…a girl exits a shed shoeless in the woods. She is startled, her body caught in attentive movement. A harsh bright light hits her jacket and tears into the fibers of the jacket, the canvas and her very being. You can sense she feels a threat and the more you study the painting you realize that you could be that threat.
– The Obvious, V1 Gallery, Copenhagen
Being in nature is complicated. There’s a presence to wild or unsettled places, beyond the park or preserve that’s been created to control the potential risks associated with our pleasure-seeking. I crave the isolation of the forest, the way time becomes tangible in the shape of mountains and canyons, the realization that my body is so conspicuous in an open clearing, or on a wide, grassy plain as I move across it. But never do I feel completely alone there, unseen there.
Granted, I’ve watched a few too many sensational news stories about people being snatched from the group camping tent while the others were sleeping, and indulged paranoid daydreams of the rogue naturalist/backwoods survivalist character, or the random bear/big cat/yeti scenario. Though the “watcher in the woods” is a thing that most of us will only experience as a cinematic trope, it wasn’t created by scare tactic reporting or horror flick auteurs. Swedish artist Sara-Vide Ericson‘s work argues that the big eye of fate we fear is ultimately our own.
Ericson recently spoke with Entropy about her creative practice, as well as her latest exhibition of paintings, Hidden Beings.
RM: You’ve said that your work often deals with vulnerability and the dynamics of relationships, themes that seemed apparent in a lot of the early paintings. Figures ride each other, strangle each other, and bare their necks and bodies to the elements, but mostly in what I’d call, I guess, unemotional postures. At the same time your work is certainly not bloodless, in fact it seems to elicit very strong reactions. When I show people your paintings they are often unsettled by them, or quick to create some sinister narrative for them. I’m always interested in how the question can become as powerful in the mind of the viewer as the image itself. Do you find people attach a lot of narrative to your work?
SVE: Both yes and no. I’m rarely confronted with those questions, or the narrative that follows the works in the minds of the beholder. But when I’m physically around the paintings with other people, I imagine that we both feel and tune in its presence and therefore subconsciously have an agreement of, maybe not about what the narrative is about, but what the following emotional consequence of the narrative is. And for sure that’s not the linear or conscious way of sharing a narrative, but maybe it is a rudimentary way of communicating through pictures.
RM: It’s interesting to me that you haven’t been confronted with that so much, maybe because in my own art practice I find that people who come to show openings and whatnot aren’t always shy when it comes to grilling me over what a picture means, or is supposed to be about. I would think for instance that when people were getting to know your work through the early Ride and Liar paintings that might have happened more, due to the domination/submission aspects of those works.
SVE: Yeah I know what you mean, you’re right! There were several situations like that a few of years ago, right after my examination, when I painted those series. My memory is sometimes short, and actually I don’t think I end up in these situations as much anymore. Maybe my later works don’t equally demand that the viewer should seek for such an obvious answer, or maybe it depends on how obviously bad I am in verbal conversations and how I fundamentally used that “defect” in the last years. I choose to leave that open…
Anyway, in retrospect, I totally understand that all kinds of questions came in relation to those paintings. They deal with the emotional consequences of unbalanced interpersonal relationships and sometimes bear an overwhelming presence of a promise of physical violence.
In the Liar series for example, numerous paintings depicted people showing their throats, and a situation between two individuals where one person is about to strangle the other. The story behind that was simply that of the horrible feeling of being falsely accused and to find yourself lost in a situation where words have lost their meaning, whatever you say makes no sense to the other.
And in that case you follow your first subconscious instinct to actually strangle the one who accuses you – to me actually made total sense – metaphorically speaking. The Ride series had a similar mood of expression, but circled around the balance in close relationships and how to maintain it, and to what costs.
RM: The thing that caught my attention about your paintings was the fact that so much is revealed and denied at once. You often obscure the face, for instance, or turn it away completely, while exposing other parts of the body. Or you will present a figure in a vulnerable pose or compromised state, but seemingly detached from a specific context. Is this something that’s evolved in your art practice, or were you approaching your subjects this way from the start?
SVE: I´m very fascinated to use the non obvious in an obvious way. Its much like the way the human mind recognizes things and notices signs around us all the time without us reflecting or realizing it. Most of the time that’s what makes us function and keeps us from running into dangerous obstacles in the every day life.
