SPAR – The “Silk Peace Art Road” Project
Lund, Sweden – from March 10, 2018 and till today
Updated and reported regularly
Jan Oberg, Oberg PhotoGraphics, has been invited by the Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation and the European Cultural Center to exhibit at Palazzo Mora in Venice during the Biennale 2019.
This exciting opportunity stimulated the development of a bigger idea that combines Oberg’s work for peace and art photography with a focus on the Chinese-initiated Silk Belt and Road Initiative, the largest and most visionary in today’s world in terms of linking people and cultures into cooperation rather than confrontation.
In various ways the project – with the Road as metaphor – stretches from Shanghai over Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Iran and Syria to Venice and seeks to promote cooperation and peace in the process.
The “Silk PeaceArt Road” project is made public at this very early development stage where no funding is secured to encourage you to share co-operative ideas, contacts you may have in China and along the Silk Road or to potential partners, artists, sponsors, art institutions, etc.
Summary in 7 elements
1. To stay in Shanghai at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel for a period of 3-6 months.
2. Make use of selected existing archived materials such as photos I’ve taken in China 1983, Myanmar, Somalia and Somaliland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Aleppo in Syria and Venice which are all situated on the:
3. Old Silk Road and on the new Silk Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that China initiated and which my work will evolve around, and:
4. Combining some of the old photos with new ones and various other materials and artefacts into a completely new multimedia creation (one big or several smaller related to each other), and:
5. Exhibiting it all at Palazzo Mora, Venice, in 2019 in the context of the Biennale (May 11-Nov 24) and documenting the process on Instagram, my blog and perhaps also, later, in a book.
6. The project seeks to explore relations between art, the emerging new world order, and history in the future as well as the interactions of cultures, people and expressions, and finally:
7. It will build synergy between my two ‘lives’ as academic peace & future researcher and art photographer.
Continue under project logo…
Point by point
I’ll apply for a scholarship to stay and work for 3-6 months at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China. I need impulses from the non-Western world, from Asia/China which will, I believe, be the main driving force in changing our world during decades to come – a world beyond Western domination.
I visited China during 16 days in 1983 as a member of a Danish cultural and friendship delegation and have wanted to return ever since – both for peace and future research and to learn about the super dynamic Chinese art world.
I can’t think of a better place than the Swatch Art Peace Hotel which carries both “art” and “peace” in its title. One gets a room and a working space in which to test ideas, materials and techniques and get inspired by being in a very different culture and by working together with people from around the world who are passionate about art.
A stay there will also give me the opportunity to explore the Chinese contemporary art world and travel around a bit in China (before or after) and study how the Chinese themselves and their cultural world(s) relate to the huge Silk Road and Belt Initiative – and its cultural potentials.
Finally, the Hotel wants the resident to leave behind an artistic footprint. That’s the very least and I’d be happy, beyond that, to give seminars/discussion intros – or whatever formal/informal – about peace thinking & culture, nonviolence, conflict-resolution; peace, war & art while at the Hotel. Perhaps of interest to both some of the global residents and the Hotel organisation? While I’m an international peace studies professor and have been nominated several times the Nobel Peace Prize, I’m experienced in interacting with non-academic audiences too. My academic CV here.
2. Existing material dimension
I have lots of photos from around China in 1983, a historic moment where, for the first time, people saw huge posters for Sony transistor radios in the streets and began to dress and move more freely. Believe it or not, there were still farmers living with pigs and chicken some hundred meters from the Tiananmen Square. Some of these documentary photos of people and places will be combined with photos of today’s China, Shanghai not the least.
Between that time and today, I’ve shot quite diverse images also in Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Iran, Syria during the war (Aleppo in particular) and Venice.
Here one from my Iran Collage Series (left) and one from the liberation of Aleppo in December 2016:
This quite large photo history archive will serve as one reservoir in the shaping of new creations. The stay in China will, naturally, add scores of other images and non-photo materials such as everyday objects, artefacts, and whatever I come across.
As of late, I have experimented with photo collages where original photos are torn or otherwise re-made/changed and combined with acrylic paint, oil/paint stick, cloth, artefacts and everyday objects – to be explored further.
3. The Silk Belt & Road Initiative – BRI
Initiated in 2013 by China’s president Xi Jinping, it’s a multi-dimensional mega-vision to connect some 60 countries in terms of infrastructure, trade, communication as well as education and culture. It’s of course inspired by the ancient Silk Road (130 BCE-1453 CE) about which you may read here. And here one of many documents about this fascinating project by the Chinese government.
While the – ageing – West hasn’t paid much attention to BRI, there are countless books, articles and videos about it, one small source with a fraction of it all being built at The Transnational of which I’m the co-founder and director. Much more here on Wikipedia.
