Celebrated Swedish painter Cecilia Edefalk recently sat down together with artist Ulrika Sparre for a conversation departing from Ulrika’s practice which is marked by intellectual thought, often putting existentialist queries to the forefront. The two speak of their experiences revolving around notions of spirituality, addressing as well today’s commonplace that is the artistic objective of examining and searching.
U: When we last met at my place we were speaking about this image depicting a horizon. I brought it with me today actually. C: Oh wow, it’s quite wonderful. I hope my fingers are not greasy... U: The point of departure of this image is the idea of the human gaze and the notion of gazing out over the horizon and how the perception of these sorts of landscapes is often tied with having spiritual and awakening experiences. However, there are in fact scientific explanations to this. You know in the city your gaze is always in close range of yourself whereas when leaving the city you tend to lift your gaze much more and by doing so you are seeing much further allowing you in essence to think clearer in your mind. What happens consequently is you perceive yourself as experiencing something spiritual…Perhaps as well because the thoughts that occur to mind when you look beyond yourself are arguably more pleasant. C: That’s quite neat. So these notions are actually founded on scientific search? I’ve never quite thought of that before. U: It’s like with domestic housing. Everyone always wants to live higher up on the floors of a building. Everyone wants a view basically and it’s something you pay for. That view creates something atmospheric and agreeable in your living. Nobody willingly wants to live on the ground floor.
C: So we’re talking about these views as though giving you wider perspectives. U: I mean take here for instance, just by looking out of this window, I feel this enormous sense of freedom. C: I guess that would depend on what is out there to see but yes I fully hear you on what you are saying. With this room with high ceiling height and windows, I notice how my son always is drawn to being here. He likes it a lot and wants to spend time here. More so than in the other apartment; a typical suburban space with merely 2,6 meters between floor and ceiling. What’s really nice about this is that it is airy. U: I guess there’s more room to vibrate the larger a space is. C: I almost think that’s the case. But then I think of my other studio which has very high height and well, it maybe depends. In churches you can vibrate quite well and I like spaces within churches. U: I think that brings me back to the Ley lines which are thought of as aligning and intersecting churches originating from before the 17th century. I think perhaps these lines connect you to another dimension.
C: Fact is that I’ve been on a site once in Berlin where I got in touch with very spiritual things even though it was very below on ground level. A lot of mystical things occurred there. A lot of people who had been there before me asked if something had happened while there and if it had been alright working there. And they kept saying how fantastic that location was to work at, and it really was. It was unbelievably good. It was like a beam running upwards toward another dimension. And I do think there are places like that on earth. U: I have a member in my family who’s had a lot of epiphanies in in the intersection Sveavägen/Odengatan which is where the public library in Stockholm in situated. And you know about Ley lines it’s said that they are created on sites where a lot of people’s thoughts are directed.
C: Ley lines are constructed? They’re not just something that already exist? U: Yes, people can create Ley lines by jointly directing their energies and thoughts. Ley lines are said to be created by people in this way. It’s interesting looking into the Ley lines running through England and Glastonbury in particular which is said to be the main source from where they run through various sacred sites in the country. C: I looked into the book about your Ley lines project with maps over the Ley lines and found the island of Djurgården in Stockholm on one. U: Ah yes, that’s actually a man from the Earth Radiation Society who created the line. The monument commemorating M/S Estonia (ed. note a passenger ship that sunk in 1994) is actually a new Ley line and it stretches from the location of the wreck to the monument. C: What happens to old Ley lines when in time people come to pass these sites increasingly less? U: I’m not necessarily very savvy on the matter, I’ve done a project off the back of an interest and curiosity about it and you might ask if I believe in it myself. I might be a bit of skeptic usually but should say that I feel like I’ve had valid experiences of the effect of Ley lines. When I was in Glastonbury I felt like I could feel their intangible presence so to speak. Without dwelling to much around it, I guess what I want to do is to stress the idea that this parallel spiritual realm might exist. In my book project I present it as a plausibility and then people I suppose can make what out of it as they want.
On a different note, I thought about something, that you are very perceptive, taking your time to really feel, unlike myself who’s very rushed, always speeding on. C: People work so differently of course and I was looking into your website which is something I haven’t done before actually and occurred to me that you’ve done a whole array of projects that are marked by thought. Projects I didn’t even know existed. When did you become interested in the notion of spirituality? To me it seems like it began with your project “Att tro är att inte veta” ("To believe is not to know”). U: You’re right. Before I was working much with installations and ideas of the perishability of things. After moving to Stockholm from Amsterdam where I lived some years and met with many shamans I felt like there was a lack of room to reflect on existential queries so the project you mention was a survey where I almost forced people to take their time to really think. I would ask things like; Do you believe that you know who you are? It really marked a shift in my practice and I had to struggle a bit with it. I went from doing things that were aestheticized that people took to heart easily to something that could be perceived as much more dry. A year later I went to India which was followed by a similar survey where I asked if people were afraid of death and it showed that people are twice as afraid here as they are there. And the percentage was particularly high among students at art school; namely at Konstfack in Stockholm. That’s quite interesting I thought. C: Can it be the result of us artists having a wider imagination, and other Swedes being more closed off? U: Or perhaps that we are so afraid of death that we need to channel and address our fear by making art? What’s very clear nevertheless is that the way we relate to death is very culturally impacted.
