THE SEA IS A TEAR
To live a meaningful life for seven days
As five artists and five writers gathered to hash out the direction of Detour, just one defining element was in place: that each of the artists would be thrown a curve.
Just 9 days before the exhibit’s opening the only thing certain was that each artist would be challenged with an obstacle to be determined by the other artists—an exercise similar to the 2003 film The Five Obstructions, in which filmmaker Lars von Trier challenged his mentor Jorgen Leth to re-make his experimental film The Perfect Human five times, each time working against a different “obstruction.”
The key factor for Ericsson seemed to be not any specific obstruction, but the idea of one, that a defining element about his work would be decided not only by someone else, as it might in any collaboration, but by committee discussion.
Ericsson is an artist who makes objects—not moments, or scenes, or ideas, even if those be inherent or implied in his work—but overtly beautiful objects. Having begun his career as a portrait painter, his art has evolved dramatically but never strayed from the age old concept of creating beautiful objects charged with cargoes of symbolism and inherent meaning, both in their content and their medium.
For example, in one series of drawings he screen-printed personally significant photographs using nicotine in place of ink: The smoke of hundreds of cigarettes imprinted the images dreamily onto paper with the sepia stain of addiction. A more recent series used a similar but more labor intensive process involving powdered graphite manually worked through the screens instead of cigarette smoke. Through all these works the artist maintained complete control of the idea, process, and the production of a physical result.
So ideas of control and reservations about giving it up dominated his side of the dialogue as he sat with other artists, negotiating the nature of his “Detour.” He expressed concerns about focus, about being “considerate of the viewer.” For him, form is a good thing. “”I love a simple framework,” he said. “Just keep telling me more things I can’t do, and I will get more comfortable.”
He talked of the work involved in building a career as an artist, the labor invested over the years as—approaching age 40—he has made his living that way, building for himself a “brand” so that his name itself carries with it a cargo of meaning. And yet he weighs the value and meaning of art against the value and meaning of life: “It’s almost a daily question for me,” He says. “I know that what I do does not matter. What interests me, in fact, is that it does not matter.”
And from that moment comes Ericsson’s obstruction: Not to make something, not to work at the manufacture of art, but simply “To live a meaningful life for the next seven days.”
“I’m not sure if I have time to be meaningful this week,” he joked. “But I’ll fit it in.”
Filed under: Detour: Color Commentary: Michael Gill on T.R. Ericsson, Guest Bloggers, Color Commentary, Detour, Jorgen Leth, Lars von Trier, Michael Gill, nicotine drawings, SPACES, T.R. Ericsson, The Five Obstructions, The Perfect Human