Materialens magi. Om material som utgångspunkt och stötesten - Moderna Museet, Stockholm

textil konst fiberartsweden seminarie
Materialens magi. Om material som utgångspunkt och stötesten
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
16 juni 2000
(scroll down for English version)
Uppföljningen på förra sommarens seminarium på Skulpturens Hus genomfördes i samarbete med Moderna Museet Projekt och hölls i samband med öppnandet av Claire Barclays utställning på Prästgården, Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Seminariet arrangerades av Fiber Art Sweden i samarbete med Moderna Museet Projekt och möjliggjordes med stöd från Konstnärsnämnden, Sveriges Bildkonstnärsnämnd och Statens Kulturråd.
Claire Barclay konstnär från Glasgow
Kirsty Ogg curator på the Showroom i London
Peter Cornell professor i konsthistoria på Kungliga Konsthögskolan i Stockholm
Fiber Art Sweden: Gunnel Pettersson, Ulla West konstnärer
Seminariet hölls på engelska, således presenteras föreläsningarna på engelska.
Claire Barclay visade bilder och berättade om sitt konstnärskap
Kirsty Ogg visade bilder och berättade om sitt arbete som curator på the Showroom i London
Peter Cornell The magic of materials, something impassioned, elementary and close to the body. Something premordial, libidinous, everythings mother, from the latin "mater" mother.
But was is bodily elementary is immeadeately invaded by a lot of other connotations and hierarchies, between high and low, desire and disgust. And the magic of materials can radiate as well from materials that don´t claim to primordiality and body, but functions as cultural signs in a language distant from the body. - for example aluminium colour in American minimalism as a shock value in relation to traditional oil paint.
Why talk about materials today? I see two opposite tendencies. One is characterized by the artworks increasing dematerialization, in a thought, concept, event or digital medium. On the other hand we have noticed a frsh interest in physical materials, for example in the exceptionally successful reception of Ernesto Netos works this spring at Magasin 3. But I see no reason to get stuck in a sterile and unfruitful either - or. Let me instead for a while reflect on a few meanings of the materials that could be understood as magical. My thoughts derive from the history of ideas as much as from art.
First, and very elementary: confronted with the physical, material object, man´s senses are evoked - they are said to be five. The materialobjects are a kind of sensedetector that maps and defines man´s perceptual ability. But it is a question involving much more than physiology. No one has demonstrated it better than Marcel Proust in his grand novel "Remembrance of things past", where the material things are assigned a most central role. The miracle occurs through the immeediate sensual impressions that the material objects arouse in the narrator. Only sensual qualities - not willpower, reflexion, strain, active remembrance - can awaken memories of the past that the narrator thought lost. These miraculous momnts of bliss are released by the most trivial objects and Proust has very systematically made an effort to let all five senses be represented: the taste of a cake, soaked in tea; the sight of a few trees, the smell from an outdoor toilet at Champs-Elysées; the sound of a spoon striking a plate and the sense of an uneven pavement under the foot in the yard at Hotel de Guermantes. These objects are the magic and elementary objects of the novel.
The material objects that detct and arouse our five senses could be redused to four elements. Antiques phiolosophers imagined that the whole of cosmos consisted of and was organised in four basic elements or materials: earth, water, air and fire. Thet where the ultimate building stones of the world and of man. Between grow a sustem of analogies; between elements, body fluids, temperaments, metals, planets, and the four seasons.
This cheme describes a cosmos organised according to the four elements, and what is of special interest here, is the intertwinement between the elements and mens body and the body fluids. But the four elements belong not merely to an old, primordial past; they still constitutes a new world, as it is an elementary experience that fire is hot, water is fluid and wet, the air is windy and the earth cool and dry.
The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard has thus based a whole phenomenology on the four elements and the kind of different fantasies, reveries and metaphors that each element awakens in the poets mind. He wrote one book about each of the four elements. His poetics starts from a materiality - not from abstract ideas and concepts. Bachelard studies the poetics of the four elements as they appear in art and especially literature and he classifies literature not according to chronology, style and genres but according to the four elements. When it comes to, for example, water he devotes one chapter to Edgar Allen Poes breathtaking seanovel. Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym (which happens to be the favorite novel of Rene Magritte, Robert Smithson and Jan Håfström). Water is the basic material in Poes novel and his subconsious - a strange, phlegmatic, purple water, described like the blood of the earth.
