SPAR – Diary And Notes

This is where you’ll find notes and observations, scattered ideas, photos, drawings and much else which document how the final artwork comes into existence.

It may also be the embryo of the SPAR book that I’d like to create. Thus, the sketchy character of everything below!

Find some basic concepts and ideas for the SPAR project here.

January 6, 2019

During December, I grappled with a series of trials and errors, questions to be solved and strategic decisions. Each unfortunately related to all the others somehow. Change one thing and something else has to change too – like the mikado game:

What type of panels in which size should I mount the whole installation on? How could I secure that the plywood I chose would not over time taint prints on fine art Hahnemühle and Canson papers that I fix to those panels? How to paint those wall panels, colour combinations – symbolic of what, if anything? – and what type of colour?

Can you do ink jet prints on calligraphy paper, or other papers I have bought in China? What’s the best technique for photo image transfers to such painted boards? How do I envisage that such transfer images would combine – interact with and speak with – the real prints, perhaps in frames, and the artefacts I have collected and want to use? How will the colour setting of the panels interact with the colours of the photos I will finally choose – will I have to repaint them all for yet another time?

There will be four plywood panels, each 100 cm x 250 cm, placed with intervals of about 10 cm, and they will be standing upon some kind of Chinese baskets or flower pots and lean on the wall.

It’s quite a challenge to work with 10 square meters for someone who is used to maximum A1, or 91 x 61 cm.

Here is how they have developed so far:

And that last one to the right should not be so colourful, of course. It is the first layers that will give depth when it is painted over:

How much will the whole thing finally weigh and, thus, what transport costs to reckon with sending it down to Venice and back to Sweden after the exhibition?

December 20, 2018

My visit to the Anhui Province was of special importance. Through a series of contacts with people who knew people who knew people, I ended up at a small mill where a few people produced the famous Xuan Paper according to traditional methods.

Here is a photo from the gate of the mill. From left, my travel companion and brilliant translator, Liu Jian, her daughter Canran, mill owner Zhu Shuibin and his wife and partner, Tang Quan.


I cannot imagine that I could have found any more kind and generous people than those two who did not only explain everything, showed us around but also took us to where he was born in the village, to a far-away temple, several other villages and then to dinner with the city’s mayor and to an overnight stay at another far-away place – spending two full days with us as well as picking us up and dropping us off at the railway station.

I ended up buying several meters of calligraphy paper and various smaller sheets, it was all packed very carefully in a large study roll for dispatch directly to Sweden. A short while later, a local courier came and picked it up, I paid for it all and about ten days later it arrived at my address in Lund, Sweden.

A wonderfully human and technical experience, a glimpse of traditional China, in the province where paper was invented and is still produced from the same type of tree.

And the province Robert Rauschenberg had gone to in June 1982 – which can be seen here in a postcard downloaded from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

If you read it carefully, he seems to have been in a very awkward situation at the time, being kept from local people. China has indeed changed to the better since then.

My visit was so joyful and the people I met were totally open and helpful in all ways.

November 11, 2018

From Xian, I went to Chengdu, then to Jingxian in the Anhui Province, on to Suzhou and then ended my trip in Shanghai.

Chengdu gave me lots of new contacts and I enjoyed the modern art museums there – I also went and looked at the statue of Mao which I took a picture of in 1983. Indeed much had changed, even the statue itself.

New friends helped me identify a special bookstore in an old flat where I bought a lot of old publications, calligraphy books, school books, photo albums etc. – to become parts of my installation.

And I now have two wonderful student friends – who insist on calling me “professor” – who will assist me in getting on WeChat in Chinese. That’ll be great.

The purpose of going to the city of Jingxian in the Anhui province was to study paper production. I had read in the book about ROCI – the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange that Robert Rauschenberg went there in 1984 and worked at (or, rather, near) a paper mill and I knew that the first paper ever produced was Chinese and that it came from this province. More in-depth background here.

My friends in Shenzhen helped me identify a particular, small paper mill and dear friend Liu Jian came over from Beijing with her daughter to experience this very old production of handmade papers. Without her, I could never have learned so much because the paper mill owner and I could not communicate. And of course, I bought a lot of paper there and had it sent to Sweden.

How is it to print photos on the world’s oldest and finest handmade calligraphy papers? Can’t wait to try!

