MOVING FORWARD, SWIMMING DEEPER WITHIN
MAY ALL THAT EMERGES FROM ME BE BEAUTIFUL, TOO
We don’t share blood,
yet you raised my mother.
Reminded of time
in which you are now frozen,
through each passed second,
you are not.
I recently lost my grandfather. I have two photographs of him, eye level on a shelf by my desk at home; it’s hard not to include him in this text or any other work I take on at the moment. Including him is a way of keeping him present, updated. Acknowledging his importance.
He died on my brother’s 15th birthday, immediately creating a giant gap in our small remaining family. The year before my father divorced my mother. He left the home they had built and shared together for 26 years, only bringing one suitcase with all his clothes to never look back or keep in touch. It was a very difficult time for our family. It was a very bad timing to all of a sudden stop being alive.
This was not my first acquaintance with death; I have been to several funerals and lost people close to me, I’m familiar with that certain point of no return. But this time I cracked. I’m forever shadowed by an excruciating silence and emptiness. His absence left me looking for signs that death is not the end station, I refuse to believe that he is nowhere to be found again. Therefore, I keep my eyes open, so I won’t miss him. I’m proud to tell you that my grandfather now come in many shapes and forms. At several occasions he’s been a wild hare sitting outside my kitchen window, staring at me. He’s also been a drop of rain falling from seemingly clear skies. Several days of the week I wear his wristwatch even though it’s broken. Every now and then I throw a glance at the clock, realizing that the two thin needles have moved since I last checked. He is now also an old gold watch, moving in his own pace, not repairable.
My grandfather loved taking pictures, often referring to himself as “the paparazzi”. His was a quiet walker, which came in handy when he, camera ready, sneaked up on people talking or laughing at dinner parties or finding children sleeping in weird places (at age 4 my brother once fell asleep while sitting on the toilet with the door wide open). As much as he loved a good surprise-photo he could also spend a long time giving my siblings and me directions in front of the camera. Our cheeks would cramp from smiling so hard. By the time the pictures were developed he put them in a drawer, happy with having moments depicted exactly as they were: not filtered nor retouched. A lot of the times we would look like clowns. My mother’s friends from dinner parties were flushed from both candles and wine, even looking ugly with food in between their teeth or with eyes half-open. I didn’t understand it then, but now I do. It was the truth, reality frozen in time.
Parallel to writing I’m reading “The invention of solitude”. Paul Auster makes me fall through layers of years and memories. Unlike my grandfather’s photos where everything was static, I’m falling through sound, colours and vivid movement. Everything is in motion. Everything is gone. What’s left has never been alive. I now remember him as a heavily soiled overall. The stains tell stories of his activities and accomplishments. House paint; both yellow (house painted in 1999) and light grey (house painted in 2011), dark green dip-dye stains on the bottom of the legs from the freshly mowed lawn, glue, motor oil and dirt from the large flower beds which he and my mom kept clearing from weeds every summer.
Auster is talking about the feeling of intruding his father’s privacy when cleaning out his home. I keep searching for my grandfather. In the forest behind my mother’s house he is absolutely alive. Those paths still vibrate from his footsteps; each tree was just recently shadowed by his body’s walk in the sun. The pinecones are everywhere. As are the blueberries, lingonberries and tiny chanterelles sometimes hiding underneath yellow leaves, playing hard to get. The forest is his scenery, his stage and his constant companion. He was so familiar with nature, it would tell him its secrets without doubt and he was loyal and worthy of its trust. When I walk my grandfather’s paths in this very peculiar forest I feel as though I’m intruding a bit. Always feeling like I’m being watched, that he’s only ten steps ahead of me but just out of sight, around that next big fir-tree.
I immerse myself in stillness,
ears soaking in rhythms.
there is only passivity,
hands in the air, giving up
I have just been to the hospital. Nothing really serious, although serious enough to come back to the same doctor each time. I’m going every three or four months for certain check-ups and afterwards I spend weeks waiting for the test results: they are never good and sometimes even quite upsetting. It’s always something. I have been doing these check-ups for four and a half years, and by now I know my scheme of reactions pretty well. It all starts with the last letter, giving me both test results and a new appointment. When looking at the future date it turns in to something that resembles a very tall building; you see everywhere in a city from a lot of different angles and a great distance. Come to think of it, it’s very muck like “the gherkin” or 30 St Mary Axe in London’s financial district. The date is always in mind, always standing tall in the horizon.
