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.

March 10

Here is how the installation has progressed until today:

March 10, 2019

The right-hand Chinese side of the installation has a test arrangement of some of the possible collages to enter it when I have made up my mind as to what is important and how the elements combine into some kind of harmony.

Half of such work is pure imagination. And when the canvas printed photos and collages have been fixed to the panels, there is no way back…

I’ve bought a pair of lady’s shoes for the installation, secondhand. One shoe will be fixed in the darker left-hand side of the installation, in conjunction with the photos from Aleppo, Syria.

It will symbolize the process of having to flee your home in times of war: What you throw out, cannot take with you and the happy times you also leave behind. It’s one of many artefact.

Another is an old handmade mirror that will function as a cupboard door that visitors can get a thought-provoking experience by opening.

Nice piece of homemade handicraft with – if you want to see it – a touch of both Italy and China. I like that parakeet a lot, also because one of my collages contains an image of China Zhou Enlai – the very important premier 1949-1976.

This mirror frame has been cut in one piece in the 1980s (it’s signed) and I’ve now repainted it a bit. Nothing perfect, but more fresh to look at. Found it in a flee market for about US$ 12.

March 7

Shipping and deadline

Oh, time is passing so quickly and lots of time consumed by practical details rather than working on my installation…

This past week I got the shipping fixed. It’s a fortune because shipping – by boat – about 150 kilo a few kilometres from a hub in Venice to Palazzo Mora is more costly than the truck transport Lund-Venice. I got offers from 5 Italian shipping companies but settled for a sixth – a Danish Lauritzen.

One has to think also of protection, i.e. how to pack it all. Surfaces must be protected first by silk tissue paper and bubble plast and then put in a specially constructed box. The box will be built by ExportPak here in Lund in a wooden material called OBS which is very sturdy. And also quite heavy!

I need one large box for the four panels and one for all the rest including the “paibians” on top – framed canvases, artefacts and much else I will need when setting up the installation on site.

Then there is coordination between these companies and between them and Venice and there is the question of insurance – having no clue what such an installation is worth in insurance terms. And then the big issue: When will it have to leave my place and start its travel to Venice?

It will be on March 25. So now comes the final spurt!

Managing such a project is much much more than creating some art. I guess almost 50% of the time is consumed with such things and with public relation about it, such as on social media.

Why write this? A cultural mediation program for the visitors

I hope what I write here can be of use to other artists – even serve as a checklist. I found no such thing on the Internet myself when I started out: What to think about when – beyond the art that you want to create and show?

Some of it may also go into a booklet that I may create about the project. And there may be a few who are interested in knowing how an art piece like this was created over time. Plus thoughts and reflections and sketches.

Also, I’ve been told that the European Cultural Centre, ECC, in Venice has a team who runs a Cultural Mediation Program – aiming to:

…”bring closer your work to the audience, help them to understand your artistic approach and your interpretation of your exhibit. Our cultural mediators will be present in each of our venues to welcome and guide the visitors through the exhibition spaces.”

Isn’t that a great idea?

They were very happy that all the information they needed was already available here. And – already done since the start – it saved me a lot of time too.

February 21

Today, the good people at the European Cultural Centre, ECC, in Palazzo Mora and I agreed on the room for my installation. What a huge jigsaw puzzle it must be for them, only having sketches, some measurement, perhaps photography as the basis for placing art works of 170 artists at two large palaces and some open spaces in Venice.

In addition, they are super professional, go out of their way to help you with your artwork, even trying to find things you may need on the spot. If they care for all artists like they have cared for me, I must wonder whether they ever sleep.

After a couple of ideas that did not fit my wishes, we ended up with Room # 216 on the second floor at Palazzo Mora. My installation will be on the right-hand wall: 3,25 m high – 4,58 m long + an extra wall to the right that you don’t see: 3,25 m high – 1,96 long.

It has one door and is not a place where many visitors just walk by the work; they will walk into the room and be able – undisturbed – to dwell there a bit. In addition to my installation, will be two artworks on the other walls.

