Annika Eriksson’s exhibition, The Social, at Moderna Museet in Malmö was a staggering experience for me. It felt like I was encountering an understanding of community and life that was entirely my own, yet that I had never before been able to articulate or even support.
Although the larger part of the exhibition consists of works made 2015 or after, I was struck by this insight in the farthest room, where three somewhat older films are shown. In Wir sind wieder da (We’re here again) (2010) we see a gang of punks drinking and smoking. They’re doing nothing: they’re hanging out, they’re together. The film is long, 25 minutes, but the point is not at all that nothing happens. Instead – as I realize after watching for quite some time, stretched out on a bean bag – it is that they are. The Community (2010) is shown on a smaller monitor opposite. It’s really the same thing being shown here, but this time with cats simply being together on a park lawn. It is the primordial scene of the social, beings who are together without doing anything, without organizing or amusing themselves.
I’d never before encountered this notion, but perhaps I haven’t been paying attention. The social is usually characterized in other ways, such as a field of conflict between different interests or as emerging out of the possibility of discussing matters of taste. These conceptions start from the individual, however, while Eriksson suggests that the group is the primary unit from which individuals are separated. And when one does encounter theories grounded in the notion of a primordial community, they do not describe this kind of autopoetic togetherness but something always already structured by traditions, more or less defined goals and natural institutions that are cared for by the collective. All of them think more historically and more individualistically than Eriksson, who rather is animated by a Schopenhauerian sense for the “type” that recurs throughout history without being defined by it. This recurrence is stated in the title, Wir sind wieder da (We’re here again) (2010), and even more explicitly by the work opposite, I’m the dog that was always there (loop) (2013), where the dog that speaks is the one and only dog, the one that all the others merely incarnate, and around which cities appear and disappear like a transient scenery for the pack’s running and sniffing.
This way of understanding the social puts everything on end because, if it were so, the very act of organizing life (division of labour, leisure activities and so on) would merely serve the purpose of regularly reinstating this primordial sociality. Leisurely games emerge only because people sometimes become separated and have to do something else in order to get somewhat together again. A real social policy would strive to guarantee all citizens a good and equal opportunity for idle hanging out. In Eriksson’s work, the public dimension enters with the gang of punks who, as curator Joa Ljungberg writes, are sitting in a public space rather than a non-space. They have even decorated it by moving a sofa there. Their care for this place is indicated by the fact that the standard loading pallets that they have dragged there are entirely new. They have created this place, with loading pallets, shopping carts and sofas so that hanging out can take place. If today one seeks to study the human in groups, perhaps non-placesairports or supermarkets offer the best opportunity. For social unity to materialize, however, it takes public places. Perhaps this is the way to look back on Eriksson’s early works about public spaces, as places and situations where community can ensue. As if to invoke this, Eriksson has installed a number of neon sign in the exhibition. These are works that should be seen outside the museum, but here they establish a relation between the exhibition and the idea of public space.
Ljungberg emphasizes that Eriksson repeatedly gives the dimensions of time an unexpected dynamic. This is particularly striking in the new installation comprising photography and sculpture, The Social (2017). Underneath a very large photograph from a preschool or workshop for children stands a row of clay animals that are made in such a place, as though the sculptures on display were made by the children in the image. The image appears to be 45 years old, yet the sculptures are new. Time trembles like an illusion between the image of the production and its result. On the floor stands a replica of Axel Nordell’s The Apple, which is a sculpture for children to play in, typical of Swedish public art of the postwar period. In the exhibition, it is slightly larger than its original and made from a material that looks remarkably fragile. It is like a prototype, a step between the sketch and the finished work. In this way it anticipates a past future. Yet I see it as breaking out of linear time. Eriksson’s rendition is similar to the group of punks or the sole dog, it is what must manifest itself in time and space. It is in itself not for playing, it’s merely a form.
During a presentation at the opening we learned that, as a teenager, Annika Eriksson herself used to hang out at The Apple. Now her rendition seems, to me, a symbol for hanging out, perhaps an invocation of it, possibly a prayer for community. In the exhibition one gets the sense that this is the function of pets: they make hanging out possible. And they were very loved (2015–17) is a slide projection of loved, embraced animals. After a couple of images I start to think about the icon worn to threads by kisses that poet Gunnar Ekelöf wrote about. Perhaps this is what all the images of cats on the Internet are about: that the pet is not just the link to the eternally social, but that it also incarnates the social when it is cared for.
In this case, however, it is not about a teleological aesthetics of icons, but a sociological image practice helping to produce the eternally social, everyday. What we see in the cat pictures is not someone’s lovely pet, but proof that this human and this animal together enact what life is about: not doing things (experiencing, producing) but being together. Having a cigarette, putting a claw in one’s chest – it is perfect. The rest is the vanity of vanities, smoke and mirrors.