Art in the Sankeien Garden

art, recent work, time-out

Hanging in the garden; photo credit Toshiko Watanabe

After some nerve-racking delay (due to the Swedish postal service), the transport box finally arrived in Yokohama – just a few days before the opening. Back home, I could draw a sigh of relief as our colleagues from EAJAS took over

They, in turn, were now heading for another intense work phase; nineteen Japanese artists, and sixteen Swedish, have been selected for the group show. The curating and hanging of artworks by 30+ artists in this historic site is no little task! As expected, our Japanese friends took excellent care of it all. Art in the Garden – Contemporary Art from Sweden, part III opened on April 28th in the Sankeien Garden of Yokohama.

Gray I, Blue I on display in Sankeien Garden, Yokohama; photo credit Toshiko Watanabe

From the other side of the globe, we’re truly grateful for this photo documentation of the hanging process and results; it almost makes up for not being able to visit. Come stroll along with us in the garden…

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sky, soil, silk VII: conclusion

art, recent work

This. This is what the material tells me: it wants the circle. To mirror the horizon, the sky, the full moon…

Just go for it. Communicate with the curators from EAJAS. Create a frame design from plastic tubes. Get polyester strings for mounting. Steel weights for anchoring. Cut and sew fabric – many hours of handcrafted trial-and-error. One blue piece, one gray – then another two… Duplicates, in case of loss or damage.

Meanwhile, winter dissolves into spring. The exhibition’s opening date is getting closer. I’ll need a big, sturdy box for transportation… So many practicalities to consider. Luckily, there is help. And in the end, it all works out.

On Maundy Thursday, I bring two of the pieces to a lakeshore nearby for documenting.

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Then, one more day for disassembling, for marking each single part and packing properly. Easter holiday passes, and finally we can hand the transport box over to the postal service. And – off they are. Next stop: Yokohama!

sky, soil, silk VI: upscaling

art, recent work

January passes. February too. Snow falls and melts away, the migrating birds are returning: the larch, the heron, the wild geese… My dyeing results are improving – this will be it, I guess.

Upscaling from samples to full-sized textiles. Letting the fabric simmer with red cabbage in an iron pot, then washing with soap – makes blue. Burying it in the compost with pomegranate shells, iron, coffee, and tea – makes brownish gray.

Next: time to think one step further. How to mount the pieces in the Sankeien Garden? Doing some sketchwork, communicating back and forth with my Japanese colleagues. Could the silk pieces be hung from the branches of those trees along the shore? Or tied to a long rope? They will need some kind of anchoring weight, too…

…and meanwhile, a growing feeling that this isn’t the way it ought to be. Handling the fabric: ironing, measuring. Thinking. This isn’t right; these pieces want something else. What?

sky, soil, silk V: transparency

art, recent work

…to cross the threshold that separates the image from “real life”…

According to legend, seventh-century master Wu Daozi (Wu Tao-Tzu) did just that. The emperor contracted him to paint a landscape on a wall in the imperial palace. Having finished his painting, Wu Daozi clapped his hands; upon which an opening occurred, leading into a mountain cave in the picture. The master entered, the cave closed behind him and the whole painting disappeared.

Sadly, most of Wu’s works has vanished just like that mythic mural. Today, his œuvre is known to us largely through the well-established practice of copying in Chinese art; a double act of learning and recognition.

a-chinese-silk-painting-after-wu-daozi-1819th-c-1Chinese silk painting, 18th or 19th century copy after a lost original by Wu Daozi
(photo by Rob Michiels Auctions)

Another liminal figure is Tove Jansson‘s Moominmamma; mother, artist, and crosser of boundaries. In Jansson’s novel Moominpappa at Sea, Moominmamma finds herself yearning for home, while staying with her family in a lighthouse on a desolate, faraway islet. With some leftover paint, she brings her beloved garden to life on the wall…

Muminmamma 1

Tove Jansson, text and drawing from her novel Moominpappa at Sea (1965);
also the finishing vignette below.

Having spent hours roaming imaginary landscapes, my mind resonates deeply with tales like these. In my current commission, however, I hope to achieve something else: rather than enticing the public into the picture, I’ll invite the image to communicate directly with its surroundings, with our living bodies and with light itself.

Transparency is the key.

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Transparency is the key, and thin silk has a unique set of qualities: as a canvas, it absorbs the paint/dye; at the same time, it frames the background like a tarnished mirror; and in sharp daylight, it can even create a space of coloured light on the shadowed side – much like a stained glass window.

