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Annika Ekdahl Textile Artist - Tapestry

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Annika Ekdahl, Kyrkhult, Sweden

If you ask me who I am and what I do I would probably show you some of my tapestries. They show my contributions to the textile art field, my way of handling the tapestry technique, my interest in craftsmanship, my attitudes towards cultural heritage and hopefully the joy of spending time at the loom.

Zoneone Arts is delighted to bring Annika Ekdahl to you…

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Why did you specialize in tapestry? 

All throughout my childhood and teens I drew and painted, but the Green Wave winds in the 1970s awoke my longing for natural materials and a wish to master what previous generations had been able to. I learned how to spin yarn, dye it and weave pictures from it. The only thing I missed in those days was a sheep of my own. (Eventually I got problems with moths and went over to industrially produced yarn.)

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 Graduation, 400 x 400

What lead you to doing your Master’s degree in Textiles?

My university studies began in the mid 70’s with the intention of becoming a teacher. After three children and a lot of thinking, I decided to apply to study arts. I was accepted into the textile art program at The University of Gothenburg, School of Design and Crafts. I’m very grateful for those five years, even it meant many days away from my family and lots of hours on trains.

Can you discuss how you use an old / Renaissance method but include modern digital technology?

There are different ways of looking at the woven surface. When I realized it is built up from picks, dots, pixels, and not just areas of colour next to each other, I associated it with digital images. (Which is not very far-fetched, since looms and computers have a common history.) So, if I could find a way to vary every pixel, I thought, I should be able to create any image I want. I use three threads of different colour/shades at a time. If I twist and turn them around when I weave, I can make different colours visible. That means I can change the colour of almost every pick. And then, when mastering the technique, the most important question appears: What do I want to tell? What’s my story? 

Can you discuss the series “The Baroque Party”?

It all started with a book in a Polish used-book store. It had a leopard’s head on the cover and showed images of an extensive tapestry collection at the Wawel Castle in Krakow. I bought the book and nothing has been the same since. I fell in love with these tapestries, with the colours, the ornaments, the animals, the angels, their attitude and pride, the show off. They were far from the first historical works I had seen but for some reason they changed my view on the medium. And I knew I wanted to develop things in my own art practice. I wanted to find that special joy and obvious delight in the beauty that I saw in Wawel. And I wanted to go up in format, to get space for investigating the medium’s narrative potential.

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Darlings and Definitely

Why did you divide it into five tapestries?

My first idea was to make four large tapestries, each with an artistic as well as a formal challenge. I began with “The Baroque Party”, exploring the concept of the traditional mille-fleur backdrop (but with more dining attributes than flowers). It was scary to go so decorative, but also a relief to do what I wanted. It was followed by “The Wedding in Queens”, experimenting with a colour scale like in old European paintings. And for the first time I used gold, a real venture. When I was invited as a research visitor to The University of Newcastle, I brought a smaller tapestry and finished it in the universities fibre art studio. I gave it the title “Darlings” after the river in New South Wales. The tapestry shows family members and friends, but it is also dealing with scale. I wanted to see how small but still personal characters I could do. In the next project, “The Theatre in the Park”, I used the experience from that test. Finally, in the last piece, which I call “Definitely Gold”, I went completely the other way. One huge figure fills the space, surrounded by objects, flowers, animals, and ornaments. I ended up where I started – with embracing what I from childhood have found beautiful.

The–baroque–party

The Baroque Party

How do you feel about the five tapestries being sold to different owners and thus the series being separated?

To me that’s not a problem. I mean, the alternative would be not to have them sold at all, wouldn’t it? No one buys so many square meters of tapestry, not even big museums. But I’m very happy for the retrospective exhibition going on right now in Stockholm. It’s emotional and fun to see so many of my pieces reunite in the same room. A big, big party. 

Discuss the importance of winning the Nordic Award in Textiles to your career?

Well, that was also a party. The Nordic Award in Textiles is distributed every two years by the Foundation Focus in support of culture and health care.One day in December of 2012, the secretary of the jury called and informed me that the jury had decided to give me this large amount of money. That was unreal. At first I thought it was a mistake. But when I had put all doubts aside, I was overwhelmed and proud.  The jury’s motivation was about the clash between history and our own elusive time. The secretary read it to me in the phone:”The tapestries balance the weight from the Baroque with digital volatility, which results in multifaceted stories about human existential conditions”, he quoted.Nice words. An exhibition in Denmark many years ago came into my mind. The Baroque party was shown for the first time abroad and a journalist asks:”Why are you so involved in the production of kitsch?”Some see kitsch, others see stories about human existential conditions. Perhaps these two impressions are not completely incompatible.The celebration festivities, the exhibition, the prize money and all the media has meant a lot to me, of course. It encourages the art form and confirms that what we do is not completely worthless. We are actually doing something great.

Can you expand on your Verdure tapestry and how it is woven around your life and your mother’s life? 

Well, that’s a long story. The word verdure originates from French and originally from Latin. It means green, lush and blooming. Verdures are a group of tapestries with forests, parks, gardens, plants and animals, produced in the 1500s to 1800s.