Then on to Suzhou, the “Venice of the East” as the saying goes. That may have been fitting in 1983 but today there isn’t much Venezia-like. OK, there are some old quarters and streets as well as fabulous museums and interesting cultural centres and galleries. But it is quite commercialised. Fortunately, I did take a lot of photos there.

Finally, Shanghai – where I was focusing on the new art area of this city, The West Bund, that the Chinese intend to make the world’s leading art and exhibition area anywhere. And big it is!

And now, back in Lund, Sweden, I have to make a series of decisions about the character and look of my photo-based, multi-media installation for the Venice show at Palazzo Mora with the European Cultural Centre.

In May next year – oh my God, it feels like so soon.

Some such decisions: How shall I select among the 4000-5000 photos I’ve taken during these 6 weeks?

Structure of the work which is to be 4 metres x 2,5 metres on plywood panels? Shall photos from each country – China (1983 and 2018), Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Somaliland, Iran, Syria and Venice – be mounted and arranged to communicate with each other?

And how to make it relate to the Silk Road?

If only one decision stood alone – but everything is now intertwined and rather complex… How frightening! How exciting!

Trial and error will have to be my main method from now on.

October 20, 2018

Travel around China for 6 weeks, October 1 to November 11. As of today, I have visited Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guiyang and Xinguyi in the Guizhou province and write this from Xian.

Shanghai is a centre of contemporary art, Chinese as well as international.

Hangzhou is the centre of silk and hosts the two-campus, China Art Academy, by some ranked as the best.

Guizhou has incredible landscapes – green mountains, rivers, waterfalls and wonderful rice fields and small villages all around.

Xi’an (Xian) is the old capital and also the starting point of the old Silk Road.

In Xian I walked over to the southern wall surrounding the center of the city and there explored the artists’ quarters which seems to have been overlooked by Lonely Planet and other guides. And there I met Wang Chang Lin, an artist and calligrapher working in his combined atelier and shop – right in from the street in a small alley filled with artists, galleries and art shops.

He spoke little English and I speak no Chinese, so we used body language, smiles and apps for translations on our phones. I let him read the Chinese version of the description of me and the SPAR project on my phone and he got very enthusiastic.

Resolutely, he rolled out calligraphy paper on his able, dipped his brush in the darkest black ink and here is is the amazing result dedicated to me and the project:

Wang Chang Lin and me with his wonderful calligraphy made for me on the spot

This is but one example of the spontaneity, generosity and kindness that one repeatedly encounters when traveling around in China. I am eternally grateful to him and must find a way to make good use of this fine piece of art in the various SPAR materials (like on top of this diary). Unfortunately, Wang has no homepage or e-mail so I cannot promote him by making a link.

On the way, I have uploaded a new portfolio with a few of my photos from China in 1983.

September 1, 2018

Launched today according to plan. Six portfolios and a lot of other things ready. Such as a brand new online shop.

Works will be added to those portfolios and new portfolios added. But – there is something to read and quite a lot to see.

Browse to your heart’s desire!

August 25, 2018

I’m not going to just hang some photos in some kind of pattern or sequence on that wall in Venice! Photos are – well, flat! From Day One I’ve grappled with the idea of some kind of multi-media work in which photography would dominate but there would also be objects, artefacts, whatever, that I pick up during my travels.

The moment you say objects, we are into three dimensions (unless they are flat too, and some mat be, of course).

Secondly, I’ve thought a lot about making it possible for the visitors to interact with at least parts of the work – the installation, as I think it is going to be.

Since the SPAR project is related to the Silk Road, the road is a throughgoing metaphor. But that huge, almost global vision – that emerging new world order – is also an opening. Doors open – and when they do, they let in light.

I began to think of some kind of panel on the wall in that beautiful palace where one or more doors could be opened by the visitors – for instance, one to the left to China and one to the right in the installation to Venice.

And what happens, then?

I’m on Instagram every day and about a week ago I see the Rauschenberg Foundation posting something that catches my mind. Remember, Robert Rauschenberg is one of my favourites, a great inspiration.

Here’s the picture:

It’s “Rodeo Palace (Spread)” from 1976. See more about it at the Rauschenberg Foundation’s page here.