– Room # 216 is about 20 sqm and looks longer here because the photo is from a virtual tour video. You notice the beautiful old beams in the ceiling and the stone floor.

I can’t wait to set up my installation in that room – actually, the very room in which Yoko Ono had her “Mirror Image” installation in 2017.

Perhaps Room # 216 will, from now on, be the permanent space of art for/with/to peace?

Here is a fine video about the Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation’s and the European Cultural Centre’s mission and exhibition philosophy, as told by their own staff:

February 19, 2019

Neither the photos nor the video here give an impression of the entire installation idea and how it should appear when set up at Palazzo Mora. My own studio space is only 260 cm, so I can’t fit it all on my own wall.

Also, the good people there need a layout/sketch to find a good place for it in that beautiful old palazzo.

So today I made two quick and rather bad drawings of the whole thing. My apologies for the poor quality of the lines, the quite incorrect proportions and my terrible handwriting.

Front view: The four main panels, the podiums they rest on and the “paibians” on top
Side view: The wall, the podium, the back-leaning panels and, on top, the forward-learning “paibians”

February 14, 2019

Thanks to my friend and assistant, Séverine Renard, there is now a new, short video, about the SPAR project.

It illustrates the basic idea or “flow” of the photo-based, multimedia installation that I have been invited to create for the European Cultural Centre’s “Personal Structures – Open Borders” international exhibition.

Far from finished but will be shown at the beautiful Palazzo Mora in Venice in the context of the famous Venice Art Biennale from May 11 to November 24, 2019.

February 13, 2019

Spreading the message is part of the project – both because it is, at least to some extent, a work about peace and war and because I’d like other to know about my work. Most artists do!

Since even before I was in China, I’ve been fascinated with the multi-functional Chinese app WeChat which is so much more than a chat app. So I set myself up in 2016 there and all my Chinese and some Western friends are using it. So it is now a daily tool.

Thanks to my two dear young friends in Chengdu, Jenny Wei and Sarah Wu, I yesterday got the first Chinese-language article posted on my WeChat Public Account. About the SPAR project, of course.

For me it is also about saying thank you to and keep in touch with all I met in China, to all the hospitality and generousity I encountered.

Immediately 40 reactions and some subscribers. There is now only about 1 billion people left to reach…! But I think long-term and in win-win terms – as the Chinese do.

Here is the link to it and you can subscribe too – if, that is, you are on WeChat. I’d recommend you begin to use WeChat; it’s pretty much the future as far as I can see.

February 5, 2019

A project such as this often leads to something else on its way. Since I was in China for the first time, in 1983 and more about it here, I have known Julie Brink who led that Danish delegation’s trip and also the Friendship Association Denmark-China (VDK). And she edits its very rich magazine, DanmarKina.

The latest issue has just been published and you can see it here:

Well, it is in Danish but you’ll get an impression of the fine public education magazine it is.

I am proud to have created the collage on the front page and written two articles in it, all building on my travels in China in 2018.

Collage for DanmarKina magazine

January 27, 2019

Today’s situation – some canvas test prints and experimenting with how
to paint them into the panels’s painted surface — make their edges disappear

Thought it could be fun – and perhaps even useful to others – to offer some info about the research, trials and errors and choice of media as well as strategic decisions in the process:

Panels and acrylic
The panels are plywood which I have settled for as the most useful for my project. All such woods will, sooner rather than later, transmit chemicals that could, potentially, have a bad effect on paper mounted. So you need to paint them and, since acrylic is made of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion (invented in 1934 in Germany).

The panels are now painted in silver/whitegold, gold, bronze and dark grey from right to left, from China to the West (see photos in the January 6 entry. I use Winsor and Newton for smaller areas and details and Maimeri acrylic for the large panel surface. And I love to work with acrylic colours: fine structure, easy to apply with various media, water-based and easy to clean afterwards, don’t smell, dry fast, easy to paint over… and no bad chemical effects on other materials such as papers or canvas.

Canvas
I’ve decided that the photos to be mounted on the panels shall be printed on canvas, Lyve canvas which is the best, better I think than, say, Hahnemühle’s canvas sheets. I like the surface structure better, and the depth and saturation of colours and details is simply amazing. They are 65% polyester and 35% cotton base with 93% brightness.

