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. Additionally, there may be artists in a situation like mine who could find at least some of the down-to-earth information helpful.
Find some basic concepts and ideas for the SPAR project here.
April 30, 2020
Next stop: Shanghai
Shortly after my February notes, the Corona pandemic climbed to the top of the international society and changed almost everything. So too, the plan for having SPAR shown in Tehran. It had to be cancelled this spring and will be shown there at a later point.
Thankfully, Shanghai is still on. The young Chinese man, Yi Shing Lai – “Xing” – who suggested the whole thing on the 2nd last day of the Venice Biennale has been working hard on it. First, from London where he lived and then from China to where he went after the COVID-19 took hold in the UK.
Xing was in London to study sound – not music, but sound. And he also runs an agency with his business partner, Jessica, aiming to bring art from the West over to be shown in China. He is based in Shanghai and very well connected there.
After some back and forth about the likely schedule, it looks now to be August. At the Lingang International Art Center (LIAC) in the huge new industrial zone south of Shanghai – you may have heard about it because it is where Tesla recently opened its new car factory.
Get an impression of LIAC here – or see some shots below.
I’m thrilled. It looks exactly like my ideal space.
And here the preliminary logo of the SPAR Installation Exhibition designed by Xing:
These changes mean that SPAR will travel to Shanghai and then, hopefully, be shown at other places in China after which it will begin to move back to Europe along the BRI – the Belt and Road Initiative countries.
But I must say that the Corona world crisis – which also impacts the art world fundamentally and for some even existentially – was not exactly what I had hoped after Venice…
February 22, 2020
SPAR waiting to travel
The installation is still stored in Venice which is what I had hoped to avoid. My original idea was to have it travel from Venice and be shown in capitals along some of the BRI countries and finally reach China.
Virtually all my inquiries to selected galleries, museums, art spaces, academies, China-related institutes, embassies etc. in Belgrade, Istanbul and Athens remain unanswered. Perhaps I’d been unrealistic when it comes to planning horizons, but a response would anyhow have been nice.
In hindsight, perhaps this will turn out to be a good thing.
On the second last day of the show at Palazzo Mora, a young Chinese came up to me after having examined the installation and asked whether I was thinking of having it travel after Venice and, if so, would be interested in having it shown in China.
We’ve cooperated ever since and, at this moment, a large brand new art museum in the huge new industrial zone – where Tesla’s new factory is located – a bit south of the center of Shanghai has accepted it. But there are two problems still to deal with. One is the political check of the images to be carried out, if I understand correctly, by the local Ministry of Culture. The other is how the COVID-19 coronavirus will develop in the light of the show being planned there from mid-June into early-August.
So, the present plan is to turn the itinerary around and have the tour start in Shanghai, try to have it shown at other locations in China – Xian is high on my list and so is Beijing, Chengdu and Shenzhen and whoever indicates an interest – and then have it travel 2021-2023 back towards Europe.
But a few days ago, I was informed by my friend in Tehran, Iran, who has worked in the contemporary art gallery sector that there is one to three museums that would be welcoming it in April-May.
That would be so exciting. Given Tehran’s amazingly vibrant contemporary art scene, I would love to have it shown there.
In June I am anyhow going to be a keynote speaker at an international conference at Tehran’s University arranged by the Faculty of World Studies because it has set up an international Master’s program in academic peace and conflict studies. I am a little proud to add that it was set up in the wake of my lecture there in 2013.
So, it looks like a lot of Iran travels and activities. That is good also in a larger perspective. People-to-people and cultural contacts are immensely important now the West, the US in particular, is strangulating the Iranian people – 85 million – with extremely hard economic sanctions and an oil embargo, threatens to attack the country and demonize it ad absurdum, all supported by the mainstream media.
I shall have to be patient. But I do see SPAR as a tiny bridgebuilder for inter-cultural dialogue and understanding.
The installation’s images have to be checked in Tehran too, of course. In both cases, I do not think there is anything that would not pass the vigilant eyes of officials, but you never know. I’ll find out how to tackle those issues if they appear.
What I work on these months are three related things:
- Producing the best prints on paper of all the works in the installation which shall be for sale where it will be shown.
- With a view to China, create some additional smaller photo-and-painting combines to be exhibited in Shanghai; they are small formats like 60 x 60 cm and a bit bigger too – perhaps 10 in all.
- Updating my homepage as things develop. The China 1983 Portfolio is already there with some of the works for sale in the shop. As usual, I like to show quite a few images in the Portfolio but only having those I believe are the best for sale.
- And, finally working on the China 2018-1 Portfolio – its works for sale coming in the near future.
The Venice exhibition comes to an end: And then what?
November 30, 2019
On November 24, the exhibition – Personal Structures. Identities – at the European Cultural Centre (ECC)‘s Palazzo Mora (and Palazzo Bembo) in Venice closed.
More than 300.000 people came to Palazzo Mora alone.
It’s been 6 fabulous months for my SPAR Installation.
I was there during all of May, a week in October and the last week, so 6 weeks in total and talked with hundreds of visitors from all over the world. I have reflected on that in the article “The Venice Future Dialogues”.
