Ulrika Sparre 1974 Sweden
Art that consists of words is usually considered conceptual art. The idea is more important than the actual material manifestation. This art form is perhaps the most obvious example of the desire of the artist to communicate with us. Conceptual art has been around a long time, more than 100 years in fact, and represented an early dissenting voice against the rigid framework that defined so-called “authentic art”.
Ulrika Sparre’s works are exhibited in four places during this year’s OpenART. You could draw parallels to the works of Marcel Duchamp (a name that crops up in a number of these catalogue texts because of the influence he has had on modern art since the beginning of the 20th century) or to Dadaism, futurism or the pop art of the 1960s and the related postmodern school which gained prominence in the late 1980s with artists like Joseph Kosuth, Jenny Holzer, Yoko Ono and On Kawara, among other big names.
Sparre’s four works consist of words and statements that act as keys to unlock a part of ourselves as we pass by along the street. Words as art probably had a completely different impact when this art form was new over a century ago. At that time, messages in the form of written words were not as prominent in public spaces as they are today. When words began to be featured in art, it was unconventional and provocative.
Today we can’t walk through town without being bombarded by words, or by images for that matter. That’s why towns and cities have rules about how much outdoor advertising is allowed in an attempt to restrict this form of visual ‘pollution’ whether the message is informative or persuasive. Today we are so used to seeing all the advertising around us that we hardly react any more. Indeed, advertisers are having to try even harder and shout louder to grab our attention. For instance, have you ever thought about how the volume on the television automatically goes up during the commercial break?
As individuals, we are influenced in different ways by these messages depending on who we are, how we feel at the time and what our lifestyle is like. For example, when you have just bought a new car, you suddenly start to notice all the other cars of the same make on the roads. We are receptive both on a conscious and unconscious level, and that’s what Sparre is tuning into in her works.
The power in her art, as with all artists of the same school, lies in the choice of words and the formulations, where they are placed and the visual design. That’s what gets our attention. If you are walking across a square preoccupied with a problem you are facing, these works can talk to you in a very personal way. They can challenge you and question you as if you are in a dialogue with the work itself and its wording.
If you are used to judging a work of art by its aesthetic value and how skilfully it has been painted or sculpted, other rules apply in the world of conceptual art. The artist is crafting a message that is in tune with the mood of the times or, alternatively, a message that will cut through conventions. The rule is to use either familiarity or dissimilarity. Disguising their works in the language and style of advertising, artists such as Jenny Holzer were able to show us early on how we take certain norms for granted such as consumerism and trust in institutions or politicians.
Jenny Holzer’s breakthrough came when her works appeared all over New York with white block capitals against a red background. Her execution was so slick that the audience was not sure whether the messages were serious or not. The effect was similar to when a TV newsreader makes a mistake and we don’t notice at first because we have been lulled into listening to the tones of his or her voice and believing that every word is true. Sparre has chosen her own distinctive artistic path and it certainly demands our attention.
All messages today are coded in some way with one sender and one or multiple recipients. Ulrika Sparre has left her mark in four places in Örebro during OpenART. Visit them and ask yourself how the message resonates with or counteracts the place where the art is located. How receptive and open we are depends on what we are expecting to see as we pass through a particular place. This art asks a question or makes a statement. Perhaps it will reach out and speak to you. Perhaps you can answer.