Time goes by and I’m doing fine. Living, working, sleeping. Then, the day arrives and I’m tense. Sometimes sweating, other times freezing and one time even shaking. Sometimes calm, other times a nervous wreck. In the morning it’s always hard to figure out how this particular day will turn out, but I go about my business and always end up checking in at the reception twenty minutes too early. In the waiting room I’m relaxed, I tell myself I have the option to get up and leave at any minute if I want to. I never do, instead I’m quietly observing the other patients. So far, this day turned out to be a difficult one and at this point my brain and body are tired, I’m sinking into the sofa I’m on, slowly, becoming one with the furniture. The woolly grey woven fabric embraces me. I close my eyes and lean back, totally supported by soft anonymous cushions. Breathing is the only thing I know how to do. Behind the closed eyes the doctor is calling my name.
As a tradition, I treat myself afterwards. No expenses are too big. I go to an old bakery, have a cup of coffee and a large piece of Budapest-cake on an empty stomach. My whole system is now filled with whipped cream, chocolate and meringues. All that matters right now is to eat cake and have coffee. I notice that a bunch of old people are watching me. I look back at them, wondering if they might be aware of the fact that they all are dressed in the same colour; that undefined boring beige, either with a touch of yellow or a blueish tone in it. I begin to feel sad, so I leave the bakery and go shopping for new underwear while listening to electronica.
My apartment is a complete mess. My head too. Days go by and I go to bed each night wondering about what I spent the day achieving. Most of the time it’s something, but this week has contained absolutely nothing of substance. I do nothing except for walk around in silence; move things from one place to another and check my mailbox (both digital and physical). I’m not sure of what it is I’m waiting for. I think, think, think and my throat is sore. When the head/apartment is this messy, the stress is close. It’s like my brain has exploded. All over the place tiny bits of brain keeps working on their own; associating, singing, talking, making lists and they report everything back to their main central, which is me. I’m overloaded, about to collapse. I try to fight it from the other end with loud music. It does not work.
Many years ago,
your hair was not grey,
your eyes were nothing like dirty water.
I know all your colours were brighter,
but the image that immortalized you
is in black and white
Next after writing, I consider all forms of work with textiles to be my second most difficult process. Or challenging, more like. All my new ideas are born dressed in textiles. Every time I start a new project the materials feel distant to me, like strangers. It’s my main field and medium, but at the same time it’s an unrequited love and I’m in a very unequal relationship with textiles. I do all the work; I always try harder, make mistakes, cheat, tear apart and cry from frustration. It’s a lonely and hard work, dependent on my learning from previous experiences and knowing how to put that specific knowledge to accurate use each time. It has come to grow and live in my hands and eyes. The textile materials, with its wide range of properties and constitutions, never cooperate. It presents itself as an accessible and harmless medium filled with possibilities, open for suggestions and it seduces you with soft touches and intricate constructions but it never helps you out when you are in trouble, lost in misunderstandings or need technical support. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand, as much there is possible to understand, about textiles. Yet still, I often find myself standing in front rolls of fabric feeling alienated. Every time the same, every time starting from scratch. And with each end result I can’t but to grow fonder of it.
For me, working with textiles is very much like writing. I pass through different stages of processes and each step is executed and completed in the right order. Piece by piece I’m creating my own wholeness. The process is moving forward while I’m oscillating between confidence and anxiety. It’s filled with the right amount of struggle to continue, just enough hubris to love it and a realistic approach to know when something is truly good or truly inadequate. It’s an act of balance. There are moments of flow where time and sound disappears and only contentment and tranquillity is left lingering. Mind, body and composition in slow motion, nothing standing in the way of me being absorbed, transparent and gradually transformed in to my work.
Sometimes the flow can be abruptly disturbed, or a physical need like acute hunger will pull me out of it. When coming back to reality I’m reminded of the fact that I will die. While being trapped in my everyday life this knowledge is far away and I presume that this is the most convenient mindset for being able to have an everyday life at all. But in those moments when I come out of the bubble, when my hands are warm from work and my mind light from its recent freedom, it’s like I’m lacking in layers of protection against my own mortality. I find this very hard. Perhaps I return to both writing and textile work because it keeps me on my toes, always battling the emotional contrasts between utmost creative life and death.
Day one in printing workshop, 13/10.
