Tag archives for art

Making fun of climate change

Swedish cartoonist Riber Hansson's modern Noah's Ark.

Taking climate change seriously doesn’t mean you cannot joke about it. That’s the idea behind the exhibition Facing the Climate where Swedish cartoonists have their take at one of our time’s greatest challenges. And often I think humour is one of the best ways of approaching a difficult subject. At least I know it works very well for me, leaving me somewhere between laugh and tears.

When I went to the Stockholm+40 meeting last week, I found some of the interpretations exhibited in one of the rooms, working as a powerful reminder of why we were all there.

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Portraying animals

Cow behind a rock, from the book Kor – En kärlekshistoria. Photo: Roine Magnusson.

The visual arts have a lot to say about our relation to the world and its inhabitants. For example enemies in war or slaves have been pictured in ways that may have made it easier to treat them as less human.
So what happens if we start portraying animals as individuals, will that affect how we treat them in real life too?

When animals are photographed it’s often in group, like a bunch of wild things roaming around in nature. There are those, though, who seem to manage to capture the personality of the being, no matter if it’s a human or an animal.

I would say the photographer Roine Magnusson is one of those. His photos in the book called Cows – a love story are just wonderful. His co-writers of the book, Åsa and Mats Ottosson, write:
“Cows have offered us their services for nearly ten thousand years, they have fed us, supported us, kept us company. The least we can to in return is to see them.”


Lion before storm. Photo: Nick Brandt.

Another great portrayer of animals is Nick Brandt, who is right now showing his images of African animals at the photo museum Fotografiska here in Stockholm. Shooting a music video in Africa led to an interest for its animals, and soon he ended up lying in his car to get the perfect portrait of the continent’s animals (some of them have taken about 30 hours to take!), and in continuation he is also taking photos of the destruction of ecosystems which is taking place. Read more » >>

Sourdough bread – connecting people

One of the rather surprising trends in Sweden lately is sourdough baking. All of a sudden our major cities are dotted with sourdough bakeries, there are sourdough blogs and even a sourdough hotel (!) where you can leave your living sourdough culture while you are travelling.


Josefin Vargö with her drying sourdoughs at gallery Pony Sugar in Stockholm.

But even outside trend sensitive middle class circles, the sourdough makes people’s heart pound. If I wasn’t aware of that before, I certainly realise it when I step into Josefin Vargö’s art project Living Culture. At a gallery in Stockholm she has gathered people’s sourdough cultures, neatly dried up and put into glass jars.

At the masters degree program Experience Design at the university college of arts, crafts and design Konstfack, Josefin explores what’s sometimes referred to as “intangible”” resources, meaning the type of things we cannot see or measure. In this case it’s all the knowledge that hides in a piece of sourdough.

People have been making sourdough bread during thousands of years. With a raised awareness of sustainability issues, learning how to make your own organic bread seems to appeal to new groups.

But the sourdough also has a very social aspect.
– This is something people share with each other and meet around, creating networks around the bread-making, Josefin explains to me.
At one of the walls she has sketched the networks created through her sourdough collection. In a short time it’s become huge. People have been sending in their doughs by mail and everyone who visits the Sourdough depot gets a sachet of sourdough flakes to bring home and start baking.

And something does happen when people get together around bread. My visit at the gallery, which was meant to be swift, lasts at least half an hour. Talking to Désirée and Mona, who have passed to donate their doughs I get to learn a lot about breadmaking, slipping into discussions about the food industry and attitudes to bread-baking in different countries.

They tell me that sourdough bread itself has several advantages to “ordinary” bread. While bread that hasn’t fermented more than an hour or so often tastes a bit dull already the next day, the sourdough bread lasts fresh for much longer. Both flavours and nutrients develop better. And, maybe most important of all: you know what’s in it. No artificial additives, preservatives or colour. Just bread.

When people donate their doughs Josefin Vargö asks them to say how much their dough is worth. The prices vary from “nothing” or 1 Swedish krona to “40-50 kronor” or “unvaluable”. Reading people’s arguments around the value of their dough is really interesting. Because in the end these are stories about how we value our own time and the types of knowledge and skills that aren’t normally paid. Or about life, as Josefin Vargö says.