I’ve feel greatly privileged and rewarded that the ECC and my installation created an opportunity for me to meet so many great, serious, thinking, open-minded, world-concerned and plain lovely people from so many places and cultures.
I learned that art is a world language, a truly universal language. And the fact that SPAR deals with some aspects of the future of humanity of course made it easier for people to open up – to talk about their fears and hopes for the future – and share theirs experiences from their home country and their own travels.
I couldn’t ask for more.
And that can also be said about the professional and very joyful cooperation I have had with everyone at Palazzo Mora over the last 3 years since René Rietmeyer, the founder of the ECC, contacted me and invited me to exhibit.
And, so – feeling a bit sad, I must admit – we dismantled the installation bit-by-bit and packed into its two crates on November 25. It took only 5 hours thanks to the fine planning of the ECC staff. And then it was transported on boat to a storage facility in Venice.
Awaiting its next destination…
And the next step is . . .
The next step is to have SPAR shown in various capitals of the countries that participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – galleries, art spaces, cultural centres, museums – what have you. And create more dialogues about the future of our little planet.
As I am writing this, the places that I’m reasonably hopeful about are Tehran, Xian and Shanghai. But the whole dream itinerary is: Belgrade, Athens, Istanbul, Damascus, St. Petersburg/Moscow, Tblisi, Yerevan, Baku, Tehran, Ashgabat, Tashkent, Astana, Dushanbe, Bishtek, Islamabad and then around China.
One must have dreams… or they will never come true!
In terms of reporting developments, in September I opened an exhibition in my studio in Lund, Sweden, with the images that sit in the installation, printed on fine art papers. Such single editions will accompany the installation in the future and makes sales and income – both for the exhibiting partner and myself – possible.
Here is the SPAR Exhibition Partnership Program.
Perhaps you know a potential partner?
In summary here at the end of November: If the first chapter of the SPAR story was the creation of the installation, exhibiting it in the context of the Venice Biennale was the second and for me being a most rewarding, exciting and art life-changing experience.
May 11, 2019
The exhibition with SPAR opens on May 11
So, the Big Day has arrived. Thanks to the professional and generous assistance of the staff at the European Cultural Centre, the SPAR installation was ready on May 6 – way before the pre-openings and parties on May 9 and 10 and the real opening on Saturday, May 11.
May 6, 2019
In Venice, setting it up
Left Sweden on May 1, found the wonderful flat I had rented just 2-3 minutes from Palazzo Mora and turned up there on the 2nd at 9 AM. Got a warm hugging welcome by all the staff of the European Culture Centre (ECC) – so good to finally meet each other after all these emails.
In room # 216 on 2nd floor I found my installation panels in their silk paper and bubble plastic wrappings and the various artifacts, tools as well as the four podiums. All had arrived safe and sound and the staff had taken care of it so well. Thank you! And now, it’s just to get going…
What was to be done was this: Getting the fabric wrapped around the podiums and set the four panels with the right 4 cm distance between each and fix them in the wall; secure the objects on these panels (antiques, a shoe, a plastic jewellery, a cup, etc) and securing them against theft (while also enabling that they can be taken off again when the installation shall be re-packed in the boxes), getting videos transferred from my computer to the two iPads in loop mode, fixing the the “paibians” on top of each panel, arrange the AI robot on the second wall (and make it work) as well as the calligraphies and the double poster as well as, finally, set the light on the whole thing. In short, a few days of work with creative problem-solving.
The staff assigned to me was Giovanni and Daniele for the practical stuff and Patrick for technology such as the iPads and the robot. Wonderful to work with, highly professional, going out of their way to find solutions, ready to re-think when it doesn’t work, and always a good spirit and sense of humour. Now we are friends!
Here Daniele and Giovanni finding out how to fix the shoe with a strong magnet:
It took from May 2 to May 6 to finalize it all. Although there are 169 other artists exhibiting at this year’s “Personal Structures,” I felt I was treated as if I was the only one, really. And never did I hear “we can’t do that” – I only heard “we’ll find a solution, don’t worry”.
I recognize that my installation must be one of the more complex works to set up because of all the small things and its multimedia character. Some installations here, of course, are much bigger, complex and heavy, but many are also just single works to be hung on a nail on a wall.
It’s been a wonderful experience – and we’re ready days before the preview, press and party events on the 9th and 10th and the formal opening on the 11th. I can’t thank you guys enough!
And here what my dear SPAR looks like on May 5…
April 29, 2019
Right before Venice
The time before departure on May 1 was a bit hectic with lots of details to think of, packing stuff and – above all – two things to finish that I could not expect to get done when in Venice: a) the double A1 poster to sit on the 2nd wall (see below) and b) the two videos that people shall be able to watch on iPads on that wall.
Attempts to get the local southern Swedish media to pay attention to my exhibiting in Venice largely failed. However, Sydsvenska Dagbladet made a very good, short interview with a background.
The double poster required a lot of work – getting it really informative but also not too long, making a nice layout and constructing a series of QR codes so visitors can take the links to important sites with them and watch after their visit at Palazzo Mora. Modern technology offers wonderful opportunities but, alas, also requires quite some work to realize particularly when you do not have a staff to hand over such things to…
My volunteer assistant, Séverine Renard who works both for my research foundation and for Oberg PhotoGraphics turned out to be very skilled at video production. Fortunately!
