The balance of growth. Sculpture, found objects. By Anna-Lena Ekenryd 2015.
In January 2016 there are about 7.4 billion people on Earth. With a rough estimate, if about 2 per mille of them claim to be artists there are at least 14 million artists. At the same time both well- and little-known art schools around the world attract new students each year. Additionally, in recent years the former West-centered art world has expanded and now include art from the whole globe. Among all these creators – me, myself and I.
I’m one of them. I am one of those who want to, who have to create. I am one of the millions of people who want to create a feeling, a thought or a seed within other people. Of the 14 million artists a few hundred, maybe a thousand, are chosen to exhibit in the art biennials of Venice, Lyon, Singapore or Sao Paolo. That is the first reason why I should stop creating.
The second reason: White, middle-aged, middle class from Europe. That’s me, it’s my culture and my identity. And there is nothing I can do about it. Art history has since ancient times revolved around my kind of people, from my kind of country. Greece, Italy, France, England, Germany. In the early 1900s artistic works from other parts of the world was considered as naive or primitive but inspired nevertheless successfully both Picasso and Gaugin. The white Western hegemony in the art world didn’t begin to break up until in the late 1900s, incredible enough. So, to put it simply, for most of the last millennium my kind of voice are the one heard. At least the male variation of it. Not many other kinds of voices have been heard.
What do we need art for? Art has for centuries praised the power, the heavenly, economic or political. Busts, statues and portraits of gods and popes, emperors and merchants. The art tells us about the times and the societies it was created in, but it can also be more active and challenge the power and the order of things. Street art and some performance art provokes and kicks off debate, for example Anna Odell who work to detect and show weaknesses in psychiatric care in Sweden. That’s good. But they are exceptions. The role of art as an effective power for change can be discussed when the world is facing gigantic, acute challenges in terms of climate, energy and conflict. Plant a seed? It requires more substantial actions to save the world. It is the third reason.
Regents Park, London. October 2015. The entrance to the Frieze Art Fair is reminiscent of the VIP guests’ arrival to the Oscars. It is all well dressed and well groomed and bit weird “arty”. It is at this fair you get to know what is the hottest hot in the new art. They say. It has in any case since long been sold out. Olafur Eliason attracts crowds of art lovers to the Modern Museum in Stockholm, as well as Ai Weiwei to the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Art lovers and art connoisseurs, the vernissage visitor and the Bukowski-speculator. The fourth reason to stop making art is about who I want to create for. Is it the above mentioned? Is it in them I want to create a new feeling? Are they the ones that will save the world?
I can not paint with watercolors. Hah, you say, everyone can if they want. Okay, I don’t want to paint with watercolors. It’s not my thing, it’s not me. During the bulk of the art history the technical artistic skills has been at a premium. Ancient imposing marble sculptures and High Renaissance sfumato-shading will always impress. I thank Marcel Duchamp for beginning to create sculptures of existing objects 100 years ago – Fountain, created by a urinal, is one of the most famous. His work is still, a century later, both controversial and celebrated. He opened the door for the development of new forms of expression which today are established in for example installations, performance and sound art. Now it is considered to be art when Daniel Buren is decorating the sails of boats in a regatta with stripes in various colors. I rejoice and become inspired. But – and this is the fifth reason – the traditional artistic techniques are still very highly valued. There are far more galleries exhibiting oil paintings than video art …
The art is today at a market in a neoliberal world. Culture should nowadays preferably finance itself without state support, and the artist must be both an innovative entrepreneur and a salesman. Although the artist puts her soul and a lot of effort into creating, and while art lovers can appreciate its expression, art’s value is measured in money. An article on art in a newspaper tells us how much the work was sold for at Christie’s, not what it might make you feel. Not that I consider myself close to that league, but I have exhibited my work several times. How did it go? Did you sell anything? The two issues are linked together. It was not what it was about, I think. That is the sixth reason to give up. It is the artworks that are at the center of an exhibition, so, it is my personal self I exhibit. I expose myself, my inner me. And I’m not for sale. I’m not looking for the spotlight. But I want it for my creations.
When I’m creating the material takes hold of me. I work with the whole body. They tend to become large. And heavy. Metal, concrete, wood, plastic or whatever I find along the way. I want to work with multiple projects at the same time. They take space. And that’s perfectly fine. I want my works to take hold of other people as they take hold of me. But I live in a multi-million metropolis. Reason number seven: Where can I find the space? A studio in London? Dream on, baby. I am neither Niki de Saint Phalle, who built an entire sculpture park in Italy or Arman who built Long term parking of 59 cars and a lot of concrete in 1982. Not yet anyway.
This little moment when I exist on this planet, I want to contribute to a better world in some way. Is devoting myself to art the best way of doing this? I have worked as a journalist, at universities and as a teacher. I’d like to think that I in this way have worked to make the world a little bit better, at least not worse. Isn’t that sufficient? Reason number eight.
Okey then, you say, stop whining. Just stop making art!
No, I really can’t help it. If I don’t create I am not alive. To create gets my brain to vibrate, my blood to rattle and my lungs to swing. It is simply me. And I can’t be someone else.
