Having moved to Stockholm three years ago I am establishing myself and my practice here in Sweden. I am currently on a part-time course in the department of Architectural Theory and History at the Royal Institute of Art and am a founding member of the recently formed Institute for Artistic Research (we are not an institute but three artists who are reacting to the institutionalisation and academicisation of research by creating an alternative and open platform for presenting and discussing work).

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Louise Bourgeois at Moderna “I have been to hell and back” is a fantastic show!  I have been twice and plan to go again (as I student at the Royal Institute I get free entry)!  Not only does it include much previously unseen work, it is also brilliantly curated.  I cannot help but feel good walking through the exhibition, and I think this is the result of the combination of great art and such intelligent and appropriate display.  The show is arranged thematically though the curator – Iris Müller Westermann – acknowledged in her presentation that there are a multitude of other possible ways to arrange the work.  If I understand correctly it is this thinking that influenced her decision to open a number of window-like apertures in the gallery walls.  These windows and the non-linear floor plan allow one to visually and physically experience the connection between the distinct galleries and themes.  At what is at once the entrance and the centre of the show there is the intersection three large ‘windows’, this produces an interesting kind of meeting point.  Seeing the museum staff standing there chatting with colleagues in adjoining spaces reminds me of neighbours passing the time of day over a garden fence.  Visitors are given a glimpse of what is to come, and similarly the chance to chat with friends doing the show at a different pace.  These architectural features create and reinforce the simultaneous senses of intimacy and openness that I find in Bourgeois’ work.  My first visit was with a very knowledgeable friend (visiting from Switzerland) who hesitated to buy a ticket having seen, and been disappointed by, the encyclopedic Bourgeois exhibit at the Tate Modern (2007), however he was completely won over by the show declaring far better than the Tate’s.  It made me very proud of the artscene here in my adopted hometown!

Louise Bourgeois is a great inspiration for an older unknown artist such as myself.  Respected by her artist friends but not having her break-though show until the age of 71, and then continuing to work and show until 99 gives me such hope as I reach my mid-late forties!

 

Encouraged by a colleague here at the studio I offered English Afternoon Tea, with home-baked scones, for last Sunday’s “finish-age” and artist’s talk at Passage.  It was a very pleasant afternoon and speaking about the work after having invigilated for two weekends was probably better than it would have been doing it at the vernissage.  I am really pleased that I did the show, it has given me a renewed sense of purpose.  It has also reminded me that it is very different seeing one’s work in a gallery/exhibition space than in the studio.  Presenting, displaying, exhibiting, the work has made me think about it in new ways and opened by new possibilities.

 

Questions around exhibiting and display are also current on the Mejan course – not least because a number of us have made a contribution to the Frederick Kiesler show at Tensta konsthall.  For me the show is the antithesis of the Bourgeois – it leaves me completely cold, uninterested and hugely disappointed.  Kiesler sounds like a wonderfully eccentric and passionate man committed to innovative architecture and exhibition design.  Innovation and excitement are not words that I can use to describe the terribly dry, inaccessible and (literally) ‘square’ show of sketches, models, photographs and re-creations.  The inclusion of “responses” by a contemporary artist and six student groups does little to enliven things.  I wonder how and why this show looks and feels the way it does – the conditions of the Kiesler Foundation? Lack of resources? Lack of imagination?

 

 

 

Moving from the disappointment of not getting the little red house I am now looking forward to making a bid for a former nursery school!  The building is made up of what was a private home (from the 1950s) and an extension (from the 1980s).  The extension would make a wonderful studio – there is a large room, a smaller room with a sink, and an ‘office’.  The whole place needs a renovation, but inspired by Bourgeois I am thinking that it might somewhere to live and work for the next fifty years or so!

 


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Show – Passage – up, open, and on-going!  I am really pleased with how it looks and with the responses that I have been receiving.

 

 

Thursday’s vernissage was good fun, and a good mix of people.  It gave me the opportunity to try and talk about some of my ideas in Swedish.  But then doing it in English made me realise how challenging it can be to make communicable ideas that have been in one’s head and hands for over a year.  In this respect my proximity to ‘Artistic Research’ is interesting, and as an experiment I decided to present a mind-map (minus the encapsulating bubbles and connecting lines) as the exhibition note/guide rather than a linear text.  This enabled me to mention far more than I could have done in a more conventional text – the liberation from grammar and syntax opened up spaces.  It could be argued that by doing so I have created another artwork however even if I have done that it is one that refers directly and explicitly to the objects in the exhibition (and in my mind that makes it an explanatory note).

Covering the gallery’s large windows worked very well and completely changes the atmosphere.  The industrial view from the wall to wall, ceiling to floor windows with its two sets of dual carriages ways, raised level train lines, cement works, freight terminal and warehouses is a constant and restless backdrop to whatever is going on the gallery.  Simply removing the view immediately produced a calm and more focused space.  In addition it enabled me to light the pieces in an appropriate way.

