Artist duo FA+ is best known for their works in public spaces – projects like the Strindberg quotations laid into Stockholm’s Drottninggatan, for example. Two weeks ago they revealed another project, a series of street signs in Linköping, which they created in cooperation with the Forum for Living History and the National Theatre.
Each sign looks like a normal street sign but with a text from Lars Norén’s play “Krig” (“War”), on tour this autumn with the National Theatre. The signs were meant to be installed in a number of cities that the production would visit – Linköping first, then Umeå, Gothenburg, Hallunda, and Vara.
The problem is, the quotations aren’t exactly soothing – and it could be expected that viewers coming upon the signs for the first time would be bothered. Imagine, if you will, coming across a sign normally used to inform you that your dog isn’t welcome (complete with a crossed-out image of a dog) with a text that reads “First I’ll kill them and then I’ll kill you.”
Other signs read “Now we’ll kill them all and they can’t do anything more” and “If you had any honour in your body you’d have taken your own life”.
All this was trundling along reasonably well before last week’s double murder on a street in central Linköping. The city had received a few complaints about the project before the murder but immediately after the tragedy the city, the artists, and the National Theatre decided that the signs had to come down.
And overnight, of course, the project got quite a bit more attention than it could have ever hoped for.
Most jumped to one side or another – the signs should have been removed out of respect for the residents of Linköping, or the signs should have stayed to preserve artistic freedom. Each side had its factions; some believed, for example, that the signs were simply an advertising campaign from the National Theatre and didn’t deserve any preservation; others that the project should be dismantled completely and should definitely not go on to Umeå and the other tour stops.
But the most problematic discussion by far has been whether the signs directly influenced the apparently random double murder. Dagens Nyheter, for example, quoted psychiatrist Ulf Åsgård:
“We don’t yet know what is behind these murders. But it’s not impossible that the messages could have influenced a mentally ill person to carry out the murder. I’ve met many patients who have believed that there are messages addressed directly to them out in public space.”
No doubt the discussion around the project will continue, at least until the murderer is found. Whether or not the signs will continue their Swedish tour remains to be seen.