At 12 half a day has passed, 12 hours later, it’s a new day. 12 is central to many systems of timekeeping. Divisible by 2, 3, 4 and 6. 12 is a dozen. 12 Apostles. 12 months in a year – you find important twelves in literature, films, music, sports…
And in the arts – for instance, that on May 9, it was 12 years since I started Oberg PhotoGraphics and opened my gallery in Lund, Sweden.
That was just a way of getting this article started.
The first exhibition was called ”No Images Here” and one of the works carried that title and was based on a poem by Rumi (1207-1273). I have re-worked it and the new edition is included in my present 26th exhibition ”China US and Mona Lisa”. If you look carefully at it, you’ll see the poem, its title to the right and Rumi over the two right-hand portraits.
It was a big experiment for me to start a ”second life” but I had thought about it for quite some time, stimulated – or perhaps – provoked by the fact that my photos from Iraq 2002 and 2003 attracted more attention internationally than my articles and my book about that war (”Predictable Fiasco,” 2004 (in Danish)).
We had moved into the age of images, and perhaps I could also use images to both convey something constructive around the theme of peace but work without rational analysis, strict, educated and goal-oriented writing and speaking that characterize scholarly work? I did need something that was more positive to do, more spontaneous and not based on formal education.
I am more of a producer than a consumer. I’ve found that by producing or creating something, you learn – the hows and the whys. A student may read many books and attend many lectures, but knowledge does really stick before s/he has written about it. When producing a text, one finds out what one knows and what one still needs to learn.
And I’ve learned so much. Since 2009, I’ve become more of a problem-solving searching soul with a purpose: The art production itself – whether or not to develop a ”style” or keep experimenting constantly? How to print on what kind of printer; if you do not have the experience, I can tell it is hugely complex to print on these big Epson monsters and I am now into my fourth – Surecolor P 6000? On what kinds of papers – finally settling for Canson and Hahnemühle? Test, test, test… Why doesn’t it look like on the screen?
What brands of canvas – and can you print on metal too? (Yes you can). I’ve become more confident – and selective – about what I show at my exhibitions and on my homepage (but less so on Instagram). You’ve got to look for a long time on your own things before you feel you know whether or not they have some kind of lasting quality.
And yes – how do you develop a really personal art home on the Internet, not just a standard photo sales template? I consider a homepage a piece of art too – layout, navigability, background stuff, articles, reflections, design, colours, typography… you name it, hundreds upon hundreds of hours over the years.
I’ve had thousands of enriching hours and it gives me tremendous joy to see the print roll out of the printer looking quite like I hope it would – something similar to an analog photographer in the darkroom seeing the image slowly appearing down there in the bath. Creating something! Giving away to a viewer quite a lot of yourself and what you believe in. I’m sure that it prolongs my life!
I needed to do something else in my life than academic analyses of the world’s problems and possible solutions – in my role as peace and future researcher. I needed something contrasting – intuitive, tentative, something not based on formal education but on my life luck to have grown up in a home filled with art, artists and a father who created exhibitions with Danish artists abroad and foreign artists in Denmark.
Beyond the art experience itself, I was always asking myself: How did the artist do it – not only technically but that too – but what was the inspiration? The purpose – what does s/he want to convey? How did it give her or him joy? Why does something and somebody get the message across while others don’t? How did the artist combine those colours – a moment’s choice or a series of re-workings? How on earth that movement with a brush became art and not just a brush stroke?
My father had little formal education and knowledge of English so I served for years as his secretary (financing also my studies by it, so I never accumulated a debt which has allowed me to be freer). When he had bought a Hamilton, Hockney or Rauschenberg print, it was pure magic to unpack it and see its colours, texture and seeing it for real – this was way before the Internet, so you might only have seen it in a printed catalogue, more or less truthful colours.
I still have no answer to those type of art’s essential questions – if I had, it would probably not be so fun to continue. At 70, I have ideas on my mind that I could spend the next 30 years on coming to life. I always feel that there is no time to lose.
The most happy experience with art I have had so far, was to be invited by the European Cultural Center, ECC, in Venice and exhibiting my SPAR Installation at the magically beautiful Palazzo Mora in 2019. About 300 000 visitors came over 6 months and I had conversations with around 1500 of them.
SPAR stands for Silk Peace Art Road and is a multi-media installation on themes such as the future and the past, the East/China and the West/US, light and darkness – all of which is related to what I do as a peace and future researcher at the foundation I direct, the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF), co-founded in 1986 with my wife, Christina and still going strong and independent for peace by peaceful means). Or in other words – the huge world order change the world is going through, the decline of the West and the rise of the East to put it in very crude words.
Summarizing it at 12, starting out was one of the most joyful and satisfying things I have done. I do not know with any precision where I am but I sense that I am on my way. Sales was never a criterion of development of ”success,” and I can honestly say that at 12, my costs are still much larger than my income.
The types of things I love to do are not what people mostly seek to hang over their sofa or bed, and I don’t mind that and live fine with it – because I am a free creator of my photographics works. When people buy my works because they really like them, I am of course very very happy – but I never started out in order to earn money on my photographics works.
My lovely mentor and friend, Danish Viggo Rivad – in my view the most important Danish post-1945 classical photographer – took no interest whatsoever in sales. When I did the homepage for him, he told me to not put his e-mail or phone on it. He earned his living by driving his taxa for 40+ years crisscrossing Copenhagen, and when he had earned enough during a period, he went to Egypt, Mexico or China (where we met in 1983) but he refused to do any art for money. It was simply not on his mind to make money. It was the people and the places and what he could create out of them that absorbed him. If anything else intervenes, your mind, attention and creative process will be diverted to: Will it sell? Should I do something else to sell? Or what is trending?
I say no too. And have always told my peace studies students and whoever else who asked: Never do what you love because you need to pay your bills. Because, if you do that, you will – sooner or later – not love to do it anymore.
That’s where I am. I’m aware that I am totally out of our times – times in which the marketing of art is more important than the quality of the art itself, quality equated with auction/gallery prices and prices for the really ’big’ artists having reached perverse, ridiculous levels that make it impossible for people to obtain anything if they don’t belong to the 1% top global income takers.
I stick to affordable prices no matter what. I’m not a big shot, and I want people with ordinary incomes to be able to buy my things if they like them. And they can do so only directly from me – not through a gallery.
If people like my works enough to buy them – great! If not, great too. I have no expectations and I don’t measure my development in income terms. I’m not competing with anyone else, but – like the mountaineer – with myself.
I feel super privileged to be able to say that.
Apart from constantly working on something new and experimenting, remaining curious and having good health, my big dream is to get the SPAR installation travelling as soon as the Corona permits.
I have always been inspired by Robert Rauschenberg, a restless experimentalist with many media and expressions – and his ROCI (Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange) project. Art, cooperation, peace-making and dialogue in one – from one country to the next. That’s my art peacemaking idea, too – thanks to him.
I could do that for decades ahead.
In my view, nothing could possibly be more meaningful in these times when the world’s fate is at stake and will soon be decided: destruction with either a whimper (climate change…) or a bang (big, perhaps nuclear, war) or rejuvenation, resurrection from the multi-crisis, a better, multipolar future in which we live in unity but in diversity and with no single country or culture dominating?
A world in which all types of creativity thrive for the common good of humanity and not for weapons research and trade or for warfare and its marketing with fake, omission and lies piling up by the day.
A better world future must be possible. And the arts help us imagining it – and what we cannot imagine, we shall not work for.
I’m totally excited by whatever little I can do in these fateful times. As a peace and future researcher. And as a photographics maker.