Liselotte Watkins
Portraits
November 10
— November 25, 2016

 

A tribute to the unbearable lightness of creation

It’s no accident that my adult life has been punctuated by art: it’s a result of thousands of small choices that have come my way. If one had to summarize the decisive moments - what they had in common in leading me to take a step to the left or to the right - it would be the unexpected. The exhibition “Portraits” must be one of the most unexpected.

Liselotte Watkins and her work has been well known to me for a long time. Her India ink pen has given vitality and character to the fashion world and her defiant, backward-leaning women have lived on beyond most collections and trends because Liselotte Watkins is an artist with the unexpected as her most important material and instrument. Now she has filled the top floor of CFHILL with her uniquely decorated vessels. A tribute to generations of Italian matriarchs as well as to the unbearable lightness of creativity.

I would also extend a warm thanks to Naomi Itkes, who contacted CFHILL about this project, which grew into a bubbling energy field which I rapidly let go of my control over - something I am particularly happy about. More than an exhibition with wholly new objects, the result is a total experience. Mimi Xu, the musician, has composed a Roman polyphonic, interactive installation, and the extraordinary writers, Tone Schunnesson and Martina Montelius have contributed original texts, each of which in their own ways reminds us of both the terrifying and the wonderful aspects of life.

Michael Storåkers
Anna-Karin Pusic
Michael Elmenbeck

 
 

Perceiving without breathing
Martina Montelius

If wasn’t carding combs, it was crochet needles. If it wasn’t seam allowance, it was toffee colour. The whole past enveloped by things you take in your hands, but I don’t want hands. Not be found in physical reality. Yes, the world is beautiful - layers of fabric, the smooth textures, the rough and the sticky, and all the colours that come swishing along like unreservedly beloved children.

I can imagine having hands, nostrils, cunts or whatever body parts you want - but not with a personality that reacts, reacts emotionally. No, in that case, I’d be a body that feels without personality and without a future or a past. Feelings are possible to have, but not if they involve hope for more beauty. To live without memory? Feel the beautiful and then immediately forget it? A kind of epidural perhaps. Or the absence of body. Sensation without breathing, which can cease, a heart that can stop without warning, neck muscles that can solidify like cement, which can reproduce itself throughout the whole mass of flesh so I become a statue.

Without a body: merged together with matter, becoming colour, ceramic, wool socks, be in the very fibers, imperceptible. I don’t understand this - why people are so keen to have everybody look at them. How do all those conflated colours stand it?

 The ones that hang in museums, the ones whose job it is to be looked at; or antiquarian book dealers’ accumulations of words, how do they endure centuries of digital penetration and unsolicited judgements? They must have well-equipped inner life guards.

Some strive after togetherness. It’s also called mutual agreement. To unite together around something. Or: pretend we’re some sort of slow food. Some can be the mouldering meat. Others, bits of carrot, onion halves, unidentified clumps of animal or vegetable, in an involuntary fusion of communal puré and broth. But unfortunately, I lack the talent for those sorts of misconceptions. Might manage folie à deux. Once a year. Mutual agreement requires a personality that can mutually agree, but I decline to possess a personality.

I can imagine being an ankle sock, an iron frying pan, a screw clamp lost by an unwillingly disconsolate, stocky, dill-chewer from Middle Sweden’s most remote copper smithy. I don’t want to be the sort that says “I” about oneself. It is “I” who chucks the whole ball of wool down the drain, pours rotten marzipan over and garnishes with grated nipple. Only someone possible to designate as “I” can come crashing down and not be the same afterwards. The one impossible to designate as “I” cannot be ripped up, unstitched. Like the void, empty nothingness, is impossible to unstitch. What once was called “I” shall be empty nothingness and, without pain, be able to receive everything poured down into it.

 
 

Acid afternoon in Palermo
Tone Schunnesson

Ava and Gigi creep along the buildings Paola and Gina, two ladies who are always sitting in the middle of the plaza, follow them with their eyes. Palermo, the city where it all started, begins to speak.

Palermo: Salmon-pink scale-green shimmer fish. Melting wall drops, pure terracotta woes and walled-up everyday casseroles. Metallic oil stains, silkyclean kittens in woven wicker baskets under the master bridges. No solitary remembrance gardens for the dead.

Ava: This is what it feels like to be born again. To be born a second time, reborn. What if it was like this to be born the very first time. What if this is what it feels like to be born. Afterwards, you can recall the talk about the birth. Go get the milk. Fill a bowl with water. My sons are useless and my girl well she’s not much better. Orange and shamed blue. Miami mementoes you could say, in their colouredness. I recall the talk about the birth but what happened more specifically. How can outside and inside be each other’s opposites when the one is really just the other turned upside down.

Paola and Gina: Look Ava has gone mad. Look Ava over there in the bushes when the season shifts from summer to winter, she can’t find the word for it but she means autumn. Look Ava lost in the leaves shifting from yellow to pink to red. Look Ava says she loves a swordfish.

