2005 PARTING (detail). H 90 x W 36 x D 7 cm. Galvanized steel and cadmium red polyurethane. Photo by Dawid.



One beautiful day last summer, I received a phone call from Ulf Rollof whom I was only barely acquainted with. He told me about his new book project and asked if I would consider writing an article about his latest works. He had very much enjoyed the recently completed exhibition of Munch’s self portraits (Munch by Himself ), which I had curated and had read the exhibition catalogue cover to cover. He wondered if I would like to see his latest works, and we made an appointment to meet at his studio.

When I visited Ulf Rollof at Luntmakargatan, he had difficulty walking. He was in constant pain which he could only endure with the help of strong painkillers, which often created a barrier between him and the rest of the world. He was able to remain seated only for short periods, and had difficulty holding his concentration. He had lived in this condition for over two years after what looked like unsuccessful spinal surgery.

I wondered how one can bear living and working in such chronic pain. It seemed to me unimaginable. But that was exactly what Ulf did. He displayed a will of iron. Without bitterness or even a hint of sacrifice, he had decided to accept the situation. His energy and positivity made a great impression on me.

The works from 2004 to 2006 collected in this book in some way constitute a cycle about a seemingly hopeless situation. They deal with a journey through pain, helplessness, anger and aggression. But above all, they deal with an attempt to regain control over a situation that seems to lack escape routes, and to see his personal world with new eyes, mirrored in these newly minted works.


In the three large triptychs of the series RGB (RED GREEN BLUE),the immaculately gleaming surfaces have been ruined by well aimed revolver shots. The bullets have penetrated and shattered the glass – the result of a violent and brutal act.

One of the features of Ulf Rollof’s art is that its complexity is never immediately obvious to the viewer, only becoming apparent after a second or third viewing. As in this case. If one studies these bullet holes more closely, an unexpected splendour reveals itself: under the impervious surface, girded by radiating cracks, one notices an opening towards an unknown dimension with a dizzying unexplored depth. Bathed in darkness, of course, but just possibly the exit from this darkness.

Is it not so that catastrophe and destruction always create a situation in which it is possible for us to change our points of view, provided that we accept what has happened? If we make no resistance to the experience life brings, it becomes possible for us to shift perspectives. It is then that the brutal can also become resplendent, as is the case here, without necessarily implying a contradiction.


The installation Table consists of two parts, an operating table lit from above by a surgical spotlight’s cold merciless glare. The sheet of green glass is pierced by chromed tubing which is interconnected and ends in a smaller tube from which a liquid can run into a bowl. The idea of the hard metal penetrating the patient’s body sends shivers down the spine of the viewer. In spite of the fact that one understands that spinal surgery can mean a deliverance and an end to suffering for many people, Ulf Rollof’s drainage system is more akin to an instrument of torture, siphoning the patient of his bodily fluids and thereby all vital energy.

The other part of the installation consists of a ”painting” of green surgical cloth, lit from behind by a number of fluorescent tubes. The complete work reminds one of a hightech operating theatre, where the instrument’s precision inspire confidence and the promise of success, while suggesting dehumanization, and that the patient is defenceless and has lost all control over his plight.


In Anaesthetized the glass bullet holes from the RGB series reappear in the form of a hole (encircled by green surgical cloth and instruments) in the shoulder of a woman lying on an operating table. In her comatose state she surrenders her body to the surgeon.

The hole he has made in her shoulder damages her body, but is a prerequisite of the operation to make the arm function again, if everything goes as planned.

In the photo series Anaesthetized, Ulf Rollof combines a picture from a shoulder operation with another picture to make a diptych. The second image seems at first not to be connected in any way to the operation picture. It can be of an interior displaying a bed in a stately home or a picture of people using their healthy arms or even a picture of containers on an airfield. After a longer contemplation secret relationships are revealed between the clinical pictures and their counterparts These links can be of differing types, but they are never logical: sometimes the similarities are in shape, sometimes in colours or composition. In one case, recuperation from surgery is set against a chaise longue from a mansion. In another case, the operated shoulder is shown against a healthy shoulder, seen at the same angle as that of the patient.

As in RGB, these compilations raise the question of how we really see and interpret the world around us. By Ulf Rollof making these associative connections, our ingrown ways of looking at things lose their apparent universality. New ways of looking seem equally possible, giving a new freedom to observing the world.


Conditioned is a series of works that explore dependence and the need for help. A preliminary to this work is the sculpture Breast Ladder from 2003 where female breasts droop from the rungs of a ladder, like icicles, reminiscent of the surrealistic melting objects in Salvador Dalí’s paintings.

A wheelchair, a hospital cot and a washbasin are draped in female breasts. A breast promises warmth, nutrition and pleasure. The infant child is from the outset dependent on the nourishment of a mothers bosom, but with increasing age liberates itself from its mother and gradually shoulders the responsibility for its own life. To ascend the ladder of life, one must leave the breast behind, so to speak.