I’m deeply grateful to the EAJAS (Emerging Art from Japan and Around Scandinavia) organization, for this opportunity to develop the transparency theme a bit further. But for now, I’ll take a little break.

Muminmamma 2

sky, soil, silk IV: colour and form

art, recent work

Daylight increases almost imperceptibly. Weather is cloudy; winds are light; temperature stays close to the freezing point. Drizzle, mixed with snow from time to time, falls on ground already soaked with water. I try to understand how the acid/base balance affects different dyeing agents, while a bundle of silk rests buried in the kitchen compost.

210106 05

Dyeing silk in bokashi compost

A painting can – among other things – be seen as a certain configuration of colour and form. For an art critic, this would be recognized as “the formalistic approach”. My understanding as a painter is more hands-on: I find myself in a joint movement together with my chosen materials, rambling towards an unseen visual order. Painting traditionally uses pigments and binder on a base or substratum such as primed canvas, wood panel or lime plaster. Dyeing a transparent textile is different, though – adding some of the qualities of a stained glass window to the final outcome.

210107 03b

Silk dyed with black beans, pomegranate shells and red cabbage (backlit)

While waiting for the dye to bite, the Bauhaus school comes to my mind. In the aftermath of the Great War – later known as World War I – it was founded in Weimar by Walter Gropius. His intention was to fuse architecture with the arts in order to “build the future”. Bauhaus teachers such as Johannes Itten, Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky theorized principles of colour and form, and implemented their theories in the handling of materials. Much like other art movements and manifestoes of those times, a kind of heroic aura lingers over their effort.

One of the students who joined Bauhaus in those early years was Josef Albers (soon enough, he would become one of the teachers too). Trained in the making of stained-glass windows, he knew how to paint with light itself; from detritus found at the Weimar city dump, he assembled a number of glass works where simple geometrical elements form colouristically complex images.

Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

From left: Josef Albers, “Scherben im Gitterbild” (Shards in Screens), ca. 1921; “Park,” ca. 1923; “Gitterbild” (Grid Mounted), ca. 1921. © 2021 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Other Bauhaus students and teachers (notably, László Moholy-Nagy, Kurt Schwerdtfeger and Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack) attempted to liberate the abstract image from its frozen state; by the use of custom-built mechanical devices and film cameras, they released light to move freely in space and time. Much of what was accomplished at Bauhaus during the 1920’s got lost in World War II – but over the following decades, some of it was reconstructed and brought to life again. A century later, the Bauhaus impulse is still generating response in contemporary works of art.

Trailer for “Reflektorische Farblichtspiele” Kurt Schwerdtfeger (1922)
with music “De Novo Remutations” by Mohammad H. Javaheri (2019)


What I’m doing today may not have much in common with the Bauhaus dogma, but I do share their urge to comprehend the nature of light, the ways of matter; to cross the threshold that separates the image from “real life”. In addition, I hope for a future beyond the Anthropocen crisis.


More on Bauhaus art and artists (with a special thanks to the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation):

Bauhaus Beginnings, online exhibition at Getty Research Institute’s gallery

Trailer for Medienkunst|Bauhaus Edition, absolut MEDIEN

Kreuzspiel. Ein Reflektorisches Lichtspiel by Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, 1923;
copy produced in 1965, made available by Harvard Film Archive

Documentation of 1966 performance,
at Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn, NY (2016)

sky, soil, silk III: transformations

art, recent work

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To ingrain with mud; to capture the colour of the sky… From dirt to blue – how can it be done?
Testing and trying, for weeks. A dash of tea, of wine, of pomegranade juice upon the fabric… Wrapping fermented compost in pieces of thin cloth, burying them in soil; waiting, then unwrapping. Which materials leave distinct shapes and patterns?

And the sky… Permanent nuances of blue are difficult to achieve. Black rice may do it, or black beans. Or red cabbage in an iron pot.

210101 02b

sky, soil, silk II: impressions

art, grayzone, recent work

Days are overcast, light is sparse; the sun hasn’t been visible for one single hour in December, so far. I’m dyeing with nature’s materials: leaves and dry petals, roots and a hint of rust. These samples are no final results, rather trial-and-error attempts. I am much indebted to Lina Sofia Lundin and her book Naturlig färgning (“Natural dyeing“) – thank you Lina Sofia!

