Annika Ekdahl is a textile artist specialising in tapestries as a medium for artistic expression. Since the beginning of the year, she serves as visiting professor of conservation at the University of Gothenburg.
‘My practical exploration of the tapestry technique as a traditional craft and artistic expression is highly relevant and very inspiring,’ she says.
We are meeting at Abecita Art Museum in the municipality of Borås. People are working hard around us, hanging eleven large tapestries for the opening of Ekdahl’s exhibition Gobelänger, where some of her work from the last 20 years will be displayed. The exhibition is a result of Ekdahl recently having received The Nordic Award in Textiles – Europe’s number one textile prize – for her magnificent tapestries and for breathing new life into a historical textile genre.
Ekdahl guides me to The Theatre in the Park, a nine square metre tapestry in warm colours that shows 48 figures and people meeting in a park for a party. A person in the middle is holding a creampuff next to a bunny. The piece is full of small details and patterns in gold.
‘I usually have some artistic intention with a piece like this, which may take a few years to complete. But it’s also a more formal exploration. In this case I wanted to find out how many small details I could fit into nine square metres without causing a visual collapse,’ she says.
She also wanted to find the minimum resolution needed to make the image legible. The creampuff is only 8-10 warp threads but is still clearly visible.
Ekdahl used to rely on watercolour and tempera in the planning stages of her work but started using computers ten years ago. For The Theatre in the Park, she used photos and digital techniques.
‘The ability to use photos opened up new opportunities. And the computer ended up being a great co-worker that has taught me a lot about mixing colours. The zooming function enables me to see how the computer mixes colours, which helps me add another dimension to the pieces,’ says Ekdahl. She points to a dark area. At first glance it looks almost black, but when I look closer I see that it’s full of different colours.
THIS approach HAS HELPED Ekdahl find a personal way of mixing colours. The technique resembles impressionism – moving closer to the picture makes it abstract with a great number of dots in different colours.
When Ekdahl stayed at home with her oldest son in the early 1970s, she moved from painting to textile art. ‘A less messy technique with small children around,’ she says. For the last 30 years, she has lived in a renovated parsonage in the village of Kyrkhult near the southern tip of Sweden.
Ekdahl has a Master’s degree from the University of Gothenburg’s School of Design and Crafts, where she has also served as adjunct professor in textile art. In December, she will also receive the Prince Eugen Medal 2013 from the King of Sweden for outstanding artistic achievement.
In the late 1990s, a visit to Poland and the world-famous Wawel tapestries in Krakow changed Ekdahl’s way of working. The rich ornamentation and vast colourfulness drew her to a new type of aesthetic expression.
‘There is something about the grandeur, the wealth of details and the pretentiousness. Daring to be more pretentious has made me go up in sizes to have enough room for these types of images.’
THE tapestry technique SHE UsES is very old, but Ekdahl believes there is still room for development, both as an artist and as a researcher.
‘Since I don’t see this cultural heritage as something fixed or set in stone but rather as a treasure or an archive that I can relate rather freely to, I can do pretty much what I want with it.’
In Definitely Gold, Ekdahl celebrates everything she has thought to be beautiful ever since she was a little girl, such as pictures she has saved, pretty bookmarks and the colours of favourite dresses. The piece is ornamented in gold and shows symbolic figures.
‘It’s about affirming this side of yourself. To allow for the decorative. It’s not as easy as it may seem to let loose in this respect. This technique has been of great help.’