She doesn’t think that sourdough baking is a trend that will peak and then disappear as so many others.
– No. Maybe more people will try it now but there will always be those who make bread because they like it and need it. It’s a part of life, she says.


Images of overconsumption


Pudong International Container Terminals, Shanghai, Kina. Photo: Jens Assur.

Every day we are bombarded with millions of images with different messages. But once in a while some of these images break through the protective shield that most of us carry. The photographer Jens Assurs photos and texts in the exhibition “Hunger” that I saw at Kulturhuset in Stockholm the other day belong to that cathegory.

Jens Assur has travelled around the world, visiting world cities and watching how large groups of humanity never seem to get enough – while others cannot even get what they need to survive.
– I would like to turn the concept of hunger around. Hunger isn’t necessarily people that starve. Hunger can also be the desire for more: eating more, consuming more, says Jens Assur.

During the spring Jens Assur has published five photo books called “Hunger”. These books have been sent to Sweden’s top thousand debators, politicians and other creators of public opinion. His goal is to start a discussion about how to create a society which is sustainable in the long perspective.

The texts he has written to accompany the photos in the exhibitions are straight to the point:

The clock is ticking. Time is getting scarce. There is a lot to be done. We’re living on a narrow neck of land, and could get washed away any time soon. How narrow? Two degrees centigrade is the appreciation of most experts. Two trifling points on the thermometer.

We know what’s needed to be done immediately:

The dependence on fossil fuels – oil and coal – must be broken.

Alternative energy sources must be made economically competitive.

Private motoring must be barred from the cities.

Collective transport has to be extended and developed, made comfortable and cheap.

An economically sound and fairly apportioned global system for rationing carbon dioxide emissions must be created.

The airway industry must carry a substantially larger part of its own climate costs. This will have restructuring consequences for the tourist industry. A Swede travelling to Thailand forth and back statistically causes approximately as much carbon dioxide emissions as a Chinese does during a whole year.

Natural seasons must be reintroduced. Less Southern fruits flown north. Strawberries only in season.

A new system for distributing and marketing foodstuffs, raised locally, in energy efficient ways. Quality instead of quantity.

A new kind of consumption culture must be established. Good and environmentally sound merchandise is preferable to throw-away and price-pressed products.

A renaissance for re-utilization, reparations and handicraft.

A focus shift from gadgets to services and experiences.

The list could be extended forever. It’s everyone’s task to make it longer and turn it into reality.

According to an extensive BBC poll, nine Europeans out of ten are willing to change their lives in order to save the climate. I’d like to take for granted that you’re one of them, and that you mean what you’re saying. I take for granted that you don’t delude yourself into thinking it’s enough to substitute your bottled water with tap water.


Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles, USA. Photo: Jens Assur.

Art for reflection and understanding

Bill Burns’ Safety Gear for Small Animals fill my head with thoughts. Photo: Bill Burns.

Grasping what huge processes like climate change actually means to society and us as persons can be difficult. Reading about it can sometimes be a bit technical or abstract, and even talking about it it’s sometimes difficult to find the words.
I suppose this is natural, since we are facing something entirely new. Never before has humanity had to deal with globally hitting environmental problems in this way.

Going towards anti-utopia?

As in most cases when trying to deal with new and big issues, art can be of help – or confuse us even more. But at least I think it starts a lot of new thoughts.
The other day I went to an art centre in one of Stockholm’s suburbs, Tensta Centre of Contemporary art. Their current exhibition Rethink Kakotopia has taken its name after the term Kakotopia that the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham used to describe an anti-utopic society in chaos and disintegration. This exhibition plays with the idea that climate change could bring us into that state, and poses the question: Will our psyche and socio-economic systems be capable of grasping and responding to this challenge?

Humorous perspectives

Several of the works tries to see the problem from a different angle, recognizing that we humans are not the only ones affected. Humour is an important part of it, as the artist group Superflex’s project where they offer people a hypnosis session to experience climate change as an eagle, a polar bear or a cockroach. Or Bill Burns’ Safety Gear for Small Animals. At least my head was filled with thoughts about how we choose what is worth protecting when I saw his tiny frog or mouse sized life vests, bullet-proof vests and helmets.

Virtual gallery

On the art centre’s web page you can also see their first Virtual Gallery exhibition, featuring the photographic series Nomadographies, which explores themes of how humans relate to each other and to the environment.