My thesis work is about difficulties that are involved in deciding to confront problems and in making personal choices. I feel that life is a long series of choices and transitions. I think that transition and observation are two of the most important things in life. When it comes to choices, I feel that with each choice a transition is started and that leads to new choices. I believe that observation is the most important tool to learn about our surroundings and that observation is necessary to make the best choice possible.
I strongly believe that I as a person am responsible for my life and for what is included in it. Through the choices I make, I shape my life for good and bad. When we make choices we never really have all the information, plenty of circumstances are hiding in the shadows. We can choose to go up or down the stairs, and in the midst change our minds. Once we have made a choice it is quite possible that one of those circumstances step out into the light and it has the ability to crack whatever reality we are in. Those cracks can open up for something new, both as a positive and a negative thing. I think that what really matters is what we learn from it, how we deal with that information. Some of us turn bitter and some can see the learning experience as something positive even though the experience itself might not have been. However we see it, it affects our mentality. This mentality spreads, just like roots, to what is around us.
During the thesis process I have made 14 pieces ranging in size from 30x30x2 to 84x102x60 inches.1 The main materials used are wood, canvas, acrylic paint, foam core and photographs. With my camera I capture what I observe. My work is based off of these photographs but I incorporate them into three-dimensional paintings to better express what I have learned about the world and myself. Five of the works are free standing and the rest are attached to the wall, three-dimensional elements expand out of the main picture plane. To have a more concise body of work I have chosen seven of them as my final selection.
The seven works chosen for the final presentation all have a main picture plane on the wall with elements expanding out onto the wall and down and out onto the floor. They are all three-dimensional paintings with photographs incorporated. The paintings and photographs are deliberately kept flat and sparse, having no specific entry or vantage point. The photographs are tightly cropped, stripping them to a very narrow context. This relates to my idea that when confronted with a choice there is rarely all the information present in situations to really know what is going on. I use the three-dimensionality to bring the work into the viewer’s space and to create tension between elements. I am able to create negative shapes in the surroundings of the artwork and therefore it connects to the world outside of a frame. It works with its environment and demands a place in the world, allowing for a new and shifting context.
In the world many things catch my eye but I am often drawn to the mundane. These aspects of life are parts that I think most people usually don’t notice. They are things that we have grown accustomed to; things that have been discarded and possibly forgotten about. One of the reasons I love taking photographs is that it allows me to bring those objects back into focus; give them some respect. I feel they speak to me about time and place, about use and abuse. I feel that they are evidence of a way of thinking. When I am out photographing I gather information about the world. By isolating parts and bringing them with me, I change the context for these objects and giving me the opportunity to present them in a new light. They get reestablished or actualized, gaining the ability to develop in a new place with other possibilities.
My work tends to be asymmetrical yet balanced in shape and color. I use those elements to create opposing fields, or separations between elements to show connections and disconnections within the same piece. The colors in my paintings are mostly subdued with different shades of gray ranging from warm to cool and are based off of my photographs. This also helps to keep the rather large works from being overwhelming. I feel they are more approachable and easier to engage with. The gray also relates to how I see the world, to me there is no clear black or white, no one right or wrong thing, it is all on a scale of gray. When I do use color it is to add some dramatic elements and those colors are chosen because of their emotional quality.
The recognizable things in my work are fences, stairs, signs, roots, and cracks. These are the objects that keep reoccurring in my photography. To me my work is not about these objects, but what I see them representing or functioning as. The objects become symbols that I use in various ways to show how I see transitions related to choices functioning around me. The symbols can function on their own but I feel my work becomes stronger when combining them, and, it creates more of a narrative.
One of the objects I use in my work is the fence. I am interested in what a fence does. It is a border; it separates; it includes, but more than that it excludes. In my work, fences represent a mentality of restriction, shutting aspects of life out, and narrow-mindedness. They represent inequality. As we break down these fences we can start seeing each other and what is going on around us. In my life I have built invisible walls around me for protection after experiencing emotional pain. They can be helpful in the healing process but it is quite scary to take them down again. I have realized that to move on the psychological fences need to come down. At some point I have felt I need to open up and become vulnerable again to be able to have new experiences. When I build strong walls against hurt the risk is that they also “protect” me from happiness.
