The Days Out That Didn’t Happen

Research claims that the optimal amount of holiday time is eight days. Just over a week away  is the perfect time frame to improve your mood and recharge you for work again. Defying science I recently found myself with twelve free days. Dividing my time between Stockholm and Manchester, I intended to develop my interests in art and design, returning to my colleagues as a matured individual. Unfortunately, this did not go according to plan because of a conspiracy to close all museums and galleries when I wanted to visit. The twelve days past and I only managed to browse one museum. However, I can still dream and write up a list of my desired days out, pretending I occupied each venue.

Färgfabriken

Established in its current incarnation in 1995 Färgfabriken is a gallery dedicated to art, architecture and urban planning. The word ‘fabrik’ translates from Swedish as factory, a fitting title that reflects the building’s original industrial purpose when built in 1889. Located in Liljehomen it would have been a perfect afternoon’s exploration. Usually, I take the airport bus straight to the area before heading to ICA for supplies. Not only is the location convenient for myself but the focus on art reflects my interests. On the other hand, architecture and urban planning are fresh realms for my imagination. I usually prefer to explore design through objects as opposed to buildings, so the opportunity to develop an interest in a new medium is intriguing. Alas, the gallery is currently closed for rehanging. Exhibitions don’t reopen until the end of January but the cafe is running still. It’s disappointing that i haven’t seen something so close to where I normally reside. However, the delay peaks my interest further and Färgfabriken is a must visit next year.

Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art

The CFCCA can be found in Manchester’s Northern quarter and promised to be the beginning to my Monday trawl of the city’s galleries. My plan was to peruse the CFCCA, grab some lunch with my friend and finish the day browsing the University’s collection. However, a more thorough search of CFCCA website would have revealed that the gallery isn’t open on Mondays. This left a hole in the morning’s plans and the Christmas market lured us in with mulled wine. Time passed and the University’s gallery had the dropped for the Manchester gallery, bowling and of course more wine.

It’s disappointing to have attempted to visit the CFCCA on a day when it wasn’t accessible. Their collection was alluring due to complexity of modern Chinese culture. I was hoping to examine expressions that detailed existence from such an influential country. With the largest population the breadth of creation must surely be far reaching. Similarly, the experiences of Native Chinese artists compared with those living abroad or children of immigrants provides even richer layers and opportunities for artistic expression.

Despite the set back the day wasn’t lost. Manchester gallery is never disappointing and I enjoyed introducing my friend to Pre-Raphaelite painting. It’s a good feeling to repeat a gallery and reacquaint yourself with your favourite paintings. The gallery appears to have taken Giacometti Alberto’s portrait of  his mother out of circulation. It’s a piece I’m particularly fond of and slightly saddened to see it gone. Thankfully there are still copies online. The following one in courtesy of Manchester gallery’s website.

Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska)

Stockholm’s Östasiatiska  was my second opportunity to absorb Asian culture. I can’t explain why I’m heavily attracted to East Asian art but I know it always has me enthralled. Examining simple tea sets and art prints as well as clothing and sculpture   always enjoyable. With a free day I decided that Östasiatiska would be a perfect ending to this month’s Stockholm visit. The museum offers an exploration of Korean, Japanese and Chinese arts. These range from traditional Korean furniture and tea ceremony sets to a sculpture gallery. After absorbing all the artifacts there’s a cafe that even sells flower tea. If there was a tick list for an ideal afternoon then Östasiatiska potentially gets full marks.

Unlike the galleries this museum was open during my visit. My issue was trying to locate the building. It’s situated in Skeppsholmen along with several other museums worth wandering. In truth, I have been to the island several times but this time I got off at the wrong tube station and became lost. With evening drawing in and evening plans looming I decided the destination was a lost cause. I found myself in the national library again. Ideally, I would have preferred to traverse new knowledge but the library is a beautiful , circular building worth revisiting. Just like galleries and museums, libraries always provide a moment of calm and culture against the calamity of the city outside.