Furthermore, canvas is easier to combine with acrylic painting, brushstrokes and structures.

Irrespective of the medium, the problem will be to paint over the edges of the pictures so the single photos and photo collages appear like painted into the panels and not just mounted on them as if it was an exhibition: Either thick layers of paint or some heavy (sand) gel, or both. So, we’re approaching some kind of three-dimensionality that will also give depth and life when spotlights are directed at the work.

And how to fix the canvas? Well, not by glue – it would be even and there is always a risk that, over time, elements from the glue will penetrate from behind and appear as yellowish stains on the print surface. So, stainless steel staples – but let the canvas dry and stretch well first, by hanging them for a few days by drawing pins.

– although painted over, you still see the canvas edge of the lower image. Has to go…

Elevations
In addition to the panels, I plan to have 2 x 4 more elements. I want each of the 2,50 meters panels to be elevated from the floor, some 30-40 centimeters and then leaning on the wall on top. I’d look for some wooden materials, for instance from Venice, some piles that have been in the water in a canal, or something from the roof of a building. Or some construction wrapped in silk.

I like the idea that the installation include some local elements, artefacts, objects. There will be such things from China and, when being exhibited in Venice, why not something Italian/Venetian?

And on the top of each, I intend to arrange something that look like what the Chinese call paibians. It’s a forward leaning piece of wood that hangs over doors, most often with some calligraphy inscription. Here’s a photo that I took in Chengdu of two red paibians:

I can imagine to, perhaps, have one or two in which mirrors have been inserted; visitors can look up and see themselves. And/or create some transfer images on them, or paint acrylic figures/calligraphy-like shapes on them.

Buying them in China is beyond my means, the really old ones costing a fortune and being very heavy (and, thus, expensive) to get shipped the whole way to Sweden. I’ll have to find some other solution to realize that idea…

Proportions
I work in a relatively small room compared to the installation. I have to imagine how it will appear when seen from a larger distance in a larger room and how the works placed on the panels will interact with each other when seen as one installation and not as I see them, as four panels. Working with 10 square meters and adding elevation and the paibians means a totally different approach from the one I have always used when creating and printing smaller single images on maximum A1, i.e. roughly 60 x 90 centimeters. But it’s fun to experiment and find out what works.

Protection – varnish
Since at least 300 000 people will see this exhibition between May 11 and November 24, I have to think about how to protect the prints’ surface. They have to be transported and handled, and there may be visitors who touch the surface. And I’d love to think that, after Venice, it may be shown somewhere else.

This means applying some kind of varnish, or lacquer, to the canvas prints, not just the usual Hahnemühle Protective Spray. After lots of consultations with various people and on the Internet, I have decided to use a product from the same company that produces the canvas, Breathing Color’s Museum grade matte varnish in the Timeless series.

The wonderful people in Venice
To produce this work and see what is possible, I am in frequent contact with the people at the European Cultural Center and Palazzo Mora in Venice. They are super professional, helpful and very open to help realize ideas. A clear win-win attitude similar to the Silk Road idea.

They will let me work on the installation well before the opening; provide various materials and solutions, they offer to build the four foundations for the panels; they are willing to help with an Italian cupboard door or small window that I need; they will secure the two iPads that will be part of the installation so they are not stolen, etc. etc.

It’s a joyful cooperation and I feel encouraged every time we have had a mail exchange or Skype.

Of course not all the exhibiting artists have an installation like mine. Many simply deliver a painting or a sculpture. But it feels great that there is, with everyone of them, super professionalism and kindness.

– one of several new collages that will be part of the installation

 

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.

And…

 

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 table, dipped his brush in the darkest black ink and here 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 ObergPhotoGraphics.com 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 may 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 suddenly see the Rauschenberg Foundation’s 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.

It has much bigger dimensions than I can have, but there are some ideas here to be explored…

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 project’s diary, or 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.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: PostArt # 70 – Silk Peace Art Road to Venice – Oberg PhotoGraphics

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