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PRINT January 1998

International News

Stockholm 1998

EVERY YEAR SINCE 1985 one city in Europe has been declared the continent’s Cultural Capital. The concept—hosting a year-round arts festival that highlights contemporary-art practice while also generating additional tourist revenue—was originally proposed by Melilla Mercouri, the actress best known for the 1960 film Never on Sunday and Greece’s minister of culture throughout most of the ’80s. Naturally, Athens was the first site to be chosen. Since then, thirteen other cities of various sizes have been selected, including Berlin, Glasgow, Paris, and Antwerp.

This year it is Stockholm’s turn. Sweden’s capital, the largest city in Scandinavia, with a population of one million, is already the cultural center of the region to a certain extent. Thanks to the Nobel prize, Stockholm also has an established status in the world of literature. What will be the consequences of this mega-event—which officially begins January 17—on the future cultural life of the city? That is not easy to predict. Critics of the Cultural Capital honorific continue to carp that creativity cannot be administrated by bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, for months the Swedish media has fanned skepticism by challenging the way the money has been allocated—or, as some have suggested, squandered on the wrong projects—as well as questioning the need for the top-heavy administrative staff, led by Secretary General Carin Fischer. Of course, with 460 million Swedish kronor (some $61 million) from the state and the city to be spent on culture, coupled with additional funds from corporate sponsors that will more than double the total budget, it was inevitable that the economics and politics of the undertaking would be debated.

The good news, judging by the 300-page program published last fall, is that the Cultural Capital organizers have used the money to attract big-name talent to Stockholm. What’s more, it seems that every Swedish artist working within music, architecture, theater, dance, film, design, literature, or the visual arts is involved either with projects that have been sponsored by the Cultural Capital or with ones that have failed to earn official support but will be presented anyway. Personally, I belong to both categories. (On the positive side, I have been an adviser for “Arkipelag,” an ambitious forty-part art exhibition, and am curating “Lebensraum,” a show linking contemporary art to Ikea furniture.)

The performing-arts program is ambitious. US director Robert Wilson cuts right to the core of Swedish literature and will stage August Strindberg’s A Dream Play at the Stockholm City Theater. Canadian wunderkind Robert Lepage, described in the program as a “technical wizard,” will direct Fernando de Rojas’ 500-year-old drama, La Celestina. At Stockholm’s Royal Opera House, Peter Brook, the guru of experimental European theater, will stage Mozart’s Don Giovanni, featuring the opera world’s newest superstar, baritone Peter Mattei, in the title role.

In addition, there is an extensive roster of homegrown theater events, including a “world theater” project initiated by Swedish director Peter Oskarson, in collaboration with directors Ma Ke from China, G. Venu from India, and Lucretia Paco from Mozambique. Somewhere in the zone between theater and dance, one finds choreographer/director Pina Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal, which is coming back to Stockholm with several productions, including her signature pieces Cafe Müller (1978) and The Rite of Spring (1975).

Not surprisingly, the film program kicks off with a festival of movies by Sweden’s favorite son, Ingmar Bergman, whose complete works will be shown and accompanied by several scholarly panel discussions. Concurrently, the Strindberg Museum will exhibit photographs from Bergman’s productions of Strindberg’s plays.

Less predictable is the screening of a new film produced by Lucky People Center. Lucky People Center is a loose-knit collective of Swedish artists that has already managed to reach a huge audience with its videos for European MTV. During the last few years, some members of the collective have traveled around the world, filming religious practices as well as the connection between food, sex, music, and work in various cultures.

“The film takes the viewer from rituals in Benin to brain scientists who sing with gibbon monkeys in the jungles of Thailand to [performance artist/stripper] Annie Sprinkle in New York,” explains Erik Pauser, who codirected the documentary with Johan Söderberg. “It is a film about personal strategies for survival and the will to live.”

In the visual arts, the main exhibition of the photo program will be “Under/Exposed,” opening in September. This exhibition will be hung in nineteen Stockholm subway stations. All the advertisements will be replaced by more than 700 images by 250 photographers, including Brassaï, Nan Goldin, and Andres Serrano.

The largest art event, however, is “Arkipelag,” organized by David Neuman with the help of a four-member advisory board. This project hopes to avoid the problems that have often plagued international blockbuster shows. Instead of attempting to represent the diversity of contemporary art within one encompassing framework, “Arkipelag” is a series of small and focused shows organized by local as well as international curators. It will be housed across the city, often in museums that do not normally exhibit contemporary art.

Spread out over the whole year, “Arkipelag” will open new exhibitions five times, beginning on January 16. The first round includes Ronald Jones’ show on madness, “The Dark Side of the Moon”; Michael Tarantino’s presentation of work by Pedro Cabrita Reis, a painter from Portugal; Francesco Bonami’s video exhibition “The King is not the Queen”; and “White Loop,” a group show curated by Tone Nielsen of seven young artists whose work widens the concept of the white cube, including Sean Snyder of the US and the Austrian twins Christine and Irene Hohenbuchler.

“I am interested in creating a social reality, rather than a compartmentalized exhibition,” explains curator Nielsen. “The collaborative aspect will be radicalized to such an extent that the viewer will not be able to say which artist has done what.” In addition to these shows, there is also “Arkipelag TV,” a series of short films by writers, artists, and filmmakers selected by Hans-Ulrich Obrist that will be sandwiched between scheduled broadcasts on Swedish television throughout 1998.

For those with low expectations of the Cultural Capital designation, Stockholm’s announced program must surely have been a welcome surprise. At the same time, Swedish artists and producers are still grumbling that they have not received enough funding. So what else is new?