Paris in November

We are on a trip to Paris, it is the beginning of November 2016, and I really need a break from the wet, dark forests of Småland.

My cousin Emma lives in Paris with her husband Henrik and their children for a few years, and we visit them. Since they are there to work with French foreign affairs at the Swedish Embassy, they are really well informed about the French society, and they can also give us some really good tips about restaurants, districts etc. in Paris.

Usually I meet them in the summer, we are neighbors at our summer house, and it feels good to see them, to follow their growing kids, one more time this year.

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There are several high prestigious culture institutions in Paris – Musée du Louvre and Musée d’Orsay is probably the most well-known. Musée d’Orsay is famous for its collection of French impressionistic and post-impressionistic classics between 1850 and 1915 – works by Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin, and so on.

And the museum building is definitely something extra just by itself. It is an old railway station transformed into a museum in the 80’s, the huge clocks are still there, and several other structures.

Palais de Tokyo is another famous institution, but its orientation is completely different; it is a large museum dedicated to contemporary art, and it has been one of many trendsetter in the art world during the last 15 years. The building is old, from 1937, and was raised for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology. The current art center opened in 2002, lacks permanent collection, thus it is not a museum in the traditional sense.

Right now a show by the Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal is on display. Sehgal, born in London 1976, grew up in Düsseldorf and Paris, and has his background in dancing, which is quite obvious if you consider his works, they are based on human interaction, performance, theatre and physical movement. Usually there are no physical objects or traces in his exhibitions.

When we step in, we meet a young boy that politely shakes our hands, introduces himself and asks the question: “What does progress mean to you?” Since I am a well-behaved person, I jump into the conversation. We walk slowly forward through the exhibition halls until a girl shows up, slightly older than the boy, and she continues the conversation. After a while a grown-up man emerges, and then an older man.

In another hall, in another constructed situation, a crowd of people are singing, dancing and humming, relaxed and low-voiced. Another room is completely black, we do not see anything when we enter it, but we hear voices. After a while in the darkness, my eyes have adapted, and the silhouettes and shadows of people moving occur.

In his older works, Sehgal used to perform by himself, but today, after years of success, he hires a staff of “interpreters”. He gives them instructions, like a musical director or choreographer, in how to speak, move, and so on, and every constructed situation is an art work. If you compare his work, you will definitely find that they differ, but there is one common trait – they engage the visitor.

The works of Sehgal do not suit a theatre, they are built up on another kind of aesthetic or way of thought. And the conversations would never work in real life, since they are too artificial and designed. The situations, low in intensity, are made for the art world and belongs to the field of exhibitions.

After the exhibition, nothing is left. No documentation, no objects, nothing. If you want to buy his works, you can do it, but you will get no written contract, just a verbal agreement, and it costs you about 100 000 Euros.

Poetry: The Hackers and The Island

Last night I visited a reading with Aase Berg, one of the most influential writers in Sweden, at Växjö library. We were seven persons in the audience, the organizer Jocke Granlund included. No, poetry is definitely not a big business, at least not this night.

Aase’s record is massive. She was editor for Bonniers Litterära Magasin for some years, member of the editorial staff of 90-tal and 00-tal for a long time, and today she writes for the important daily paper Dagens Nyheter. Almost twenty years ago, she started the publishing house Ink, which publishes young, Swedish literature, and she has collaborated with the alternative writer and publisher Carl-Michael Edenborg, wellknown for his engagement in erotic literature.

Aase has also won several literary awards, and some of her books and poems have been translated to English, German and Chinese. This night, she reads from her (almost) new collection of poems – Hackers (2015). The theme is the patriarchy, and how to navigate through it as a female. How do you avoid the family trap? The poems are full of violence, sharp violence, often realized from the inside. The belly of the Trojan horse is loaded with amazons, parasites, hookers – and it is from this old Greek image the title is picked – the hacker uses the Trojan horse to defeat enemies in the digital world, just like the female warriors fight from the inside of the patriarchy in Aase’s book.

Break free, just like the Austrian girl Natascha Kampusch. Kampusch was prisoned for eight years, mostly in a basement, by Wolfgang Přiklopil. He kidnapped her on her way to school with a white van when she was ten years old. After some years, he brought her on some excursions outside the basement, under strict surveillance of course. Sexual abuses, physical torture and psychological threats were parts of her everyday life. But one day, Natasha saw her chance to escape – Wolfgang got a phone call when she was cleaning the car, and he did not notice that she ran away. A few hours later, he committed suicide. Kampusch’s autobiography has made impact on the writing of Aase Berg.

Aase Berg is a great writer, and her way of explaining and interpreting her own texts this night is really entertaining.

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A few weeks ago, me and my friend Anders Lundgren, visited a concert/performance/reading with Mattias Alkberg, a Swedish poet, musician and composer, on the left wing. Me and Anders had some beers before the performance, but I did not lose any of the necessary concentration.

Alkberg reads from several collections of poems, his most recent is Ön (“The Island”, released in the fall 2016). The poems are about communication and separation. An island is something isolated, it is a spot in the ocean, like an “I” in the “we”. Humans are made of water, surrounded by water, and everything is basically the same water. The space between the words and the blank sheet of paper is an ocean, while the letters are fragments of islands and so on.

Ön is characterized by its social criticism, no real dreams of change, it is a story of a society without interest in covering the needs of its citizens. Some of the lines are really powerful, almost dizzying:

The tails of the aircrafts rush above the houses and the summer sky
a silhouette against the midnight sun as an ad for the death

The loneliness of life is just so obvious, so intrusive:

The last probably hopefully snow
Slips off the roofs and lands voff in the flowerbeds
The melt thunders you were looking for another word in the sumps

Since you have not been alone with your own thoughts for so long, they frighten you
So long since you were alone that you do not recognize it
You are googling loneliness in your phone you think
But you already know

After the performance, I buy the book, and I get his signature and a greeting on the first page.

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It is a huge difference between the intellectual, feminist writing of Aase Berg and the rough poems of Mattias Alkberg. But they share a common interest in the critique of the unequality of and the feeling of alienation in the contemporary society. I like them both.