The Special Collections & Archives of the University of Kent in UK have created an archive collection that records the experiences of people in relation to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. A copy of my essay Lost Prints will be catalogued and preserved alongside their other archive collections and it will be made accessible to others in their reading room, contributing to research and engaging people with this important part of history.
Author: Gaby Berglund Cárdenas
Rebecca Solnit captures beautifully in a Field Guide to Getting Lost the difference between losing something and losing one self: “Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control.”
But what is the sentiment when an artist loses a sketchbook, a manus or an original artwork? How does the artist move on?
In 2014 I was living in Busan, South Korea. At the time, I made a series of eight monotypes exploring uncertainty, the fragility of life and the perpetual human search for knowing our origin and who we are. These unique prints were meant to be shown as a collective but, due to lack of space, they weren’t displayed during an invitational solo exhibition I had at the Judith Rae Salomon Gallery in Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio, USA in the autumn of 2018.
In the summer of 2019 I moved with my family back to Sweden, from Houston, Texas after a period of 10 years living as an expatriate in South Korea and the USA. During that time I earned a Master’s in Fine Arts and I developed a career as an multidisciplinary artist actively exhibiting internationally.
In 2019, my son, William Cárdenas Berglund, a young multiinstrumentalist and composer born in 2001, graduated from high school in the USA and left our home to move to York and pursue a bachelor in International Relations at York University.
During the relocation some of our wedding presents and art portfolios were stolen, including the eight monotypes I had made in South Korea. The Lost Prints were monotypes and the process involves drawing and painting wet oils directly onto a printing plate. In more traditional printing techniques such as woodcuts or etchings the image is permanently marked onto the plate, ready for several re-inkings and re-printings. With a monotype, however, we get only one chance to make a print, there is no room for mistake because once we have transferred our hand-manipulated ink to the paper from the plate, we basically have to start from scratch with new ink and a new image drawn into it. A monotype leaves an emotional trace of its passage because the medium (in this case oil painting) is worked by hand. The manual work, the resistance to the mechanical present of an industrial and digital age gives the monotypes a conservative and nostalgic feeling.
Some say that the lockdown has changed us forever. Reflecting over the hundreds of thousands of lives lost due to the COVID-19 virus, I feel superfluous to write about anything else, but I choose to write about the Lost Prints as a strategy of the creative mind to keep its sanity. I had planned a solo exhibition at Grafik i Väst Gallery in Gothenburg, Sweden during May 2020, however it was postponed until March 2023 due to the pandemic. Ironically, the exhibition theme was “Life While You Wait”, a series of woodcut prints and textile installations exploring uncertainty. At some point, I entertained the thought of making an artist’s book out of the lost monotypes and to exhibit the book at Grafik i Väst Gallery.
During the pandemic lockdown, my son, William, was in the UK composing several pieces for a music album. He wrote a poem entitled Lost Prints inspired by my story and photos of the prints. The poem has become a pivotal part of a video exhibition that I plan to release online to compensate for the postponed exhibition in Gothenburg.
As an artist, William understands the sentiment of losing one’s original work, whether a visual or a written piece. In the poem, he refers to the prints as “a child of metal and ink”.’ and ends the poem with the words “until found, present, here today”. With this poem, William has given a new life to the lost child: the set of prints. This transformation or reincarnation, from a visual piece of art to the subject of inspiration for a poem, gives both artist and poet a sense of transcendence. It reminds us of our perpetual becoming. It reminds us of Plato’s dialogue, Meno, where he asks Socrates, ‘whether virtue can be taught.’ to which Socrates replies that he does not as yet know what virtue is, and has never known anyone who did. It also brings us to the question of how we know who we are if we are eternally transforming and changing.
Facing change and unpredictability in our daily lives is one of the main causes of human suffering and anxiety. The Daoists, one of the two great indigenous philosophical traditions of China dating back to c.100s B.C.E. emphasized the importance of surrendering to the unknown in order to achieve balance or groundness, which Socrates calls magnanimity, a good of the soul. As important as surrendering is letting go of attachments to material things or emotions, because, according to The Daoists and Buddhists, that is one of the main causes of our suffering.
This realization brings a new perspective and contributes to moving forward. The lost prints on paper have transformed into an eternal bedsheet of text and poetry that will forever exist in the digital cloud. The child of ink and metal became a poem and a new form of communication between mother and son, a son who had recently left his nest to become independent.
Someone said that inspiration comes from “I don’t know” and that surrendering to those three humble words can open the door to a world of possibilities. In the creative process, just like in life, we encounter uncertainty, we never know what he final artwork will look like, we never know what the child will become.
by William Cárdenas Berglund
A child of metal and ink,
Nurtured by brush and milk,
Transcendent of the physical state,
From womb to cradle, cradle to coffin,
Mind to desk, desk to an office,
Only worthy of its name,
Beaks and the beholder,
Meant to pluck the tasteful shoulders,
Off the children, only ever conceived,
It was lost in the dark,
Neglecting the mother of a spark,
Until found, present, here today.’”