A discussion between Sophie Cullinan and Elena Thomas, on Sophies’ a-n blog – which is a great read, about what constitutes “best” in terms of materials lead me to thinking about the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ and how I had misunderstood this for many years. (Misunderstanding seems to be prevalent at the moment!) In addition to thinking about materials I have begun thinking about what is ‘best’ and ‘fittest’ in terms of where I want to show my work. Perhaps it is not so much a question of what kind of gallery but what kind of context. The distinction may initially seem trivial however the more I think about it the more appropriate it seems as a starting point for investigating options.

The context in which an artwork is encountered lends, gives, infers some kind of meaning in some way. Or if not meaning, then at least it provides a framework within which you begin understanding the piece before you. Writing this now I wonder if this has not always been something that I have struggles* with.

When I have written about approaching ‘a gallery’ I have specific galleries in mind. This week I went to a talk organised (in part) by my favourite commercial gallery here – Galleri Andersson / Sandström. It was a fantastic interesting stimulating conversation between the artist Enrique Martinez Celaya and writer Theodore Kallifatides in response to questions of Exile, Reconciliation and Creativity posed by Kerstin Brunnberg from the city’s culture department. Beyond being great in itself the evening made me realise why I like this gallery – their artists tend to be academic and intellectual in a very personable and approachable way. It was an absolute pleasure to hear both artists criticise the rise of cynicism in the arts and education. Yesterday I started reading Enrique Martinez Celaya’s collected writings (1990 -2010), I have the feeling that this is a book that will certainly inform my practice, perhaps not in terms of content or appearance but certainly in terms of conviction and perhaps if I have sufficient courage in terms of context.

The attraction of a commercial gallery is not the possibility of making money in itself, rather it is the possibility to ‘earn’ time and means to produce more, to go further, to develop. Therefore it is essential that it be the ‘right’ commercial gallery, one with interests beyond the art market: a gallery that sees their artists and the art that they produce as more than just a commodity. I am sure that most commercial galleries do this however I am certainly drawn to galleries where this feeling is (to me) palpable.

Enrique Martinez Celaya’s show opens at the new Andersson / Sandström gallery (they are re-locating to a far bigger space) on Saturday – I am really excited to see his work!

Sophie Cullinan – the abject object

* a typo – meant to be struggled but struggles is better – more present!


Approaching the first anniversary of my move to Stockholm it is not surprising that I am looking back as well as forwards. It is hard for me to believe that this time last year I was packing up my house and dealing with solicitors … so much has happened since then! The question of how to proceed, and what with, has been on my mind this week.

More than being challenging the new Swedish course that I started is (I think) too advanced for me. After much thought I will see if I can change to course that my test results allowed me to ‘jump over’. I have learned that having good results is not the same as having a good grounding in a subject.

The most important thing is that I continue with my practice and get more involved in the art scene here. Last night many of the commercial galleries in the north part of the city opened their first show of the new season. I went on my own and met no one, there was one person that I was introduced to several years ago but he was engaged in an intense looking conversation, other than that I did not recognise anyone. Part of me likes this anonymity and the time it gives me to look at the art and to watch how other people look at it. However my invisibility also reminds me that I am on nobody’s radar and that I have yet to establish friendships that include going to openings. For some reason the people who I know best at the studio are more involved in design and the alternative art scenes than the commercial galleries, though there are several artists at wip with very high profiles in the Scandinavian gallery world.

I keep coming back to the same question: how is it possible to shift from being an artist who showed in alternative non-selling shows to one who shows in a commercial gallery. Sometimes it feels as though I should be drawing up some kind of plan or strategy, other times it feels as though I should just walk into a gallery and introduce myself. I am certain both these approaches have worked for different people.

I remember an illustration in an early a-n publication it showed an artist sitting in a hole in the ground, even their head was below the ground level, the speech bubble above the artist read ‘I am waiting to be discovered’ (or something close to that)*. So what can I do now to be discovered?

· Acknowledge that I want to be discovered!

· Visit galleries outside of opening nights and introduce myself.

