Marina Abramovic exhibit at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet

Marina Abramovic is often hailed as the grandmother of performance art.  Now seventy years old Abramovic is still creating new works, highlighting her position as perhaps the most prevalent performance artist in the world. Her latest performance (The Cleaner) was centered in Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. Unfortunately,  Abramovic’s new act only ran until March 5th 2017 but the Moderna Museet still features an exhibit of her most prolific work and several re-performances until May 21st this year. Recently I had the uncomfortable pleasure of touring the eight rooms the Modern Art museum has designated to Abramovic’s collective works. The space unveils Abramovic’s extensive contribution to performance art, demonstrating the breadth and development of her art over four decades.

After you’ve paid the entrance fee of 160 krona (approximately £16) you enter the first room of the exhibit. Inside you’re introduced to Abramovic’s juvenalia, a gathering of sketches, paintings and letters that detail her subjects before the move into performance art. There is a fixation upon wagon crashes and disembodied legs. On first impressions the fixation on these macabre subjects is uncomfortable. Once accustomed to the images, it becomes evident (especially through the paintings) that even from an early age Abramovic was capable of finding  beauty in a chaotic subject, capturing devastation and energy in a collision of colour.

Abramovic’s youthful darkness lays the foundation for the second room. The earliest performances, starting from 1973 are displayed here. Through the photographs, videos and slides we are shown the extremes Abramovic stretched her body to in her earliest performances. Overall the art in this section creates an uncomfortable tension. The artist is seen to be whipping and cutting herself; standing in pentagrams of fire; screaming until her voice breaks. The unease in these performances comes from the potential danger the artist is inflicting upon herself. Walking through makes the viewer consistently flinch away from the potential pain. A particularly disturbing feature are the recordings of Abramovic working with knives. In this performance she uses twelve knives to stab between the spaces in her fingers. The first attempt is recorded and listened to by the artist before attempting to replicate the previous stabbings, cuts included. Hearing Abramovic deliberately inflict wounds to demonstrate the difference in re-performance contracts the skin and takes a strong will to listen to. Overall her early performances places the viewer in a state of anticipation that borders on nausea. The pieces take the audience out of the traditional, controlled viewing of art and hangs them on a precipice of uncertainty.

The third room displays Abramovic’s work in collaboration with artistic and romantic partner Ulay. Whilst in partnership, Abramovic dropped the more violent aspects of her work, whilst still focusing on the extremes of the body. Together they are seen to be colliding, shouting, kissing and breathing as if the activities are feats of endurance. They had taken the everyday motions of the body and through effort and time turned them into events of aggression. Something as traditionally beautiful as kissing  became almost combative, in which both artists attached their mouths until they could no longer breath. The pair explored the the utmost points of the body, nudity and endurance before their separation. Their last meeting, on the great wall of China, is displayed on several video screens. Both parties walked across the monument from opposite ends until they met in the middle. From the center they parted and never saw each other again.

After the separation with Ulay the exhibit returns to solo performances. There is a focus of life, death and sex that is explored through the artist’s Baltic roots. Through videos explaining the traditional Baltic rat extermination method and a re-performance of Cleaning the Mirror, Abramovic depicts death in quietly disturbing manner. The life cycle and sexual creation of the world treats the taboo subjects as everyday. Occasionally they are as uncomfortable as the earlier works. However, the tension is not created through danger but by confronting the fundamental aspects of existence that are often ignored.

Finally, the collection focuses on Abramovic’s most recent performances. In these the artist has become almost meta as she journeys past the traditions of her early works and begins to completely incorporate the audience into the art. The Artist is Present depicts over 700 hours of Abramovic making eye contact with hundreds of members of the public. The performance itself seems quiet in comparison to early pieces but maintains her foundation themes of endurance and the extremes of the body. It is evident that despite the less violent motion of her youthful performances Abramovic is still creating art that is physically and emotionally tasking.

