Critics’ Picks

Kalle Brolin, Jag är Skåne - förbindelser mellan skånska kolgruvor och sockerindustrin (I Am Scania - Connections Between Coal Mines in Scania and the Sugar Industry), 2016, digital video, black-and-white and color, sound, 22 minutes.

Kalle Brolin, Jag är Skåne - förbindelser mellan skånska kolgruvor och sockerindustrin (I Am Scania - Connections Between Coal Mines in Scania and the Sugar Industry), 2016, digital video, black-and-white and color, sound, 22 minutes.

Malmö

“The Society Machine”

Malmö Konstmuseum
Malmöhusvägen 6
September 24, 2016–January 29, 2017

The Swedish welfare state is internationally famed as egalitarian and progressive. Less acknowledged is the fact that it was co-constituted with the birth of industrial society in the country, which lifted it out of poverty and created the wealth necessary for redistribution but also engendered a multitude of political, cultural, and ecological changes. This exhibition’s title, “The Society Machine,” furtively evokes the churning of gears behind social cohesion, while the curation juxtaposes contemporary artworks with objects from various collections—normally separated into natural-, industrial-, and cultural-history displays—across the city-museum complex.

Several works address the long-term consequences of industrialization. Kalle Brolin’s compelling video Jag är Skåne - förbindelser mellan skånska kolgruvor och sockerindustrin (I Am Scania - Connections Between Coal Mines in Scania and the Sugar Industry), 2016, brings together two major productions in southern Sweden, sugar-beet farming and coal mining, creating a historical parallel in which sugar fuels workers like coal fuels machines. The show also productively connects the idiosyncratic Swedish system to the global economy on which it depends. In Sara Jordenö’s installation Diamond People, 2005–15, a glowing 1985 sermon speaks of the distant yet manifest bond between the apartheid regime and the Swedish workers’ livelihoods that rely on the South African–owned synthetic diamond factory in their town. Artworks alongside items such as a taxidermied specimen of the now almost extinct yellowhammer bird elucidate how the welfare state’s history parallels an unprecedented transformation of landscapes by timber monocultures, large-scale farming, and iron mining. At a time when redistributive national systems are under attack around the world, even in Sweden, it seems all the more vital to build models of society that protect people beyond northern enclaves, and networks of solidarity capable of supporting species that are not ours to own.