C: Would you say that you are very afraid of death? U: I was then and at a certain time when I was going through a significant medical condition. C: To me it comes down to a desire of having done certain things before passing away. I’d like to be someone who could feel at ease knowing I’ve done things I wanted to do in life. That I did my best for such things to happen. U: I would say that I’ve become very cynical working with these things and that the notion of faith have become something very culturally oriented to me. Various cultures create their own idea of faith and it can be very dogmatic. You have this idea that if you lived here as opposed to somewhere else your faith would be very different. C: Would you say that you are in touch with your deceased relatives that are no longer with you in person? U: Well, when my father passed away a few years ago there was a musical composition by Erik Satie, my father’s favourite, which was very connected to events around this time…Later at some point, I can’t remember exactly where it was, this same piece was played and in that given moment in light of where I was, it just felt very clear that it was something from him. Then the rational part of you comes into play and tells you that you might be over-perceptive, looking for these things in a phase where you are mourning the loss of someone. C: It can also be I imagine that the sorrow inside you is so suppressed that when you hear this melody, it finds you in a stronger way, magnifying the sorrow and consuming you more. U: Yes, and yet you think, why this melody, right here and right now? Can it really just be a coincidence?
C: As we are speaking, I think of the notion of searching and examining and I would say this has become a very trending word in art today; to examine. That brings me to Picasso who said; I don’t search, I find. What do you say about that? U: I think that’s really great. C: I feel like I say the same thing often. I don’t go around looking for things. I find. Things come to you. U: I did an installation at gallery Stene Projects and I was particularly looking for some sort of sound to ascribe to it and found myself at the white well where someone was playing something which then became the sound for the installation. C: You found it then. See the thing with the word examining, and it might just be my being zealous with words, is that it makes me wonder what it means for people when they use it casually. U: But I think that’s the thing with our Western science; everything has to be addressed and explained. There needs to be explanations for everything. You can’t just be a searcher, you need to be an explainer. What can’t be explained is assumed to bear little worth. I don’t think we understand anything. I think all of this, life, is about our trying to understand something we can never really understand. The art of our existence is beyond our understanding which is something Stephen Hawking addresses. C: I do tend to feel that the word search is very relevant and omnipresent in your practice. You are searching a lot and your practice isn’t very much about the tangible and materiality. It’s more about what arises when examining ideas and thoughts. C: There was one question I was meaning to ask you about which is whether you ever experienced anything particularly curious as a child? U: I don’t remember my childhood very well. A lot of things happened at a certain time and I can’t really recall it very well. I rode horses a lot when I was a child…By age 7 I had already broken both arms. And I think the encounter with other live beings, animals as well as humans has been very important to me. C: I can see that and I get the impression that you are very easygoing and that you are very approachable and also easy to collaborate with. U: How about you? Did you have any curious experiences as a child that you can tell me about? C: My mom I don’t think saved any of my old drawings or such but I found or got an envelope in recent years in which there was a sheet of paper, the kind you write your list of groceries on. On it I had drawn an angel and the eyes were all black. When I saw it I instantly remembered it. I must have been about 5 or 6. Since I couldn’t draw white light in the eyes I accentuated the eyes with black. But it represented that she was shining. Like a ferry she had a wand in her hand. As I think of it, I think I drew her because it was something that came to me recurrently at night or something I dreamt of much. There’s a Spanish artist who will often speak of having a guarding angel. She says that by mentioning having one out loud often, it helps her. I guess I should start here and now with mine!
C: Lastly, I thought of your project “Allt är bra” (All is well). The question that arises is; Is everything well or does everything get well? U: To me I think it comes down to a feeling of safety and being safe. When you are at ease in this way, you stop fearing “the other” and “the else”. What’s outside of your control. Take for example a big humanitarian crisis somewhere in the world and how people around these shores in the world start fearing what might come out of it as a result here, if people were to migrate here and so on. If you feel at ease in your own life, you are much more likely to feel more inclined towards stretching out and opening your doors to others. Everything isn’t well and everything won’t be well but I think the state of well is closely linked to a sense of security and of not having to be afraid. Images / Photo credit: 1) Portrait (“Selfie”) of Ulrika Sparre and Cecilia Edefalk. 2) Ulrika Sparre, “I am your only answer” (2008). 3) Ulrika Sparre and Steignrimur Eyfjord, “The Ley Lines Project” (2012), Reykjavik Art Museum / Reykjavik Art Festival 2012. Photo: Petur Thomsen. 4) Ulrika Sparre, “Att tro är inte att veta” (To Believe Is To Not Know), 2003-2005. 5) Ulrika Sparre, “On a clear day I can see forever”, Infra City 2014, art commission by Norton Cederström. Photo: Fredrik Sweger. 6) Ulrika Sparre, “Allt är bra” (All Is well, 2011). 7) Ulrika Sparre, “I Suffered For You”, Varbergs Konsthall, group exhibition “Believers”. To learn more about Ulrika Sparre, visit: www.ulrikasparre.com Ulrika Sparre’s work is exhibited with Stene Projects, Stockholm www.steneprojects.se Cecilia Edefalk’s work is exhibited with Gladstone Gallery, NYC and Stene Projects, Stockholm. www.gladstonegallery.com