An elementary connection between material and body: the same conditions characterize traditional artists materials. The first treaty on the art of painting by the roman author Plinius incorporates painting in the history of natural phenomena, among metals and minerals, and passing through different colours and pigments Pliny often points out their the healing, medical effects when eating and drinking them.
And in a modern introduction to the painters material by Björn Hallström, the former professor and director of the institute for materials at Mejan, Hallström states in his first lines; Paintings contains many materials that are produced and used in the same way as food-stuffs. The technique of preparation is often the same as in cooking, as in the case of gelatine, which is a pure animal glue that you can buy in a food store. And the preparation of egg tempera doesn´t differ from beating egg for an omelette.
In art you find a highly developed sensitivity to the analoghies between elementary materials, body, food, secretions. For example in Janine Antoni, Warhols Piss paintings, Robert Smithsons work with earth, mud and glue, or Joseph Buys felt, honey and fat and Pierre Manzonis famous and brilliant Artists shit, canned like food.
The Dadaist Tristan Tzará, who himself liked to use low materials, asserted thar art is magical excrements. Excrements are the first material, the childs first magical toy. If art is magical excrementsthen the artist is a kind of alchemist who transformes trasch and excrements into art. Artists and alchemists share an extreme sensitivity to materials and analogies. In the alchemists oven, the lowest substance, lead, or a first materia, prima materia, undergoes a long ruff treatment during several phases on its way to pure gold. Alchemy is a form of art, once called Ars Magna and here we can find correspondences to Tzaras insight. The historian Carl-Michael Erenborg wrote a brilliant book on the Swedish aristocrat Gustaf Bonde who lived in the early 1800th century. Bonde was a highly ranked politician, president of Bergskollegium and chancellor of Uppsala University - and at the same time an ardent alchemist. Bondes method was curoius: he used his own body and digestive system as an alchemist oven: from his own excrements did he separate glimmering grains of finer materia which he washed, purified and ate once more, again and again, in order to have the material further refined into gold. This circulation process continued for two years with unknown result.
The correspondence between excrements and gold appears not only with Tzara, Beuys, Manzoni and the alchemists but also with Freud and his pupil Frerenzsci. Here the excrements become a kind of substitute for money. Freud examins the adult, parsimonious, obstinate, orderly character that takes a strong interest in money - which, according to Freud, is a sustitute for an interest in excrements; a repressed, infantile impulse to play with excrements, or to treat them as a gift. Freus writes: It is impossible that the contrast between the most precious substance known to men abd the most worthless, which they rejected as waste matter, has led to this specific identification of gold with faeces. It is probalble that the first meaning which a childs interest in faeces develops, is that of a gift. Since his faeces are his first gift, the child easily transforms his interest from that substance to the new one, which he comes across as the most valuable gift in life.
But there are, of course, a lot of other trivial objects and materials that suddenly arouse a strange, violent passion, that repel and attract in a seemingly unexplainable way. Freud had an explanation for them too, in his famous theory of fetichism, a concept of such great importance to both surrealism and contemporary art objects. The first, elementary, primordial fetishes are garments and bodyparts close to, or part of, the mothers body. The little boy, playing on the floor, makes a frightful and shocking discovery, catching a glimse under his mothers skirt: she lacks a penis, which means she is castrated! And in full panic, in order to deny and disavow the menacing meaning of this terrible sight, he substitutes her absent member with whatever happens to be near: underwear, fur, silkstockings, a foot or a shoe. Already as a colleage to doctor Charcot in Paris, Freud had the opportunity to read examples of strange fetishist behaviour in Charcots case studies. Charcot writes: A man was sexually aroused by the nails in ladies shoes. Patintly he used to search for imprints of ladies shoes when the ground was soft or snow had been falling. Absentminded and excited he could stand outside boutiques for ladies shoes watching the display in the shop window.
Sylvie Fleury has repeatedly devoted herself to this theme and her installations of shoes bring together freuds fetichism with karl Marx concept of commodity fetichism.
