Me right now

May 9, 2020

It’s Saturday morning. Here in southern Sweden the birch trees have their first leaves and the lawn is blue from Forget-me-not. The greenhouse doors are wide open and there’s a smell of fresh cut grass. It is spring. And the fifth month of the COVID 19 pandemic.

My studio upstairs in our old wooden house feels like a safe place. Since almost everything in my calendar has been canceled and all visits by children and grandchildren are postponed, I spend most of my time here. I’m working on a tapestry about animals. The title is Medal Ceremony: Thanks for Everything! I hope it will be completed in June. Then I’ll start working on Aurora Australis, and after that …

 

The past decade has been characterized by commission work, commuting to the University of Gothenburg, preparation of lessons and lectures and traveling for research and networking. A good time. I’ve been involved in unforgettable events and received honorable awards. My retrospective exhibition at Prince Eugene’s Waldemarsudde in Stockholm is and will remain my most important summery of what I have devoted myself to since the 1990s and until today. However, after Waldemarsudde, and the following scholarship exhibition at the Gothenburg Art Museum (The STENA foundation culture scholarship), I made a decision for the coming years:

In February 2025 I will present a new suite of tapestries. The working title is Mammal Tales (Däggdjurshistorier) and hopefully the suite will include 5 pieces of various sizes. Perhaps more, if I’m healthy, if the world remains and we humans agree to preserve the living.

It may sound like an apocalyptic theme. And maybe it is. (By the way, I recently learned that the smell of fresh cut grass in fact is a result of the lawn being injured and damaged.) My woven images will still be positive, with lots of colors and details, maybe naive but with a serious background of concern about the state of the planet.

My artistic practice, and my choice of genre, have long been firmly rooted in textile history. I have learned everything I know about tapestry from senior master weavers and historical masterpieces. This time, I’ve been greatly influenced by Jean Lurçat’s Le Chant du monde. And of course, the 13th century Apocalypse Tapestry

Do you wonder what I’m talking about? Welcome to read the next text. It is a rewritten chapter from my book The Tapestry Journey – a book about following deer (Gobelängresan – boken om att följa hjortar) from 2017. Maybe it will explain things.

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(Swedish below)

Apocalypses

November 2016

At dawn the same day US announces that their next president will be named Donald Trump, Martin Nordström and I fly from Gothenburg to Paris. We rent a car at Charles de Gaulle and drive south. Martin is my good friend, driver, photographer and history teacher.

“After the Norman conquest, names of animals remain English. When the animals become food, however, they get French names”, he says as we approach Chartres and stop to eat a Burger de Poulet.

A few hours later we park in front of the small hotel at Chateau d’Angers. In the 1300s, a nowadays famous and discussed tapestry was commissioned for the impressive castle. Since 1954, 103 (!) meters of the tapestry are exhibited in a custom-built gallery. Its content is based on the book of Revelation in the New Testament.

As soon as the castle gate opens the day after our arrival, we enter into the gloomy gallery. The experience of walking in the dark blue, windowless space is both breathtaking and claustrophobic. We cannot defend ourselves against the apocalypse, the armageddon. There is nowhere else to rest your eyes. Only beasts, darkness and a weird smell.

Liliane Delwasse at the Center for National Monuments, writes 2008 in The Apocalypse Tapestry of Angers:

The Revelation is an inspired religious text, both figuratively and narratively. But on the tapestry, side-by-side with the divine or diabolical characters – the fantastic bestiary – are realistic figures: peasants, and soldiers, which are the exact reproduction of people of the era as they went about their daily lives.

French artist Jean Lurçat visits Angers and after that decides to dedicate his life to tapestry. This happens in 1937. Today he is regarded as the savior of French tapestry. Pierre Laurent, Director General of the French Foreign Ministry in charge of cultural relations, science and technology, writes in an exhibition catalog from the late 1960s:

Jean Lurçat was the first to recognize the promising future of tapestry, which we are witnessing now, because he gave it back to essential roles: to meet the present wants of people, to take back its place in the middle of society, to combine the primary qualities of efficiency and greatness and to create in modern life fitting surroundings of oh so much warmth!

The city of Angers, southwest of Paris, manifests 1986 Lurçat’s importance to one of France’s most prestigous disciplines by opening a museum in his name. The Musée Jean Lurçat et de la tapisserie contemporaine d ‘Angers is housed in Saint Johns, a medieval hospital with monastery, chapel and grain storage. French textile art from different periods is shown here. The museum is in all discretion an important platform for the woven textile art. But above all, it is the permanent home of Jean Lurçat’s own apocalypse, Le Chant du Monde. He begins his project in 1957.

“I started with the atomic bomb because the atomic danger forms the basis of everything”, he writes.

Jean Lurçat, active through two world wars, visualizes in ten parts and 347 square meters a personal attitude to the future. The first title of this Chant du Monde is La Joie de Vivre (The joy of living).

“It has not taken me long to be convinced that life for one who tries to live correctly is sweet and salty, mild and bitter, convulsive and serene.”