I didn’t quite understand my interest in fences until I read Rebecca Solnit’s book Storming the gates of paradise, landscapes for politics. I had realized that they were reoccurring in my work but I had not yet found a framework for it. In the book, the architect Teddy Cruz states that “To put up a fence is to suggest difference where there is none (though there will be), and to draw a border is very much the same thing.”2 This really made me understand why fences are so interesting to me. I think that on all walks in life we run into fences, both physical and psychological. They truly are obstacles, dividers, just as borders are between countries. I don’t like them. It hinders interactions and understanding. It stops us from learning and developing. I am not saying some of them don’t fill a function, and I want one around my house for privacy, but in general I don’t like the idea of them. Just as this is something of a twofold idea so is the duality of fences, which is one of the things that interests me. From one side it means one thing but from the other it means something different. There are always two sides to them just as with everything in life.
The Concealed Holds Significance (fig. 1), 75x60x30 inches, consist of a square-like light gray irregularly shaped main canvas that hangs on the wall. It has been built up by layering materials to be reminiscent of part of an old fence that is falling apart. There are asymmetrical shapes scattered on the picture plane as if they have been placed there to cover up holes, hiding flaws. There are also asymmetrical shapes laying on the floor or leaning against the wall, as if they are pieces that have fallen from the fence. Some of them are black to create more depth but most are light gray. There is a rectangular cut out in the upper right corner through which a black and white photograph of a wall with a window can be seen. The window is surrounded by graffiti and a landscape can be seen through it. The main canvas hangs so that there is a distance to the wall and shadows are created as to add one more layer. It also adds to the overall idea that things are partially hidden and unknown on the other side of the fence. The fence could be protecting from these unknowns but it also hinders a full view of what is out there, with the possibility of missing something significant.
Another object I am drawn to is the sign. In my everyday surroundings I encounter plenty of signs. There are the street signs, billboards, and signs that individuals post. They tell us what to do, what not to do, informs us and sometimes they try to persuade us. When I first moved to the US from Sweden I encountered the “No Trespassing” signs. I find them interesting, since they contradict the idea that the US is the land of the free. Sometimes I find signs fascinating thanks to their formal qualities, it can be the text, the color or the overall design. My favorite signs are the ones that are no longer readable, the ones that have been weathered. These signs no longer function as they were once meant to. They tell me that at some point someone wanted people to know something, do something, but for some reason that something is no longer important enough to maintain the sign saying so. They are no longer telling us what to do leaving it open for choices to be made without indication as to what is right or wrong.
The signs I create for my work don’t really tell you what to do; they are somewhat open for interpretation. This is where the power of choice comes in. When confronted with important choices there is rarely one right or wrong thing to do, and no matter what we choose we can never be sure it was the right one. Also, no matter what we choose there are new choices waiting to be made. When a decision has been reached the transition to learn living with it begins.
Every Choice Counts (Fig. 2), 95x50x39 inches, is made to look like a sign leaning into a corner, as if put aside. The sign is made of a square canvas attached to a 1×2. It stands approximately 80 inches. Surrounding the sign are flat, red circular shapes and photographs of stairs attached to the wall and floor. The surface of the sign is dark gray texture with red numbers spanning from one to twelve, as on a clock. The numbers are scattered as if they are flowing in space, in between clouds or smoke. On the red surrounding circles black numbers can be seen. These are numbers found on a clock but they are not in the correct order. The photographs vary in size and are cut into shape as to follow outline of the stairs in various ways, stripping it of surrounding information. The stairs are different sizes to represent that problems, or choices, vary in significance and are repeated because there is always more choices to be made. The red is chosen for it’s relation to stress and together with the numbers, that represents time, speak of urgency as to tell you something needs to be dealt with. The stairs and dots create movement and force your eye up and around as if searching for information, or guidance, but with the lack of information on the sign it doesn’t provide the comfort direction can give.