So I bought the latest iPhone (anyhow had to) and shot some videos about myself (!), about the Belt And Road Initiative (BRI) and about the thoughts behind the installation – and she edited them, clipped and made Ken Burns effects, transitions, fine-tuned the colours and sound, etc and put logos and music on parts of them. I am very grateful for her devotion and skills.
You can now find these videos at my Vimeo Channel (I avoid everything Google and, thus, its YouTube, Google Search, Chrome, Maps etc. because of Google’s terrible tracking, censoring and pro-war policy). These videos are shot with iPhone and Huawei and edited in iMovie. It’s a good way to reach out but I do not pretend to be a professional movie-maker in any sense.
The two movies of almost 50 min each that shall be available to the visitors is “One Road” and “One Journey”. The first is one series of contrasting impressions from Silk Road/Belt And Road Initiative countries that you can find photos of in the installation; the second consists of 4 smaller videos. And both are shown in a looping mode.
The extra wall
So far, I’ve written about the main installation parts: The four panels, each standing on low podiums and, on top, the four “paibians” (see below). But the people at Mora were so incredibly kind to give me a bonus wall next to it, 196 cm extra in a 90 degree to the installation itself.
This is how I plan to use it – with my apologies for the quick, amateurish sketch and unreadable handwriting:
This wall will be devoted to some explanation but also original Chinese art and technology:
- On top, an original calligraphy with Silk Road, created by artist Wang Chang Lin in Xian for this project;
- A 3-piece “diulian“ here called calligraphy on red bottom. A “diulian” is placed around all doors in China at the Chinese new year with some kind of good wishes, thoughts and poetry. This has been created by calligrapher Fan Xiaochun in Beijing for this project. They express the wish for peace and how the East and West must connect: “Today’s peace path” – and “Art links Europe and Asia”.
- “Bobi” the artificial intelligence robot that I received as a present by Sunny Lyn, CEO of iShareYoung Technology Corporation, Ltd. in high-tech city Shenzhen. It is a piece of very advanced technology that serves to help children learn language. It will be programmed to speak and sing and roll its eyes every 20 minutes, for about 20 seconds.
- Then two iPads, one with a “road movie” with haphazard shots from China, Kazakhstan, Venice, Somaliland etc – but not the pictures in the installation. The other with various elements of explanations about both the installation and Silk Road or, rather the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- Over the iPads to small pieces of Chinese antique woodcarvings.
- And, finally, a 90 x 60 cm “poster” where visitors can quickly get an overview of the project and a map of Silk Road as well as QR codes for laces where there is more knowledge and references.
Safe arrival to Venice
On April 1, the installation arrived at Palazzo Mora in Venice, safe and sound:
This what they looked like when packed at Export Pak in Lund:
200 kilo and very solid in OSB wood, made so the panels will not move back and forth during the truck transport to Venice. That could scratch the sensitive surfaces of the canvas prints. And, as you see, easy for fork-lifts to move.
Before dispatch, the panels were covered first with silk paper and then bubble plastic:
I can’t wait to see it all again on May 2, there in Room # 216 and then work on setting it all up.
Up till the dispatch on Monday, March 25, I was busy 24/7 finalizing the last two panels and lots of details on them all. On the famous other hand, also quite proud that I was ready with the whole thing already Saturday the 23rd.
I think it would be wrong to publish the whole thing. That is for the opening on May 11. But here I am in front of one part:
In China a “paibian” is a name board with calligraphy that sits over a door or on top of an inner wall. To the left are two in red.
At the top, they lean out between 25 and 45 degrees and for all I know they are meant as decorative items.
Already when in China, I decided that I wanted something like that over my installation, one over each of the four panels. However, I found out that there real ones in China were both very expensive and very heavy. So, I decided to find something that could serve as paibians!
After various trials and errors, I ended up buying some old paintings in handmade wooden frames with a little gold paint in a second-hand shop And painted them over…
As can be seen, the idea is to give them a shiny surface – paibians often have – in one colour and let the original motive be seen, just vaguely. The colours match the colour scheme/movement of the four panels.
I hope that, when I work with these paibians on-site, they will build a calm contrast to all the happens below them on the panels.
The surface is overpainted several times with iridescent white and medium and I think that when I get spotlights on them, they will have a mirror-like effect and visually kind of finish the panels on top in a homogenous way instead of having the panels meeting directly the ceiling.
They are all amateur paintings with landscapes – while faces and townscapes populate the panels below them.
In summary, an aesthetic touch of Chinese-ness and yin and yang in motive and colouration. Also, while the panels lean inward on the wall on top, the paibians lean outward on top.
Here is how the installation has progressed until today:
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.
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.
Room #216 at Palazzo Mora
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.
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.
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.
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.
January 27, 2019
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.
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.
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…
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.
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
Paper production – and in the footsteps of Robert Rauschenberg
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 table, dipped his brush in the darkest black ink and here is the amazing result dedicated to me and the project:
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…
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:
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?
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.