In the end, I hope to achieve a visible memory of wintery Scandinavian soil and sky, recorded in the thinnest of fibres. These silk imprints/paintings are to be exhibited next year, when spring bursts into summer, in a very distant place: the Sankeien Garden of Yokohama. I’ve been invited – as a part of a group show – by EAJAS (Emerging Art from Japan and Around Scandinavia). More to follow…

Map borrowed from the Sankeien Garden Guidebook; site photo kindly provided by Ms. Toshiko Watanabe.

contagium ⇢⇠ contact

art, recent work

Keep distance. Stay home. Don’t go out… This is the way it is, and has been for quite some time now. One direction is still open, though: inwards. The unmeasurable space within.

And… one day, I get a surprise invitation to a mail art project. The request is to mail one of my artworks to ARTiE, the Art Association of Eslöv (a small town in the south of Sweden)… and furthermore, to pass on the invitation – along with another artwork – to two more artists.

mail art

Some time later, I post three letters; to Eslövs konsthall # 9, c/o Poste Restante, and to two of  my colleagues.

And… then, there’s the virtual space. Art happens in so many places; one evening, I attend an online artist talk from my living room. The event takes place at Accelerator, an exhibition space associated with Stockholm University. Moderated by curator Therese Kellner, artists Hans Isaksson, Imri Sandström and Lisa Torell join the current exhibitor Johanna Gustafsson Fürst to discuss the usage and role of language in art… Johanna Gustafsson Fürst talks about the titles of some of her sculptures as having a specific working range – like, for instance, four metres – thus upholding a space around the physical objects. I fancy myself approaching one of those sculptures from a certain distance, crossing an invisible threshold to enter the “entitled space” – a play with words and with the power of thought…

Accelerator: Johanna Gustafsson Fürst Mariama Jobe
Left: Johanna Gustafsson Fürst, Monolingual Territory; photo Christian Saltas.
Right: Mariama Jobe with her sisters and guest authors; photo Briar-Rose Ström Grant

Immediately afterwards, I can follow another live streamed event taking place at Botkyrka konsthall in the southwest of Stockholm; here, spoken word poet, writer and youth mentor Mariama Jobe holds a SISTERTALK – together with her colleagues Fatima Faras and Emily Joof, and with her actual sisters Isatou, Sannu and Awa. As a child, Mariama Jobe often perceived herself as unseen – almost invisible. Now, her recent publication En svart flickas handbok (A black girl’s handbook) gives voice to more than thirty black Swedish girls and women… Finding her own voice, her words too have the power to establish an imaginary space; one where human dignity becomes fully recognized.

Storyteller of the Future
Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo, Storyteller 1 (2017); photo LB-V with Azha Luckman.

As if this wasn’t enough, Konsthall C (in yet another part of Stockholm) offers an online performance only a couple of days later: The Storyteller of the Future by Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo. Due to current restrictions, the artist conducts their performative reading from Richmond, Virginia (USA). Scattered over the continents, yet connected, we – the audience – can all share a story of hope for a bright future; letting our voices blend into one another in real time: “we must do the work, now”.

Language is a virus; art is a virus. Diseases are contagious, but so is hope. To be in contact with one’s self opens for truth. To be in contact with people of good will opens for love. The creation is ongoing.

200926 01 (detalj)  Synecdoche, oil on wood panel, 25 x 25 cms (2020); contributed to the ARTiE Mail Art project; photo HHW.

ANTENN 2020/WordSong

art, curating, recent work

When planning for the SoundWavesLament, we wanted to involve the public as much as possible: as audience, to join in with the artists through active listening and sounding; but also as co-creators in the preparatory work. Weeks before the artists first gathered, we sent a special invitation to persons with disabilities and elderly people being isolated within nursing homes – asking them to share their memories and feelings with the world outside. Correspondingly, we invited our social media followers to take part in creating a collective poem. I took on the task to lead the process. Ten writers, physically separated but connected via e-mail, submitted a few lines each; those independent lines were woven together to form a cluster of voices; the writers could then come back to develop, echo or contradict the themes that emerged. And so the WordSong evolved, from a set of individual responses to Julia Adzuki’s text On Lament, through continuous dialogue, to a poetic work in its own right – and a material for the sound artists to work with, as well…

As the sun rose over the water tower on August 28th, a handful of the artists did a collaborative reading of the WordSong. Taking turns as “lead singers”, we adopted one by one of the thirteen stanzas, suggesting a particular reading or singing mode to be performed by the group. Winging over the entwined themes of sorrow and water, we experienced personal words and voices blending together in a rich flow; a beautiful moment.

