Showing off the gritty side of Sweden

An exhibition of photos from winter in the industrial town of Borås might not sound like the best way to entertain visitors from abroad. But Kathleen Harman is strangely moved.

Tipping Point

I was sitting on a coach at London’s Heathrow airport the other day when an international traveller asked the driver for directions to the hotel shuttle service. ‘Ah’,he replied, ‘what you need, love, is the green bus with the really ugly driver – you can’t miss him’, to which she backed off the coach hurriedly with alarm registering on her face, British humour being entirely lost on her.

I just sat in my seat and rocked with laughter. Having spent so long being at the receiving end of a cultural difference, it was just so nice to see the boot on the other foot. In short, it was nice to be home.

But the concept of home is an interesting one, especially if like me, you find yourself spread physically and emotionally across the continents of this world. It was only recently that I had to suppress a great urge to shove a couple of canapés up some obnoxious diplomat’s wife’s nose when she sneered,’ Well, Stockholm is not exactly Vienna, is it?’. Having never been to Vienna, I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant by that but I felt slighted that Stockholm should come second in a competition of Culture, losing out to a load of portly Austrian opera singers dressed in lederhosen.

It was at this point that I realised that Stockholm had indeed become home to me and that is a different thing entirely to simply residing in a place.

So I was interested in catching Lars Tunbjörk’s exhibition at the Moderna Museet entitled ‘Winter/ Home’. Tunbjörk is one of Sweden’s most internationally famous photographers, whose background is press rather than art related. His photos are fairly stark but often with a bit of a sense of humour somewhere in the proceedings. He hails from the western city of Borås and actually has a collection of work entitled ’I Love Borås!’, showing images of discount shopping malls and every day people in parking lots. I’m not sure that I would love Borås, but each to his own.

Anyway, the ‘Winter’ bit of the collection refers to a project he has set himself as a means of giving himself something to do during the winter months to avoid the doldrums from setting in- capturing images from all over Sweden, of what it means to get through the winter months here.

Most of the images are unapologetically fairly dirty and urban – sludge, slush, and even good old ‘yellow’ snow. Interior shots show people holed up in seedy, Formica clad bars playing slot machines or in strange, formal dining rooms. The characters who inhabit these photographs seem mainly to be either scrawny or obese, the only difference between the sexes being the turquoise eye shadow.

The ‘Home’ bit of the exhibition refers to images that he associates with both childhood and his home. It doesn’t look that gripping to be honest…mainly photos of clipped suburbia – fences, flowerbeds, lock up garages, letterboxes and such but I suppose if you are asked what concrete things you remember from the area you grew up in, you might pick those.

But the exhibition is great in that it does give the visitor, especially an international one, an impression of life as it is lived here. Sweden isn’t all log cabins with icing sugar dustings of snow, beautiful people sipping vodka from Ice Hotel frozen glasses hewn from the River Torne.

However, it isn’t all lumberjacks in turquoise eye shadow either, so if you want to show off a bit to your visitors, I would suggest lunch at the Moderna Museet’s restaurant which has, hands down, the best views over Stockholm.

The food is excellent but the queuing system and menu can a little bit confusing, especially for those not familiar with Swedish lunch culture. Basically, you can either have the specials which vary from 65 kronor for soup up to about 140 for a main dish, or for better value I would opt for the 100 kronor dagens lunch which includes salad and a soft drink. It’s a semi canteen service in that you help yourself to the salad and drink while you get a flag thingie to put on your table so that the waitress can bring your lunch from the kitchen.

I leave you with Robert Frost’s quote regarding the subject of home, ‘Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in’. I think this works for us all, whether we be ugly English bus drivers or ugly Swedish lumberjacks.

Kathleen Harman

Lars Tunbjörk ‘Winter/ Home’ Exhibition

1 Sept – 9 Dec 2007

See website for times and entry fee.

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