Palermo: Small change in the cracks between stones peering up behind round grass faces, blossoming against the underside of bus drivers’ soles, 101 forgotten mobile phone assignments under yellow-pink appleberries. Rosehip bushes electric cherry blossom in the angle of a cuticle. Tarpaulins arranged like patchwork from the upper side are spread on the ground in turquoise, orange, brown, blue, waiting for someone to bring home fish wrapped in newspaper or pastry paper, lay leftover fins where the smell is an afterthought rising from the jar.

Gigi: I love you mealy tomato. I love you flaky salt flake. I love you crispy crisp. I love you pistachioey pistachio. I love you oniony yellow onion. I love you watery water. I love you reddest snapper. I love you perfect potato. I love you mealy tomato. I love you mealy tomato.

Paola and Gina: Gigi has gone mad! She loves a mealy tomato. This place has driven her mad. How many times has she not carried that jar from one counter to the next. When the others are in the dining room eating isn’t Gina standing there then, isn’t Ava behind her. What are they thinking when they scald the skin off the last mealy tomato, god knows and all the jars, what if the jars had mouths for ears, then none of us would have any secrets left to tell.

Palermo: Mealy tomato rugs, dusky-minded denim talents in the kids’ leg lengths, play-blue bending glass and melting landscape paintings with pulsating horse rumps, vibrating carpets of hepatica and chopped almonds. Liver smell in the frying pan piss, bucket bubbles in the soap soup along the gutter runnel. 

Ava: All of a sudden I am standing amidst the crying as if there were no difference between out and inside! I soak myself in crying. It’s not like stock. It’s not like being born again, for to be born again I must have been born a first time and I only recall being suddenly thrown out and my slippers are still standing in the hallway. I was thrown out and I don’t know when I will be hauled back in. I see now that it wasn’t the first time I was born because I anticipate this experience of encountering the world with a vague sense of recognition, I relate it to something resembling a memory. I hope someone has fastened me with a string so that when they decided they miss me they can haul me back to the earth’s surface, I can’t dangle out here forever, the scalers’ fish is in the oven.

Gigi: I love you mealy tomato. I love you scaly swordfish. I love you mealy tomato and even if the tomato’s banality is true it does not make the tomato less loved.

Paola and Gina (calling): Gigi, save all the shells from the shellfish to make a stock and then pour the stock into ice trays so it freezes into cubes. Then you won’t have to use stock from the shop because it doesn’t taste right. Gigi, you should dip the aubergine in egg and breadcrumbs first, you can’t fry it straight in the pan. Ava, there is no reason not to iron the sheets. Ava, why did you say are you tied to that ridiculous string. Your daughter can’t be worse than Gigi’s daughter even though your sons are real pests too!

Palermo: The mosaic is millions of fibres between the city’s physical objects, it enfolds us like the bark enfolds the tree in Ava’s story about returning and Gigi, all the trees outside your kitchen window are looking in at the fishes’ fishiness and wishing you would run the knife along the scales. All the jars in memory like mosaics under the trees, you can scale yourself and Ava, you can scale Gigi and Gigi, you can scale Ava and Paola and Gina, you can scale the fish.

Ava: Each jar has its own temporality. I must understand each vessel according to the vessel’s own potential. Ahaa, now I see why there’s a cut between the outside and inside and that’s so we can keep what we intended to keep, haul me in now so I can show you. Haul me in again and I’ll fix the fish.

Gigi: Each crisp has its own crispiness but also its own temporality and when I put the crisp in my mouth it crumbles even if I were to resist. Each body also has its own temporality and that temporality consists mainly of saliva, that’s why the crisp crumbles. The crisp’s crispiness entails that it cannot resist the salivaness of the saliva. Ava, what do we know about the mealy tomato and other things that resemble it?

Ava: We know the body’s extension in space. We know the object’s extension in space. We know that every jar has its own temporality and that the jar does not have the body’s given finality unless the body drops the jar on the floor when the body moves the jar from one counter to another. Perhaps Gigi will drop the jar when my children suddenly shout and run through the hallway. Perhaps Gigi will drop the jar with intent because it seems unfair that the jar should only listen but is never expected to say anything. Perhaps Gigi will drop the jar to find out what it looks like inside.

Gigi: I love you mealy tomato. I love you fishy fish. I love you jarry jar and I love you crispy crisp without love necessarily pointing back at me because I am dissolved into millions of mosaics and water chromosomes, into stock molecules and milk atoms. I, or what was previously called I, am inside the jar’s jarriness and it laps so cosily, light casts shadows of the waves on the walls.

Ava: When someone hauls me in I’ll take the fish out of the fix.

Gigi: When someone hauls her in I will chew the fish in the mouth.

Paola and Gina: Look Ava she’s insane. Look Gigi has gone mad! They love a mealy tomato.