I sing the sorrow of loneliness
In my mourning song there is a longing, to be like you, to be one of all.
When I realize I can’t drink it all up, when I get wet and sad at the same time, and experience
my thought’s exchange of ideas with tender, life-affirming recipients –
or, is love (friendship) self-exploiting purpose against destructive anti-existence,
or, raw materialistic ownership of undead particles shaped to the image of the object?

I sing the prison grief
When I cried against your shoulder,
loosened the ache in the chest.
Evolving beyond what I thought. What the world thought.
So easy to believe that we will get where we are going.

I sing the sorrow of humanity
Let me flow freely.
When all hearts release their sorrow,
the one who weeps over what never happened,
the one that mourns the power of evil.
When the lament rises to heaven
and the tears flow more bitterly than you have time to dry them,
how will the earth be able to host all this water?

I sing the sorrow of annihilation
A Blood Song calls from below,
connects the living and the dead.
The answer lies in the vacuum we call existence,
the place where words cannot be found.
Yet we sing the song of mourning, the great,
the one about the conditions of life, our brief moment here on earth,
the joy of love, the great pain of loss.
The song of mourning is the background against which our lives take place,
however we throw ourselves against its rough fabric
we can never change the warp we all share.
Still we sing!

I sing the sorrow of farewell
The knot could not be tightened,
we floated away with the tidal wave – breathtaking, vertigo-knotted.
The sorrow of feeling that development can do

that one’s new place and essence do not fit into the old.
That one melts but still remains when one goes home.

I sing the sorrow of the heart
And so, your own mourning song slowly detaches from the web,
the one that is about you only, your terms.
The song that only you can sing.
Sing! Sing so all mistakes and knots dissolve!

I sing the sorrow of the imperfect
When I dry your sweaty forehead.
A picture of what you have done and what you will do,
like an ocean of emotions and thoughts, cradling islands of time.
The image remains incomplete – a constant attempt.
You love my tears but I just want to roar.

I sing the sorrow of the broken
But do not forget that the mourning song is a seamstress!
Your old self’s purl stitches
she skillfully picks up, and carefully attaches them
in your new self’s glorious pattern!
Stitch by stitch, patch by patch,
in her stubborn joining
of what has been broken,
of the emotions that have burst,
of the thoughts that ran amok in exclusion,
in her careful collection of what has been broken up,
thrown away in different directions – the inadequacy of man –
the seamstress mends and restitutes. A patchwork quilt of longing.

I sing the sorrow of alienation
The wall of sleeping backs by the shores of a story
Underground, the voices of the Gods are woven together.
They call for a union.
You stand there in the grass and feel the length of the arm.
It gets narrower and narrower to turn into yarn.
A thread that flows away from all parts of the body.
Weaving an image that is

I sing the sorrow of worry
A little step back, so we can see what the hands do,
listen again to the nearly silent,
the quiet whispers of nature, where the melting power comes in,
spring-lukewarm water on winter ice,
a safe hand on the lumbar spine where the worry had taken hold
redeems the frozen that has not been listened to
during humanity’s long time,
the forgotten time that lasted too long.

I sing the grief of broken connections
Indigenous people deeply rooted,
observing the constant change of life,
the slight ripple over the lake water
and I confess without hesitation my smallness, how is that possible?
That I can not swim in you?
When the flow allows
the snorkel, Jak’s hand softly around my ankle,
rippling force.

I sing the sorrow of existence
Electrical impulses connect sight & sensory nerves with the blood I have been assigned,
circulating around the heart – to be able to live – in a double state
Hydrogen hydrogen oxygen
Bigger plus (+)
older than solid ground
minus (-) H2O
Fewer than massive mountains
Oh hydro uendru akwa aqua, sa,
drink me and see me as the purest oldest and reborn!

I sing the sorrow of silence
Water is my origin. Water is security. Even the darkest of waters.
A water tower filled to the brim with tears – in every home a tap.
Underground rests the groundwater.

Text: Albin Limnell, Anna Anglemark, Jessica Wiklund, Klara Branting Paulsell, Kristina Lidström,
Margaretha Björkman, Minna Rombo Zetterlund, Sofi Håkansson, Thea Blanca, Tove Gustafson Sätter
English translation: Julia Adzuki
Process leader: Helena Hildur W.
Collaborative reading: Karin Lindström Kolterud, Johanna Dahl,  John Beck, Helena Hildur W.

Listen to WordSong Lab on SoundCloud (at 1:51:00):

Thank you, WordSingers, for sharing!