2,5 x 1,97 meters of cotton fabric, rough plain weave.
200 grams of ultramarine pigment colour.
1,95 x 197 meters of cotton fabric, rough plain weave.
200 grams of sun gold pigment colour.
Before I start, I rig my video camera and drink two glasses of cheap red wine. I have never had alcohol prior to any work, I’m uncertain of what’s going to happen. I’m not even sure why I bought and drank wine, it all started as a joke while talking to classmates about the myths of how I could artistically liberate myself, but now I only feel lightheaded and hot. I’m not wearing anything underneath a couple of waterproof rain pants and just by walking down two flights of stairs and retrieving the print colours I’m already sweating. I know I need a certain feeling of carelessness in my body to convince my brain of the great artistic development that soon is about to take place. However, that feeling usually enters rather quickly after getting involved with the materials. Now I want that feeling to be present right from the start in order to feel safe enough to even begin. Normally I work at home, in privacy with loud catchy music but this time I’m moving in the footsteps of Yves Klein and I know that I’m not setting my format alone this time.
Yves Klein was born in 1928 in Nice, France. Both his parents were painters. At the age of 19, drawn to the thought of infinity, he symbolically signed his name to the sky, claiming it to now be an artwork of his. He was interested in eastern philosophy, modern music and eventually gained a black belt in judo. He is mostly famous for developing the significant deep blue colour IKB, International Klein Blue, by mixing ultramarine pigment with synthetic resin and linseed oil. In 2010 The New Yorker magazine wrote an article about Klein, describing him as “a pious catholic with eccentric trimmings” who loved wearing suits and uniforms. In 1961, one year before his death, 33 year old Klein and his wife Rotraut travelled to a remote town in Italy to visit a monastery dedicated to Rita of Cascia, the saint of lost causes. Very discreet, Klein had left an ex-voto, a reliquary, behind. A small box made from Plexiglas, together with blue and pink pigment and gold leafs, Klein enshrined it all with a handwritten note as a prayer to the saint: “May all that emerges from me be beautiful”. The box was found in 1980, when the monastery was being restored after an earthquake.
The IKB is very similar to the colour lapis lazuli, which medieval artists used to paint the Madonna’s robe with. Given that Klein was a very spiritual person, there is no surprise that the blue colour played an important role through out his career. Klein started to paint the blue monochromes back in 1949 and had an, for its time, groundbreaking visionary exhibition called The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, also known as “The Void”. A series of work called “Anthropométries” were created by experiments with the IKB. Klein first used sponges, brushes and later on naked female models covered in paint, interacting with large white canvases. Klein himself, dressed in a suit, would first give directions to a small instrumental ensemble: holding one single note for twenty minutes. Then he would move on and give strict instructions to his “living brushes” on how they should be moving, when to stop and lean into the hanging canvases and when to apply more colour to their bodies. These sessions took place with a large and well-dressed audience as silent viewers in central parts of Paris in 1960. Looking at pictures and films from this event 55 years later, as a young woman, there are a number of things I find both interesting and provoking. The blurry performance of Klein’s “Anthropométries” reminds me of how the female body in (art) history more than once has been exposed, scrutinized and used as a tool for the male genius in his artistic process. I’m bothered by the fact that there is an audience watching Klein’s women. And what strikes me the most is that the black and white footage does not reveal one of the most important things: the blue colour. What I see on old film is just a dark thick smear on naked bodies, very much resembling blood. In my daily life I read or hear about women all over the world suffering severe consequences from men’s violence. Klein’s, and the ageless surrounding societies, incorrigible unawareness of this very oblique approach to the female body leaves me uncomfortable and indescribably tired. However, I cannot deny that I consider the end result of Klein’s sessions to be truly beautiful and in a very surprising way they also speak to me in the bereavement of my grandfather. They remind me of our daily movements and that traces from our bodies many times are invisible. Stains, wrinkles and marks are something we a majority of times consider bad and something to strive away from and remove if necessary, especially when the (textile) material in question is expensive, delicate or difficult to wash and restore. This tends to be particularly important when we are supposed to socialize.
Everywhere our bodies go, imperfection appears. This thought came to my mind when cleaning out my grandfather’s apartment shortly after his death. On the wall by his kitchen table there was an unexplainable round mark. Soon I realized this stain was the result of my grandfather’s vanity and how he every morning combed his hair with wax or pomade. Later on he would rest his head against the wall and have a cup of coffee while reading magazines. The stain created by his body was the most vivid trace of him in the entire apartment. His nonexistence was suddenly real and it struck me in the most painful way.