In contrast to the present world order, the Silk BRI is conceptualized to be horizontal, inclusive and cooperative rather than vertical, confrontational and exploitative and it has no military dimension.
Here a short article on why Xi Jinping and the BRI could merit a Nobel Peace Prize.
4. Preliminary thoughts about the work
As pointed out above, the project already stands on some foundation in terms of photographic materials, structure and connection with the Silk BRI.
If selected to become an artist resident at the Swatch Peace Art Hotel, huge new vistas open up. Being in China, creating new images working in what must be a deeply inspiring environment 24/7, learning on site from Chinese art history and techniques, integrating one’s own materials with whatever new (also non-photo, multimedia) that comes by during such a stay and perhaps encountering people with compatible interests and co-create something – well, it would be beyond words overwhelming, intense and stimulate my “high-temperature” production.
It would probably lead to the creation of works also beyond what could be shown at Palazzo Mora.
And, furthermore, this 2018-2019 project could turn out to be just a beginning and be extended into the future beyond 2019. It will depend on what develops and the experimenting process by its very nature causes ideas about the final result at this point to be rather vague and adaptable as time goes by.
But in principle, at the moment I see limitless possibilities. Of course, there are limitations to take into account.
One such limitation is the price of the wall space at Palazzo Mora and the funding to pay for it (see below). Secondly, there is the transport from Shanghai to Venice of whatever works may result (types of materials, size, fragility, material flexibility).
It’s difficult to imagine the form of presentation at Mora in Venice, but it could be one large collage-like work stitched together in up to, say, 4 x 3 meter. It could also adapt to a Chinese presentation form such as a series of vertical or horizontal scrolls – or other forms and combinations.
In my thinking at this early stage, one inspirational model would be one of my favourite artists, Robert Rauschenberg’s ROCI – Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange (no comparison otherwise) that he conducted with colleagues 1985-1990: working together with people where you are and let your works be heavily influenced by the local historic and contemporary aesthetics and materials.
5. The European Cultural Centre and Palazzo Mora in Venice
The invitation came from the Dutch Global Art Affairs (GAA) Foundation to participate in the exhibition “Personal Structures – Open Borders” subtitled Time • Space • Existence, organized by the GAA Foundation and hosted by the European Cultural Centre in the context of the Venice Biennal 2019. It takes place at the Palazzo Mora in Venice. It was a wonderful surprise for me.
Over the years I have held exhibitions only in my studio in Lund and used my photo homepage, this blog, Instagram and Vimeo as a sort of exhibition of my works and reached out by irregularly emailed messages that I call PostArts. I had obviously been found via the Internet by artist Rene Rietmeyer who initiated the Personal Structures concept back in 2002 and was, he told me, searching for ways to focus more on photography than in the previous years.
I felt strongly that was an opportunity I must give my best to realize. So in November 2017, I went down to Venice for the Biennale and then also met with the GAA people and saw the exhibition (as I had also in 2015). It contained so much creativity, quality and diversity by both known and not-so-known artists from 50 countries around the world.
And as you’ll see in the pictures here, it is an incredibly beautiful venue with several floors, great variety of rooms and light, renovated while maintaining the ambience of the classical palace style. It had attracted no less than 300.000 visitors worldwide from May to November. My contacts there are now Lucia Pedrana – who, by the way, is also developing GAA’s relations with the Chinese art world – and Alessandra Valle.
The project will be documented on this blog, on my Instagram account and on Facebook and Google+. It shall open up the possibility of interaction, cooperation and synergy with people who, for this or that reason, take interest in it, may help or find contacts too. And I am thinking also that of producing a book with the works as well as the process creating them.
6. Exploring relations
Buddhist thinking is more about both/and than – the Western – either/or. I like holism and diverse focuses. This project is about:
• art and peace or, perhaps rather, peace in art and art in peace; we have too many images of violence and too few of what peace could be;
• the emerging world order, Old and New Silk Road (history in the future, future in history) and, thus about reality and imagination;
• interactions of cultures and expressions – thus various kinds of co-operation and co-creation;
• art and documentary photography’s interaction with other media – and while I know how to print on canvas and fine arts papers (and sometimes metals), it may provide an opportunity to also explore – why not? – silk, paint and print on it.
And the road is the connecting metaphor but it doesn’t have to be a straight line from A to B – it can also be curvy like Brice Marden’s brush strokes (see work at the end) or more like three-dimensional, or taking inspiration (as mentioned) from Rauschenberg’s eclecticist ‘combines’ and Zhijie’s total art approach. There are many roads.
7. A synergy between two lives
Through my life, I’ve grappled with art and with peace.
