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A Year of Mathematical Thinking

C-print worked with Stockholm-based artist Sara Elggren in the group exhibition 'Dual Monologues' back in 2019 at GELB. Four years later, we return to GELB with our photographer Teresia Bergström in tow to check in with Sara who has just recently finished a residency at IASPIS which coincided with the release of her first artist book 'Small Works 2014-2022'.

C-P: You have a very intricate weaving practice. I recently met you in the studio and even if we’ve worked together in the past (Dual Monologues, GELB, 2019), I’m not sure I was aware of the mathematical aspect of your work. Would you care to elaborate a little on how mathematics is reflected in your process?

S.E: With weaving, you almost necessarily work with mathematical thinking. More simple things like calculating the number of threads for a certain format or for a binding, or the recipe for a dye, or keeping track of a numerical sequence in a treadle. A lot of relations in a weave could be expressed in more complex algebraic formulas, I know some do that. I'm probably not very complex in my calculations, it's more 1-2-3-4. But I like numbers. A language that more rarely than often lacks verbal equivalents, and that is thus used to hold and to express less verbal ways of being in the world. But I like counting, I like how numbers look, and how they can order a material efficiently and profoundly at the same time.

C-P: You graduated from Konstfack back in 2016 (MA Craft! – Textiles). Looking back; how has your practice evolved since?

S.E: Long before Konstfack, I just wanted to weave. And I've pretty much done that since then. But it is not entirely possible to just weave. I do other things, not least to be able to make a living. I've gotten better and more confident craft-wise, and I consider myself a pretty fast weaver, but it's still a slow craft and I haven't done a fraction of all the things I want to do.

C-P: What strikes me with you is that your interest stretches beyond just the practical work with a keen interest also in the history of weaving and its methods and techniques.

S.E: Before I started weaving, I thought I would work with writing, like in a more conventional job. But although I appreciate words and what words can do, writing to me too easily generates a sense of hopelessness. Not least as a physical sensation. In weaving, I have a stronger sense of being able to work intensely, as if weaving can cope with my bodily (in)abilities. I think it is interesting how specific media work with specific bodies, and what a media or a technology do to a way of doing/thinking/being in the world. How some media specifics can influence a development of expression, or in a broader sense lead to a way of looking at something as possible, or impossible.

I am perhaps particularly interested in weaving notation, the graphical interface used to describe the movement of threads in a weave. It takes some time for me to translate complex notation into a sense of understanding. A feeling of something like studying glossaries or algebra, like confronting a material that at first seem very closed, but where suddenly something is revealed and you no longer see random crumbs and signs but something connected and beyond. Like any written language, notation is a specific way to record or share data. An interface that many weavers could be strictly bound to; a kind of choreography, that, like other grammars, can seem clinical or theoretically distant, but actually dictates and guides your movements.

C-P: Run me through a day in studio and if possible; how does the work process from beginning to end look like?

S.E: I think about how your body copes with getting through a day. How to organize days, work. To gather the energy to make all the decisions that need to be made. I really like routines, but it is difficult to keep up with when days demand various things of you. And few processes have a clear beginning and end. I often weave in long series, where the work spans over years, and so move in and out of itself.

C-P: Over the past ten years, the lines between craft and contemporary have increasingly been blurred out, but how do you find textile-based art seated in the contemporary realm of today (i.e. 2023)?

S.E: It feels like lots has happened since I started weaving, I sense a greater interest, a greater general knowledge, and braver and more various practices in general. But I don't know, clearly there are hierarchies for which media are considered more artistic or subversive, as to how contemporary textile art should be or not be.

C-P: You just finished a residency at IASPIS which also coincided with the release of your first book (Small Works 2014-2022). How did you spend your time at IASPIS?

S.E: I had prepared and dyed 3 large 10 meters warps that I brought for weaving, on a 10 shaft countermarch loom and a 24 shaft key loom. Working in the large format is a risk-taking and when I imagine a longer series it’s rare that the first piece feels sufficient enough to repeat, it rather makes me aware of what and how I want to make differently. At IASPIS I also spent time writing, which is still something I need, to think and to challenge myself, and which I can enjoy more when not constrained by any critical/final beginning or end. IASPIS is of course also a very social environment, and I knew that when applying, it was a good challenge since socialising is not my strongest trait. For those who don't know, IASPIS is a residency where Swedish and international artists are granted a scholarship and a studio for usually between 3-6 months, aimed to contribute to developing and deepening international networks. Naturally, a lot of the corridor conversations revolves around premises of working as an artist in the different countries and specific politics.

The book is a project that was just finished, an overview of years of work with smaller woven objects, which I may rarely exhibit, but which have been sort of key works, and which are well suited to the book's smaller and intimate format. It contains great texts by Sara Walker and Jorun Burman Berg. I love books.

C-P: I feel like you are one of those artists who have ears to the ground. Who might be some of the artists you appreciate?

S.E: I'm not good at remembering names, it’s a bit of a complex of mine. I tend to appreciate intensely repetitive artistry. I like Ulla Viotti very much. And Yasujiro Ozu's films. For the younger me it meant a lot to read Elfriede Jelinek, Anne Carson, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Luce Irigaray and the bunch of écriture féminine, who would write about what words and writing do, in a clearly more physical and maybe disturbed way. I like Rumiko Takahashi's manga universe. Japan of course has a very rich art and textile culture. My grandmother grew up there, so I have naturally looked to that a lot. Jun Tomita, Shihoko Fukumoto and Mieko Demura. But I also think lots of great work is made in the Swedish weaving scene.

C-P: With the year soon coming to an end; what was your highlight this year on a personal note, and what is in store for you in 2024?

S.E: I spent April with my partner at an artist residency in Fujiyoshida in Japan, and also made short visits to friends and colleagues in other parts of the country. And I am very happy for IASPIS. Next year I will go to Hong Kong with a research grant to examine a certain mid 20th century architecture for a Swedish public commission. Also to visit a Hong Kong based artist who was just at IASPIS, and who works a lot with self-publishing, zines, and alternative distribution within the Hong Kong context. And I will hopefully do more weaving.

/Koshik Zaman


1,4,5: Teresia Bergström

All other images courtesy of the artist.


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