“Annorstädes” is Sublime

In April I had the good fortune to spend a day in the southern Swedish city of Malmö. I’d never been there before, and though I had a handful of interesting reasons to spend a day there I never expected to be so enthralled by the place. With Copenhagen as my base, I got a bike, hopped a train, and after a quick twenty-five minutes traveling under the Øresund, I emerged in Malmö. I took care of business and by bike saw a lot of Sweden’s third largest city, the capital of Skåne County and home to the HSB Turning Torso (the largest skyscraper in Sweden and the Nordic countries).

I was quickly taken by the old town, its markets and cafés, pubs and music stores. The buildings were colorful, too, which I rather like, and somehow they retained a sense of fecund floral life even in the cold and rainy springtime weather that I encountered. There is a lot more to say about the architecture and the people, both of which, for their charm and attractiveness, left an indelible mark on my memory and imagination that, before too long, I hope will drive me back for a longer stay.

What I’d like to mention here is something that I found really extraordinary in the city: the art. There’s excellent modern art in Malmö, no doubt.  And not just at the Malmö Konsthall, which Wikipedia bills as “one of the largest exhibition halls in Europe for contemporary art” (who would have thought, in Malmö, Sweden!). Malmö is also the setting of Bo Widerberg’s classic film, Kvarteret Korpen (Raven’s End — 1963), which was nominated for an Academy Award for best Foreign Film in 1965 (it’s about a young aspiring writer, Anders, who lives in a rundown, working class section of Malmö in the 1930s, and the struggles he faces to publish his first novel, escape the turmoil of his family life and ever-quickly demanding relationship, and move to the land of plenty, Stockholm).

While I was preparing to leave Malmö, drenched from the rain, waiting for my underground train back to Copenhagen, I saw something that just floored me. Across the tracks, on the grey cement wall, were images floating by, framed in the shape of an old photographic film reel. They weren’t still images, however, as I realized after a few moments. It was moving film footage, and on it there were people actively doing things–working, walking dogs, waving back at me!–and the people appeared to be in places from all over the world. It felt a bit odd that some of the people seemed to be staring at those of us who were on the platform looking at them. But after one scene would drift by, ever so casually, every four minutes (apparently the interval between trains arriving at the station), the scenery would morph into a new place, with new people, doing new things.  Some of the locations looked familiar to me, but I can’t be certain, since there were no captions to let the viewer know where the footage was taken. But that didn’t matter. There was something utterly mesmerizing about the installation, and calming. That the artist could make me feel that way — and the folks with whom I spoke about it claimed to feel similarly too — in a cold, grey, subterranean subway station is quite a feat. I’ve since come to learn that the artist is Tania Ruiz Gutierrez, a French, Colombian and Chilean national, who currently lives and works in Paris.

The installation I saw in Malmö’s subway station is called Annorstädes (which is Swedish for “Ailleurs” in French or “Elsewhere” in English). Here’s a blurb from Ruiz Gutierrez’s statement about the exhibit, which underscores the affect she intended it to have on its viewers:

In terms of tempo, Annorstädes is conceived as a release for the individual viewer. The recorded images are slowed down, in contrast with the speed of everyday urban life, in order to ease the experiential flow of time.

In symbolic terms, this artwork highlights the importance of the Central Station as a node; in its primary sense, as a crucial railway link, but also metaphorically as a connection between the city and the entire world.

I took this short film of Annorstädes with my phone from the station platform.

It’s not nearly as good as the several samples of footage on Ruiz Gutierrez’s website, like here and especially here.  Dig around. There are a lot of worthwhile images and writings on her website. I haven’t been this captivated by a public art installation in a long time. To echo the comment of one visitor to the exhibit, that is, one Malmö subway rider (or perhaps as the artist herself would have it, one Malmö patron of both the arts and public transportation): “If you’ve seen Malmö, you’ve seen the world. That is now a fact.” Ruiz Gutierrez really pulled this off. Malmö as synecdoche for the global community! Genius. This work punctuated, in a sublime and lasting way, my visit to this southern Swedish city. I hope it’s still there when I return.

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