An hour before the official opening time and just as I was removing the strip-lights from the entrance a couple of curators from Denmark turned up.  They are traveling through the Scandinavian countries looking for artists for a show next summer.  We had a good conversation and they were very complimentary about my work – which might well suit their proposal.  They had just come from a very prestigious gallery/foundation and said that they found the exhibition, space, and atmosphere here more interesting – which was great to hear and obviously put me in a very happy frame of mind for the rest of the evening!

It is the first time in a number of years that I have presented work that could easily be shown in other places.  The pieces are also some of the most commercial, potentially commercial, that I have made without it feeling like a compromise.  I am really interested in developing both the door and jigsaw puzzle series and seeing where they might take me …

 

And just to mention that I was out-bid for the little house in the country – hopefully something else will come on the market soon!


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Preparations for the show are coming along.  The aluminium boards for the jigsaw puzzles arrived this morning, it feels good that they are finally here!  And thanks to what might well be a ‘vintage’ salad-washing bowl but which I am using as an oversized glitter shaker, glittering the door has been a lot more effective and efficient than my earlier attempt.

There is still quite a bit to do before I am ready to actually hang the work and unusually for me I am confident that there is time to do it all.  Maybe even to do it at an enjoyable pace!

I get into the gallery on Monday, or possible even Sunday afternoon if the person who is using over the weekend to photograph things finishes early.  Things remaining to do:

  • mount the puzzles
  • write and print/copy an ‘exhibition guide’
  • set prices for the puzzle series
  • buy some wine and nibbles
  • install the show

I have an idea of how and where I want things in the room, however seeing the pieces in there might present other, better, possibilities.  I am also considering having an additional piece in the room before the exhibition space itself.  It would be a slide projection so it is simple to try it out and see if it works.  I have a very nice old projector that I would like to use but I a little nervous to have it running for four hours as the bulb is also old and I do not know where I can get hold a spare here.  Not only is the image something significant to me, and in many ways the show, but it might be an interesting way to illuminate the room rather than the strip-lights in the ceiling.

Last week a friend of a friend who is on placement with ‘The Local’ (a Swedish newspaper in English) interviewed me.  I managed to give a fairly succinct account of my move here and my views of the art scene.  Perhaps it was good not to have too much advance notice about the interview!

The Local – my Swedish career

I am delighted that my friend (and international art tourist!) from Switzerland is coming to the opening.  We do not see each other as often since I moved from London, and it is wonderful that he is making the trip primarily to see my show.  Moderna Museet have just opened a Louise Bourgeois show and there is a press launch of the new Asylum show at Kulturhuset the day after my opening, plus some good shows at the commercial galleries here too.  Not at all bad considering that we are still somewhat in the ‘darker months’ here.

 

Coming up for almost twenty-five years(!) since I left Dartington and I am seriously thinking about returning to the country – that is the ‘countryside’ rather than Devon or the UK.  Tomorrow I go and have a second look at a small cottage about an hours drive north-west of Stockholm.  It is not far from where I have been working with Tim and that makes it easier to consider such a move.  It is also only about 15 minutes away from the closet large town which has an art centre, library and cinema.  The train takes only 40 minutes from that town to central Stockholm so part-time work in the city is not out of the question.  The real advantage would be the time and space that I would have.  I would set up my studio at home …. I would actually have a home!  It has been four years since I packed up many of my things before redecorating and then selling my flat in London, it would be lovely to have somewhere to unpack them and use them again.  The possibility of finding anything to either rent or buy in the city seems more and more remote if I want to continue with my practice – which I do.

Luckily have I have some good role models for making a success of being a contemporary rural artist.  Friends in Norway have done it, and so has Tim.

An exciting week ahead!


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I am thoroughly enjoying spending more time at the studio.  This morning I was continuing with testing different adhesives for glitter.  Last summer I spoke with Pia, the (now retired) specialist in the Royal Institute’s ‘Material Knowledge’ laboratory, and I am starting from her recipes and suggestions.  It is good fun to do these tests and compare the results as I build up layers of glitter on wood offcuts.  While mixing various ratios of different glues I started thinking about, and not for the first time, how I often have to learn new skills.  I love learning new things but perhaps it would be nice to have a deeper knowledge of a few materials and techniques.

 

 

Last night Donatella Bernardi presented her work for Kunsthalle Bern to us – Morgenrote Aurora borealis and Levantin Into your solar plexus.  It is an amazingly wide ranging and ambitious installation throughout the galleries realised through collaborations that she negotiated between at least seven other institutions and countless artists, the whole thing being conceived and produced in about two months.  She, and it, are truly impressive!  A combination of hearing how she works and being in the midst of putting on my own very modest show made we wonder about ways of work and scales of ambition.

