Lea Porsager on the artistic process of Gravitational Ripples

Lea Porsager won the competition to create a Memorial for the 2004 tsunami in Djurgården in Stockholm. Here she presents her artistic intentions and artist’s notes on the process leading to the land artwork Gravitational Ripples.

“When I decided to apply with an idea for the Swedish 2004 Tsunami Memorial, I knew that I wanted to work in the spirit of working-with, a process that led me far out into cosmos from the very beginning. As mentioned in several sources, the work is inspired by a cosmic phenomenon know as gravitational waves. Gravitational waves arise when two celestial bodies orbit each other, spinning closer and closer together, unleashing energy so powerful that it creates ripples in spacetime itself. These waves were predicted by Einstein as early as in 1916, but first measured by scientists last year (2016). It very much felt like the image of gravitational waves came to me, working-with me as the idea evolved. A gravitational wave situated on a quiet spot outside of Stockholm — a wave transformed into an earthly, spiralling cradle.

The 2004 tsunami was a brutal reminder of the fragility of our earthbound existence. Situating our experiences in the greater context of cosmos has the potential of healing, as it connects us to notions of eternity, origin and creation. The scientific illustrations of gravitational waves reminded me of the unconditional beauty and rawness of nature. How, in a frozen moment, the waves form a double spiral. They resound with the interconnectedness and complementarity of all phenomena. For me, it is important to take on this view of complementarity rather than opposition in all matters, also life and death. Somehow, our lives unfold within these strange spacetime entanglements. Interconnectedness and complementarity were so to speak a working method in itself, as it has been for a while.

The process of adjusting the sketch

The work aims to be continually working-with the aftermath of the 2004 event itself — those touched by the tsunami, their relatives and loved ones. And working-with the landscape. The proposal itself was developed together with a small team of three friends/collaborators/ thinkers/makers: Søren Assenholt, Rasmus Strange, Thue Tobiasen and Synnøve B. Brøgger. It was important for me that we developed a concept that was strong enough to be flexible/ adjustable. And in this team, we have reminded ourselves and each other to listen to the material and build from there. I could not imagine a better team — it means a lot in the process of working-with. And of course working with Statens Konstråd, Statens Fastighetsverk and Nivå architects. All these collaborators have impacted the work and its evolution. It is an exchange. There have been some changes made to the original proposal, but they have been very practical changes, like moving the double spiral to include some of the parking lot — a change I am really happy about. I think it will make the site more engrossing as a whole.

Then there was a wish to have the names of the deceased together in the center, and not scattered around in the ripples. I understood that wish and it was easy to accommodate. To make those changes did not affect the overall concept — it probably made it stronger. Materializing this work has so far been an amazing process. To see it grow, and to see all the different experts at work, both from my own team and from the state agencies. Of course, it is very exciting to see what challenges may arise, but I’m not afraid. I feel the project is in good hands.

To work together with nature and time and not against it / Protecting what is and still adding something

At this point in time it seems that our (Western) denial of our absolute dependence on the socalled natural world is becoming more and more difficult to maintain. The deep-rooted Cartesian dualisms that are the companion thought-forms to human exceptionalism and advanced capitalism are being profoundly challenged as we experience — and will continue to experience — the devastating effects of climate change and mass extinctions. These times call for creativity, radical thinking, passion and non-melancholic ways of connecting. To use some of Donna Haraway’s terms, we are players within a colorful lively compost pile — we are part of a bigger organism. We become-with each other or not at all. Again, to me, it’s all about working-with. Using primarily soil is a very concrete way of working with earthly matter. With the new position of the double spiral, which includes the parking lot, we are adding biodiversity. We plant and sow flowers and not only grass. This diversity is not only pleasant to human senses, it nurtures other critters as well — bees, spiders, you name it. At the same time, the old trees on the site will stay untouched, though in new and fresh company. I am sure the memorial will grow into its own being. Working-with nature is also to see things grow, to allow nature time to express itself. It will take time as new layers and seeds will be added each year, like the crystals in Robert Smithson’s Land Art piece Spiral Jetty. I have been asked if Smithson’s work is an inspiration to me, and yes, for sure it had an impact on me. I walked the Salt Lake spiral in 2006, and it was a profound experience. To me, Land Art differs from other art experiences in being a very physical encounter. Most of the Land Art that I’ve seen has been in the US, works by male artists in remote areas. So, of course this is different. But what I took from experiencing a work like Lightning Field by Walter de Maria was this feeling of being enclosed by the work. Permeated by its atmospheres, its scents, etc. An all-encompassing experience that opens and expands ways of sensing and thinking-with the world. Being somehow reminded of our very real presence on the planet.

Gravitational Ripples, as any memorial, can never fully absolve or release the magnitude of pain that is connected to the 2004 tsunami. It can only situate it. A subtle space, real and in formation. By the opening next year, there might be much or little vegetation — the ripples might appear bare or lush. True to nature, it is impossible to predict. As Land Art, it will follow the seasons. Sometimes in full bloom, sometimes barely visible underneath a veil of snow. In the twilight, in the blazing sun, in the summer light or winter darkness of our Scandinavian nights. Much like grief itself, it follows the ebbs and flows of time. Silent or talkative, in solitude or with others. Sometimes, it might offer solace. Other times, it might not. But it will always be in passage, in a state of transformation.

Lea Porsager, June 2017

Submitted idea proposal

Material submitted by the artist: