Unn Sønju

1938 –
A cross is one of the earliest symbols for creation. In tapestry the warp and the weft cross each other perpetually and eternally. It’s the soul and nature of tapestry’s being My first works in the 1960’s sprang from my immediate environment, my family. Later in the 1970’s these ideas developed into the wider arena of landscape and nature. My earliest tapestries are traditional flat, two-dimensional wall hangings. In the late 70’s I discovered that tapestry has a plastic quality that I had not recognized before, and I was not aware that anyone else had. Unlike many other art media, it has its image on both sides of the material. This is unique. One side of the tapestry is the mirror image of the other. The image permeates the material and the idea constructs the tapestry. With this unique plastic quality, I saw that tapestry was moving into a new and undiscovered territory. A territory where tapestry was no longer bound by the traditional rectangle of history. Now the wall no longer dictated the hanging. Now the tapestry could use the wall spatially. The tapestry material could be twisted, folded, knotted and reversed, allowing itself to articulate in real space. This new frontier for tapestry encouraged my ideas to blossom in disparate directions. Some works were ‘refils’, long continuous lengths of up to 20 metres long that were exhibited in differing folded and twisted presentations. Other works were ‘variables’, made of ‘fragments’ having from 100 to over 1000 pieces, taking a different form at each presentation. By 1995 the content of many of these works moved away from a salutation of nature to a concern for the climate with the depletion of the ozone layer, pollution, and the detritus in the streets of Oslo. With the invasion of Iraq in 2003 my concern for climate was pushed aside to make outcries against the horror of war. As of now I have made 16 anti-war tapestries. The terrible loss of life and the desperate plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean has become a currant subject for my work. Have I become the weaver of international woe? Heavy subjects no doubt! Yet while weaving is a slow medium that demands concentration, I find it meditative. I am in a free flow of physical and mental imagination and invention. While following the broad outline of a cartoon, the weaving relies thoroughly on improvisation. I’m playing the loom! The sensual surface of the material, the building and shifting of images and colour is totally enthralling. In this situation I have always to keep in mind that the final presentation shall clarify and strengthen the initial idea. While the image of an artwork doesn’t change in principle, the way it is first received and how it is received years later does. I have two examples of this. In 1985 I made a work about a snow-covered metal fence, ‘Soft Fence’. It was then read as being an interpretation of its subject. Recently it was on exhibition and admired as a significant, condemning image of the barriers politicians and nations are constructing to keep desperate refugees from entering their territory. Likewise, another work, ‘Dark Swimmer’ 1983-84, that illustrates a dark swimmer, was seen then as what it was intended to represent. Now it is seen as a partner to my recent works about the plight of refugees who have drowned on their flight to freedom and hope. Unn Sønju 13.10.19