Exam presentation: of Spirit, body and soul in the becomings of the world, enviromentally ethical making and rocks.
In some manner, in 2020, I managed to stumble my way through both making my exam project, as well as the presentation of the project itself. Because the corona pandemic forbade anyone from gathering, we were exiled to Zoom and could only pray to the gods of internet that the audience could partake in our 15 minute long rambles with a minumum amount of lag. For my presentation I had edited a film of my process to which I read a well-trimmed manuscript with planned pauses for taking breaths and drinking sips of water. Probably this was to compensate for my nerves in this medium, because how I usually like presenting is with a lot of body language, movement, rhetoric questions and eye contact.
This here is the same film I showed in the presentation with the recording of the script. The script itself is also available in Swedish.
The project is my position for spirituality in craft and in life, and for a softness and humility when meeting the world.
Please do overlook the awkward intro - I'll learn to relax with my voice at some point, I promise!
Back in February, I went to live alone in a cabin by the sea with no heat, electricity or running water. The temperature stayed between 4 and 7 degrees outside and inside, and we had two storms.
As I was stripped by pretty much every comfort I was used to, I became painfully aware of just how dependent I was on all of these comforts.
Take light for example. When was the last time you experienced involuntary darkness? In the cabin, the day was over when the sun went down. I had candles and oil lamps, but the darkness there is nothing like I've experienced before. The shadows in the corners seemed like holes where I could all. The bigger shadows were deep enough for someone to hide in and as the full moon disappeared and the storms raged, I could neither see nor hear anything as I went outside in the night. The inside of the cabin was like a small island of light in a big, screaming ocean of dark and shadow, and I was holding on to it with a fear of the dark that I don't think I've ever felt before. It wasn't as much a fear, but more like an instinctive knowledge of my own smallness, and an awareness of what a clumsy and weak, naked monkey I am.
Despite the difficulities with the cold, the dark and the loneliness, the time at the cabin taught me many good things. After a time, I began to find a daily pace and could bring balance into my routine: I would learn how to accumulate body heat by moving, when to start making a fire and when to start cooking. I learned when to work and when to rest. I found balance, so it is not so strange that the art I started making there also revolved around balance.
I feel like I've done some crazy things this past year for the sake of my exam project. I've been filming my house plants – a lot; I've been running around naked in different places; I've probably developed a mild fibre fetischism, and at one point I decided that spending two weeks alone in an isolated cabin was a good idea.
The craziest thing I've done, however, is that I have become deeply spiritual over the past year. I feel like this is by far the most radical statement I can make in this context.
So how did this happen?
It started out with something so innocent as a strong feeling of concern for the enviroment and the genral state of the earth. As a maker of art and craft, it became important to me to source my materials ethically, which meant reading up.
Then after a while, it became important to me to source or make my own materials, which meant reading up even more.
Then after a while, it became important to me to get even deeper, and I started asking myself all sorts of things, such as what ever are materials? Down to the molecular and atomical structures, but also what am I, and what is being, and what even is everything?
And I'm not even joking, I wrote that in my project journal: ”what is antything?”
I got tangled up in things like phenomenology, alchemy, shamanism, daoism and post humanism to make sense of my making, and it is from these various places that I find my understanding.
There are three key concepts that I lean on in this project. I call them Spirit, body and soul.
Let's talk about the Spirit. Spirit, or Ande in Swedish, is what I call this abstract life force that really can't be named or understood fully, ever. But it can be experienced.
The Spirit can be felt in the sense of now. Bornemark, who is a phenomenologist, describes a similar feeling in the experience of orgasm or ecstacy: the feeling of being fully present in a continuous moment. For me it could just as well be the feeling of being in flow states, like in creativity or excercise. The feeling of being so focused on something that you forget language and you don't think of anything else.
In short and to simplify, I would call the feeling of Spirit and extreme experience of now.
The second concept I rely on is that of the body. It is funny, because the body is something that is often mentioned, but rarely defined. When I talk about the body, I mean all the soft, heavy, stretchy, brittle, warm and wet stuff, the moving and the changing stuff, the growing and breaking, aching and feeling stuff. The body is the thing which we can never escape or put aside, because we are bodies.
I try never to talk about me and my body. Instead I try to talk about me – the body.
If the Spirit can be understood as a constant sense of now, then the body can be understood as a constant sense of here.
The last concept, besides the Spirit and the body, is the soul.
I don't intend the soul in any religious way. Instead, what I mean by the soul is all the intellectual stuff, all the thoughts and emotions. What we sometimes call the head stuff.
I think of the soul as something born from the elusiveness of the Spirit on one hand, and the muchness of the body on the other hand.
The soul can shift focus between the experiences offered by the body and the Spirit, and it is by these experiences that the soul makes up its identity. The soul itself can never be fully present in the experience of now, nor can it ever be fully present in the experience of here, because the thought comes in after the experience.
The soul is always a millisecond in the past, which means that tha soul is made up from history.
The funny thing with histories, is that everyone has them. When I take a walk in a forest, I am younger than every tree there. I am younger than every rock, or any moss, or any body of water. Maybe I am older than some clouds, or some rabbits. My point is though, that if I go around claiming that I have this soul, and that this soul is somehow made up of experienced history, then pretty soon I am also convincing myself that stuff such as rocks, trees and birds also go around having souls.
And in fact, at this point, I am fully convinced that stuff such as rocks, trees and birds also go around having souls.