In contrast to the performance art the exhibit is dotted with the artist’s sculptures in quartz crystal. These appear to have become a focus of Abarmovic’s work as she has aged and studied in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Everyday objects such as brooms and chairs have been altered to accommodate the semiprecious rocks. The combination of pale wood and purple stone is calm, beautiful and completely impractical. After traversing the main exhibit it is worth peaking through the Moderna Museet’s permanent exhibition. Amongst the Picasso, Matisse and occasional Dali are a large pair of crystal boots. Rooted into the ground visitors can discard their footwear and become statues in Abramovic’s sculpture. After the intense images of the exhibit, the crystal sends cool up into the visitor. You are calmed as you look out into Stockholm, gentled on the stone and the view of the waves.

 

 

 

 

 

Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems

I was fifteen when I read my first poem by Maya Angelou. Angelou’s poetry wasn’t something I stumbled into in the library or online but was studied in an Literature class. Before reading Woman Work we were introduced to the poet. Our teacher cut out facts about the poet and the varied life she had led on slips of paper. The class then had to go around collecting and sharing the snippets of information that compiled a rough biography of the author. Then we read the poem and compared it with an old English text, which I can no longer remember. Woman Work is a beautiful piece that kindled my appreciation for Maya Angelou and strengthened my adoration of poetry. I would have liked to leave a copy of the poem in this post but I’m uncertain of the legality of doing this. Instead, I’ve included a link at the bottom to poemhunter.com.

After my first exposure to Angelou’s work I read a lot of her poems online. Her collective works are vast and due to publishing rights a large proportion of the poetry isn’t available on the internet. I read what was accessible in the early 2000s and moved towards other writers. About three years later I became curious about Angelou again and in order to satisfy my craving for the author’s words I purchased all of her memoirs that had been published until that date. Unfortunately, these books weren’t to my taste. Perhaps the non-fiction nature of the stories deterred me, or the introduction to new writers at university pulled me away. In either case, it shames me Maya’s collect memoirs are gathering dust on my book shelf and to this day remain unread. I’m drawn to the every time I pick new text but for some unknown reason they’ve yet to be chosen.

Despite neglecting Angelou’s prose for several years I have always remained a bit of an admirer. I’ve devoured all interviews that I can find online and have internalised the lesson Angelou repeats from Roman playwright Terence:

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”

“I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.”

Last week I purchased Maya Angelou: The Complete Poems onto my kindle. The book has become part of my morning routine. Every day I have awoken, made my coffee, and before heading for the shower I read several poems in the book. Several mornings I have been a little late for work because I wanted to finish another page. The poetry ranges across several themes, however several topics such as love, poverty and the African American experience uphold the collection. Angelou writers these subjects with passion that is infectious to the reader, making it as electric as the caffeine in my cup. Between the coffee and the poetry collection the day is more inviting to dive into. What surprises me is how effortless her world is to connect to. Despite our generational difference, ethnic experience, gender  and geographical divide Angelou’s poems are refreshingly accessible and important to me. In the shower this morning I asked myself,

“Why should a white working class man be captivated by Harlem Hopscotch?”…

“Because it’s all human.” I replied.

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/woman-work/#content

 

 

Malmö for the Day

Two weeks ago I landed in Copenhagen for the weekend. I enjoyed the city and have briefly briefly about the adventure in my previous post. On the final day in Denmark, after checking out of the hotel, I crossed the border into Sweden. When I planned my journey around Copenhagen I had only intended to look at the bridge that connects Malmö to the Danish capital. Somehow I couldn’t resist being drawn onto the train and across the Scandinavian border. Admittedly, part of my motivation was due to the thriller television series Brön (The Bridge). The series starts with a murder victim being placed in the center of the bridge that connects Copenhagen and Malmö. The victim is so perfectly located on the border that the Swedish and Danish police both have claim to the investigation. Thereafter, the hunt of the serial killer jumps between both countries. A large part of me wanted to stand on the bridge and pretend to be a detective. Unfortunately, it is illegal to walk on the bridge and is only accessible by rail or car. This was disappointing but I took the tourist train across anyway.

Regardless of where you board the Denmark to Malmö train, the journey is shortly interrupted at Copenhagen Airport. Passengers have to disembark the vehicle, evidence their passports or identity documents, and wait for the next train. The pause isn’t long, approximately fifteen minutes in total. A major downside of the wait is the temperature. This is due to the platform beneath the airport acting as a wind-tunnel, which makes the passengers grateful that (due to a lack of Danish border control) the train back into Copenhagen is direct, without passport inspection. After the chilly wait, the journey by the thankfully warm train straight into Sweden is dotted with stunning scenes of waves and the island of Saltholm in-between.

