Like many Australians of my generation, most of my ancestors came from Britain. However, there was one elusive branch from Sweden. Those relatives were part of the diaspora of the late 19th – early 20th Centuries, when over 1.3 million Swedes emigrated. The first organised Swedish population movement to Australia took place between 1871 and 1910, and those dates look right with regard to my family, but whoever the individuals were and when exactly they arrived, they didn’t cling onto their Scandinavian identities post-arrival. Stories and bits and pieces of cultural practice have lingered behind them, but they anglicised their names and blended into the general population with such clinical efficiency we’ve never been able to properly document them.
I first visited Sweden in 1977, after finishing art school in New York, driven by family curiosity, a desire to see the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, basic wander-lust and possession of a Eurail pass. I’ve been back a few times since then, and always found it to be a thought-provoking place. In 2009 my eldest son moved to Sweden with his family, when his wife was awarded a university fellowship in genetics. They’ve enjoyed living in Scandinavia, speak fluent Swedish and don’t look like coming back to Australia any time soon.
In 2015, on sabbatical from Queensland College of Art (Griffith University), I spent all of November at the Valand Academy (University of Gothenburg). Valand kindly provided a studio, which I used nearly every day. Europe was in the thrall of a refugee crisis and financial dramas. I arrived over-heated physically and intellectually from the Venice Biennale, a Jean-Michel Basquiat survey in Bilbao, a hectic week in Berlin and an unseasonably warm autumn. I plunged into a period of cool self-reflection.
Sweden has an intriguing atmosphere of blankness, or so it seems to me, and it is therefore an eminently suitable place for soul-searching. I drew each day and thought about what I wanted to do over the next few years. I didn’t start with the idea that anything I was making would be exhibitable. I took a lot of photographs. I didn’t do anything large and I luxuriated in neither showing anything nor explaining anything to anybody. I don’t think I was quite a flâneur, because I was fairly driven with my self-questioning and planning, but this could be conceit speaking.
On December 1st I boarded a late night flight to Baltimore, carrying with me a suitcase full of crumpled clothes, books and papers. Here, in this exhibition, are some of those pieces of paper that most look like drawings.
- Mostyn Bramley-Moore