Life # 1 – Art photo
Born in 1951, I grew up with art since my industrialist father, F W Oberg (1913-1981) was also one of Denmark’s pioneering collectors and gallerists (Ars Studeo in Aarhus and Copenhagen) with a focus on contemporary European and American artists like Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Motherwell, Stella, Johns, Hockney, Hamilton, Jones, Kitaj, Paolozzi, etc. (and Cobra’s Danish Asger Jorn and other leading Danish artists).
As a high-school student, I worked as his secretary, translator and assistant in his gallery, corresponded with printers, artists and galleries and arranged exhibitions under his direction.
That was my early art education and ever since I’ve ploughed through museums, galleries and art fairs and cared well for what I inherited. In 2009, I set up Oberg PhotoGraphics as a more sustained activity for my own photography endeavours with a studio where I work with and print my own works, arrange exhibitions and host a Culture Salon for locally interested people.
Life # 2 – Peacemaker
I got a PhD in sociology with a specialization in peace and conflict research in 1981, directed the Lund University Peace Research Institute, LUPRI 1983-89 and, since the department was closed down, have lived a freelance life as a) visiting professor/lecturer, among others, Japan (5 times), Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland; b) conflict analyst and mediator in conflict/war zones such as Somalia, Yugoslavia, Georgia, Iraq, Burundi and, lately, Iran and Syria and c) author, columnist and media commentator. More about me on my personal blog.
The private, independent Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research, TFF, that my wife, Dr Christina Spannar, and I established in 1986, is an independent, people-financed think tank devoted to the UN Charter norm that “peace shall be established by peaceful means” (article 1) and that war shall be abolished (the Preamble).
It rests on a basically Gandhian philosophy. It’s a network of some 60 experts and one of the most prolific and sustained peace research think tanks the production of which can be studied at The Transnational.
I perceive this Silk ArtPeace Road project as an opportunity to bring my two “lives” together and create synergy for the common good of the collaborators along the Road as well as the spectators in Venice and wherever else its results may be shown afterwards. The TFF Board has accepted this as an integral part of its program.
Funding and sponsoring
Boring to talk about but necessary – and one the reasons the project is presented to the world at this early stage.
The main budget items will be:
a) Local costs in Shanghai for daily expenses, art materials and travels. (If my application to the Swatch Peace Art Hotel is accepted, the roundtrip Sweden-Shanghai, the room and workspace as well as breakfast but not other meals will be covered). If the application is declined, the costs of staying in China for an extended period and work and travel there, of course, will be much higher for me.
b) Travels to one or more countries along the Silk Road to do more photography (before or after Shanghai).
c) Transport from Sweden and Shanghai of what shall be exhibited in Venice (for example weight, insurance, customs, storing).
d) My travels and stays for periods in Venice.
e) Fee for exhibiting in Venice which, according to the GAA Foundation’s invitation letter is “for a presentation in a shared space we have to request the minimum exhibition support amount of 15.000 Euro which could be for example a large wall approx. 4-5 meter long in a room in combination with other presentations”.
A more detailed budget will have to be constructed but at this point – March 2018 – a rough estimate of the project costs (with a paid residency at the Swatch Hotel) would be in the vicinity of € 30.000-40.000 or US$ 37.000-50.000.
Hopefully, I’ll be granted the opportunity to be a resident at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel.
Sponsoring in a broad sense (see examples in the 400-page catalogue below) and exposure for sponsors in other ways in Venice, on my blog etc.
Crowd-funding like Kickstarter.
Donations to TFF earmarked for this particular project.
Sales of my own works in support of this project.
Perhaps lecturing in China an elsewhere about peace, global politics and art, honorariums going to cover project costs.
Do you know foundations, institutions or individuals who would be willing to contribute and, in return, would get a lot of publicity in publications, posters, programs etc. related to the Biennale and Palazzo Mora?
Do you have contacts that you think would be relevant in the art world, in China, along the Silk Road? Someone who’d like to promote the cultural potentials of the Silke Road and the new more peaceful world?
Then please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone me at +46 -(0)738 525200.
Can you make a financial contribution, please go to PayPal Pool
And if you have neither ideas nor funds that’s fine too but then please tell others about this artpeace project and wish me good luck!
References & recommenders
Ms Julie Brink
Chair and editor
The Friendship Association Denmark-China
Phone +45 86231012
This friendship association is a partner of the
Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
The GAA Foundation’s invitation letter of February 7, 2018
Jan Oberg_Art 2019 Official Invitation Letter
Fund-raising and sponsoring
2018 A4 size PDF
In 2017 Héloïse Dumont, a student from Paris in Lund, made a video about my background, works and studio and with references to Edvard Munch and Jasper Johns
Last updated March 31, 2018
Originally posted on March 8, 2018