I was only in Malmö for approximately three hours, killing time before the flight back to England. Clearly, three hours isn’t enough to fully explore the city and enjoy all it has to offer. Mostly, time was spent wandering between the “small” and “big” squares. Their name is simple but accurate- two different sized areas, walled by some of Malmö’s best buildings. The architecture in the city center is as beautiful as any other Swedish city. The trademark colourful buildings, ornate features and great height put me in mind of Stockholm, whilst the lack of overbearing commuters and city rushers gives chance to stop and admire without always being in somebody’s way. I imagine the city is at it’s picturesque peak in summer, when the sun can truly highlight the coloured walls and a walk towards the harbour would be paved in rainbow.

As with all travel destinations food was high on my agenda. Malmö lays claim to the best Falafel in Sweden and the city boasts it is their preferred street food. Apparently, falafel became popular among the city dwellers after immigrants from Israel and Lebanon began to reside there and began serving the fried chickpea balls. The low price of the food made it popular even during manufacturing and economic slumps of the 80’s and falafel has been a local staple ever since. In my limited time I only had chance to eat one lunch at a small place called Jalla Jalla. The warm, freshly made falafel, despite being located in a take-away shop, was potentially the best non-hummus  chickpeas I’ve ever had. If I had a few days in the city I would tour the best restaurants and become as round as a chickpea. However I can n now I can attest to Malmö’s claim to be falafel king of Sweden and worth the Danish border check for lunch alone.

Hey there Copenhagen

If you have read any of my previous posts or know me in real life, then you’ll be aware that when I take a weekend break it’s almost always in Sweden. In the last year I have been to Stockholm over a dozen times. I’m found in the Swedish capital for festivities such as new years and Midsummer; events like Eurovision; or when I just really need a sugar, cinnamon Kanelbullar fix.  Of course, I visit other countries and cities too but Stockholm is my favourite and has started to feel comfortably like home.

I broke my mini-break tradition last weekend and went to a country southward: Denmark. Scandinavian Airlines had a ridiculous sale and I managed to score return flights to Copenhagen for less than £70. A bridge connects Malmö (situated in Southern Sweden) to the Danish capital. Originally, it didn’t seem like a brave choice to go to the islands next door to my normal destination but I’d never been so far south in Scandinavia and the cultural differences are striking.

Food is arguably the most important aspect of any trip. Before I arrive at the airport I’ve scoured menus and reviews of the most recommended places to eat. Once I’m off the plane my time is mapped around meals. In Copenhagen this meant one food: The Danish Smørrebrød. Smørrebrød is an open sandwich with a rye bread base used a plate for various toppings. This was particularl a challenge because Danish food relies heavily on fish and I am a vegetarian. Unfortunately, the first restaurant didn’t have any non-meat Smørrebrød but I would recommend it to meat eaters with their wide range of fish dishes and red meats that ranged from beef to fresh liver. The carnivore only dishes was a little disheartening but I drowned the disappointment with deep fried, breaded Camembert.

The second Smørrebrød restaurant I tried was much better. After stepping inside from the sea air that wraps the city, Rabes Have had exactly the welcome we looked for. The lady who ran the lunch restaurant was incredibly friendly and  created the relaxed air against the cold outside. Initially, she believed that we had been before and queried our return to the city, which only enhanced the friendly feel. The food was the best I had all weekend and there was plenty to choose from the chalk board menu. Carnivores could range from Steak Tartare to pork belly and I opted for one of the traditional Danish cheese dishes. The server warned me about the strength of the cheese but feeling brave I determined upon the Smørrebrød. I had be forewarned correctly. The Danish variety was stronger than most English cheddar but had the waxy texture of a dutch cheese. The flavour punched my taste buds and was strengthened by the suggestion that I top the sandwich liberally with rum which the server presented with the dish. Rum on a cold cheese sandwich seemed an absurd suggestion. At first I thought it being offered as a local side aperitif of so some sort. However, I would highly recommend the alcoholic accompaniment as it both breaks up pungency of the cheese whilst simultaneously strengthening the impact on the tongue. It was a shame to leave Rabes Have. I’d have sat the day away, drinking schnapps and eating the cheese menu. I would definitely recommend dining here and when I’m in Copenhagen  again I’ll be having the chocolate cake as well.