In the same way the human body language is of course full of hidden secret little messages that on one hand is very simple but has greatly developed as a result of communication. So I guess I`m aware of these facts but I try to keep a free open mind and let the image influence me on a more subconscious level as I go along in the creative process.
RM: Consciousness, and perhaps the idea of what we know vs. what we see, seems to be the connective tissue between your different bodies of work.
SVE: Yes a great part of what triggers me is perhaps the great lack of consciousness. The moments when we think we are aware and conscious are such a small part of the whole actual experience. Much of what we experience seems to pass by and park itself in the depth of the collective subconscious cellar. So what you see is not what you get.
RM: To me, your approach to light and color becomes more extra-sensory as your work progresses too. Vividly unreal, like the dream where you live in a different house, but it’s your house.
SVE: I’m happy to hear you think so. As I try to develop my painting skill, technically and content wise, light has taken a more important position in the context. When I shoot my photos, to use as a sketch for the paintings, I always wait for the light to be perfect and that can of course be a challenge in the Swedish winter where the light is scarce. Dreams are almost as important to me as the light in my work.
RM: Initially, the depictions of place in your paintings seemed less important, the figures were prioritized and the backgrounds were simpler, less specific. But now the figures are enveloped by and sometimes reacting to their environments, which are rendered in lush detail. This is certainly the case in your latest exhibition, Hidden Beings.
SVE: There’s a very easy explanation to that. Earlier I had my studio in a small cellar in Stockholm city, and a couple years ago I bought an old schoolhouse on the Swedish countryside in a scenery similar to the landscape where I grew up. The house and studio is surrounded by fields and forests and it’s impossible to avoid the powers of certain places. There has been a lot of activity on these grounds, which is full of historic Viking graves and other ancient monuments. This interests me and as I grow more local knowledge about the area, particular places start to take major roles in the inception of my paintings. A real place that bears an undefined presence can be an urging aspect to a painting, as well as an unbalanced relation, a defined pink old fabric, or an impression of a lost memory.
RM: I’ve had a similar experience. When I was young, my family lived in South Carolina in a house that was formerly a Catholic girls school, and we also lived on a farm that held the abandoned ruins of the first hospital in the county in one of the pastures. There was such a deep resonance to both places, that I could feel even as a kid. The “undefined presence” you speak of. Were you attracted as much to that aspect as the familiar landscape, when you were thinking of settling and working there?
RM: Your latest work really speaks to the liminality of places like these, the lure of the idyllic countryside and perhaps fear of its less-than-romantic potential. Or what we might find in nature, or what might find us.
SVE: I think that some places can be used as metaphors for inner landscapes or states of mind. When I stumble across an abandoned hunting lodge, a secret place in the woods or the subconscious, I visualize the darker parts of the mind. I think of them as gloomy places, unfinished, wild and untamed, walked out on, hidden, lacking the workmanship of other areas we spend time in, indicating that these rooms are not places for habitation. That beingness is instead rooms of the unformed image. And I believe they store the relics of our past, the now unused items to which we still remain attached, warehouses of memory and neglect. And when we are there in our dreams we are in harmony with the irrationality of these depths, I guess.
RM: The exhibition statement for Hidden Beings directly addresses the position of the viewer as well, in terms of whether there’s such a thing as passive voyeurism, or a difference between our darker imagination and the wild.
SVE: Yes, if the places mentioned above are the places for the darkness, wild and untamed, there must also be people who create those places, and I imagine myself when visiting these dark constructions much as a voyeur. I take something with me and create a painting, which then presents my glimpse into this place again, viewed by someone, which then becomes a sort of passive voyeur. In that sense the darkness is brought to light and I start over again.
RM: What’s up next for you? Any plans for another American show?
SVE: Yes, actually me and four European and American artists are participating in a curated show called Empire of the Senseless at Gallery Friedman Benda, New York City, which opens in late February and runs until end of March. And in the future I’m hoping for more collaborations and possibilities within doing shows in America. Since I, as everybody else in the western world, am totally drawn towards the American shaped clichés and filmic settings in a pictorial way. Really looking forward and hoping for a reason to dig into that.
Art Moves is Entropy’s new interview and conversation series featuring contemporary artists.
Sara-Vide Ericson was born in 1983 in Stockholm, Sweden. She currently lives and works in Ragnarby, Sweden. She graduated from the Royal College of Fine Arts, Stockholm, in 2009. View more of her work at www.saravide.se .