I was recently given Stefan Sagmeister’s Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far. It is a collection of his truths, the things he has realized, shared. By making words in different materials and combining them into sentences he makes some bold statements. Some of these have been presented on billboards. My personal favorite is Trying To Look Good Limits My Life. (Fig. 3) 3 The work consists of five billboards with combined images and words installed in a park in Paris.4 They are placed in a recreational landscape where someone would have time to think about the meaning, about what it means to them. These billboards are using the format usually applied to advertising. I see advertisements as images using the beautiful and sought after items to tell us what we need or should be. The words on Sagmeister’s signs seems to question these ideas and our societal ideals. The size of these signs makes them confrontational; they demand your attention unlike the words in books where individuals have to make a more conscious choice of picking it up and reading it. There is also the difference of a book existing in a personal space whereas the billboards are out in the open public space, with the potential to create spontaneous conversations between park visitors. His work also reminded me about my truths, the things I have learned from observation and experiences. I try to live by them. One of my truths is Follow Your Heart And There Will Be No Regrets. It is that truth of mine that brought me to US and Marylhurst. It is that truth that has caused me the most pain but also taught me the most. Since my work is my truth I decided to title them in a way that reflects this.
My work is reflective of my personal narrative and my piece Events Have Connections (Fig. 4), 71x47x31 inches, is about the sequences of events that is life. The piece consist of two main structures, one irregular wood structure placed in front of the other, a billboard looking sign leaning on the wall. The two are connected or linked together by red yarn and squares placed on the floor as to create a path. The sign is dark gray and textured to look like asphalt, and is held up by posts on each side. Squares are cut out to show underlying layers and are accentuated by being surrounded by white that fades out onto the layer above. On the right side a square has been cut through the picture plane to show a uniform light yellow square where the outline of stairs has been created by red yarn. On the right side where the stairs end the yarn comes down to floor behind the sign, and the other end comes out in front between layers higher up on the left. The yarn piles up and continues out where it attaches to the structure and jumbles up into it, going up and down, back and forth, creating lines that photographs hang from, attached by miniature clothespins. The structure does not look like a functional construction but is more of a cluttered random configuration, and is constructed of wood that’s painted dark gray. The imagery in the photographs are close-ups of different objects found in the urban landscape and I have added text to them. (See examples of fig. 5) Some of the photographs have one image on each side whereas others have asphalt-textured canvas, painted white on the edges that fades out into the middle, on the back. The same kind of squares forms the path between the structures. I see those squares as functioning both as building blocks, representing yet unknown events, and as pieces ripped out of a road, representing the events that we don’t think matter, the color suggest they could possibly have been ripped out from the sign. I see the photographs representing events that form ones life and the yarn as sort of a lifeline, or a mapping device showing here I have been and am going. All photographs are attached to this line as to show that all events in ones life are connected and affect each other. Past experiences inform choices that we make and new incidents can make us see the past in a new light. The red yarn is connected to the stairs, sign of choice, on the sign as to encourage one to choose how to view past and future. There might be regrets about bad choices but those are connected to the good experiences and maybe even made those possible.