Anthony Cragg plays with the objects that the industrial world rejects. And together, the pieces of the world give a new point of view. His accumulations also inspires me. He stacks objects according to size, color or material to art that seem as if they are a part of nature.
Arman also works with traces of humanity. His giant works are mostly made of metal and concret. He shows that the impossible is possible , even if you have to extend your sences and your imagination to do it.
César works with rejected objects, often in metal, which he modifies using great mechanical force. He makes sculptures of expanding foam combined with domestic utensils.
In the works of Louise Bourgeois we sense the footsteps of her life, specially in Maman – the giant spider that is a reminder of her nice taylor mother. I find the the art of Niki de Saint Phalle inspiring, the way she plays with the soft forms and strong colours – and at the same time they have a dark fond.
Their work – their thoughts, their choice of material, their shapes and their colours – whisper to my mind, sing to my eyes and my skin and I want to dive into it.
Can you find happiness in misery? Can ugly be beautiful? If there is a taboo in Sweden, something you can’t touch or talk negative about it is Astrid Lindgren. A lot of Swedes will agree, I’m sure. But for me I think that she haven’t given us only godd things, she has given us the Bullerby Syndrome as well. And I’m not the only one thinking so. Some people even call her “The Brain Washer from Wimmerby”.
So what is the Bullerby Syndrome? Well, in Sweden we have a tendancy to think that happiness lays in the environment. And that the environment has to look in a special way to be able to give happiness. I think you recognise it. Red little cottage. White corners of the house. Preferably green window shutters. A gate. A kitten. An apple tree. White wooden garden furniture. Maybe a hang mat. And there we happily gather. The Bullerby Syndrome.
And that’s ok. It could be worse. But I think it stands in our way when we make decicions in our lives.
When I was a little girl me and my friend Håkan hade a favorite place of our own. It was a concrete corner, just by the entrance to a garage below ground. I thought it was fantastic to play there, there we had our own little world. No an apple tree in sight.
My passion for concrete and the beautiful ugly started right there.
I had longed to learn how to handle concrete for many years when I finally did it 2008. I think the material is raw and heavy and at the same time really beautiful. And exiting. It*s a challenge to handle because you’re not supposed to sculpture it. So there’s a lot of failures. But it doesn’t matter. To fail is also a way of succeeding. Concrete is my passion. And steel wire. And garbage. It’s raw and heavy. And sustainable. And fragile. As life. As the nature.
We say that we have a free will. We can choose whether we want to be cowardly or courageous. Stingy or generous. Clean or dirty. Good or evil. But how do we define the one and the other, and who is doing it?
Assuming that humans have their own spirit, their own emotions, and a will – and that man is good – we should of course choose the good. But for whom is it good? Prejudices, status hunting, values, laziness, prestige, stress, stupidity, inheritance stand in the way. I can only say what is right or wrong, good or evil, for me. And barely that. Despite awareness of the issues, my thoughts and I are a result of impact my society.
As an artist I believe in the responsibility to give a voice to current concerns. A responsibility that was also the reason to my earlier work in journalism. On the other hand I think that we often take our lives and ourselves too seriously. We are here on earth for a little while, maybe we should laugh a little more at ourselves, dance, sing, make love, play. What is the meaning of life?
I don’t have any answers, but I want to ask questions. I want to examine the crossroads we pass, the junctions of which our lives consist.
My preferred materials are concrete, clay and metal – or found objects – with weight and volume. With my shapes I want to explore the structures of today’s society and our behaviour in it.
”Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.”
I am in hurry. For inspiration to new thoughts, ideas and images. And inspiration is everywhere. To travel and see new things. For example, a bunch of newspaper boxes on Broadway, Manhattan. They look like a bunch of small friendly old men and women who are just waiting for something exciting to happen. Overall, it is inspiring to all the little messages you get in the cities, crocheted scarves around lamp posts, sculptures placed at traffic lights and electric wires.
To enter. Or, for that matter to leave. Through a door can be very inspiring. To face a new environment, or to see an old environment in a new way. It can be quite scary, because “we know what we have, but not what we can get.” To expose oneself, for example by getting on stage when you actually have stage fright.
Or, to see a film by Almodovar. His stories are often so bizarre and challenging. The characters, half-crazy or different, makes me smile, give me energy and new thoughts. And the aesthetics! I just love his set design, colors and light.
But at the same time, spending time in nature also do me good.The monotony you get when you hike in the mountains. You wander in the eternity, and are forced to listen to oneself for a while. Or some hours. So tiny you feel when you see infinity. And how good a sandwich can taste. Energy. Monotony. Eternity. Infinity.
Did you dance? It is a question that my mother often askes after any event I have attended. Slightly irritating during adolescence. But now I realize that it’s a good question. I think that both the body and the soul needs it. And laughter. And doing both at the same time gives me energy and inspiration that lasts for weeks …
Yes, and the Norwegian couple who have converted an oil tank to a residence in Lofoten. To see a new possibility in something that most people think is ugly and wrong. Fantastic.