Unbreak My Heart
Installation view at Carnegie Art Award 2012 at The Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, SE
As many encyclopedists in history have probably realized, there are several problems with any approach one might choose as one’s encyclopedic system, including how to decide what to neglect, how to structure knowledge that resists structuring and how to cope with the influx of newly discovered knowledge and the effects it has on prior structures. These dilemmas became the foundation for my education and are dealt with in this piece.
The final encyclopedia consists of about 350 books and 25 paintings. Each file is 22 cm x 21 cm and becomes a little twitter about a theme. It does not provide a broader perspective on the particular theme and can seem almost irrelevant. But as a whole – all books collectively in the encyclopedia bookshelf – the viewer will experience a melody in all the twittering. The complete piece allows the viewer to interact, as it is my hope that the books will create interest and will be read. But even though this project was not made in order to become an artwork I have accepted its qualities as a sculpture that people might not touch. The books are notes and sketches rather than long reports on the different subjects. Some of them will suggest explanation to a problem. Others are mere ramblings. They files are all the same size and the viewer will never know which elements of the encyclopedia is a book or a painting unless he interacts and pulls out a title from the rest. The paintings also have titles on the backs and are placed in the bookshelf structure.
As a young and dedicated but hesitating art student, I began to study the walls I continually ran into. I classified them and defined what they were to me. The reason for doing this was due to my own personal, practical and theoretical misunderstandings around painting. So the files of my encyclopedia are personal attempts to verbalize these problems. The five meter long white sculpture was designed to fit the encyclopedia files. It is a cold cover for the repeatedly private and sentimental content. But it is ideally installed to work as a control panel for a specific exhibition space. I would like the viewer to step into the sculpture and navigate the titles, the processes, and pictorial ideas. This way the paintings on the walls function as elements of the encyclopedia monitored from the sculpture. All solutions come from somewhere and I categorized all that from A to Z. The viewer is now invited to interact with, search, or randomly explore the files. The sculpture only becomes an encyclopedia when a viewer starts to interact with it. Until that encounter, the sculpture stays a sculpture.
My work is an attempt to systemize the chaos and find a pattern of thought in my work. It is a way for me to clear my mind but also to remember solutions to problems and to look back at what I thought was a solution at a given time. Often I forget my process and my thoughts. This way I will be able to keep all my outdated statements and opinions.
As many encyclopedists in history have probably found, there are several problems with any approach you might choose as your system, including how to decide what to leave out, how to structure knowledge that resists structure, and how to cope with the influx of newly discovered knowledge and the effects that it has on prior structures.
The next part of this text is a guide for the encyclopedia. Apart from the alphabetical system of the installation, I will introduce you to three other systems that invite you to explore and search the files for information. These three systems are each illustrated by a map, the Chapter Map, the Field Map and the Pragmatic Map. Two of the maps are installed in the sculpture that holds the encyclopedia. The first two maps were created after I finalized the largest part of the project. They are attempts to activate the collection as a didactic system.
The Chapter Map was created to illustrate the education of the artist. It is divided into seven chapters and each chapter has a number of titles from the encyclopedia attached to it. I will explain this specific map a little further. The seven chapters follow a linear system where chapter 1 sets out all the basics of art practice as I see it. The files related to this chapter are primarily lists of materials and techniques, but there are also files with a more playful motivational tone. Because this is where it all starts! Painting is fun and easy! Chapter 2 sets out elaborations and evils. These files list problems of material, technique and motivation. Is motivation real and how can you control the material you have chosen as your medium? These files deal with internal conflicts between the artist and the material. Chapter 3 however considers external problems. These files focus on the external factors that affect your ideas and execution methods. They can be actual critique or it can simply be your own realization of a solution that already exists in a painting that someone made a hundred years ago. Having tried to take in external factors the artist is then ready to go back to the studio. Chapter 4 exercises the material crisis. While chapter 2 presented the first technical problems, chapter 4 gives profound practical advice on material problems and technical misunderstandings. And as chapter 3 offered external analysis on its preceding chapter, chapter 5 justifies the conceptual crisis the artist has most likely stumbled into at this point. Conceptual crisis in painting is in general the question of “the death of painting”, but it takes many different forms. The notion of “the death of painting” can occur at any given time, but it may be strongest at this level of education; at the point where the student of painting has experienced the two levels of material awareness (chapters 2 and 4) and the two levels of analysis (chapters 3 and 5). Chapter 6 then maps out the breakdown of motivation and art production which is accomplished at this stage. The files related to chapter 6 justify this breakdown but they also aim to communicate congratulations – as a genuine breakdown is truly necessary. Painting is a time-consuming practice of building up rules (historical and personal) that you end up being forced to discard in order to be able to continue. Chapter 7 then is the “acceptance chapter”. Being aware of – and having survived – problems and a general crisis it is time to accept painting. The artist has at this point experienced classical clichés and strangely enough they felt authentic. These files speak of the fact that it is now time for the artist to undertake painting as medium and practice. There will always be minor setbacks and realizations, but this superior 7-step development is the core of art practice and the encyclopedia aims to speak of that. I made the files in an illogical order but settled them into this linear course after the closing stage of the entire encyclopedia. Therefore the files operate as rules but were created as a diary.
The second system is the Field Map. This system divides the titles into regions. Similar to a spectrum the transition here is not an exact point of reference. One arrangement blends into the one next to it and forms a gradually yet systematically changing atlas of fields. There are six fields and in the circle they all have an opponent. The ideal field opposes the drama field. The obligation field opposes the aspiration field and the flow field opposes the monitor field. The titles of the encyclopedia in this particular system each represent a field. So if the viewer is interested for example in “drama” in art practice, there is a full list of titles that deals with this issue. The titles are of course picked from the seven chapters in the linear chapter system, but here they operate in an atlas of fields. There is no hierarchy but questions and solutions at all levels. The map of fields is also placed in the actual encyclopedia sculpture.
I think the classical master/student primer is humorous and thought provoking. The master painters wrote notes for the students on how to deal with the cooking of material and the rules for example of icons and symbols in painting. The encyclopedia was developed parallel with my work with painting and it will therefore always link back to and function parallel with my paintings. The files work to clear my mind but also help to remember solutions on problems and to look back at what I thought was a solution at a given time. Often I forget my process and my thoughts. I tend to make the same mistake several times. By storing these files I am able to keep all illuminations under control.
While the encyclopedia is an attempt to systemize my chaos and define a pattern of thought in my work, my paintings confirm the opposite. They become whatever I benefit from exploring. They are unrestrained obsessions. Still the installed paintings imitate the nature of the encyclopedia simply by their existence in the same room. I also think the indexical characteristics of my paintings repeat this encyclopedic system.
The encyclopedia project is supported byThe Danish Arts Council and Arctic Paper.