Materials possess their magic because of their elemantary character: the four elements, body fluids, excrements or fetishes. But however elementary the materials may be, they are none the less immediately invaded by cultural meanings: high abd low, beautiful and ugly, good and evil. The bordelines here, between natural and cultural meaning seem impossible to draw. And undoubtedtly, magic also originates in more arbitrary, cultural meanings, more distant from the bodily origin. That is evident when it comes to artistic materials. For certain historical, sociological and economical reasons, oil is ranked higher in a hierarchy than water colour, a fact you can easily observe in the auction houses. An oil painting by, for example, Sigrid Hjerten costs about ten times more than a gouche in the same size by the same artist - even if the gouache is artistically superior. Oil is a material that still has a magical fetish value on the art market.
But, on the other hand, a quite opposite and unnatural material might have a magical shock value. American minimalists detested the smell of terpentine, which they assiciated with traditional European humanism, sentimental spirituality and money. Therefor they polemically chose to use industrial matrials rather than artists materials. Don Judd consequently writes in Specific Objects fron 1965: Our materials vary greatly and are simply materials - formica, aluminium, cold-rolled steel, plexiglas and so forth. They are specific. And they are aggressive. Most of the new matrials are not as accessible as oil on canvas. They aren´t obviously art. And in 1965 the magic of the dumb, blank industrial paint in American minimalism by far exceeded the magic of oil in, let us say, a traditional School of Paris-painting.
In his enumeration of new materials Judd might have added fiber. I am sure he would have preferred that term to textile, for for fiber relates to textile in a similar way that aluminium paint relates to oil; as a liberation from a lot of traditional associations tied to a certain genre. But Judd talks not of cold-rolled steel art, aluminium art or plexiglas art - he talks of the new art as Specific Objects - neither painting nor sculpture. In this expanded field the artist uses and mixes whatever material he or she wants: video, plexi, oil, fiber, dust, fat, chocolate, excrements, ready mades. So why, I ask myself, talk of a specific genre called fiber art and a specific fiber artist?
Gunnel Pettersson, Ulla West FAS
The magic of material. About material as starting-point and stumbling-block
Fiber Art was founded in 1998 to create a platform and a network for the threedimensional and sace-related artform roted in textile materials and traditions. Fiber Art is an international established concept.
FAS operates as a memberbased forum for contact, networking and discussions. The ambition is to debate and to make textile-related contemporary art visible. To arrange opportunities, connections and possibilities.
Material as startingpoint
Physical intimacy
Intallation as landscape
Why talk about materials today, Peter Cornell is asking.
And he points at two opposite tendencies: dematerialization in the artworks and a fresh interest in physical materials. We agree that either-or is unfruitful and sterile. But we find it interesting to look at the question about hierachies in the choice of artwork-methods and in the chocie of material, and how you relate to them.
In the expanded field the artist uses and mixes whatever material he or she wants. Maybe it is even more important today, in what context you put your work. As we see it Fiber Arts purpose is not to establishe a genre, or to make a choice either-or: dematerialization or material, textile material or not-textile material. The most important purpose is to be a network, to create a platform for contact and discussion. To name the network Fiber Art is not really relevant but it is more open and wide than to call it textile. Both expressions are carrying hangover from the 70:th.
This is an ongoing discussion among the members. We hope that discussion will not stuck in a naming-problem.
To be recognized as an artist in society it is fundamental to be part of networks and academies.
It is fruitful to look at these contexts in a gender perspective. This is why we refer to an essay written by Linda Nochlin first published in Art News 1971, also published in the antologie Art, Gender and Sight directed by Anna Lena Lindberg fromn 1995.
Linda Nochlin examines the question Why has there not been any big and famous women artists?
By looking at the question in a social and historical perspective she states that to create art it is necessary to be consequent regarding to conventions, models or interpretations. It all has to be learned or developed throught education or apprenticeship or through a long period of personal experimenting.
Behind the question of women as artists Linda Nochlin points at the MYTH about THE BIG ARTIST, unique, godlike and object for hundreds of monografies. The fact that there has been no comparatively great women artists who have been studied and valued (even if there have been many interesting and sheduled ones) she compares with the fact that there has been no tennislaying eskimoes.