 

 

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Completing Duolingo and Beyond

If you’re familiar with some of my previous posts then you’ll be aware that I have been trying to learn Swedish for nearly eighteen months. I started after I fell in love with the country and started visiting every three or four weeks. After my first trip, I decided that my visits could only be improved by learning the language. With less than twelve million speakers Swedish isn’t the world’s most influential tongue. The lack of prevalence made my self teaching tricky, especially when there were so few sources to learn from. I settled upon Duolingo and have been plowing my way through their beginners course ever since.

Yesterday, I finally finished all the lessons the app provides. I was presented with an owl trophy and a mark that claimed I am now 57% fluent. I was very proud with my dedication to self improvement. Only attaining my degree has given me a similar level of pride. I searched the app for more tasks, expecting more advanced exercises to take my 57% fluency score up to 100. There were no more activities. All that remained was repeating the same tasks I have worked through over the last year. Just like every other skill repetition is an integral aspect of learning. I intend to repeat the course until I can recall every word with ease.

Duolingo has provided a solid foundation in my Swedish education but there is still a lot to build on. The question I am faced with is how to do further my development. I have tried searching for other apps but they only seem to teach the fundamentals of the language. I am going to search for more online courses, purchase children’s books and translate them with my Swedish dictionary, as well as consume more subtitled television programmes and radio broadcasts. I hope these efforts will further boost my abilities. However, I would prefer some form of structured lesson plan. A course along the lines of Duolingo that is aimed at the intermediate learner. If you have any advice regarding this then it is most welcome.

 

Duolingo Milestones

When started my blog, nearly a year ago, one of the first posts I wrote expressed my difficulties learning Swedish. After many months of toiling my way through the Duolingo lessons I recently hit a fifty percent fluency grade. There’s still a long way to go. I need to fully internalise the lessons; practice with strangers more frequently; and dedicate more time to my second language. Naturally,  my development will flourish with the more I learn but I’d like to highlight some of my favourite aspects of Duolingo so far.

Firstly, you can learn at your own speed. The amount of time you want to dedicate towards your language is set by you. There’s five levels to choose from, which require you to achieve a set amount of daily experience in order to reach your desired goal. Experience is earned through completing lessons and the better you score the more experience you’re rewarded. Initially, I set myself on the second highest tier (serious) but after a while I felt more motivated and increased my aim to INSANE. I pursued this difficulty for about three months until I faced some personal problems and began to feel my ambition dwindle. Everyday the app bleeped a reminder to acheive my daily goal. After a while the cute owl mascot felt less of a coach and more of a reminder of my failings. I probably shouldn’t have had such an emotional response to a bird cartoon in gym clothes. I should have just knocked my difficulty setting down to something more manageable and start climbing the mountain again.

Another benefit to Duolingo is how the lessons are structured. I recall German, French, Russian, Polish, Welsh and Chinese lessons from school. They all started with learning the alphabet, basic numbers and explaining how many siblings you have. Duolingo on the other hand throws you straight into conversation, giving you vocabulary and slowly building the phrases of previous lessons into fleshed out sentences. Grammar is no longer my German teacher scratching on her ancient chalk board and screeching when the computer set on fire. Instead, it becomes second nature and the rules are immediately applicable to new scenarios. I find this particularly useful because I visit Sweden every fourth weekend. From school I learned how to describe all the subjects an educational establishment can impart, now I can actually ask for the bathroom in a restaurant.

One of the best things about Duolingo’s approach to teaching is that it keeps the lessons interesting. Admittedly, not every aspect of Verbs4 is a thrill but they do sneak in choice phrases that keep you engaged, such as:

“Det finns en man med en kniv bakom gardinen!”

There is a man with a knife behind the curtain!

or the Weather Girls classic song

“Det Regnar Män”- It’s Raining Men

As a result of my efforts with Duolingo learning Swedish is no longer as intimidating as it was a year ago. I have become more eager to both strange Swedes and find myself translating the information on packets of crisps. It’s a development I hope to maintain in my aim for native fluency.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.