Florence Wild writes about Alva Willemark and Sybrig Dokter
A couple of years ago, I made two small works. Companion pieces, you could call them. It was while making these two small works I found myself, suddenly, not capable of returning home. As with most things, the correlation between these two events only became clear with hindsight. Now, the correlation seems obvious, but time is elastic and unreliable, and my memory of making these works now is vague, dislocated from time. But it must have been during the period I was not capable of returning home.
One of the works sits on a small wooden shelf. The shelf is a nondescript piece of found wood, probably pine, origins unknown and forgotten. It is about the size of a large bread board, and is attached to the wall by curved, prefabricated, plywood brackets. I would refer to it as an ‘artist’s shelf’, a sculptural answer to an artist’s frame, cobbled together, enfolding the work.
Arranged across the shelf are small, mainly upright structures, triangular or rectangular in form. The forms are constructed from balsa wood, that soft, light wood of hobbyists and modellers and childhood. Arranged together the structures form an empty architecture, an abandoned landscape of an anachronistic future and like shadows or scaffolding they suggest the form of something else, a filling of a negative space.
Each balsa wood structure is made to hold a card.Together, the shelf holds 12 cards. One card is small, the size of a tea bag; another is fastened to a block of wood, with a bent wire metal stand; yet another is a slim spine-like card, fastened with a thin maroon silk ribbon. Most however are a standard folded A5. The cards are watercolours and pencil sketches, some originals, others printed editions, each one drawn by my father. My father is an architect of a small local firm, who first went to art school, and wanted, I heard much later, to be a cameraman for television, but has always been a sketcher, a watercolourist, and maker of cards. These 12 are some of the cards, sent by my parents, on the occasion of a birthday or christmas, to Sweden from New Zealand, in the years between 2010-2020.
The drawings are scenes native to New Zealand; of cliffs, bays, kauri and cabbage trees, the old army tent, Mum and Dad with peaches, modernist NZ homes, a bedroom interior. The assembled cards peek out around each others’ corners like a fragmented ensemble of a miniature theatre.In the triangles of the open cards one can catch my mother’s full, rounded, flowing handwriting contrasting my father’s spiky architect’s scrawl, and the ends of their words. -ence, -ear, -mas, -day.
I wanted to intentionally use something sentimental – a desire to excavate and expose myself; to uproot. This was also around that time we moved, and I had another home alongside the home I was not capable of returning to just then. I had begun to think of the home as a space of small sculptural assemblages and inadvertent installations.
The other work, the companion piece, is an embroidery. The twelve balsa wood structures holding the collection of cards are now picked out in thread, transferred from 3 dimensions to 2 by hand and eye – an impression, like sketching a landscape en plein air. The embroidery is stitched on a piece of linen, about the size of a folded pillowcase.
Left-handed, I start from the upper left and work my way around the fabric clockwise. I work with backstitch, which creates a smooth, even, continuous line. The threads are in bold colours, and gradually shift hues across the forms, pinks into reds and purples, to blues, greens, yellows and oranges in a circular motion. I collected the linen and threads second hand, mismatched and chanced leftovers from the hands of half-hearted kitset enthusiasts.
Flattened, the structures cluster together, a celestial constellation, stars to travel by, signs of the zodiac, a compass rose. That there were 12 cards was incidental, those were the ones I chanced to find. I liken it most to a wonky, misshapen clock, a face with no hands, and once again I am back in an elastic, dislocated time. The hands of the clock are extraneous, for time has passed through my own hands, in the accumulated stitches worked across the surface. With backstitch, as the name implies, you have to work backwards to go forwards. When I hang it, it hangs low on the wall, close to the ground. Clocks are always placed up high, easily seen; I read recently that time goes faster closer to sea level, slower in the mountains. Time is the original unreliable narrator.
Though I referred to the embroidery as the ‘clock’ in the studio, an affectionate smeknamn, its title is ‘I think I’ll go back home.’ I took this title from a song, by NZ psychedelic blues band Human Instinct, released in 1969. At least, according to Human Instinct and the rest of New Zealand in 1969, ‘I think I’ll Go Back Home’ is indeed an original Human Instinct song, apparently written by one Jesse Harper. But listening to the song exposes this a fabrication, a sly sleight of hand, one that a local band perhaps naively believed that they could get away with, because it was New Zealand in 1969, when distances and times were chasm-like, and words and sounds trickled slowly, analoguely, to the far pockets of the globe. Because the song I think I’ll go back home by Human Instinct is really by Neil Young, and written in 1968, and called ‘Everybody Knows this is Nowhere.’
‘Everybody Knows this is Nowhere’ became the title I gave to the shelf.
I Think I’ll Go Back Home / Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, is a means to travel, in time, in small steps, to a scenography that no longer exists. Not capable of returning nowhere.
David Byrne of Talking Heads has said that the song ‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’ was his attempt to write a love song. Home, is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there. I think most works of art about homes are love songs, so on that note, I will call this text a love song as well. I leave this here, a home as a love song as a text called (Naive Melody), read aloud on the occasion of the exhibition Capable of Returning Home.
Florence Wild, September 2022.