Tag Archives: stockholm

Stockholm still surprises me

Today marks the anniversary of the first time I got on a plane and left the little island known as England. My first journey to another country was for a second date at the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Fast forward twelve months and I’ve flown to Sweden over a dozen times because the second date transfigured into relationship. As usual I step off the plane knowing exactly when the Flybussanar arrives; I’m aware the time it takes to grab a filter coffee from 7/11; how I jump from the coach, take the tube and always laugh at the stop called Aspudden. The routine is now scarily familiar but is the central reason why Stockholm feels like my second home.

On Saturday afternoon we wandered into central Stockholm for food supplies. On the way I detoured into the city library to get a smell of old books but was distracted by the road completely lined with people. There was a commentator with a crackled microphone whose every third word I understood. He was commentating the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s student’s parade. I soon learned that every three years the scientific minds carnival the streets with a procession of floats. The whole city seemed to turn out for an exhibit of adapted cars and dancing. It lasted about an hour and when the last vehicle passed a trail of the public followed the music into the distance.

My last visit demonstrated an important lesson. It taught that cities are large with a plethora of people living within its boundaries. The lives of these people interact, collide and change. In each 24hour cycle a multitude of new events occur, making every day different. No matter how familiar you are with your roads there’s always another to wander or maybe a parade will stumble across yours. I’m excited for the new possibilites the city has to offer. I’ll sleuth our some more of your secrets Stockholm when I see you in three weeks.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Swedish Language Lessons

I first went to Stockholm in March 2017 and haven’t stopped going back. I now have my first frequent flyer card. It’s shiny, silver and says SAS Eurobonus. After so many flights to the capital I started feeling like a part time resident. I took to Duolingo and decided to try  attempting to learn the language again. But it is hard. Stupidly hard to learn Swedish. Here are my main to obstacles:

Firstly, the accent is unique. When I try to talk Swedish my tongue does an uneven waltz between Russian and Welsh. It’s a complicated sound with unique syllables and accented words making it hard to replicate for none natives. Even once you’re past the embarrassment of speaking like an alien and talk to a Swede they look at you with either horror or excitement. The frightened people express fear because your sound is so poor that the words are misrepresented and it’s better to “Tack”, thumbs up and walk away. On the other hand, those who are happy to talk are enthused because you’re so blatantly English you may as well wear a mask of Elizabeth II and carry a teapot. Their eagerness quickly overshadows yours because they desire to practice their English. After all, the country is full of Swedish speakers and you can always work on your words with somebody else.

The second reason I find Swedish particularly challenging is the word endings. More specifically the different approach to the indefinite article,  definite article and plurals. When you learn a new Swedish word you also have to learn the grammatical rules which differ from word to word. The indefinite article is fairly simple. It’s usually placed at the front of the word as “en” or another variant. Plurals and the definite article are located at the end of the word. For example:

Child- Barn

A Child- En Barn

The Child- Barnet

The Children- Barneten.

Before you know who the parent of the child is and breach into possessive suffixes there’s already two attachments to remember. I don’t doubt this is something that I will adapt to with practice. Eventually, I expect this issues to become second nature but for now I’ll just have to hit Duolingo harder.

Three free things to do in Stockholm

Last month I had nine hours on my own in the center of Stockholm whilst all my friends were working. Yes, I had to wander a new city alone. Some people thrive on this sort of thing adventure but I’m more of Shire hobbit than a Bilbo Baggins. There was the temptation to sit in a 7/11 and embark on an all day ficka binge. It was very much a possibility if I was willing to pay for nine hours worth of coffee and cake. However, I intended to do my visit on a budget and set out to find moderately interesting things to do for free. Here’s what I got up to:

National Library

This was the first place I headed on my exploration day. Largely it was a massive disappointment. I expected an ornate building crammed with books; I’d wander through the stacks and shelves for hours, absorbing smells. A mysterious cover would draw me in, settle me into a quiet corner and by some mystery, only known to the universe, I would be able to read Swedish with ease. This didn’t happen. Mostly because the National Library is a research library as opposed to a fantasy realm. I walked in, felt embarrassed about my confusion and read for forty minuets to save-face before leaving. However, whilst I wouldn’t recommend the National Library’s interior the exterior is worth a look. The building is the size of a stately home and beautiful to look at. It’s also located in a park that’s equally picturesque on a pleasant day. Judge this place by its cover and don’t delve into the contents of the building then it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours.

Kulturhuset

I’m still not 100% certain on the purpose of this building. From the outside its five floors and name in giant letters, tempts or intimidates passers by. Kultur seemed close to the English word culture and people interested in that tend to be occasionally pretentious and have hot drinks. It sounded like my kind of crowd, so I headed in. Downstairs is a cinema (I wasn’t willing to pay for a film that may not have subtitles), there’s also two cafes, a book shop and three galleries. I went to the galleries because they were free if you are under 25. At the time one of the exhibits was shut but the National Design presentation and a fashion gallery were open. Normally, I’m not drawn to these kinds of displays but I headed in anyway. The clothing exhibit was clothing and as always it will remain a mystery to me. A few pieces stuck out but for the most part I struggled to reconcile how designers match what they want to create with profitable clothes. However, one display stuck in my head that I’d like to mention, Human by Linea Matei. The exhibit focused on cartoon depictions of humans which were used as prints onto pajamas. I’m not sure why I liked Human the most but I’m glad I saw it.

The National Design Exhibit was a much more grotesque affair. It was more memorable because of the visceral motif: the body. With interactive machines that measure your pulse, glass cases with breathing faux lungs and cubes of what looked human meat, the exhibit left me slightly nauseous but impressed with the numerous ways human matter can be interpreted.

Old Town

This was actually the first place I went to in the day. Unfortunately, most exhibits don’t open until 11am, so I left for the national library and returned later. There are many many things to do here: The Royal Palace and armory; the Nobel laureate museum and several other museums; or just wandering around the buildings and admire how it’s like walking through Balmory. Looking for free things I went to the Royal Armory, the parts of the palace that don’t charge and the economy museum. All three are brilliant. The armory was my favorite with basement carriages and royal sledges. The main exhibit displays Swedish military weapons and armor alongside the history of the royal family and the wars the now neutral nation engaged in. The free palace sections are filled with stunning carvings and paintings. Walking through inspires wonder at the fading masonry skills in stone the world is slowly losing. Finally, the economy museum is filled with old coins throughout the world and serves as a reminder that trade has unified the planet longer than any other cohesive method. I didn’t get to view all the economy museum because it was time to return for supper but I shall wander it more completely next time.