Nochlin shows that the question of womens equalness - in art aswell as in every other sphere - do not relate to mens relatively goodness or evealness or on private womens selfconfidence or misery, but on the constitution of our institutional structures.
Since the 70:th we have seen many women artists on the artscene. But Linda Nochlins prespective is still relevant.
In the following debate we will focus on questions around the relativity of material. We will show a documentation from student-exhibitions at the Art Academy and Konstfack Art University in Stockholm in order to focus on toung artist students cultivating their relations to the materials, their different expressions and ways of observing and using materials. We will in these examples see different ways to relate to the origins of matrials, the social and cultural connotations of materials and how they relate to the awareness of details in the working process. (How they refer to and relate to handcraft techniques and methods)
The political and symbolic connotations in the choice of materials:
Helene Blomdahl Konstfack examination at Nordiska Museet Flag Symbolic stretch. Tricot jersey. Stockinette-knitted material. A flexible nationalism?
Anders Mellquist KKH examination at Skulpturens Hus Flag in between blocks of diabas Sandwich His chocie of matrials has very much to do with the values of the material itself. How it usually is used and what it stands for.
Felice Hapetzeder, Flag/Painting Konstfack candidate at the Greek Culture Institute Grayscale flag watched by realtime camera.
Political and social connotations of the material - an examining perspective
Johannes Sjögren Konstfack examination at Enkehuset. Pink dyed clothes with Hitler prints on lothes-line. White Power
Johanna Pehrsson You can´t stop me from dreaming Konstfack examination at Enkehuset. Wire, tissue paper. Framing of the porno-problem. Underwear made of paper not able to use. Is she playing with the representation?
The material related to space:
Monika Pettersson Konstfack examination at Konstfack gallery. Children stockings in the window
Johanna Gustavsson-Furst at Art Academy Counting Sheep Sleeping machine as a metafor for disturbed sleep. You can hear the sound of Johannas own breath when she is asleep. The machine is going back and forth in her breathing-rythm and dragging the cover on and off the bed as if the cover is breathing.
The material and the place or situation to begin with
Elizabeth Christiansson Coffe-cup weav Konstfack examination at the Historical Museum
Elizabeth Christiansson Wall-web as painting Konstfack examination at Konstfack Gallery. The specific textile material as painted art.
Material and handcraft-techniques expressing feelings
Åsa Cederkvist Park of reasons Stockholm Art Fair 1999
Material in handcraft tradition. Cultivated Material
Helene Hortlund Handcraft work in crochettes. She is building an inner space using a technique with it´s special connotations. Spacerelated. 4:th year student at Art Academy.
Material as building-stone. Painting in a wide perspective
My Ekman Art Academy examination Colour me blind and beautiful before I say goodbye/About That Painting with acrylic paint, applicated on the wall and on plastic hanging in the room.
My Ekman Spaced box projection parafras The material as part of the construction. The importance of the choci of material: here the artists own clothes. From Gallery Mejjan.
After the lectures followed questions and a discussion about materiality and about textile-art and it´s traditions and gender relations.
A lot of people participated in the seminar. The seats at Moderna Museet filmroom where sold out.


The magic of the material. About material as startingpoint and stumblingblock
The following seminar from the summer 1999 at Skulpturens Hus, Fiber Art Sweden was made in collaboration with Moderna Museet Project and in time for the opening of Claire Barclays exhibition at Prästgården, Moderna Museet. The seminar was made possible by support from Konstnärsnämnden, Sveriges Bildkonstnärsnämnd och Statens Kulturråd.

Claire Barclay artist from Glasgow
Kirsty Ogg curator, the Showroom in London
Peter Cornell professor in arthistory at Royal College of Art in Stockholm
Fiber Art Sweden: Gunnel Pettersson, Ulla West artists

Claire Barclay showed slides from her work and talked about her art-work
Kirsty Ogg showed slides and talked about her work as a curator at the Showroom in London.

Peter Cornell The magic of materials, something impassioned, elementary and close to the body. Something premordial, libidinous, everythings mother, from the latin "mater" mother...

The seminar was in english, please continue the reading above.