Palermo: Crinoline-coloured scale fix layers, sunset songs and the deepest aubergine purple, the jars aligned in family dining rooms. The colours of the embrace and cask infatuations. Miami hues in terracotta kisses, women’s stories decanted in large jugs are served in cups around the oak cask tables. A gentle caress of fluorescent wallpaper pattern that takes off from the walls. Palermo one afternoon, September bordering on October. October, bordering on Ava. Ava, bordering on Gina. Gina, bordering on fish. Fish, bordering on water. Water, bordering on the jar. The jar, bordering on Palermo that borders on the sea and sun, the whole world in that acid, Palermo in that jar.

 
 

25 000 years of desire
Paulina Sokolow

I’m writing here about ceramics as a companion of mankind through the ages, but the first thing that occurs to my mind is an anecdote I heard from a very experienced art teacher. Her work with art, children and creativity has made her an extra ordinarily acute observer.

There was a small baby, about six months old, who lay on her stomach on the floor, lifted her head, supported herself on her little arms and braced her feet. Perhaps she had just eaten and the sudden movement released a vomiting reflex, causing a cascade of thick, warm, white spew over the floor, and creating a large wet shape in front of the baby. She looked at what she had achieved and stretched out her little fist, and with delight, drew a few strong lines in the liquid on the floor.

This, according to my wise art pedagogue, was proof of the deeply entrenched human instinct to create.

I was much younger and mindless then and her story seemed to me one of the most ridiculous things I’d ever heard. However, over the years the image of the little baby’s unadulterated delight has stuck with me. Sensations in the fingertips, to see something be formed that was not there before, whether in reality or imagination kindles in the body a sense of wonder.

The story of the baby vomiting also facilitates imagining the origins of pottery. It’s a matter of identifying with the feelings of someone 25,000-30,000 years ago, sitting on the shore, digging their fingers down into the sticky sand and fishing up a lovely dark brown clump and squeezing it. However, many years passed before the potters’ wheel was discovered in Iraq, around 6000 years ago. This led to the construction of the water-tight vessel, one of the most ingenious inventions in the history of mankind. Forget the wheel! We were nomadic creatures and seldom stayed more than a few months in any one place. To be able to transport mixtures of things - water, seeds, berries, honey and resin - must have made life a great deal easier.

The first thing we see when we enter the spacious Acropolis Museum in Athens is an enormous room with glass walls in the form of shelves containing thousands of bits and shards of pottery. Here, about 700 BCE, pottery was produced that supplied the whole society with decorated vessels for all sorts of uses: for food, rituals, men’s weekend drinks, oil lamps - but also for pure delight. The amount of shards that have been excavated in the region has made even archeologists react since the interpretations we have had so far of ancient Greece have almost exclusively been based on one single artefact.

As usual, everything suggests that it was a cultural exchange, in this case from the Middle East and Asia, that provided the breeding ground for Athenian ceramic creativity - a huge industry. Initially, abstract geometrical patterns were preferred, then animals, often in regular lines of caravans, but gradually increasingly wild compositions which later emerged into the most wonderful depictions of war, love, mourning, and everyday life, with lanky, muscular figures, nude or clad in thin tunics. From art history we have learnt a word which I can only use in just this context: tectonic, which means that the scene depicted - however complex the motif, however many people, animals, chariots etc are involved - is always subject to the vessel’s form. This is in order to create a beautiful totality, of story and material. A remarkable human instinct and ability to maintain order in chaos. While the motif and way of drawing the body was constantly being developed (for example, the eye began to be shown from the side instead of straightforward, even in profile, at some point during the 6th century BCE), the forms of the vessel remained the same century after century: pithoi, amfora, dipylon. They are what we see in the markets today.

In 1948 Picasso was 67 years old and rather fed up and bored with life, despite the presence of his 40 year younger girlfriend, Francoise Gilot. His fame had made his admirers more interested in him as a private person than in his art, and at the same time, the Nazis’ harassment of him in general and of modernism in particular had stymied his painterly creativity. The pair moved to Provence, where life went on as usual, undisturbed by war and modernity. In Vallauris, Picasso happened upon a pottery studio. The couple who worked there recognized the celebrity, but did not bow and scrape; they explained the rules: “Here is the clay and here are the tools. Learn the craft so you can be one of us.” These strict guidelines triggered a new lease on life in the old cubist. He spent all his time in the studio and in the end learned all the techniques required for the formation of vessels, for glazing, engraving and colour. Between 1947 and 1971 the artist created 633 different series. What is remarkable about Picasso’s ceramics is that after intensively experimenting with forms, he finally decided on learning to precisely copy the ancient original forms (a unique exception for a man who lived for breaking rules), and with light artful lines enliven these forms - creating curious eyes staring out from the far distant past, meeting the viewer’s gaze.

Back to the baby’s spew and the clump of clay. Let us suppose that my art teacher friend is right, that the accumulated knowledge of evolutionary biologists suggests that bodily sensations release creativity. The mind boggles. It would mean that our ingenious complex organism sends out impulses that cause us to create things we don’t understand but that awaken our desire and wonder, which in turn, are formed into new ideas and visions, sending back something new.