Ann-Sofi Sidén

Ann-Sofi Sidén’s work examines the spheres in which power is executed. Her pieces are careful investigations of the kind of interweaving of knowledge and control that Michel Foucault labeled the “micro-physics of power.” After completing a comprehensive project dealing with forms of punishment historically used exclusively on women, she has now turned to medicine and psychiatry. The work in her most recent show, which originated in a site-specific installation shown in an empty house in Manhattan, uses an altered line from Dostoyevsky as its title, It is by confining one’s neighbour that one is convinced of one’s own sanity, 1995.

The original installation was part of a group show, entitled “Who has Enlarged this Hole?,” that took place during the summer of 1994. The show highlighted certain surprising and quite scary characteristics of the previous inhabitant of the house, the psychiatrist Alice E. Fabian. Cryptic messages and scribbles on the walls, signed A.E.F., made it increasingly clear that Dr. Fabian, who was involved in supervising other psychiatrists’ medical reports at the Social Security Office’s Department for Fraud and Abuse in New York, had turned her everyday life into a painstaking system of surveillance. In fact, her way of relating to neighbors and fellow human beings manifested a systematic paranoia. In her diaries, which were both written and tape-recorded, she developed meticulous theories about how her house was controlled by hostile agents using electronically triggered laser beams and microwaves in their secret, yet brutal, warfare.

In her Stockholm show, Sidén, with the permission of Alice Fabian’s daughter, again used objects found in the vacant house, such as books, diaries, and photos. Dr. Fabian’s snapshots, which depicted the street outside her home, reflecting her incessant need to control her immediate surroundings, were enlarged, producing images that were strangely poetic and nocturnal. Parts of her library, consisting of journals and books dedicated to psychiatry, were piled up so that they blocked the entrance to one of the gallery rooms, the hidden spaces of which could be viewed on two black and white video monitors, while two additional monitors registered what was happening on the other side of the street—the site of the entrance to a government building. The arrangement induced an acute sense of claustrophobia and the unpleasant sensation of being watched by an invisible eye, even though you were the one watching.

The exhibition’s central piece was a large metal cage constructed out of tubes used to contain electric cables in American buildings. The kind of confinement suggested here surpassed the acute physicality of, say, Bruce Nauman’s or Mona Hatoum’s work, and involved an occult dimension clearly expressed in Dr. Fabian’s diaries, which were also presented in the show. Here, one found not only bizarre observations made by a mentally unstable person, but an entire worldview involving secret police using microwave radiation to control the media. These texts, with their absurd mixture of medical terminology and private paranoia, were, it seemed, not only of psychiatric import, but of esthetic interest as well. This defiant woman, who thought herself the victim of attempts made by hostile forces to program her body with disabling illnesses, wouldn’t concede defeat: “Don’t these police agents ever realize that no matter how much they program me to be slovenly in appearance and grooming, it will never break me! They’re wasting their time—& indicting themselves for I’ll just keep recording.”

Daniel Birnbaum