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 Road Movie Mum 400 x 400

When my interest in verdures awakened, I wanted to make myself. In September 2010 it was finished.    “Road Movie (verdure): Visiting Mom” on the loom “Road Movie (verdure): Visiting Mom” is about a road trip from Kyrkhult to my mother’s grave up north. All the details in the composition come from photos taken during the trip through the summer landscape. Personally, this tapestry deals with relationships, lasting and lost. Historically, verdures are woven bestiaries and visualizations of paradise.  “Road Movie (verdure): Visiting Mom” finished

Explain the technique you use to make your tapestries and how the European techniques differ from the methods used in Australia?

road-movie-finished-400x400

That’s a complicated question which can be approached from different angles. The “new”, “young” or “inventive” is not constant. Soon it’s part of the establishment and eventually even old. I come to think of the American writer Robert M. Pirsig who wrote a very famous book in the 70’s. The title is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values” and I recently reread it. Let me quote some sentences:

”What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question ”What is best?”, a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.”

The tapestry technique is a cultural craft, still practiced today all over the world. And it can only be executed by hand. I like that. The design on the other hand, the “cartoon”, doesn’t necessarily have to be made in any old fashion way. I nowadays sketch digitally, but I’ve never been strategic about that. I just found it much more practical to collect all fragments of paintings, photos, drawings at the same place – in Photoshop. I can zoom in and out, learn from my laptop how colours can be blended, etc. The digital technique is my co-worker, which feels totally safe since the outcome of the process is nothing but super analogue.

Tapestry weaving is simple when it comes to technique and equipment. You can wrap strings around a shoe box and make yourself a loom, suitable for the most delicate images. The basic technique would still be the same. So, I’m not sure I have the answer to whether it’s important to have both the new and the old, or not. To me, tapestry technique is not old – it’s just very, very…basic. The weft goes over, under, over, under the warp threads. No new technology can change that.

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Graduation – Jane

Discuss the fibres you use and dyeing techniques you use? 

Australia produces high-quality woollen yarns. So does Sweden, and many other countries. But since the time of my studies I weave with a Norwegian yarn. When a colleague in Oslo told me that the producer plans to put down some of its production, I ordered in panic so much that it probably will be enough for my entire life. The yarn, made from Spelsau wool, has the perfect quality and lustre for tapestry purpose. Not soft and woolly as a sweater, not stiff and unattractive as a fire blanket. I dye it with synthetic dyes, which garantees the quality better than plant dyes.

Are your tapestries only woven by yourself or do you use several weavers especially on large scale works? 

graduation-saga-400x400

I weave my tapestries by myself. There are so many ad hoc decisions when trying to visualize an idea via warp and weft. It wouldn’t be possible to communicate these unorganized winding thoughts – I think.

Discuss how you share your studio with guest artists?

Usually I don’t have guest artists in my studio/our house, which is situated in a small town in the countryside. It’s remote and isolated, but suitable for someone interested in a peaceful surrounding. But three years ago, I invited an artist from Seoul to spend two months in my house. The artist, Boa Jung, spent the time on a project of her own on a smaller tapestry loom, while I was busy with a commission on a bigger loom. We had an absolutely great time.

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Silvios Hands

Tapestry weaving is contemporary art making but also a cultural heritage. (For example, the tapestry related activities in Aubusson, a town in central France, was in 2009 listed by UNESCO as an intangible world heritage. The unbroken tradition of spinning, dying and weaving workshops in Aubusson is word famous.)

For years, I ignored the historic tapestries. I wasn’t interested in going into the heritage. But things changed. So, what does it mean to enter these textile archives? What is in there for us, what makes sense today? I imagine me walking along a road, trying to orient myself and at the same time bringi all my own stuff with me. I go further in, meet historical people and greet them. Yes, here comes Hannah Ryggen, a Swedish-Norwegian weaver with great influence on Scandinavian tapestry artists. She died in the 70’s but here, in the archives, we stop and talk a little. With some of the historic persons I get quite good contact. Here comes Raphael, for example. He has been to Pope Pius X with the cartoons, the tapestry sketches, for the Sistine Chapel. I pass several houses. Suddenly I stand in front of a giant building called the Middle Ages. It is illuminated and I see people moving around inside. In the past, I was pleased to peek through the windows and then keep on walking, because I was on my way somewhere else. But nowadays I walk into the buildings and stay there for a while and listen to the conversations.

How are new technologies influencing old crafts and why it is important to have both?

That’s a complicated question which can be approached from different angles. The “new”, “young” or “inventive” is not constant. Soon it’s part of the establishment and eventually even old. I come to think of the American writer Robert M. Pirsig who wrote a very famous book in the 70’s. The title is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values” and I recently reread it.

Let me quote some sentences:

”What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question ”What is best?”, a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.”

The tapestry technique is a cultural craft, still practiced today all over the world. And it can only be executed by hand. I like that. The design on the other hand, the “cartoon”, doesn’t necessarily have to be made in any old fashion way. I nowadays sketch digitally, but I’ve never been strategic about that. I just found it much more practical to collect all fragments of paintings, photos, drawings at the same place – in Photoshop. I can zoom in and out, learn from my laptop how colours can be blended, etc. The digital technique is my co-worker, which feels totally safe since the outcome of the process is nothing but super analogue.

Tapestry weaving is simple when it comes to technique and equipment. You can wrap strings around a shoe box and make yourself a loom, suitable for the most delicate images. The basic technique would still be the same. So, I’m not sure I have the answer to whether it’s important to have both the new and the old, or not. To me, tapestry technique is not old – it’s just very, very…basic. The weft goes over, under, over, under the warp threads. No new technology can change that.

road-movie-in-loom-400x400

Contact details:

Annika Ekdahl

info@annikaekdahl.se

www.annikaekdahl.se

Annika Ekdahl, Kyrkhult, SWEDEN

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, December 2017

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