Naturally, the whole weekend was spent stuffing my face with cheese sandwiches. The city is an interesting exploration as well. If Copenhagen had two proceeding themes they would be water and  Hygge. Being a coastal city it’s impossible not to spend some time gazing at the water, either as you cross the bridges that connect the capital together or wander around the harbour. Once you have emerged from your hotel room your vision will be filled with ocean and estuary. The prevalence of water on the lives  Copenhagen residents can be epitomized by “The Little Mermaid”. Hans Christian Anderson’s creation is depicted in numerous sculptures and paintings, demonstrating the city’s appreciation for his work and the sea it was born from.

Like the water, the concept of hygge permeates the city. Walk past any cafe and the locals are rolling away Saturday with a small smile on their face. They pass the hours  drinking beer, smoking too many cigarettes and grazing at Smørrebrød.  A walk down Nyhavn is the perfect combination of water and relaxed Danish lifestyle. The canal is reminiscent of Amsterdam with the colour palette of Swedish buildings. As you stroll down the path you’ll see the Danish people unwinding into the weekend as the bright shops and houses pass slowly like the water you walk along. Once you reach the end of Nyhavn and embrace the wide sea again, you’re calmed and ready to embrace the city.

 

Ear Pain from Air Pressure

I fly to Sweden roughly every third or fourth weekend. Flying is something I enjoy (even the turbulence) but on the descent fellow passengers look at me strangely because I’m holding the side of my ears. For some reason I seem unusually susceptible to the air pressure. Other flyers rarely display discomfort but for myself the return to ground is uncommonly painful. After exiting the plane I am often deaf in my left ear, (which can last over twenty four hours) and the first day is always tainted by the changes in air pressure. For example, if I burp, blow my nose or stand up too quickly something in the side of my head feels as if it has burst.

I have done a few online searches and asked friends if they happen to know the cause or cure. The  cause of the problem has been fairly easy to unearth: The changes of air pressure in the plane result in stretching of the ear drum either inward (flying upwards) or outward (flying downward). There is a small tube within the ear known as the Eustachian tube, which runs between the middle ear and nose. It acts as a pressure valve and the “popping” sensation when flying is the tube releaving the pressure to the normal equilibrium. Correct functioning of the Eustachian tube would allow the ear drum to maintain its proper positioning and remove the discomfort experienced in flight.

For some people the Eustachian tube does not function as designed. However, there are several simple remedies to promote the tube into fulfilling its purpose: Chewing gum; sucking hard boiled sweets; drinking a none alcoholic beverage; swallowing and even yawning. Unfortunately, none of these methods seem to work for myself, even removing earrings and abstaining from caffeine for the day.

A friend recently suggested that she had the same issue until she went scuba diving. Apparently the changes in water pressure experienced in the sport have a similar effect as those in flight. Initially, I doubted whether it was worth paying for scuba diving lessons until I read some disturbing anecdotes. Apparently, there are frequent cases of fliers with colds or blocked sinuses whose ear drums burst, covering themselves and fellow passengers with blood and other bodily fluids. Until I read this I thought I’d just live with the pain, after all it’s only one or two days a month. Today, I fill the bath with as much water as it can hold and dive as deep as possible.

Give all the Children Rocks

A few weeks ago I stumbled across an Instagram post, which compared the gun related deaths in Switzerland and Chicago. The picture employed statistics (from 2015) to highlight the devastation firearms are having on their communities. According to the post, Chicago experienced  deaths in excess of 42,000 whilst the whole of Switzerland had just over 4000. When you consider alongside this that Switzerland has a greater population it becomes clear that the gun situation in Chicago needs rectifying.

