Imago Mundi/Response to Invitation.

art, recent work

And here’s the story of my own process, and the resulting piece for the Imago Mundi collection:

Imago mundi 1b

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?

Imago Mundi 18b
Imago Mundi book-scroll?

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.

Imago mundi 16b
1985 Benetton jeans.

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.

Imago Mundi 20b

Imago Mundi 21b

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Unstitching, cutting, fitting together. Then, pause.

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…

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150517 02b

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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.

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