in the future, future in history) and, thus about reality and imagination;
• interactions of cultures and expressions – thus various kinds of co-operation and co-creation;
• art and documentary photography’s interaction with other media – and while I know how to print on canvas and fine arts papers (and sometimes metals), it may provide an opportunity to also explore – why not? – silk, paint and print on it.
And the road is the connecting metaphor but it doesn’t have to be a straight line from A to B – it can also be curvy like Brice Marden’s brush strokes (see work at the end) or more like three-dimensional, or taking inspiration (as mentioned) from Rauschenberg’s eclecticist ‘combines’ and Zhijie’s total art approach. There are many roads.
7. A synergy between two lives
Through my life, I’ve grappled with art and with peace.
Life # 1 – Art photo
Born in 1951, I grew up with art since my industrialist father, F W Oberg (1913-1981) was also one of Denmark’s pioneering collectors and gallerists (Ars Studeo in Aarhus and Copenhagen) with a focus on contemporary European and American artists like Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Motherwell, Stella, Johns, Hockney, Hamilton, Jones, Kitaj, Paolozzi, etc. (and Cobra’s Danish Asger Jorn and other leading Danish artists).
As a high-school student, I worked as his secretary, translator and assistant in his gallery, corresponded with printers, artists and galleries and arranged exhibitions under his direction.
That was my early art education and ever since I’ve ploughed through museums, galleries and art fairs and cared well for what I inherited. In 2009, I set up Oberg PhotoGraphics as a more sustained activity for my own photography endeavours with a studio where I work with and print my own works, arrange exhibitions and host a Culture Salon for locally interested people.
Life # 2 – Peacemaker
I got a PhD in sociology with a specialization in peace and conflict research in 1981, directed the Lund University Peace Research Institute, LUPRI 1983-89 and, since the department was closed down, have lived a freelance life as a) visiting professor/lecturer, among others, Japan (5 times), Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland; b) conflict analyst and mediator in conflict/war zones such as Somalia, Yugoslavia, Georgia, Iraq, Burundi and, lately, Iran and Syria and c) author, columnist and media commentator. More about me on my personal blog.
The private, independent Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research, TFF, that my wife, Dr Christina Spannar, and I established in 1986, is an independent, people-financed think tank devoted to the UN Charter norm that “peace shall be established by peaceful means” (article 1) and that war shall be abolished (the Preamble).
It rests on a basically Gandhian philosophy. It’s a network of some 60 experts and one of the most prolific and sustained peace research think tanks the production of which can be studied at The Transnational.
I perceive this Silk ArtPeace Road project as an opportunity to bring my two “lives” together and create synergy for the common good of the collaborators along the Road as well as the spectators in Venice and wherever else its results may be shown afterwards. The TFF Board has accepted this as an integral part of its program.