Friday, 22 February 2008

Letter from Stockholm


Winter can be a dark time, especially in Scandanavian North, where the sun sets early and snow chills the ambience and the skies are clouded with blizzards. Stockholm is lit up with art and allure, however, and possesses this time of year a spectacular array of artistic pursuits and exhibits and enough well-heated museums and galleries to protect any visitor from the cold outside.

The Moderna Museet, especially, houses an exciting permanent collection of Picassos and Modiglianis, an architectural museum and, presently, a much anticipated exhibition of the South African artist, William Kentridge.
Inspired by the magical and fantastical, the melancholy and noir, Kentridge has for a long time received worldly acclaim for his sometimes childish, sometimes serious drawings, animations and theatre productions. Stockholm’s premiere modern art museum now presents two of his most recent and ambitious projects, “7 Fragments for George Melies & Journey to the Moon (2003)” and “Black Box / Chambre Noire (2005)”.It follows the recent group exhibition, “Africa Remix” at the same museum, in which, “Johannesburg: 2nd Greatest City After Paris,” was included.

In darkened rooms, black and white silent films are projected onto shadowed walls, playing in conjunction and on repeat, and creating a magical and alluring atmosphere suggesting the theatrical, the dark, the crevices of human psyche and nuances of Surrealism and childish dreams. There is a playfulness and cinematic naivety in the twenties style, juxtaposed with undertones of adult themes and connotations of slightly manic temperament. They are inviting and yet disarming, provocative and yet distant and preoccupied. There is no sound – only the breathing of viewers, the walking steps around a little room as people move from one film to another. A heavy ambience of unpredictability and the dark unknown, the strange animations that don’t really tell stories, but instead hum tunes somehow familiar, somehow forgotten, nuances of things unspoken. It is this concentration on the moving visual, the obvious lack of noise, the busy silence, that is so disarming, and somehow so exciting.

In the next exhibit, “Black Box” the atmosphere of darkness is taken further, with an entrancing theatrical show – a small stage on which images are projected, and actual objects and puppets interact with the shadows cast upon them by the filmic projection. It is a spectacle to behold. Although some people seemed disarmed by the sometimes morbid, melancholic subject matter – war-torn and carnage and strange objects pacing the little stage – I found the whole show incredibly engaging in its delicacy, its careful movement and dynamics and choreographed provocation. Similar to a magic show, and utterly memorable in its inventive form and provocation, its dark matter and childish show, it is a spectacle hard to forget, depicting the universal dark crevices of the mind and quickly inhabiting individual memories, and the shadows of one’s psyche, in the tradition of the Dada mavericks, Rodin’s portrayal of strange dreams, and Edgar Allen Poe’s dark stories of dark places and black cats and strange shapes moving in the damp shadows and slush of melted snow…

After all that magical melancholy sparking up a war-torn skyline, magical illusions of another kind were a worthy and pretty distraction and I stepped through the snowy streets and shadows in the direction of a fashion show… Parallel to London Fashion Week just across the North Sea and just before the Fashion Weeks in New Work, Los Angeles and Paris, Stockholm was having a little spectre of its own. A following day I was taken to see the Fall 2007 collection by the Fashion Label, Minimarket, cutting edge young designers – twins and their older sister – Sofie, Jennifer and Pernilla Elvestedt. They are a young business, but are going places fast – with outlets in New York and London already. Their combination of business suave and attractive designs have not gone unnoticed by the wider fashion industry, and the label recently won the H&M scholarship at the Elle Awards, whose jury enthused: “It is not only the thoroughly worked through forms, daring choice of patterns and clever details in the garments, it is also the team’s strong will to succeed in the big fashion market that makes these girls winners.”

They are very accessible designs that look comfortable as well as chic and understatedly glamorous. Furthermore, they are extremely versatile pieces that encourage a playfulness in the putting together of an outfit, a simple joy in fashion and unpretentious celebration of couture. They are simple, and yet sensual, carefully arranged and attractive, clothes that celebrate the female form and yet suggest carefree androgyny at times, with big shirt buttons, plaid prints and baggy trousers juxtaposed with feminine floral prints and soft sunshine-coloured blouses. These girls know the cuts and combinations that work, which teamed with a playful and flirtatious understanding of modern femininity and attraction, makes for an exciting collection and a label with longevity. This is only the beginning for Mini Market, and an exciting development in the next generation women’s fashion design.

And fashion-du-jour is not all that Stockholm promises for couture enthusiasts. A city offering centuries of fascinating and aesthetically pleasing historic artefacts, couture is well covered as a subject of interest, not only in cutting edge fashion shows, but also in an exhibition of the shoes of antiquity, a permanent exhibition of Royal Court wear.
It is also worth visiting the K. A. Almgrens Silk Mill, where one can learn about the history of silk manufacture and its international trade, and look at samples of state-of-the-art textiles.

The Dance Museum (Dansmuseet) meanwhile, is hosting a retrospective of the Czechoslovakian Art Nouveau painter, Mucha (2 February – 29 April 2007) the who worked in Paris mainly, in the early Twentieth Century. His images have been used for decorative purposes for nearly a century, and still attract people with their unique and sensual style, his incredibly decadent and yet natural aesthetic, a truly Romantic designer. It is surprising, therefore, to find that as well as stylishly portraying feminine beauty, Mucca also painted politically, with the patriotism of his country in mind, and had a clearly Slavic aesthetic in many of his later works especially. As a decorative artist foremost, however, Mucca excels in using his natural style and Romantic ideals to produce paintings that exude sensuality and joie de vivre, and a celebration of liberated and natural feminine charm.

Outside, and the snow is falling prettily from the powder blue sky and the fresh Baltic air dazzles the atmosphere with a fine glow of winter and beatitude, in a city harbouring delights of culture and couture, secrets hidden in the dungeons of the castle, lit up in the palace, moving with the stride of fair models and to the music of modern glamour and casual elegance… Stockholm is a winter palace displaying in its own style the treasures of antiquity and modernity alike, bejewelled with curios and bright young things, magic and shadows, experiments and artefacts… So court its treasures and play in its shadows before the snow melts.

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