Magazine article Artforum International

"Whatever Happened to Social Democracy?": Rooseum

Magazine article Artforum International

"Whatever Happened to Social Democracy?": Rooseum

Article excerpt

Leaving its own provocative title unanswered, "Whatever Happened to Social Democracy?" was mostly comprised of works that blandly provided what the curators Pavel Buchler and Charles Esche promised in their text accompanying the show (published as a free newspaper): "independent thinking without a direct political purpose." The problem is that inciting independent thinking without building consensus toward a direct political purpose is a blank virtue, unmoored from realpolitik in both ambition and effect.

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Where Buchler and Esche got it right was choosing Malmo to stage the exhibition. Sweden's third-largest city once seemed destined to become a multicultural Xanadu attracting waves of immigrants with the prospect of jobs and the welcoming social-democratic embrace of Swedish immigration policy. The city claims inhabitants from 164 countries who speak 100 languages; 40 percent of whom are foreign born, with large numbers coming from Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Iran, and Iraq. Sweden faired better than most in facing the consequences of ethnic diversity, but as the economy stiffened and factories closed, upholding an unprejudiced attitude became thornier. Still, the city's inhabitants are defining what it means to be Swedish today, and one of them, the Swedish hip-hop MC Timbuktu, captures something essential in his music about a culture moving from uniformity to multiplicity: resentment and fear know no strangers. Ask Timbuktu whatever happened to social democracy and he has an answer. What a shame it wasn't included.

Instead, the exhibition's eighteen artists largely contributed routine multicultural exercises like Amikam Toren's Plan B, 2003. His approach is simplicity itself: Touristy souvenirs, seemingly from exotic places like Africa but all purchased from markets in London, have been glued together to form two three-dimensional parallelograms set onto two rickety drafting tables, reminding us that it is indeed time to go back to the drawing board where ethnic assimilation is concerned. In counterpoint to Toren's effortlessness was the bewildering Frida Hultcrantz, singing the Finnish national anthem while lying atop the tomb of the country's former president, Urho Kekkonen, and wearing just undies and a fur coat. …

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