I have always been inspired by work that has a story beyond the good looks. I love it when the process is allowed to be present, captivating and unexpected. Klein’s work speaks to me in these terms, and this is what I want my project to be about. I’m walking in the footsteps of Yves Klein while thinking about the traces of my grandfather’s life and body. I’m excited. I look at Klein’s work and framing, wondering a lot about how I should restrict myself. I see his work as the original setting and intend to do it the other way around. I’m the female artist and textile designer; my plan is to explore a new method in using colour on textiles, creating unique pieces of printed textiles suitable for clothing or interior. Klein has decided on my colours; ultramarine, gold and brilliant pink, matching the colours found in his ex-voto from 1961. I aim to be my own director and my own living brush, trusting my artistic intuition. I will not be naked, but dressed. I will work alone on my own terms, hopefully without a bigger audience. There will not be an instrumental ensemble, only silence. And just like Klein, I will film everything.
Everything is settled; the practical part of my project is about to start. I’m feeling a bit nervous about entering this phase of the process. I’m also feeling very self-conscious; there are people working all around me, looking at my strange outfit; black rain pants and a white ruffle blouse. I feel embarrassed and I want to go home. I find it difficult to breathe with my work. I will have to adjust and search to find the silence within. But… maybe today won’t be the day. What do I even know about textiles, anyway? These are no real excuses, though. I’m thinking about great female artists I admire and return to for both inspiration and backbone, like Helen Frankenthaler and Virginia Woolf. They refused to, and could not afford to, care about what people may or may not think of them, they knew they had to follow their path, their calling. Filled with courage, they did what they had to do. They kept working despite conflicts and inner turmoil of which we know some, but not everything, where only a small amount is reflected in their end results. Constantly we all wander in the solitude of ones own mind and body.
You are better.
In silence and secret
I drown in mud from my own inadequacy
You are better.
My memory will never
depict you truthfully
I fight you,
trying to remain cool and unimpressed,
I do not win
Somewhere in my rolling around on the table, the thought of the white space enters my head. I see similarities between my pristine textiles and the common white exhibition spaces. My white ruffle blouse has gone from clean to looking dirty to now being an artwork of its own, and is the only piece in the whole process that I really have given up my control over. My focus is on the large textiles and adding paint to it, I don’t care about the blouse in the same way. For a short moment, I notice a sense of both privilege and pride rushing through my body.
A week later I’m going through my bookshelf, searching for something to connect with. Years earlier, when I was younger and more ignorant during my bachelor at the Swedish School of Textiles in Borås, a guest teacher and textile designer named Ulrika Elovsson had left a couple of books in our classroom. During her lectures I remember how I felt a profound resistance when she was trying to start a dialogue about crafts, art and design. Our class of 9 young women in their early 20’s were a tough crowd. She looked sharp and exclusive, was travelling the world and overall seeming like an important person. She was proud of her hard work and earned prestige. I did not like her, but I wanted the books she left us, so I stole them. Nobody cared. I thought to myself that maybe I would find them useful in the future; perhaps they could help me become more intellectual and sophisticated. On a random Friday I finally knew why I kept them, they had found their purpose and place in me, as well in my work. Book 1 and 2 are in a radiant apple green with the headline “Design and art” in white typography from a series called Kairos, including texts by William Morris and Penny Sparke. By reading I’m finding new words to describe my thoughts. By truly understanding what I’m reading I become aware of my journey and development over the years. I’m finally grasping the meaning of finding a place for myself in the design universe. What earlier seemed pretentious and difficult suddenly makes sense and now interests me. No longer interested in taking shortcuts, not avoiding inner conflict and/or confrontation, but rather taking my time to absorb and reflect.
While writing this text I have hit a rough patch. I’m distracted. I took an inspirational trip with good intentions, but it kicked me out of rhythm. Things unrelated to my present work come up and I follow them into the depths of procrastination. I feel blind and unable to hear. Making connections is suddenly impossible.
The words are cramping, unwilling to fall into place. They rapidly change their name and looks and make it hard for me to identify and use them properly. I read other stories than my own but get lost when thinking about the differences or the similarities. How come the threshold is so high all of a sudden?
