You kind of want it to be about death, right? For me, its more about life. About all that´s not tied to the flesh, that´s not stuck in the bones. About soul, and spirit.
I see these skulls as a kind of.. space in between, an abandoned home. Somewhere where grand wildness has pulsed through, inside and all around. Where the blood has been warm and the fur soft. The bones has helped to lift and put someone in motion, they have given someone foothold, heft, weight. They have lived, drunk, eaten, run, loved. One is someones mother, someones father, someones young one.
My name is Hanna Hasse Lilja. I was born 1985 in a small community in northern Sweden. My childhood was a fairytale and I have two people to thank for that, my heroes and idols – mom and dad. My father was like a chieftain, strong as a span of oxen and wise as a book. He is sat deep within me, like a strong stem and deep roots, as a presence and reminder of forces that can´t be seen with the naked eye. Everything I am, I am because of my father, secure, brave, and with hands that must be allowed to create or else they might just fall off. My mother was the one who put pencils and brushes in my hands and made sure that I always had four legged friends with their warm mules against my cheek. She let me grow up on my back in the grass with the horses, in the barn among sheep and feathered friends, along a small road with a pig on a leash, with big dogs by my side, cats under my quilt, by the foot of a mountain with the woods around the corner of our house. It´s not all that strange that I feel lost on the concrete, and maybe not even that my best friend have hooves and that one of my children crows. That´s just how it goes.
Animals and nature have always been my source of power. I´m never alone in the woods, and nowhere else can I find inspiration like I can with my nose buried deep in the moss or my back safe against the trunk of a tree. It was only by coincidence that I started painting skulls, and yet somehow it was perfectly in line with everything else. Growing up the way I did, with animals by my side, makes death a very natural och obvious part of life. Horses get sick, dogs get old, roosters get taken by the fox, birds crash into windows, the pigs and turkeys are slaughtered and eaten, and mom and dad spends the autumn in the woods waiting for a moose to shoot.
When I was young they used to bring me when the hunting-team slaughtered the moose they had shot, and I got to watch as the big animals transformed from mysterious wise-eyed creatures to a big moose-shaped blob in the moss, and watch it go through the hunters hands and knifes and become food for humans. It has always troubled me.
A few years ago I stumbled across an old slaughter-pit in the woods and my heart stopped. It was a horrible sight, but I couldn´t help but become enchanted by the skulls I saw. I didn’t know what to do, would it be wrong for me to take them home with me, would it be worse for me to leave them? I carried a few of them home with me, painted one of them and suddenly a new tranquillity came over me. I couldn´t wake him up, but I could honor his memory, rest his bones, and since then I have lifted so many moose and other animals from that and other pits that I´ve lost count. The skulls have become a part of me, a flock for me to belong.
Through my art I hope to be able to lift these animals higher than just out of the pit they were left in. It´s so casually done, to shoot someone, that you can just go home afterwards and eat dinner and watch tv just as if everything was in order. And that tears me apart.
The skulls are really no more animal than a rock is an animal, and yet it is sometimes hard for me to breathe while I touch them. The skulls are merely a shadow of the life that once ran through them but it softens me, its humbling to stroke your fingertips along the only thing left of them for us to stroke our fingertips along.
I don´t know where a moose or a fox or a crow goes when they die, just as I don´t know where I will go when I´m done here, or where my father went when he died. All i can do is hope and trust that they are well wherever they might have flown, and that I´m able to do them some kind of justice.
It´s only love.