Ann-Sofie Sidén

Norrköpings Konstmuseum

AT MANIFESTA 2, Ann-Sofi Sidén presented the video installation Who Told the Chambermaid?, 1998, which was shot in a hotel whose rooms, corridors, and service areas the artist had equipped with surveillance devices. Guests and employees alike were targeted when the cameras focused in minute detail on their daily routines, but the artist also staged some of the events. Unembellished document and fictive scenario intertwined, indistinguishable from one another.

In Sidén's new work commissioned by Norrköpings Konstmuseum, one finds a similar formal construction in which a place with a well-defined function in society is subjected to remorseless dissection. In making Station 10 and Back Again, 2001, Sidén turned the spotlight on the local fire station in Nörrkoping, where the artist recorded the daily doings over a three-week period. Using eighteen monitors placed on a shelf construction along with firefighting paraphernalia culled from the station, the resulting DVD installation shows how the judiciously situated surveillance cameras methodically panned and scoured the inside of the firehouse—including places that outsiders normally wouldn't enter, such as the control room, the dining area, showers, toilets, and dormitories.

The presence of the firefighters in the black-and-white videos gave the museum visitor the soothing assurance that the body politic is in safe hands. But the longer one watched, the more the line separating reality and fiction, between real time and a past, recorded time became blurred. As with her earlier works, Sidén had slipped fictional threads into the documentary material. In a situation staged by the artist with hired actors, a love scene develops between a man and a woman, becoming increasingly passionate as it goes on. The fictive scene is diffused like a virus through the various rooms of the firehouse—and onto each monitor—giving an unexpected contrast to our preconceptions about this place that represents heroic devotion to the rescue of others, even at the risk of one's own life.

Whereas a feminist perspective was very pronounced in Sidén's earlier work, her current probings seem to range across a broader spectrum, focusing on the very fabric of society. Her attention continues to oscillate between individual psychic states and the ramifications of social control. Vulnerability, exposure, control, and surveillance recur as prominent themes—here, bodies and souls are tamed and disciplined in a Foucauldian sense. The ambivalence that emerges in Sidén's work functions as an apt and welcome contrast to our age of the docu-soap, in which volunteers live out a mediated pseudolife exposed to the public gaze, while at the same time the latest technology ensures the security and peace of mind of individual citizens.

Mats Stjernstedt

Translated from Swedish by Susan Dew.