As I go through life I am affected by experiences I have, some are great and some really bad. Some episodes have caused substantial emotional damage and I have learned that there is no point to try to ignore that, emotional distress needs to be dealt with. To Put Aside Is Not Solution (Fig. 6), 75x53x62 inches, deals with the idea that no matter how hard I try to control and limit damage done, by shoveling emotions into an internal corner, they are still present. The work is placed in a corner with a canvas above a pile like structure going out onto the floor beneath it. The imagery on the canvas is divided by three vertical shapes, the two on the edges are black whereas the one in the middle is a dark gray with a shaped photograph of the remnants of stairs pasted on the bottom. The canvas is rectangular but the bottom edge is shaped in an irregular way to follow elements in the photographs. The black vertical shapes represent the hiding of the next image in sequence and the background of the photograph is freed of place and time showing that the stairs exist in one small moment in an unknown location and with unknown past and future. The pile underneath the canvas is made from wood, plaster, papier-mâché and foam shaped into rubbish looking items. The pile is made up of different values of gray, as is the rubbish in the photograph. It is placed on black circular shape creating sort of a stage. There are also letters in the pile symbolizing both cultural construct and words still unformed due to them being ignored or not dealt with. The word “presence” can be read in the photograph suggesting that maybe the letters in the pile have fallen from it. Just like the objects in the photograph they were at some point solid and functional but have now fallen apart. They are now remnants of the function once held but still hold significant presence. The pile in the photos as well as the one on the floor has formed from collapse and is now waiting to be dealt with. As the solidity of the scene has turned into wreckage the bits and pieces are now a more obvious problem. The remnant outline of the stairs symbolizes that there is no way up or down, that choice has been taken away. It is now time for confrontation before it all crumbles. The choices left are to let it take over or to take charge and create something new, reshaping the remains.
Another one of my pieces deals with the idea that change happens even if we try to avoid it. Disregarded Transition (Fig. 7), 72x47x31 inches, is built up by a photograph of a wall, a stair shaped canvas beneath it and a puddle shape on the floor. Black paint has run down the wall in the photo and this is replicated on the canvas. The stairs are black and brakes up into stripes going down, in parts shapes are created on the canvas between them but eventually they turn into individual elongated drips. There is another layer of drips coming down in between the wall and the canvas to create more depth and to show that whatever is running down is not just on the surface. The wall is light blue as is the background on the canvas. The color is reminiscent of sky and is chosen because I feel it is a color of relief or freedom and when I am overwhelmed I remind myself that it will be that way on the other side of the struggle. In this piece something is changing from solid to fluid, and it creates a puddle. The matter is still present and needs to be dealt with before the puddle grows so big it suffocates you.
Fig. 8 and Fig. 9
My piece titled Mindset Expand (fig. 8), 84x102x60 inches, is based off a photograph (Fig. 9) I took of a bush growing out of a cracked piece of asphalt with a sign in the middle of it. The scene seemed really surreal because it was in a field with nothing like it close by. I found an interest in the scene because it seemed so absurd. The mix of man-made, and man-placed, objects with the organic bush breaking through it, made me think of how attitudes spread and how hard it is to stop them. The main canvas depicts a barren landscape with a sign and is placed on the wall. On each side of the canvas a black plastic fence-like grid is attached to the wall stretching across in front the painting, encapsulating it. There is a freestanding sign on a post placed on the floor in front of these elements. They are connected physically by a root like line system that comes out of the canvas and onto the floor. There are similar linear elements coming out from underneath the rectangular post base. These lines are dark, so dark they read as black. The top of the box and the ground that the signpost on the main picture plane is coming out of are light subdued yellow, almost white. This sign is built up by a photograph that is attached in the left top corner sticking out over the edges and a symmetrical metal-gray line going diagonally down towards the right. The background is black as well as the six lines that break up the light ground, giving them the illusion of being cracks. The cracks expand down where the signpost goes upward. The colors chosen for the painting comes from the original photograph. The ground was dark and the sky bright. I decided to flip the values to make it more dramatic and less realistic because I felt that the original scene, even though it is real, was so surreal. Outside of the canvas the lines (cracks) gain a more organic feel and become root-like. They also create negative shapes on the wall and floor as they connect to the root like system attached to the post on the floor. A photograph of a fence is attached onto a three-dimensional round cardboard pipe that creates the post. There is also a miniature sign placed next to it on the box. There are an additional forty5 of these miniature signs in the piece and those are coming out from the wall or are standing on the floor. They are created by close up color photographs of fences pasted on foam core and are attached to the wall with sticks making them look like miniature signs. The fences are weathered and therefore they are mostly in grays or browns. These signs are spread out to the sides of the canvas as well as below and above it. With the roots and the photos on the wall expanding out I want to show that the concepts of fencing spreads, on a personal level, between people and globally. The extra fence around the canvas is there to further the idea that the fence will not stop attitudes from spreading. I believe that even when we try to hide our true feelings they affect how we act and our interactions, spreading and affecting others in our surroundings.