Naturally, there are several factors which separate Chicago and Switzerland and said factors will have influence over the number of gun related deaths. Firstly, the economic situation of the country and city must be considered. Poverty surely would have an influence upon the necessity for weapons and upbringing. To be crude: desperate times call for desperate measures. For some gun crime is a means of survival. Secondly, we must consider culture or more importantly subcultures. Of course I am referring to gang crime and the ever present fracture in U.S. society that is another symptom of extreme financial and intellectual poverty. The final obvious criticism that renders comparison between a country and a single city redundant is population density. It must be considered that the people of Switzerland will be much further displaced because it is a country. There will be less people living  close together and divided among towns, cities, villages and other various settlements.

Whilst it is futile to draw direct comparison a city and a country the fact remains that the statistic is still alarming. The approach of the U.S.A. towards their issues with gun violence is something of joke. There appears to be little movement towards correct control and defenders of the weapon shield behind The Second Amendment. Often they propose increased arming. This appears to promote an illusion that if both people have guns then the “good guys” will win and shoot the “baddie” first.

Yesterday I was discussing this approach to solving gun related deaths with a friend. He put forward an analogy his Father used and I’d like to share with you:

Timmy came home from school yesterday with a big cut on his forehead.

“Why Timmy! How on earth did you receive that cut upon your forehead?” exclaimed Papa.

“Johnny threw a rock and it hit me. It was an accident.”

“Be that as it may” said Mama. “We’re still going to have a talk with your teacher about Johnny and his rock throwing.”

Next morning, Mama and Papa went to school to talk to Timmy’s teacher.

“What is going on with all the pebble slinging in school?” inquired Mama.

“Oh!” said the Teacher. “It was an accident. Johnny has been told off and lost his snack yesterday. I’m sure he won’t do it again.”

“Hmmmm” mumbled Papa.

“Don’t worry.” explained the teacher. “We have given all the children rocks now. They cacn throw them back if they get hit.”

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

For New Year’s Eve I attended a dinner party in Stockholm. I donned a new suit, (from the H&M boxing day sale) and not to sound too immodest looked particularly handsome. Whilst we had coffee and dessert conversation turned to books. I mentioned my recent obsession with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his most highly regarded novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Only one other person at the table had read the book but she immediately replied, “it’s rare that a book lives up to the hype”. This review (by the most esteemed reader Lina) is exceptionally accurate.

Initially I had bought the text from a second hand book store for £1 and was apprehensive about opening it. There were other books I bought that day I wanted to read first and One Hundred Years of Solitude filtered its way to the bottom of the pile. This was a mistake. I should have devoured Marquez’s words fresh upon purchase because it quickly became the most captivating story I read in 2016.

In 1982 Marquez was correctly awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the directions of Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, writers may be awarded the prize for producing, “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. It seems verbose to describe my favourite book of the year with Nobel’s words but Marquez managed to do just that. He weaved a story unbound by the normal passage of time and follows a whole family, with their interweaving life and relationships, over the span of a century. So much detail is compacted into a small space. It’s an achievement to fully explore the history of the whole family through the generations. A testament to the number of characters and various relations is the family tree that is printed in my edition.

Not only does the book cover an expanse of characters but manages to do so simultaneously. The chapters are long because whole family’s life is explored at the same time in a fluid manner. There’s no stopping to focus on a particular person for a chapter, despite how pivotal the drama is. This creates a different approach to the passing a time and saves excessive leaps in chronology to catch up on people’s lives, allowing for fuller characters. If you add to this the magical nature of the story, the remote location family reside and the tone of isolation, you’re quickly immersed into the lives of the clan.

The tragedies of the household and rare their joys are easily felt. It swiftly became a book I couldn’t stop reading on the commute, at lunch and before falling asleep. Unfortunately, disaster struck one lunch time after I returned the book to my bag along with an unopened bottle of cola. As I returned my bag to the storeroom, before sitting at the desk, I noticed it felt damp. The liquid had exploded over the book when I had less than twenty pages left. The paper was soaked and no radiator was working for a quick rescue. I started working under the sways of melancholy; the train home was in mourning with nothing to read.

I managed to rescue the text on the bathroom radiator. I paced the tiles all night hoping the words would be legible. Eventually I awoke, slumped against the bathroom sink. The book pages struggled to be separated but the words were fine. In fact, the book smells better than before. The heat curled and splayed the pages into a fan as large as the story they hold. It’s now the most beautiful book on the shelf and possibly the best story as well.