In the text for the next tapestry he states:

“However, there was Hiroshima…”

Lurçat never finishes the project of his life. But the dream of uniting the two apocalypse suites in the same city comes true in 1967, the year after his unexpected death. Angers buys Le Chant du Monde, the song of the world.

Martin and I stay long in the large hospital hall, contemplating the two versions of the last days. There are 600 years between them. We then return to the hotel along the other side of the river, through what looks like a construction site at first and then a demolition site. Campers and caravans are lined up along the avenue and cables are lying all over the walkway. Some of the campers are lit up. Winter is arriving and what we see is probably an amusement park depot. The ghostly funfair sprawls out all the way from the bridge at Saint John’s Hospital to the castle. Sleeping carousels, bumper cars full of yellow autumn leaves, human sized Disney figures behind transparent canvases. Clowns soundlessly cackle from the murals.

Another kind of apocalypse.

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Apokalypser

November 2016

I gryningen samma dag som USA tillkännager att deras näste president kommer att heta Donald Trump, flyger Martin Nordström och jag från Landvetter till Paris. Vi hyr en bil på Charles de Gaulle och kör söderut. Martin är en god vän, chaufför, fotograf och min historielärare.

”Efter den normandiska erövringen förblir namn på djur fortsatt engelska. När djuren blir mat får de däremot franska namn”, säger han när vi närmar oss Chartres och stannar för att äta en Burger de Poulet.

Några timmer senare parkerar vi framför det lilla hotellet vid Chateau d’Angers. På 1300-talet beställdes en numera mycket omskriven gobeläng till det imponerande slottet. Sedan 1954 är 103 (!) meter av gobelängen utställda i ett specialbyggt galleri.

Så snart slottsporten öppnas dagen efter vår ankomst stiger in i det dunkla galleriet. Upplevelsen av att vandra i den mörkblå, fönsterlösa rymden är både hisnande och klaustrofobisk. Vi kan inte värja oss mot apokalypsen, undergången. Det finns bara den att vila blicken på, allt annat är mörker och besynnerlig luft.

Liliane Delwasse vid Center for National Monuments, skriver 2008 i boken The Apocalypse Tapestry of Angers:

The Revelation is an inspired religious text, both figuratively and narratively. But on the tapestry, side-by-side with the divine or diabolical characters – the fantastic bestiary – are realistic figures: peasants, and soldiers, which are the exact reproduction of people from the era as they went about their daily lives.

Den franske konstnären Jean Lurçat besöker Angers och bestämmer sig därefter för att viga sitt liv åt gobelänger. Det händer 1937. Idag betraktas han som frälsaren av fransk gobelängkonst. Pierre Laurent, generaldirektör vid franska UD med ansvar för kulturella förbindelser, vetenskap och teknik, skriver i en utställningskatalog från det sena 60-talet:

Jean Lurçat was the first to recognize the promising future of tapestry, that we witness now, because he gave it back to essential roles: to meet the present wants of people, to take back its place in the middle of society, to combine the primary qualities of efficiency and greatness and to create in modern life fitting surroundings of oh so much warmth!

Staden Angers, sydväst om Paris, manifesterar Lurçats betydelse för en av Frankrikes paradgrenar genom att 1986 inviga ett museum i hans namn.  Musée Jean Lurçat et de la tapisserie contemporaine d’Angers är inrymt i Saint Johns, ett medeltida sjukhus med kloster, kapell och kornbod. Här visas fransk textilkonst från olika perioder. Museet är i all diskretion en betydelsefull scen för den vävda textilkonsten.  Men framför allt är det permanent hem för Jean Lurçats egen apokalyps, Le Chant du Monde.

”I started with the atomic bomb because the atomic danger forms the basis of everything; it is from it our world is organized and become clear”, skriver han om verket som han påbörjar  1957. I tio delar och på 347 kvadratmeter gestaltar han, själv aktiv genom två världskrig, en personlig hållning till framtiden.

”The first title of this Chant du Monde was La Joie de Vivre (The joy of living). It has not taken me long to be convinced that life for one who tries to live correctly is sweet and salted, mild and bitter, convulsive and serene.”

I texten till nästa gobeläng konstaterar han:

”However, there was Hiroshima…”

Lurçat hinner aldrig avsluta sitt livsverk, men drömmen om att förena de båda apokalypssviterna i samma stad går i uppfyllelse 1967, året efter hans oväntade död. Angers köper Chant du Monde, sången om världen.

Martin och jag stannar länge i den stora sjukhussalen, begrundande de två versionerna av den yttersta tiden. Det skiljer 600 år mellan dem. Därefter återvänder vi till hotellet längs andra sidan floden genom vad som först liknar en byggarbetsplats och sedan en rivningstomt. Husvagnskaravanen kantar allén och kablar ligger kors och tvärs över gångbanan. I några av husbilarna är lyset tänt. Vintern är snart här och antagligen befinner vi oss på en uppställningsplats för nöjesfält. Spöktivolit utbreder sig ända från bron vid Saint Johns Hospital till slottet. Stillastående karuseller, radiobilar fulla av gula löv, Disneyfigurer i barnstorlek bakom genomskinliga tältdukar. Clowner flabbar ljudlöst åt oss från muralmålningarna.

En annan sorts apokalyps.