The cracks in my work symbolize the idea of breaking down. For most part cracks are created when something is falling apart. In general it is thought of as a bad thing. In the transitional process of breaking down, new life is allowed to surface, new perspectives become visual and we can start rebuilding. When I am in the process of emotional breakdown I try to remind myself that I will still have pieces of me left to build from. I have noticed that when I see myself as a victim it is almost impossible to see an end of the hard times, but, when I can recognize that I am in the situation partly because of my choices I know that I can also make choices that will make me feel better. When I take a close look at choices I have made and learn from them I have the power to change a bad experience into something useful. Instead of having regrets about what I choose I focus on what I gained, and that is what I will use to move forward, to grow.
Another one of my pieces, Everything Changes (Fig. 10), 78x80x54 inches, has a canvas on the wall with asphalt like color and texture that is broken up into shapes by bright light pink asymmetrical lines. The pink lines resemble cracks. From the canvas a stripe of the asphalt looking texture reaches down onto the floor where it is connected to a pink circular shape. The line breaks up and continues out creating pink shapes. The asphalt texture here is reminiscent of roots. Around this circular shape there are smaller ones placed on the floor. These are in varied pinks but all light and quite bright. On the wall around the main canvas are uneven shaped photos of asphalt. They create negative space continuing the lines out onto the wall. Where space is created there is room for something new, it creates possibilities. As the space between the shapes is the actual wall they create the possibility of interaction with its environment. The way the color reverses in lines and shapes from the top to the bottom, and how the lines become roots on the bottom, represent the notion that whatever we fill our space with it has the ability to grow, or develop. This is also what I want the pink circular shapes expanding out onto the floor to represent. Also, to have the same elements functioning in two different ways speak of various possible emotional responses to one and the same situation. By mixing different materials embodying the same thing, to have the real thing captured with a camera juxtaposed with illusionary elements replicating it, I want to show that there is always more than one way to approach situations, or to solve a problem.
To me photography is very much about observing and seeing. When I photograph I am out there observing the world and making connections to certain objects. I am reading a book on the subject of seeing called The object stares back, on the nature of seeing. The book puts into context how I feel when observing the world with my camera. In it reads: “Seeing is like hunting and like dreaming, and even like falling in love. It is entangled in the passions-jealousy, violence, possessiveness; and it is soaked in affect- in pleasure and displeasure, and in pain. Ultimately, seeing alters the thing that is seen and transforms the seer. Seeing is metamorphosis, not mechanism.”6 When I am discovering and capturing, I feel that an exchange occurs between me and the object. I have an emotional response to these objects that affects me and how I see them. I feel that as I capture the object I give it new life, or a new meaning. Also, when capturing a frozen moment and stripping away the fluidness of the surroundings the object gains another level of existence. It now exists without smell, temperature and sounds. It is altered and abstracted. It no longer just exists in the fluid world of impressions but as an independent agency with the ability to transcend something different in a new context.
The way I gather objects with my camera and mix them with other elements relates to Robert Rauschenberg’s “combines”. His art came out of the idea that as we see things daily we become accustomed to them, making objects almost invisible to us. He used found objects in his art as a way to make the viewer pay attention to what is around them.7 My photos are my found objects; I just don’t move them physically. To me there is no separation between my work and my life. Also this relates to Rauschenberg. He stated: “Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. I try to act in that gap between the two.”8 Photography is my way to discover and record parts of my environment. It feels natural to me to gather what I come across in life and show it in my work. Both through photography but also the invisible things that cant be captured by the camera such as concepts and aspects of the transitional world I live in. This is why I mix it with painting and three-dimensional elements. By doing this I can create more of a narrative that show a truer image of my experiences and how I see life.
