Ann Böttcher

3 feb23 may 2021

Bonniers Konsthall proudly presents the first-ever retrospective dedicated to Ann Böttcher, one of Sweden’s most cherished artists. While Böttcher is best known for her small-scale drawings, over the years she has also developed an interest in textiles and craft, especially traditional Scandinavian weaving techniques. Works 2000–2020 presents for the first time a comprehensive overview of her practice and is an opportunity to explore the underlying questions posed in her works: those of ideology, control and identity, in the form of portraits of others as well as herself.

Böttcher’s early drawings started as a substitute for the experience of nature and offered a way to get into the same state of mind. The technique demands time-consuming, monotonous, repetitive work which served a meditative purpose. “I drew like I was scanning the image onto the paper; it was meditative and I got lost in the details,” Böttcher explains. Weaving came about in a similar way. “Around a decade ago, drawing didn’t fill this function anymore and weaving came in as a much-needed contrast. I needed the physicality that is embodied in this handicraft: the tearing of textiles, the beating of the loom, the long and heavy rugs.”

Referencing Romanticism and key artists in Swedish history such as Elias Martin and Marcus Larson, as well as earlier influential figures such as Erik Dahlbergh and Carl August Ehrensvärd, Böttcher is interested in how aesthetical and political projections characterise the notion of nature. The forest, in particular the spruce, is at the centre of Böttcher’s imagery. Using the same methodology as would an historian, she examines and surveys Nordic nature and historical forms of reflection, but within an artistic practice. How, for example, has the spruce served as a symbol for the formation of territorial claims or national identities? In Den svenska serien (ett urval) (The Swedish Series (a Selection)) from 2005, Böttcher has made a timeline of the spruce spanning more than 400 years. With the aid of photocopies, printouts, Post-it Notes and her own pencil drawings, she highlights how closely interwoven Swedish cultural history and identity is with the spruce.

With the exquisite craftmanship Böttcher puts forward, the works risks being relegated to the aesthetically pleasing and to be about nature. One must be mindful to catch what lies underneath. As in, for instance, St. Joseph’s 1827–2014, a series of five drawings. The title refers to an Irish mental hospital situated right in between a cemetery and a prison. In this series, Böttcher has drawn Irish yew and cypress trees that grow in the hospital grounds. On a title page accompanying the work, there is a list of the hospital’s various name changes as dictated by psychiatric reforms, which gives insight into an institution’s societal and humanitarian perspectives through the ages. Had French philosopher Michel Foucault seen this work, he would certainly have had a great deal to say in relation to his own field studies on institutions and control. After all, the philosopher counted these spaces as ‘heterotopias of deviation: those in which individuals whose behaviour is deviant in relation to the required mean or norm are placed.’

The issue of the controlling institution is also present in the background of Resan och hamnen (Återbrukerskan) (The Journey and the Harbour (The Recycler)) from 2012. This is a large wall tapestry in a Scandinavian weaving style, consisting of nine woven rag rugs and five crocheted carpets mounted on top, like floating suns and planets. The tapestry is a public work of art that usually hangs at Vipan, an upper secondary school in Lund, and has been uniquely loaned to Bonniers Konsthall for this exhibition. The first part of the title comes from a memorial stone bearing the inscription: “If the journey was stormy, how restful is the harbour.” The stone is the only trace today of the building’s gruesome history. Between 1935–1982, this school was Vipeholm Hospital, an institution for the so-called “mentally deficient,” where the National Swedish Board of Health ran the largest human experiment in Sweden’s history. Commissioned by the government, a study on tooth decay was conducted on patients, by feeding them sugar as unknowing subjects in the experiment.

In a new work, Böttcher turns to her own family story. Here she revisits a topic she has worked on many times before: namely the German past. Böttcher has a German background and highlights here the personal history of her father, who like millions of other Germans was forced to flee in post-war Europe. “Naturally, this new piece will be my latest, but it could just as well have been the very first work I did, when it comes to this body of work related to Germany,” Böttcher says. “It is the most personal, and for me it has something sort of explanatory or introductory to it, while also being a sort of conclusion, as well as a sense of ending or closure”.

As part of the exhibition, Bonniers Konsthall together with Lenz Press has produced a richly illustrated and comprehensive publication: Ann Böttcher Works 2000–2020. Writer Anders Kreuger presents Böttcher’s art from four points of view: one illustrative, one material, one rhetorical and one personal. Artist Tyler Coburn contributes a study on the relationship between Böttcher’s work Yosemite National Park (A Recollection of Wilderness), America I–III and The Entrance to the Sanatorium. And lastly, writer Filipa Ramos offers a rare interview with the artist. With this exhibition and publication, Bonniers Konsthall wishes to provide an opportunity to get closer than ever before to the core of Böttcher’s work.