I am fighting the thought that I might be too old to re-assess how I work.  Not that there is anything fundamental wrong with how I operate, just that I might get closer to my ambitions for my practice if I opened myself up to new ways of thinking about what ‘making’ can mean.  There is also something about not being awkward about being ambitious.  I can be bad at asking for help, and at asking for what I want.  It is probably more accurate to say that I can easily feel that asking for anything is too much and to avoid disappointment I do not ask for even appropriate things*.  This is definitely something to return to!

(* on the other hand I can be surprised when I am not offered one of the very limited places on an internationally renowned PhD programme … funny when I know that I would not bother competing for an exhibition at an equivalently high profile museum.)

I dislike terms such as ‘strategy’ and ‘network’ however these might be exactly what I need in order to advance my practice and make it truly sustainable.  I might already have started to do things differently (which is why reflection is useful!).  The show that I am putting on here feels like a ‘try-out’ – something to be worked on and developed.  I want to see how these new pieces function and how I feel about them.  Testing them, and myself, and inviting people to see them will give me feedback that I can use to take the work to the next phase.

Many years ago, at perhaps the height of its popularity, I made the decision not to be an ‘artist/curator’.  It was, then, an important and necessary choice for me to call myself an ‘artist’ and nothing more.  Now might be a good time to consider if my artistic practice might benefit from some lessons from contemporary curating.  So much of what I am interested in are ideas and possibilities of the connections between things … might this not be well expressed through presenting my work in relation to some of these other ‘things’?  And is this not curating?

Inspired by Donatella, I imagine how wonderful it would be to design an exhibition that includes not only my glittery door and jigsaw puzzle pieces but also artifacts and artworks that refer to black-holes, rites of passage, time travel, burlesque humour, stage show illusions, and discotheques …  Wouldn’t that make it easier and more fun for my audience to engage with what I am doing?


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2015-01-26

Friday before heading back the UK I attended Graham Harman’s presentation and question and answer session at Moderna Museum here.  I have to confess that I have not read anything of his, nor heard of ‘speculative realism’.  His talk was quite something, his passionate, entertaining, and surprisingly comprehensible delivery made wide and varied references to other philosophers whose works I ‘know of’ rather than ‘know’, however this did not prevent me from enjoying his line of reasoning.  The title given to his talk by the museum (rather than by himself, which he pointed out) was “What is an object?”  I particularly liked his notion that an object can not be reduced – and by reduction he means understood in terms of either it’s particles (reduction down) or effects (reduction up!).  It becomes more complex when he explains that everything with physical form is an object but perhaps ideas and thoughts might also be considered to be objects.  What then, one might ask, is not an object?  During the questions and answers he made reference to businesses succeeding when they understand, and/or return to, their core values and ambitions, citing IBM as taking a massive leap forward when they realised that their core value was information rather than typewriters.

This idea of understanding, and returning to, one’s core values or principles struck a chord with me.  Perhaps this is because I find myself wondering about where to live and how to earn money, or perhaps how to live and where to earn money!  Applying the idea to myself I realise that for me my ‘core value’ is making art.  It feels important to hold on to this when investigating possibilities and making decisions.  I know that I can become distracted by other values such as living in the city centre, and having an academic position for example.  But do these really help me achieve my core value?

There is a little house coming on the market soon.  It is about forty minutes outside of Stockholm.  Opposite the house on the other side of a small yard is a barn that might make a studio.  Living there would be a huge change, however it seems more achievable than finding anything in the city (to buy or rent).  Might living there, and teaching English for example, enable me to take a sizable step towards my artistic ambitions?  Could what might at first seem like a ‘move away from’ actually be a ‘move toward’?

In the meantime I am racing to have work finished for the opening of my show in the gallery here at the studios.  The week before going to London I made good progress and hope to get back into the swing of it now that I have returned and dealt with some urgent and unavoidable things (my UK tax self assessment return).  Though the current puzzle I am working on has two large areas of clear blue sky in it, and I have learnt that I am far better at seeing pattern than I am at seeing tone.

 

My grandma had her ‘good send off’.  I was very tearful and found it a challenge to get through the poem.  Service was very good and I was pleased to see so many of her friends there.  Perhaps because we only saw each other once or maybe twice a year since I moved here it seems harder to comprehend that she is no longer there.  I already know that it will of course be at the anniversaries throughout the coming year that the sense of her absence will heightened, neither sending nor receiving birthday greetings, nor making a mother’s day card for her.  After the service there was a wake at her flat, and I enjoyed listening to her friends tell me about their friendships with her.  Being in her home without her being there was not as strange as I had thought it would be.  The bustle of people and sound of chatter felt good.  Some days later I wondered if that is not the meaning of a wake – to make it alright to physically be where the deceased had lived.  Like the wake of a boat the wake, though turbulent, passes and the waters calm.

 


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