But I didn't come to this conclusion by thinking and reading about it. I had to experience it.
It is when I lived in the cabin and became aware of my own smallness and vulnerability that I started experiencing my surroundings as something with equal claim to existence and experience as myself. I was suddenly placed not above, but among all the processes of becoming – the storms, the cold, the short daylight, my own needs for company and safety. My own processes were not more than any other, nor were they separate from anything else. I was among everything, and we were becoming together.
And that's when I started working with the concept of balance, as I learned to find my place in the balance around me.
The concept was so simple that I didn't know how to describe it in the start.
The concept is to hang heavy things from brittle things.
In the fall I learned how to spin thread on a spinning wheel. I quickly found an interest in fibres. A fibre is actually just the name for a shape: a fibre is something that is significantly longer than it is wide. And as I learned the technique for making thread, I started using different fibres and learned about their qualities. I started with flax fibre and wool, tried things like sisal and cotton and then moved to human hair, connecting back to the human body.
Working in the cabin I just used what I found there, which was tired plants from last year, and I made ropes from them. I started hanging heavy rocks from the ropes, and the concept of balance comes in several layers: first, the fibres in the rope balance each other out by the opposing twist. See, to make a thread or a rope, some fibres are twisted in one direction. The twist creates a tension and if you let go, it will unravel. If, however, the twisted fibres meet another set of twisted fibres, they hold each other and the twisted tensions balance each other out.
Then, the weight of the rock balances the rope, because even though it's heavy, it holds the rope in place. If the rope would be swayed or yanked around it would break for sure, but the rock, though straining the rope, keeps it still.
Another point of balance is the whole thing being so temporary, balancing in the moment. Temporary bodies create an anticipation: will it fall now? Or now? Maybe now? And as I'm anticipating, I notice I am more present in the now, with the rock and the rope. I'm expecting it to be a temporary state, and so I don't take it for granted.
I started using other human bodies after a while, after having used myself as a model for the past year. I work in a similar way as with the rocks: the models are often fastened to the setup, and I try to find ways to extend their bodies into now and into here. Sometimes it is by twisting their hair into a rope and extend it into grass rope; sometimes it is by asking them to hold something, maybe a rock or maybe themselves. They are left to be affected by the surroundings, which usually happens very fast.
The models are cold, and they often start to shake. The sessions have to be very quick, and they are very hard. In the best cases we get maybe ten minutes of shooting time in one pose. Preparing for the pose can take up to an hour.
I tell the models that I have been working with rocks before working with humans. I tell them never to push it and I ask them frequently if they need a break, but actually I love it the most when the fingers go a bit blue or when the muscles start to shake – I get to be there, while the body changes.
I ask them to close their eyes.
I ask them to breathe, as if asleep.
I want to point to the very, very temporary states of the suspended bodies. I want to invite you to see it as something that doesn't last, and something that will change, maybe within seconds. We need to pay attentions, so we don't miss it.
Because that, I think, is a point of view we could apply on everything. What would happen if we looked at things like walls, floors, tables, streets, trees or cups with the expectation of them being temporary? What if we took greater notice of how everything is connected, how everything holds up everything? Nothing is individual from enything else.
At any given moment, the rock might hit the ground.
So what does this even have to do with jewellery and corpus?
Well. As humans, our bodies are always extended by other bodies. It is actually not that interesting. What's interesting is the ways in which we are extended. When we become with other bodies, we're not just making changes on the body, but also on the Spirit and the soul. And not just on ourselves, but on every body involved.
I think we tend to overvalue the aspects of the soul with the intellect and emotions. I think we don't pay enough attention to the body, and I think that we're missing the aspects of the Spirit completely. I want to work with the aspects of Spirit, body and soul at the same time.
I want to create balance between them.
The field of jewellery and corpus has always required the body, the extension of the body and the careful consideration of relating bodies. I want to go beyond creating an object to put on the body, but rather acknowledge the object as a body. At the same time I don't want to place the human body above any other body, but rather among them. No more, no less.
I am convinced that one reason as to why we're treating our earth so unreasonably is because of the idea of alienation: we're seeing thing as separate entities and we're not acknowledging the connections.
I think that we too often work with anonymous materials, and that we should not only learn and acknowledge their histories; we should workship those histories. We should love them.
I love the plants as they grow. I love the hands as they spin. I love the lungs as they breathe. I love all my models and I am deeply humbled that they choose to give me their time. I love all my rocks, and I am deeply humbled by their weight and their heavy movements. I am humbled by the way the fibres grasp on to each other, creating a stronger hold together by the tension in the twist. I love that I get to experience all of this beauty.
I am not a single entity. Everything I interact with has a history of becoming, and we are becoming together. By searching for balance I hope to participate in the becomings of the world without doing it further harm.
Because I love being alive, here, and now.
And right before I finish this I would like to thank some people who have really helped me in this process. Thank you to my models: Daniel Baumann, Emelie Renvert, Eri Hanserhers, Hugo Scherwin and Stenhårstrollet.
Thank you Mårten, for helping me get in touch with Karin van Rheinberg, who lent me her cabin.
Thank you to Per and Isabell, for taking walks with me.
And lastly, I would like to thank my classmates Kajsa, Maja, Sandra and Magnus. Working alongside with you this year has helped me keep my spirits up and my senses sane. Thank you.
This presentation was originally given on the 21st of April 2020, at Konstfack in Stockholm.
My exam project can be found here, here and here, and my thesis can be downloaded here.