Whether you’re spending your Summer jetting overseas or camping out in Peckham Rye with a moist blanket and a bottle of cava, there’s nothing worse than working overtime and contracting seasonal cabin fever. Work’s a drag all year round, but it stings far worse when you can glimpse people in straw hats necking tinned cocktails from your office window. You fantasise about replenishing your depleted stocks of vitamin D, knocking back an antihistamine with a gulp of nutritional gloop garnished with briny burn-out tears.
One nation with their finger on the pulse of flexi-working modernity and connection with the outdoors is Sweden. With so many young families settling in the country’s capital, flexible hours have become normalised, with parents claiming up to two years of paid parental leave for each child, available to be taken until the child turns eight. Stockholm’s ‘latte pappas’ can be seen across the capital, braiding hair, idly gossiping, patting their neatly trimmed beards and Comme des Garçons nappy bags.
Contrary to widespread preconceptions regarding Scandinavia as invariably cold and populated by Volvo-driving herring eaters, Stockholm is worlds away from the sullen landscapes of Scandi Noir. The city is located across fourteen islands on the watery intersection of Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea. Swedish Summers are long, light and colourful, interspersed with freshwater lakes, live music, piggelin ice creams and midges. There’s much to be said for the Swede’s love of the outdoors. Roaming is infused into the language of the land, with the constitutional right to wild camp (‘Allemansrätten’) exercised by many plucky backpackers.
Sweden’s annual midsummer festival, Midsommar, is a national holiday typically celebrated towards the end of June – generally sometime between the 20th and 26th. In his upcoming film Midsommar, director Ari Aster does a great job of showcasing the festival’s traditional elements, paralleling folklore with cultish horror in a similar vein to the original The Wicker Man.
From an overseas perspective, there is an absurdly alien quality to the uninformed masses dressed in national costume, jauntily enacting dances with learned synchronicity, heads crowned with wildflowers and unwaveringly wide grins. There is perhaps no better example of this than the Swedish Summer song affectionately named ‘Små grodorna’ wherein, Swedes congregate in a circle and laugh about the strange anatomy of tiny frogs whilst emphatically gesturing (‘No ears, no ears, no tails either. Quack quack quack’).
Growing up in the UK, I learnt to read, write and speak Swedish to an average standard, learning about influential figures, literature, geography and uniquely weird cultural traditions at a Saturday school in Brighton. When I discovered that Waffle Day wasn’t internationally recognised I was aghast, successfully managing to smuggle my Irish best friend in to celebrate the occasion with copious amounts of lingonberry jam.
Nowadays, when I can’t afford to visit, I watch Roy Andersson films, eavesdrop on the conversations of trendy expats on the tube and undertake a quarterly pilgrimage to IKEA to purchase imported edible supplies for Christmas, Easter, crayfish parties and everything in between. Deceptively savoury sandwich cakes, luminous lime green and pink cakes filled with a thick blanket of cream, coffee so strong that you have a panic attack so intense that only the finest strawberries (‘jordgubbar’ – which literally translates into English as ‘soily old men’) can resuscitate you.
Vanquishing my home office in pursuit of clean air, mental space and tunnbrödsrulle, I flew to Stockholm. Having previously visited in the midst of an all-encompassing obsession with Sad Teen Indie Music, at 23 years old I finally felt sure enough of myself to admit that I felt a strong desire to visit the ABBA museum. The museum is opposite the world’s oldest open-air museum, in a sleek black building emblazoned with the band’s immortal initials. It’s an endlessly interactive experience with an entire floor devoted to the Mamma Mia films, whilst the second floor exclusively attends to the story of Sweden’s finest pop exports.
There are countless opportunities for live singing and dancing, occasionally accompanied by ungodly ABBA holograms which materialise on an open stage in front of your fellow attendees. There’s an impressive collection of film props from Donna’s diary (!) to ABBA’s original guitars, disco boots and costumes including the band’s ‘Waterloo’ Eurovision debut. Personal highlights also included a piece of framed embroidery hung on the wall of Stikkan Anderson’s reconstructed Summer house, hyperbolically asserting that ABBA “sits like a tattoo on the soul” (sitter som en tatuering på själen). The whole thing is gratifyingly gauche.
In the afterglow of ABBA, with a head full of earworms and a belly full of herring, I boarded a boat across the archipelago towards Slussen where Stockholm’s photography museum Fotografiska takes residence along an industrial looking harbour. This was my fourth time visiting and every bit as worthy of returning as I remember. Swedish multimedia artist Jesper Waldersten’s ‘All Over’ is the museum’s lead exhibition for now, running until the 9th June. Waldersten is an angry aphorist, defacing and effacing lofty portraiture.
The artist experiments in both English and Swedish with varying success, using his typewriter to concoct punny proverbs with all the declarative certainty of a slogan t-shirt. Vincent Peter’s black and white old-timey close-ups of contemporary Hollywood stars left little to the imagination with a tediously antiquated format which did little to disrupt convention.
However, Scarlett Hooft Graafland’s ‘Vanishing Traces’ was a breath of fresh air; intelligently interrogated ‘harmony and conflict’ in sparse, lonely landscapes. There’s a synthesis of humour and solemnity to Hooft Graafland’s work, with solitary figures, engaged in play, contemplation and exposure. Whilst it doesn’t appear to be open yet, Fotografiska plan to open their Museum of Photography in London’s Whitechapel very soon, so keep your eyes to the skies.
Wherever you venture, before the world turns to dust, make yourself a packed lunch, slather on something with a sensible SPF and ready yourself for the outdoors.
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