Mattias Härenstam

Untitled (28th February 1986)

Installation with video, 2011.
With chairs along the walls, a coat hanger, artificial plants etc. the room resembles a waiting room at a doctors, dentists or at some government office. On one of the grey walls a video is projected (20 min 36 sec, Full-HD, PAL, BW, Stereo). It is a text piece with sound based on recordings made on the night of the murder of the then Prime Minister Olof Palme at the Stockholm Emergency Communications Centre. We hear the actual communication between switchboard operators, ambulance - and hospital staff, the police and journalists calling in.
View excerpts from the video.
Untitled (28th February 1986) was the first piece for the solo exhibition 28th February 1986 at Akershus Art Centre, Lillestrøm, Norway in February-March 2011. The closed door led into the rest of the show, first Closed Circuit (In the middle of Sweden). A second version of the installation was shown at a solo show at Galleri 54 in  Göteborg / Gothenburg, Sweden March - April 2012. It was also featured in the magazine mums#3 and the video part of it was shown at the release party at Studio Studio in Stockholm, August 2012. Yet another version was shown at a solo show at Luleå Konsthall March - April 2013.

The first room we enter at the exhibition mimics the aesthetics we all know from waiting rooms at the dentist or other offices where we have to wait for our turn. Mattias Härenstam has also built a new wall and door between this room and the rest of exhibition. Everyone knows of course that no secretary will come out and call us in for our dentist appointment - this is an art exhibition after all- but Härenstam's detailed reproduction is so exact, so similar to the generic form we know from our habit-based lives, that it holds a certain power over the spectator. Rikke Kommisar, manager at Akershus Art Centre, confirms this assumption and tells me that many visitors are actually reluctant to open this door to the rest of the exhibition.
In the "waiting room" we are acquainted with conversations between the emergency personnel during night when Olof Palme was murdered - they can both be heard (as documentary sound recording) and read as a projection on the wall. This is an event that, in many ways, punctured the Social Democratic innocence: the murder is a trauma in Swedish modern history, a wound that has not healed. The refusal to open the door and Palme-murder has, one might say, partially grown into the (Swedish) common subconscious and become a part of how we, spontaneously, relate to our surroundings.

Excerpt from a review by Kjetil Røed, published in Norwegian online art criticism forum Kunstkritikk 04.03.2011. The full text can read here or as pdf-download at the bottom of this page (in Norwegian only).

(...)  The unthinkable occurred on February 28th 1986: The Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated, and the cozy and safe country was in a state of hysteria. This particular event is the center, around which the Berlin-based artist Mattias Härenstams works in a current exhibition at Galleri 54, revolves. The gallery space has been divided and the outer room has a brand-new floor, the walls are painted gray and in a corner stands an institutional artificial plant. The stage set is well thought out and looks sad, familiar and stereotypical Swedish. We seem to be in a waiting room. On one of the walls is a projection with text documentation from the day of the murder, where we can follow the dialogues between the police and ambulance staff and other professionals. These interactions are also played back as sound. The atmosphere is charged, while the furniture emphasizes the kitchen sink realism of the situation. (...)

Excerpt from a review by Sara Arvidsson, published at Swedish online art magazine Konsten 12.04.2012. The full text can read here or as pdf-download at the bottom of this page (in Swedish only).

The murder of Olof Palme is turned into art in an exhibition opening today. It is Mattias Härenstam at Galleri 54 in Gothenburg, who wants to remind us how it feels like when an entire nations’ ingrained ideas of security and safety are suddenly being turned over. And the artist claims that the murder of Olof Palme had far-reaching consequences:

MH: "Somehow it was the first major rift in the fabric of the welfare state, since then it has been built down piece by piece and the entire idea of the welfare state changed"

 ECC sound recording:

"-Tunnelgatan at Sveavägen. There’s a guy who has been shot, and probably he’ll need an ambulance. I called the police but I do not know if they've called you.

- No, Tunnelgatan / Sveavägen, you said?

- Yes, at Sveavägen ... "

 MG (SR): These authentic conversations from the switchboard of the Emergency Communications Centre in February 1986 are used in Mattias Härenstams installation. He has built a strict, gray-painted waiting room, where the dialogues from the Emergency Communications Centre are being projected on the wall. It is now 26 years since Olof Palme was murdered, but Mattias Härenstam still remembers how he experienced it at the time:

 MH: Yes, absolutely. I was 14 years old and stayed over at my best friends’ place. It was totally unreal. Impossible even to imagine that such a thing could happen here in Sweden. And even today, it still feels almost unreal that it actually happened. 

MH: What I'm really trying to discuss the exhibition is what happens to us when our familiar view of the world suddenly collapses, which also later events such as September 11th 2001 or July 22nd 2011. A major disaster that suddenly changes the whole experience of life and the chaos always brooding below the controlled surface suddenly bursts out of a crack or hole or something. This is a theme that I keep returning to.

Excerpts of a radio broadcast by Mia Gerdin, broadcast on Kulturnytt, P1 SR (Swedish National Radio) 30.03.2012. Hear it online here (in Swedish) or read the full transcription here.