I try to trace this unpleasant mood of distraction back to its roots and I end up at the last session in the printing workshop. It was like an awakening and very obvious that I had slowly come to use my dye colours in another way. The use of my body as a tool had changed as well. The textiles on the table were now handled in the most conventional manner. I was unaware and I was tired. The tension of taking place on the table covered in paint had gone away and there I was, with pink colour in between my legs and hands covered with blue, wiping myself as if I was drying off after a shower. Or washing the dishes. It was no longer a piece of a complex textile design work progress, but a simple cloth. Later on I caught myself as I unexpectedly used the textile to clean the bowl from colour. The way I approached the textiles was moving towards the everyday usage that we all know of. You dress yourself with it, you wipe yourself with it, dry your bowls and utensils with it. I now remove excess fluids with it, letting the textile construction absorb it. This was not a part of the plan. To keep push and start forcing will not lead to any good. This is the time to let go and move on.
A flock of birds
Into smoke I’m turned
following them up
I keep looking at my phone, craving entertainment without the necessity to reciprocate. I take long walks without destination, just to loose time and place when passing by a short old man with white hair and a trimmed sailor’s beard. The rush of hope and joy those first seconds, believing it has all been a cruel joke or a horrible misunderstanding. And then the heavy fall back to reality when realising that this stranger was not my grandfather, but someone else’s.
It’s time to wrap up.
In “The invention of solitude” Paul Auster struggle with the fact that the text he is writing about his father is making him see his father more clearly than ever before. Steadily growing within his writing is the complex persona of an old man with secrets and distance. The father is a man who is limited and uninterested, and all the more obvious is the painful knowledge of the father’s incapability to notice, and love, his son. I could never have imagined that reading a book would eventually lead to new perspectives on, and the end of, my relationship with my own father. After taking a short break from the book, I return to it with a different approach. In Auster’s case, his father seemed to be hidden behind the mists of his own solitude, whilst my father seems to hide behind his own self-pity. In both cases the relationships are left unexplored and undeveloped. In Auster’s writing I become aware of a desperate need to examine what will live on in me. I wonder about what kind of traces other people create and leave in us, how they shape us. Presence or absence seems to be irrelevant.
For me, Rebecca Solnit’s book “A field guide to getting lost” has presented a new way of being lost, especially when walking in the footsteps of Yves Klein and his work. It turned out that I actually would gain strength to find and better understand myself in this project. Just like Solnit’s small swoops and work of association, where stories give birth to other stories, my practical work and this essay have been feeding off each other. Often, when writing, reading and working I have felt completely lost. But like a nomad, I believe I have had fixed relations to a few cornerstones and paths during the process; orbiting around them, connecting my dots in-between. Auster’s story turned out to be an unexpected unveiling of my own father. Cutting ties means jumping in to the void, either rising to the sky or falling flat on your face. Within the blank spaces of “The invention of solitude” and “A field guide to getting lost” I have been searching for connections in order to create a platform in my own language. I have been swimming deeper within and moving forward at the same time. In the silence of writing this essay I have come to realize that when I lost my grandfather I gained his patience and perseverance. Getting lost means accepting change.
Books read during process:
A Field Guide To Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit
The Invention of Solitude – Paul Auster
A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt
Hör Bara Hur Ditt Hjärta Bultar I Mig – Bodil Malmsten
Songs listened to during process:
O – Coldplay
Midnight – Coldplay
No Room In Frame - Death Cab for Cutie
Little Wanderer – Death Cab for Cutie
You’ve Haunted Me All My Life - Death Cab for Cutie
Rome - Phoenix
Armistice - Phoenix
Chloroform - Phoenix
Entertainment - Phoenix
Lisztomania - Phoenix / Holy Ghost! Remix
The Bankrupt! Diaries – 71 sketches - Phoenix
Varje Lördag - Vasas Flora & Fauna
Need Your Love So Bad - Fleetwood Mac
Sunset - The XX / Jamie XX Remix
Hello - Lionel Richie
A Rush And A Push And The Land Is Ours - The Smiths
Stockholm - Jonathan Johansson / Azure Blue Remix
Aldrig Ensam - Jonathan Johansson / Boeoes Kaelstigen Remix
Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand / Daft Punk Remix
Business Acumen - In Flagranti / Holy Ghost! Remix
Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115: II. Adagio - Johannes Brams / Martin Fröst