July and August 2018

No holiday this year. Either. But I love what I do, so it’s OK. I’m working hard on preparations:

Contacting dozens of people and institutions in Scandinavia and China + establishing an “infrastructure” of the project, getting things to work while traveling and also reporting to my network and to social media.

This is going to be an open project in the sense that the process will be documented. Images will be uploaded regularly, if not daily, on my Instagram account.

Very very time-consuming is to develop a brand new photo homepage – multi-dimensional too. It’s true that a picture may say more than a thousand words, but I want a new homepage where things are explained, a journal, a project and process description of SPAR as it develops, thematic portfolios, info about my prints in general, background etc – and a shop where each work I have chosen is described and can be purchased right away.

This is also time-consuming because I improve each and every photo file. There are technical developments, not the least in Photoshop, which imply that you can do things to a file that wasn’t possible 5-10 years ago. And of course, I want the best presentation. And a new selection.

I do it all myself. I don’t have the funds to ask a design company to do it – probably in the vicinity of US$ 10.000 – and they would also not be able to structure it and make the photo files the way I want.

So it’s all on WordPress with lots of possibilities; the theme I have identified is a medium-complex one and cost only US$ 69. The real cost is 200-300 hours of work.

It’s worth it and can be adjusted, expanded and changed in unlimited ways in the future.

And then there are all the other travel and project preparations. I still hope to get off to China at the end of September.

In July, my application for a 3-6 months residency scholarship at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai was turned down and they don’t give your any explanation. So I had to change my plans along this line “Less Shanghai, More China and the Road”.

Perhaps in the end, that turns out to be better. Three months fixed in Shanghai would have given me a lot but also limited my work geographically and given me less flexibility. We’ll see what it implies.

While it would probably have been wonderful to be there for at least 3 months, I have now more freedom and time to travel around on my own. See the positive in the negative…

June 2018

Roaming around the Basel Art Fair – and who do I see? Zhijie’s works (see below) together with Nilima Sheikh’s hanging scrolls – in the booth of Hanart TZ, Hongkong.

I’m out to be inspired or steal ideas…

May 18, 2018

I’m in Stockholm for an evening lecture on Iran, and the day after I go to The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities because I’ve seen that an exhibition on paper, “Paper Stories” opened there in February.

And what a wonderful learning experience in that magnificient building… Here the museum’s collection of photos from the opening.

Little had I thought of that paper could be used in so many artistic ways…
Here are a few shots of my own that tells you what I learned…

This, however, made me particularly curious:

And why?

Because, one of my lifetime inspirations in the art world is Robert Rauschenberg. Between 1984 and 1991 he did the global project, ROCI – Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange.

In the book about ROCI he tells that, as part of that huge project, he spent time at the world’s oldest paper mill, Xuan, in Jingsian in China’s Anhui Province in 1982 (p. 160).

The paper I saw and took a shot of at the museum’s wonderful exhibition is from there. I only found out when I came home and looked up where it was, Rauschenberg had been, although I never found the exact village or paper mill. Read more about Xuan paper here. And here on Inkston.

I’d like to visit such a paper factory, presumably making the oldest paper ever made. And try printing – and painting – on it. Possible?

April 2018

I was greatly inspired by leading Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie’s exhibition “Journeys without arrivals” at the municipal art hall here in Lund, Sweden where I live – Lunds Konsthall. Fabulous diversity, multi-media and such a wonderful mix of new and old.

I was drawn to Zhijie’s modern version of an old Chinese scroll – and thought about the possibility that I could produce a series of scrolls, side by side, which – when seen as one – would make a picture of the Silk Road and its people and artefacts.

Here you see how the original is under glass while his modern version is on the wall, the motives being basically parallel:

… and he works a lot with artefacts, things he has collected, memorabilia etc. and combines them with his works in installation-like ways…

I’d love to meet him when in China…

I saw this exhibition in March and for a second time on April 17 when Zhang Li, the director of the Chinese Cultural Centre in Copenhagen, CCCCPH, visited me and, after a long discussion of my project and showing him around my studio, I guided him and his assistant to the Lund Art Hall to see this exhibition.

Winter and spring 2018

I start this notebook.

At this stage, it’s all about defining the SPAR project, write up a solid description and work plan, communicating with the good people in Venice and beginning preparations and fund-raising.

The first version of the SPAR project plan was published on my photo-and-other-art blog here on Women’s Day, March 8.

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