THE FOREIGN AND THE FAMILIAR

APRIL 2 - MAy 7, 2020

CHIEN-KUANG LIU / TONE LINGHULT

(Notes) Thoughts that are thought more than once achieve the form of vials, urns, bubbles. They are like intestines, sexual attributes, foetuses. The thought retains the thought of itself. Surface tension.Indeed! Glass is, in a sense, a form of surface tension. A kind of focus. A “container”. The two artists (Tone, Kuang) in the room. Imagining that I could be their interpreter. An intermediary. Autocratic dreams. Though I fool myself, looking for words like facilitator. The anxiety that oscillates between the specific and the general. What is my own role? A third part? A connector? And in that case, someone who can force, claim and destroy.The worst thing that can happen is that the text is completed when it is intended to remain incomplete. I want the text to present proposals, both square and open-minded.Glass is seduction and opposition. One is tempted to get closer. To touch. Glass is a tactile metaphor. Its fragility is the aggression that comes from being observed. The glass that is material shaped into art. Reliance on the instant. (Expertise.) A crack, a flake, a “chip”, and trust (enchantment?) is broken. Is it that simple? I wonder. (Perfection makes me think of classical ballet, of dressage). Well, OK, it is a matter of intention. The meaning. But can meanings be exchanged? Rethought? (In the text: an overly confused notion, a series of vague images and the reader will give up.)They are so different, Tone and Kuang. Initially I think only of this. That it is a good thing that they are opposites. That they face each other independently. I mix up work and person. Then it becomes impossible to adhere to the opposite notion. They elide through their material. Something here is the “same”. It’s the path to here that separates them. One of them is concerned with thoughts, the other with feelings. No. But the classifications separate them. What one reaches first, as an observer.A man and a woman. (Is that important?) One is from Taiwan, one from Sweden. The difference in moving along the street among bodies and gazes. And to show their art in a room that is a sluice, a screen, an exception.One of them interested in a certain type of equilibrism. The other of a vulnerability. But this vulnerability applies to both of them. Glass as a speech balloon. (Thus riveted into the imagination). Glass as a balancing act. (My concern for the material. It is the same glass that one drinks from, the window that one looks out through, looks at oneself in the mirror, caresses one’s smartphone. No one uses the term “oil paint” as a mantra.)How does one give form to feelings? By physically shaping them. As a tutor in creative writing I talk about this all the time. Ultimately I have no idea what this means. What is the opposite to this? Articulation? Blablabla. But ultimately everything merges into shape. Even if only as shadows.Kuang has blown glass in Denmark and studied glass techniques i. He talks about little bubbles, threads and patterns in the molten glass. Patterns. I remember when I was a teenager hearing a guide explain about the secrecy surrounding glassmaking in Venice. That glass workers were forbidden from settling in other countries. Money, prestige. The importance of the unique. Of a particular expression or an impression. The guide talked about fires in Venice which eventually led to glassmaking being banished to the islands of the lagoon. I saw the flames reflected in the water. I thought of the lagoon made of glass. No, I did not. But…I think of what all the shiny surfaces reflect. And the dizzyingly   existential and, perhaps, somewhat loftily poetic fact that nothing is preserved on these surfaces. Momentary presence and then loss. No, worthless. The loss creates a negative form. The memorylessness is polished, unchanged. I note that I mix up the object with the observer. (Not for the first time.)Kuang tells me about his background. Questions concerning who has the right to narrate. He talks about his own position. Where he is situated in relation to the materials, skills, tradition. Where does this narrative end? In racism, as usual. No, it does not end there. But racism is there as a screen. A silent tone.Kuang talks about King Fredrik IV of Denmark and the gift he received from the city of Venice following his visit there in 1709. Numerals glass items. How can one calculate the value of a gift like that? What does it mean in terms of alliances, expectations? The demonstration of power. A covert bribe. Transactions that run like a constant theme through history. Goods, bodies, alliances, connections. Actions. Transactions.King Fredrik organized the objects into a collection. Horror vacui. Extravagance, muchness. A contagious value. I think of skin diseases, a rough surface. Mussel cultures. That one’s gaze can nowhere go free.Fredrik was a real slacker. Ignorant, pleasure-seeking. Liked Italy. Thought that Venice was fine and festive. So much fooling around on his part. So much time and knowledge, patience, prestige from the glassmakers. Glass objects. I wonder how they were packaged.  