It’s a bit childish, I know, but there’s something really nice about being met at the airport by a driver with your name scrawled on a board. I do nothing. I say nothing. I give myself over to your expertise and let you transport me to my destination.
This last week I have been in Stockholm for the rehearsals of a new work, Operahjälpen (Opera Helps) with the Swedish opera company Folkoperan. The idea of the piece is straightforward. You apply for a place with a problem and we send an opera singer to your home. The singer will listen to your problem, suggest an aria, and then sing to you. It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with these musicians who have spent hours upon hours, year after year, training their diaphragm and larynx to produce this magical sound. The power and intensity of their voices, especially in the close proximity of domestic space is overwhelming and I have trouble keeping my emotions in check. Perhaps more than any other piece I have made, I really feel that I am the ideal audience member of this work.
I have a small apartment in Södermalm, the south island (of the 14 islands that make up this incredible capital, which is equal parts city, park and water). Södermalm, formerly where the ‘workers’ lived, is now the trendy ‘Shoreditch’ of Stockholm. Every second shop is a Swedish design or interiors shop. In Götgatan (which I pronounce as ‘yogurt garden’) a neon sign puns the command STOCK HOME, an instruction which panics the mind into considering the inadequacy of one’s own décor. The reflection of the electric blue crucifix in the window of this shop provokes the consideration that design really is a second religion here.
On my morning off there was one shop that I wanted to go to: Svenskt Tenn. Founded in 1924, Svenskt Tenn employed the architect, designer and artist Josef Frank, who made a series of incredibly beautiful textile designs that still feel fresh, vibrant and seductive, decades on from their initial creation. The shop, which has just been refitted, is half museum, half showroom. Many of Frank’s designs are mounted on the wall.
The fabric is wildly expensive. Smartly dressed women place orders in hushed voices. Assistants unroll bolts of cloth, taking heavy shears to section of material.
When pressed with what I might do with half a meter my imagination failed me, so I gave up. Not far from Svenskt Tenn is the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum), which houses the Swedish collection of design, textile and folk craft.
I wanted to see an exhibition of ‘Skolslöjd’ (school handicrafts). Sweden was the first country in the world to make ‘craft’ a school subject in the 19th Century. Hundreds answered a public call for examples of ‘slöjd’ and the resulting exhibition showcases everything from hammered metal spoons to embroidered napkins.
More interesting than the items themselves were the giggling middle and late aged museum visitors who chuckled to each other, pointing out a slightly lopsided pair of wooden bookends or a knitted tea-cosy, and recalling their own ‘slöjd’ successes and failures.
A nice touch on the giant iron door handle of the museum was a ‘slöjd handle warmer’ so that you didn’t have to feel the cold metal against your skin.
Wandering back to Folkoperan for the afternoon rehearsal, I popped into an eclectic boutique and found this lovely trompe l’oeil mask by the Swedish student designer and illustrator Ebba Forslind.