And here’s the story of my own process, and the resulting piece for the Imago Mundi collection:
Imago Mundi canvas.
First, there was the invitation – materialized as a small object. Paula von Seth, curator for the Swedish archive of Imago Mundi, contacted me in late August 2014 and provided me with a framed canvas, 10 by 12 centimetres. The suggestion was to alter the object artistically, and then return it to stay with the collection. I kept the canvas wrapped in its plastic pouch and carried it with me for several weeks, ambivalent whether I should accept or not.
The invitation comprised a set of vows concerning presentation and promotion within the project, but offered no economic compensation for the artist’s work as such. I know several artists who would have declined the invitation for this reason only; in Sweden, it has been a long-time struggle to arrive at some basic agreements with public commissioners concerning the payment for artistic work. Considering the conditions, I knew I wouldn’t use the canvas to make a painting.
By and by, the very ambiguity of the situation begins to catch my attention; it needs to be explored. Finally, I decide to open the plastic pouch. Groping for the canvas, I ask myself: what is this invite about, really? and what would possibly transcend the settings of this interchange? What kind of response, from my side, wouldn’t fit in? Provocations – personal insults, explicit political or sexual statements, “épater la bourgeoisie” – are firmly established patterns in the artworld; hence, none of that. On the other hand: would it be meaningful, or even feasible, to open a dialogue across the realities that separate an extremely wealthy man, such as Luciano Benetton, from myself – an undistinguished, low-income female artworker? Or, again – considering the lack of social and ecological balance in this world – am I in fact by the side of mr. Benetton, capitalizing on global inequalities?
I don’t know. I need to visualize… How can these frames be expanded?
While trying to duck out of the frames, I remember the blue pants. The connection between the Benetton trademark and myself actually dates longer back than the Imago Mundi project – much longer. Back to 1985, to be exact; that was the year when I purchased those corduroy jeans for my firstborn, five-year-old son during a visit in Paris. We both delighted in the prince-like turquoise blue colour, and he kept wearing them for years to come. At last, when they were thoroughly worn-out and faded, I couldn’t dispose of them but carefully put them away in a drawer. Almost thirty years later, that’s where I find them. Carriers of memories and emotions – I bring them out to form a new picture.
The idea of a book-scroll merges with the physicality of the textile. I begin to unstitch the bits and pieces of the garment. It takes quite some time; every stitch is firm and strong, not a single one has loosened (although the fabric itself is almost see-through in certain patches). Somebody did a good work here… The original colour still remains inside the overlock seams. Removing one thread after another, I notice a label that says: MADE IN ITALY. Those were the days, now I guess they would have been manufactured in Bangladesh or Pakistan. I’m careful to save each piece of fabric, each thread. They keep the memory of somebody’s time. Somebody’s life.
I spend some time rearranging the bits of fabric. In order to make them fit to the framed canvas, I need to sew them together anew, forming one long band. Time.
Time is what we have in common. Time is, actually, all we have.
The idea of a book-scroll calls for a text. The unmaking and transforming of that unknown somebody’s efforts back in the 1980’s… brings about another memory. Around the same time, in 1984, Volker Harlan – a priest in the Christengemeinschaft of Germany – recorded a dialogue with artist Joseph Beuys. It touched on many things, among them the themes of art and production, freedom and judgement. I remember a quote:
“So, first of all, we have art as the science of freedom, and as a consequence of this, we also have art as primary production or the original, underlying production for everything else.”
But this is an English translation; I’d like to have it in the original, German form. Can’t find it, though. Luckily, German-Uruguayan-American artist Luis Camnitzer is visiting the Royal Institute of Art these days, and I take advantage of this to bring up the issue. He kindly agrees to help me out with a translation. Of course, this is more like Chinese whispers; the resulting sentence will be Camnitzer’s words, not Beuys’s. As Luis Camnitzer himself fully approves the essence of the statement, I feel it’s still appropriate. But he worries about his German idiom being a very childish one, since he changed language at the age of three… Later, I get an opportunity to check it out with a friend, Anusche Noring – who is also a professional translator – and she corrects the sentence in some parts. The opening words are already embroidered onto the fabric, though, and will remain as if articulated by a three-year-old…
One transformation follows another. I like the way this artefact is unfolding a space of its own, tacking together a compilation of purposes and materials.