The walls in my work is, as stated, are influenced by psychological and physical walls. Geographically it is about the wall being built between US and Mexico. It is also about something that is closer to my heart; the separation barrier that Israel is constructing to close them off from Palestine. My family was Jewish and many were killed for that reason in WWII. They were fenced in, living in ghettos and sooner or later concentration camps. It aggravates me to see the Jewish people once again being separated from their surroundings, but this time separating themselves. I hate the fact that millions of people are impacted in a negative way by it. The conflict around Israel is really complicated and I can’t say I fully understand it. I do understand that there is more than one perspective to it. For many Israelis walls provide safety but for many Palestinians it makes their life less safe cutting them off from hospitals and other necessities. I don’t believe that physical or psychological walls will solve the current problem. The separation barrier stops progress in the area just as psychological walls hinders my personal development.
Fig. 11 and Fig.12
The British street artist Banksy is an artist that I admire. My favorite work of his is the stencil work he made on the separation barrier between Israel and Palestine. The wall hinders Palestinians from a lot of places and his work is imagery of what could be on the other side. He painted cracks, openings and “cut here” lines on the wall. (Fig. 11 and 12)9 I really appreciate the political statement he is making. I also like how he uses information about the place to do so. His work is mainly seen on walls around London. He uses objects found in the city as symbols. He changes an object so that it becomes a political comment. His work is inspired by the place it exists in. By changing the urban landscape and the context of the objects he gives an opportunity for realization or contemplation. I aim to have the same impact with my work.
My thesis work started out being an exploration of dualities and different perspectives. As my project evolved I started to see how that relates to me on a more personal level. At some point I realized that my interest in my objects has to do with their dualities, but when applied to my personal life they speak of choice making. My interest in the subjects I choose as symbols come from my upbringing. I was brought up in a very inclusive and supportive environment where trust was the most important aspect. My parents very rarely told me what to do, instead I was taught to observe and draw my own conclusions and to make my own choices. I was taught that, even though it is hard, as long as I follow my heart and do what feels right everything will work out just fine. Very early on in life my grandmother called me pragmatic and since then it is something several friends has called me. Knowing that even when things get really bad something positive is in it gives me the strength to confront problems. By being pragmatic and having a big support system choice making becomes easier. My upbringing has formed who I am in every aspect and therefore it also affects my work. I want my art to make people think for themselves. Just like I did and still do.
In my life I have reached quite a few breaking points. At one point it was so bad that I almost chose to jump in front of a bus but I didn’t, I chose life. I chose therapy as a way to reach the point of being happy about that choice. I have now realized that the worst experiences have taught me the most, or to use my symbolism, the worst cracks have built the strongest roots.
1 Sizes can vary
2 Solnit, Rebecca, Storming the gates of paradise, landscapes for politics, University of California press, 2007, p. 79
3 Images from Google image search
4 Sagmeister, Stefan, Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far, New York; Harry N. Abrams, 2008
5 This number may vary depending on where it is installed
6 Elkins, James, The object stares back, on the nature of seeing, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996,
7 Robert Rauschenberg interviewed by Charlie Rose, A conversation with artist Robert Rauschenberg, Charlie Rose, PBS, February 27 1998, http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/5065, (November 30,2008)
8 Kotz, Mary Lynn, Rauschenberg art and life, New York: Harry N. Abrams, inc., publishers, 2004, p. 85-91
10 Gantefuhrer-Trier, Anne, Cubism, Köln: Taschen, 2004, page 15
11 Image from Google image search, Retrieved: June 5, 2009
12 Vietnam Execution, Famous Pictures, The Magazine, Last updated February 17, 2007 by Dean Lucas, http://www.famouspictures.org/mag/index.php?title=Vietnam_Execution, Retrieved: June 5, 2009
14 Goldberg, Jonah, There Are Tears in My Eyes. Eddie Adams & the Most Famous Photo of the Vietnam War, National Review Online, August 26 1999, http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=M2QxNWY0N2ZkY2IxMWJhZGQ4MTU3ZjhlZjg3NTk0NzE=, Retrieved: June 5, 2009
15 Vietnam Execution