The Dark Side of Suburbia

The other day, I was meeting  a friend at the art gallery, and I had some time to spare before she finished work. So I sat down to watch a short film by Mattias Härenstam, part of an art work called "Tillfälligt avbrott" (= temporary interruption).

The camera is placed in the position you see there in the presentation picture, like a surveillance camera, but a bit too high up to be quite believable. Also, you wouldn´t really expect a camera in such a place. It´s a pretty average Swedish residential area. A neighbourhood street for middle class families.

First, it is early in the morning. Or, that´s what if feels like, from the light. What catches my attention is that it´s been raining, but two spots in front of the house on the lower left are dry, where two cars have recently been standing. A car drives down and parks in front of the house, a man steps out, and slowly, unusually slowly, walks to the door, unlocks it and walks in. Fast forward a few hours, the sun has come up a bit, and the street is starting to dry up. A man comes out from the house on the right, to get his newspaper or mail. Another car comes, parks next to the first one, and a forty-ish woman comes out. They greet each other, she says "thanks for the other night" and he says "yes, she makes a great chicken, doesn´t she" or something like that. She walks in, and some twenty seconds later, comes screaming out.

The neighbour´s wife takes the woman inside their house and the neighbour goes into the house, comes back out almost immediately, looking terribly shaken. After a few minutes the ambulance comes, followed by a police car. They go in, and after a while a policeman comes out to get a pair of large cutting pliers, like the ones you see used to cut padlocks and such open. I´m thinking, he´s hung himself. The wife is taken into the house, whining like she is in terrible pain (this is the worst bit to watch), and afterwards, the body is taken out into the car, and the ambulance and the police eventually drive off. And they all go into the neighbour´s house.

This film (of which you can see an excerpt here) is dedicated to a man with the same surname as the artist, with the dates of his birth and death. The title of the film is "Reconstruction", and I imagine it´s a recreation of an authentic course of events. But perhaps I´m just supposed to think so. Perhaps it´s an illusion that this is a personal experience, something that has really, actually happened. Does it matter if it has? It certainly has happened to some people. When I was in seventh grade, a classmate´s mother killed herself in the garage, by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Also part of this art work is a series of woodcuts, displayed outside the film room. The first one shows a suburban family home, and underneath, a root system that goes very deep, with mouths and sharp teeth, some of them chewing on other roots. The next woodcut is of a man climbing down from a crawlspace under a roof, one of those you can access through a hatch in the ceiling, and reach by way of a ladder. You can only see his legs. The title of that work is "Man descending a ladder". You can see all the images here if you are curious. I quite liked the one with the magpies. I like magpies in general, but I also associate them in this particular setting with heirs, with burial, and the liquidation of a home.

I´m not really sure that this grabs me particularly. The screaming, shocked woman, yes, that does make me jump, and I feel for her, because that is what we all fear, isn´t it, that catastrophical event that puts an end to life as we know it. It´s that one accident, or act, that can´t be controlled or undone. But I am certainly not unaware of the dark side of life, of the potentially dangerous undercurrents.  I you are, then perhaps this exhibition will be more unpleasant, or even an eye opener.

I remember when I was twenty or so, seeing an artist displaying an oldfashioned pram, filled with rocks and lit candles. That almost made me cry then, but would it have moved me today? I´m likely to find something like that a bit too obvious, a bit too clichéd. A bit kitsch, perhaps. Härenstam´s work is bordering on that, I find. It´s telling me too much. There is very little room here for diversity in interpretation. Very little room for me.

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