· Have an ‘open studio’ event

· Invite people to the studio

· Apply for open shows

· Attend artist’s talks and events

· Organise my own show

· Join an artists’ group

The additional benefit of going to talks and joining a group is that my language skills would have to get better! And I would be learning an artist’s Swedish!

On a more practical note I have started to read about doors. Two interesting things:

1. The Ancient Egyptians painted false doors in tombs as they ‘believed’(?) that these were thresholds between the worlds of the living and the dead.

2. Janus was the Roman god of doors. Janus is the god with two faces looking in opposite directions, thus he sees both past and future. I called an installation of mine Janus – it involved spying into rooms above and below the gallery space.

The quest for a few kilos of silver glitter continues!

* I have just found my battered old copy of Making Ways (1989) and I completely misremembered the illustration! The artist sitting in the hole is waiting for their “next stimulus” and not to be discovered. Never mind, my mistake started me thinking!

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It is time for a (new) weekly schedule. Yesterday was my first morning at my new school and I realise that this course is going to require a lot of work. It is vital that I keep up with both my practice and my language school. I think a schedule is a good way forward – it really helps me if I know when I am supposed to be doing what. I have a feeling that I will need to study at least as much outside of the classroom as in it so I am very grateful that I chose a part-time course.

It is a really simple schedule: Monday, Wednesday and Friday are studio days, Tuesday and Thursday are school days. Three days a week in the studio or doing art related things is good! Planning the weekdays gives me a great deal of flexibility and freedom at the weekend.

The proposal for the winter residency in Germany has been sent. I really enjoyed working on it with Anna and Ingrid. We are also looking at making a proposal for another version of the project to take place in one of Stockholm’s suburbs. It feels good to have drawn-up a project that can (and should) have many different manifestations.

During the application process we have talked about funding, rather Anna and Ingrid have as I have no understanding or experience of applying for funding in Stockholm. It is good to hear that there are a number of opportunities in terms of funding. Even if we are unable to give ourselves an artist’s fee we might be able to get assistance with travel and materials. It struck me as ironic(?) that now when I live in a country where there are still possibilities of funding I am becoming increasingly interested in the commercial gallery scene and the opportunities that it can offer.

I allow myself to dream about how wonderful it would be to have people who want to live with my work, who want to hear what I have to say about, who want me to make more of it, who want me to develop and who have the resources to pay for it. It is a terribly romantic dream and one which I find hugely appealing. Today, given the choice between selling a piece of work or writing an application, the idea of selling is much more exciting. In an ideal world I do not want to have to make the choice – this could be something for me to think about! Not seeing these options as polar opposites.

I learnt something that surprised me this week – it seems to be impossible to buy large quantities of glitter here. I have a few more leads to follow that I hope will be fruitful as so far it look as though I might have to order it from London! Difficulties getting hold of materials was not something that I thought about before moving here …


The ‘Skip Day’* at the end of July rewarded me with four doors in addition to the one I found in the abandoned in the cellar at the apartment block. These are going to feature in my new work. So far I have carried three over the bridge to the studio. I have started to wash them and realise that at least two must come from apartments where a very heavy smoker lived – it seems as though I am removing 60 years of nicotine. The doors are a completely different colour underneath.

It has been interesting for me to think about the significance of cleaning the doors. I want to use second-hand doors because they have history and yet at the next moment I am removing some of the patina of that very history. Working in a quite studio I find myself going over this. At the moment my thinking is that it is enough that I know that the doors are second-hand and are probably 60 years old (the same age as the building), and for this particular piece I am not interested in the dirt they have acquired during this time. (Though I am fascinated by the nicotine staining and the build up of greasiness around where the door handle was and the area where the door was pushed closed directly rather than by the handle.)

Washing is an important part of my working process with second-hand objects: I wash the shirts, the cake tins, the dinner plates and now I am washing the doors. I am more interested in permanent marks than in the impermanent and the ‘removable’. Washing is a good way to work out what is what!

Perhaps there is also something about the act of washing and cleansing; it seems to make the object more ready for transformation. It is a symbolic act of separating the object from its former context and preparing it for something new.

(* Twice a year the management team at the house order a skip for residents to throw out rubbish and oversized items that cannot go in to the normal rubbish chute.)