Anne Karin Jortveit
…but primarily flax has a life of its own
It has been with us for a very long time. Paper in the form we know it today was invented in China in the first century CE. It still serves useful social functions both proud and humble. Even after the digital revolution, paper continues to be used as a carrier of information, spanning everything from fact to fiction and recycling through to art.
Gabriella Göransson is an artist who expresses herself entirely through paper – and has been doing so for many years. Paper is her realm and her passion. It is her focus and the source from which everything emanates. Its fibres are the point of origin for the most delicate fragments and the roughest of objects. In her hands, congealed paper pulp takes on life and movement. She frequently works with combinations and juxtapositions of objects installed on the wall or the floor.
Göransson tirelessly continues to explore her field in her own unique way. The same motivating force can be found in her latest project, Tribus, an installation of oversized “flakes” of paper made from flax fibre. Most people are probably unaware that paper can be made from flax. The word is more likely to make us think of linen fabrics and clothing, while some people might recall the beautiful blue of a field of flax in bloom. But before the spread of cellulose paper in the 19th century, flax was the kinship and shared identity. Each element is unique and can be contemplated individually, but it is above all when we notice the relationships between them, the similarities and differences, that we truly engage with the installation. It opens up for us as a metaphorical and vulnerable state, as if the work offered a register of moods we rarely have access to. Tribus is laden with experience and is almost brutally direct in the sum of its wrinkles, rips and wounds, almost like a mirror on life itself.
Göransson has described her artistic process as one of doubting her way forward. Doubt is her personal method. As an artist, this means being present as a humble participant in a dialogue with the material as such. Each project evolves as an explorative encounter between a number of contributors. Paradoxically, doubting amounts to a form of security. It’s all about daring to let go, and a willingness to incorporate the unexpected.
The work on Tribus also involved this kind of questing, listening cooperation. For Göransson, it is important to be an active participant at the initiation of a project. She sets things in motion, but places her trust in the flax as something that “knows” what’s needed. Because the flax makes its own decisions when drying, its fibres are a neverending source of surprises. Each “flake” develops its own character and personality beyond her control. It is a process in which she intervenes as a helper, encouraging the paper elements to find their optimal forms. Since in practical terms this takes time, the slowness of working with paper constitutes a bridge between the making and the acquiring of experience. The paper serves as a meaningful interface between the hands and the head, between the physical and the cognitive work. most widely used raw material in the production of paper. For Göransson, working with flax places her in a historical crafts tradition that is still ongoing. She is perpetuating age-old techniques and knowledge. From the artist’s perspective, flax is also ideally suited to working in three dimensions. It can be processed into a resilient material capable of retaining sculptural form.
Tribus is unusual. It is as if the lightness and the various rhythmic syncopations in many of Göransson’s earlier installations have given way to more earth-bound circumstances. The paper “flakes” that make up Tribus radiate the warm brown hues of flax, ranging from pale to dark. Here and there remnants of fibre still protrude from the surfaces like tufts of vegetation, reinforcing the impression of earth and landscape. In addition, each element is a repository for everything that happened in the process of its making – from pulp to paper object. The accumulated twists, dents, tensions and folds are suggestive of something between pain and pleasure, as if the path to the final form were a record of eventful, almost existential changes.
Tribus is Latin for tribe. The term is also used in biology to designate a group of related organisms. Accordingly, Göransson’s Tribus is evocative of Building with paper from the ground up provides Göransson with insights into and knowledge of how things come into existence. The genesis of paper objects highlights the connections between artistic production and a personal closeness to nature. The natural properties of flax are, as it were, woven into the paper’s tangled web of fibres. Thus, in the hands of the artist, a delicate balancing act is performed that we would all do well to strive for, and more so today than ever before. Göransson has described the elements of Tribus as “primal organic forms”. And there is indeed something about them that transcends age, time and location. Even on seeing them for the first time, we feel we have seen them before. As if they amount to frangible links across dimensions, reaching out to us from an almost forgotten but common past. The encounter with them simultaneously opens a window onto the personal memories that each and every one of us carries within. In this way, Tribus unites the levels of shared and individual experience.
Göransson always strives for titles that interact productively with her projects. For her it is important that this relationship does not compromise the viewer’s scope for independent interpretation. Her titles suggest approaches to their respective works and help to liberate our perceptions. Tribus is similarly motivated by this ideal – that the installation should be an inclusive event with an open frame. In many ways, Tribus is in the spirit of our times. Many of us are eager for art that provides metaphorical tools we can use to sort our thoughts and feelings about the human condition as it is today. Tribus is a work that possesses these qualities.