Alicia Martin at OpenArt, Örebro

This is a guest post by Claes Karlsson.

Alicia Martin 2

A huge ball of books? That’s what I stumbled upon on my way to work a few weeks ago!

“Conciencia” (Awareness), by Spanish artist Alicia Martin, is without a doubt one of the most popular items at this year’s OpenArt in Örebro. It evokes curiosity in old and young. People gather around and examine it minutely. The pages rustle and turn in the wind. Once close, I can smell that familiar scent of – ah, yes – the library stacks.

Google tells me that Alicia has attached thousands of books to a sturdy metal-core covered in chain-link fencing. Most of the books have been donated by the people of Örebro and the City Library (Örebro Stadsbibliotek). How clever!

Alicia Martin 1

Being a librarian, the installation makes me reflect on the cultural connection between the physical book and the library as an institution. At work, I am sometimes confronted with the assumption of the Holy (physical) Book. “Do you actually THROW BOOKS AWAY!? You’re kidding me, right?” Well… Purchasing thousands of new titles every year requires quite some space. But I always find the reaction interesting, suggesting that the physical book is something quite remarkable that people actually feel about, an artifact, or as Alicia puts it “Books represent consumption objects with a universal anthropological load that conveys knowledge – the book is, thus, the symbolic mirror of human culture.”

Alicia’s work also helps me remember the libraries of my childhood. Big buildings, tons of books and an incredible information retrieval system based of cards made of paper! Libraries today, on the contrary, contain both physical books and electronic resources, of which the latter continue to expand on the former’s expense. Maybe one day the physical book will be no more. Of course I wouldn’t dare saying that to my patron (fearing to burn in some kind of library hell!), but we actually survived moving from clay tablets and parchment rolls to the codex and the book.

While the book as a medium can be described as a simple conveyor of beautiful stuff (stories and knowledge, fiction and facts), I can’t help but thinking that the physical book really is a fantastic thing. No need to charge it. No need to update. No constant flow of notifications popping up, fragmenting the reading experience. Virtually no risk of hardware or software failure – just keep it away from fire! Adding to that, easy and efficient organization of bookmarks as well as an integrated seamless note-taking system by using another great invention – the pen. Surely an artifact that well designed won’t give in easily! Or maybe I’m just old. Books and e-books aside, Alicia Martin’s “Conciencia” is my favorite piece of OpenArt 2015. Go see it. It’s brilliant.

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Ai WeiWei says “Think Different”

OpenArt in Örebro, Sweden is the 2008 brainchild of locals Mats Nilsson and Lars Jonsson. They dreamed of cutting-edge “art” on display in public loca­tions. And guess what? Their dream came true…. and rapidly. Now in 2015, it is the biggest such event in Scandinavia. This year includes a focus on Chinese artists so no surprise that it features a major work by Ai Weiwei. It blows in the wind and blows me away!!

Ai Weiwei 1

Ai WeiWei is known for confronting – and being arrested by – Chinese authorities. He questions everything about the culture of imposed conformity of his own country. This work, “Think different (How to hang workers’ uniforms)” consists of 375 coveralls in six different colours hung well above head height along Köpmangatan, an Örebro street. These are workers’ uniforms used in China in the massive electronics and computing manufacturing industries. The coveralls flap and flicker in the wind casting disconcerting shadows on the street below. Western people stroll beneath. I wonder if they are thinking differently.

Ai Weiwei 2

So who is Ai WeiWei telling to think differently? Is it me, the Western viewer? Is it Chinese people? Is it the Chinese authorities? In fact, thinking about it, “Think Differently (How to hang workers’ uniforms)” does make me think differently. Here are some questions that run through my head when I look up at these rows of coveralls. I am reminded of assembly lines. How many Chinese people work to make products destined for the western world? Are they paid well? Are they aware of workers’ rights? What are they interested in? What are their home lives like? Or is Ai WeiWei telling me that the real price of western consumerism is paid by Chinese workers? This work is brilliant and provocative. I’m pleased I went back to Örebro!

Jannisoo’s rubber tyre duck

Tallin-born sculptur Villu Jaanisoo is a master of transforming all sorts of worn out things into beautiful and thought-provoking stuff. I stumbled upon one of his masterpieces – Rubber Duck – at this year’s Örebro OpenART, an outdoor exhibition taking place in Örebro, Sweden. Quite different from the little yellow fella many of us keep in the bathtub!

Rubber Duck

Villu Jaanisoo’s Rubber Duck at Järntorget in Örebro.

Made from recycled car tyres, the duck measures 350 x 380 x 300 cm. Jaanisoo, who also heads the Sculpture Department in the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, explains that the material “functions in a way that the form and surface structure of the duck become almost baroque-like, relating the work with the tradition and history of sculpture making.”

Jaanisoo and his Rubber Duck made from car tyres. Photo credit:

Örebro is home to many ducks and birds. Järntorget is a famous square next to Örebro Castle. But why has our rubber friend landed here? “It is important how the work relates to the environment where it is situated, how the work itself adjusts to the history and characteristics of the site” says its maker. I don’t get it. It feels misplaced. Stranded.

Örebro Slott

700 years old Örebro Castle.

The duck is soft. It smells funny. It invites for climbing. After walking around the square, pondering for a little while, I have decided what Jaanisoo’s duck means to me. The importance of having a healthy approach to consumption. Even the most trashy, smelly and deteriorating pile of things can be recycled and transformed into beautiful stuff!

Oxford Tire Pile #5 Westley, California, USA, 1999. Photo credit: Edward Burtynsky

Leaving Örebro by car, I cannot help but thinking of my Volvo V40’s tyres. How often will I have to replace them? Will I ever get a flat tire? I almost wish to one day have enough rubber to create something. Perhaps a castle? One thing is certain, my tyres will not keep adding to mountains like the one pictured above. It is time for change.

The Rubber Duck will be on display in Örebro until 1 September 2013, when it will move back home to Retretti Art Center in Punkaharju, Finland.