But what does it mean as an adult to be in need of help? How does one accept help from others without losing your own self respect? As handicapped or chronically ill, one is suddenly at the mercy of others, as one was as a child. The breasts in Wheelchair refer in one way to all the assistance a distressed person both needs and receives, as he dreams of no longer being reliant on others. In the works of the Conditioned series, the female breast becomes a metaphor for both the desire for intimacy and the nightmare of dependency.


Anxiety is a normal reaction to everything that changes in our lives: our relationships, our personas, our bodies. And yet, everyday we say goodbye to people we will never meet again or to places to which we will never return, with little concern or even being

unaware of the parting. But in extreme situations, as in the demise of a friend or near relative, we suddenly understand the finality of what has happened. In these moments maybe we realize that life is always a blend of constant change and transformation. Sometimes we maybe even come to terms with this insight.

This experience is the essence of the Parting series. Consisting of a collection of tools and agricultural implements – pick, axe, hammer, shovel, scythe, and pitchfork – which on account of the artists infirmity have become too unwieldy for him. He is unable to use them any more. But the handprint of the artist in red polyurethane embosses the shining galvanized tools, the handles of which are now forged in steel, making them extra heavy. It is as if the artist wants to leave his mark, that through this imprint, once and for all, he wants to reassure himself of his own existence.

These sculptures, in which the incorruptible meets the transient, are at one and the same time both beautiful and melancholic. They form a departure from what was previously possible, but simultaneously reconciling themselves to the fact that which is, is.


On glowing orange boards, of the type used to indicate roadworks, the artist has printed fragments of his own dreams. Secretive, partly surreal images arise in the mind’s eye of the viewer. It is widely known that dreams present in a mysterious and encoded way, a context that is only accessible to the dreamer after intensive examination.

In dreams, just as in art, especially christian art, a road is often a metaphor for the path of life. In these works by Ulf Rollof, he has erected the signs in such a way that they cause roadblocks. By dream analysis, the subconscious becomes conscious and the path of life is freed of existing restrictions, until further down the road one maybe stumbles upon new barriers which, in their turn, must be cleared. Ulf Rollof’s latest works move between the sense of helplessness and impotence, and the constant struggle to assume responsibility for one’s own existence. Driven by a fundamental curiosity, the artist scorns the role of victim, wanting instead to explore and understand life in its varied dimensions. The works collected in this book deal with transformation, physical and mental transformation, but also with anaesthesia and awakening.


When, just before Christmas 2005, I once again met Ulf Rollof, he was like a new man. He exuded vigour and vitality. Since the work for this book had been finalized, everything seems to have changed for him. A new doctor had given a more competent diagnosis and changed the medication. Things Ulf had never thought possible again were within his reach: he now walked normally, drove his car and enjoyed life without the numbing veil that had clouded his senses. He was about to move from the studio where he had worked for 18 years, as well as changing his private apartment.

Ulf Rollof always uses his personal experience as the source of his art. But he never stops in the purely personal but creates universal and very convincing images. In this he reminds one very much of Edvard Munch whose soul searching had made such a great impression on him.

A rearing horse is the final point of this journey through a time of severe ordeal. An incarnation of power, strength and regained appetite for life. It marks the beginning of a new chapter.


Solo Exhibition NU at former Brändström & Stene Gallery, Hudiksvallsgatan, Stockholm.
Iris Müller – Westermanns text from the book SÖVD, Atlantis Förlag, Stockholm 2006.
Special Thanks to Alfred Boman and Bo Glasberg.

Sketch for 2007 MADOPARK. H 56 x W 76 cm. Watercolor on cotton paper.
2007 MADOPARK. 20mm steel plate blasted by swedish military test center.
H 99 x W 207 x D 4 cm. Acrylic, float glass and 9 mm revolver cartridges. Photo by Leif Claesson. PRIVATE COLLECTION.
2007 MADOPARK. H 235 x W 135 x D 671 cm. Galvanized steel and cadmium red polyurethane. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman.
Collection Moderna Muséet .
2007 MADOPARK. The closed door. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman. Collection Moderna Muséet .
2007 PARTING. Varying sizes. Galvanized steel and cadmium red polyurethane. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman.
H 22 x W 68 x D 235 cm each. Copper, fluorescent lighting, rubber, nylon, tin and porcelain.
Assisted by: Alfred Boman. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman.
H 235 x W 68 x D 22 cm. Copper, fluorescent lighting, rubber, nylon, tin and porcelain.
Assisted by: Alfred Boman. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman. Private Collection.
2007 POLIS.
H 69 x W 56 x D 38 cm. Copper, fluorescent lighting, rubber, nylon, tin and porcelain.
Assisted by: Alfred Boman. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman. Private Collection.
2007 TABLE II.
H 165 x W 75 x D 200 cm. Acrylic, float glass, brass, chrome, copper, stainless steel, rubber and safety belt. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman. Collection Moderna Muséet .
Side view. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman.
Thermometer. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman.
Top view. Photo by Åke E:son Lindman.
2007 AX.
H 90 x W 36 x D 7 cm. Galvanized steel and cadmium red polyurethane. Photo by Dawid.