I want to see the scene where they were removed from their wooden crates or boxes. What sort of material was closest to the surface? Straw? Cloth? What sort of aroma? A scent of the orient? Exoticism?And which gaze can one use for observing the gift today? How does one shift the eye, the person, giver, receiver. Duty and virtue? Positions of power can shift, can be moved around in the material. Kuang can copy the collection that King Fredrik acquired. He can reduce it, can make raw, cheap copies. (Copying, does that involve demonstrating skills at the same time that one contradicts art? One way of grasping power?) He can surpass the object by spending more time in executing it, more glass, more energy. He can force the old glass into a trap. Force it to kneel, in his thoughts. Art as symbolic action in uncomfortable and essential positions between reality and thought. (Or: between realities.)Being a recognizable alien and thus preconceived right from the start. And the self-healing, growing process in always making for what is alien and recognizable.We talk about history that is rewritten but that the layers need to continue to be transparent. Look inwardly, backwards to understand. How something can change its meaning, be denuded, fall silent. And yet be preserved in memory.What can be read in a work that is not realistic, over-explicit? How do the questions display themselves in the objects? And what gives me the right to pass on the question. For it is to be passed on. The danger: that it becomes a whispering game with distorted formulations. But that is how it always is: that something is mentioned and glides off from the central theme. One continue to probe until an encounter takes place.Learning a way of seeing. And of unlearning oneself. Understanding is also a way of bearing a responsibility. (But what happens when one puts comprehension aside? What does an experience mean? I cannot see without associating, beyond what is visible.)I once wrote a poem that dealt with a shop window and the fact that I lived there in my capacity as my own representative. What was the poem about? Something about being a woman, being an artist, being nailed to the outer gaze of oneself? The thought hollowed me out then. But not anymore. I can play by the window, play with the representation, the gender affiliation.I return to Tone and Kuang. Their different ways of dealing with an issue. I circle round Tone’s way of coping with the glass and the proximity to expressions of emotion. This might be termed autofiction. (In point of fact she is dealing with distance. She keeps her feeling alive by distancing it from herself.  A proper distance? She does not blink. She scrutinizes.) Made of glass. Suspect something behind the surface of the glass. Wishing about or fear of being transparent.I believe in the presentation, the act of showing. I believe in the action. Representation? Being a representative.  Venerable. Impossible?Glass is not static. Neither solid nor liquid. It moves through time. Fragile and eternal. Nor is the eternal aspect static. I think of dance, of dancers. Of calmly bearing a promise of change.Tone’s objects glide between realism and abstraction. A cautious game with intestines? Double receptacles. Parallel worlds. Or extra support of life, of space. Giving form to a memory that needs to be dealt with carefully. (An invocation?) A second chance.My own obsession with extra spaces, storerooms and chambers. An opportunity or just an assurance of protection.Every room is a shelter.Two artistic expressions in the same room. Relating to each other. Getting on with each other, as the saying goes. I recently shared a room for two days with some strangers. In the course of a few hours we turned into a group. We sensed that we belonged together. We accepted the orders and rhythms. The bodies that slept so closely together yet separately. It might be a mere detail or something self-evident. But it isn’t. It is experience that secures the footing.Occupying the room. Preparing a place. The respect that this requires (if it is not a competition, a war). Within the word respect lives an expectation. Not being precipitate. Rather dawdling at the threshold. In the artistic process: The difference between defending oneself and choosing. The difference between becoming familiar and wanting.(Experimenting with empathy and a certain measure of indifference on the way there. A task that needs to be done.)The similarity between art and love: the particular, the specific that everyone still knows about. But also: The wild corners. The dirt. The foolhardy risk-taking. The American poet Louise Gluck writes: “The love of form is a love of endings”. (Ararat p. 66)What’s good about the end is the time afterwards. That continues to resound. The emptiness following the speech, the written word. The emptiness between thing and thing. I dreamed that I received an object wrapped in fabric. It was to be preserved from generation to generation. I opened the top cupboard in my kitchen. Stood on tiptoes and placed the gift there. I am hiding it in the cupboard, I remarked. But what came out of my mouth in my dream was: “I hide it in the language”. When I turned away the cupboard door opened and the object fell out. Did it fall onto the floor? Did it break? The dream froze the image. The object hovered, continued to hover between dream and wakefulness. Between being caught and falling. I could not understand what it was that I could see. (A soap bubble, a lightbulb, an eye? A metaphor for a thought? In which case whose? Mine?) But I discovered that it did not want to be hidden in the language but, instead, be fully visible outside it.  Johanna Ekström

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