Ann-Sofi Sidén: Same Unknown
Oct 7 - Nov 13, 2010

The pole shakes and vibrates almost imperceptibly. A name and a birthplace are called out. People slide down past us. Some fly past like greased lightning. Others look like they’ve just come straight from the office. Some cling tightly as if trying to stop their descent. One person screams. Another falls.

In Samuel Beckett’s play “waiting for Godot”, one of the characters declares that women “...give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then its night once more”. The swift downward trajectory of the passing individuals, these short life-affirming moments that so very quickly pas us by. Is this life? That which flashes by us so quickly? The grip on the pole can be seen as a survival instinct, like the so-called Moro grip: the first, panic-stricken grip reflex of the newborn infant.

Ann-Sofi Sidén has previously portrayed people in video works such as “Warte Mal!”, “Who told the chambermaid?” and ”In Passing”. ”Same Unknown” differs from her previous works in that it has no dialogue or spatial context. Hierarchies have been dissolved, everyone is equal, torn from their contexts but united in a kind of clinical hyperrealism: every gaze, torso, hip, every clenched hand and tensed muscle, every footfall has a specific meaning. Like a story without beginning or end. Together, they form a kind of flowing document, hieroglyphics formed by human bodies dressed in western fashions.

In the work “Kretslopp”, the focus is on tirelessly cud-chewing cows, these maternal animals who patiently allow themselves to be milked. If sliding down the pole is a representation of our lives swiftly flashing before our eyes, then the cows’ slow lugubrious carousel ride is an image of life as governed by fate and a repetitive cyclical order. We are faced with the cows’ gaze, observing the minimal shifts and changes in their expressions and movements. We try to understand by projecting our own human characteristics and emotions onto these animals. But the cows just keep chewing the cud seemingly content just to have their straining udders emptied. They have no real answers to the riddle formed by the human hieroglyphics that flash by us.

“Kretslopp” is a comment on industrialised large-scale farming and can be seen as symbolic of a process of deindividuation and alienation that allows for more efficient production. It reminds us that technical advances that affect the lives of urban citizens also affects how we treat our environment, the natural world which is the very basis for our continued existence.

The combination of these two works gives us a divided image of the conditions for human existence. The repetitive nature of the vertical falling, and the slow methodical nature of the horizontal milking carousel evoke a kind of contemplative state. As observers, we also catch sight of ourselves as human beings, as animals, as an individual in the crowd, here and now, being stared down by the slightly reserved yet curious cows who are ready to milked again while all the time, new individuals slide down the pole.

“Same unknown”, from 2008 was filmed with the assistance of the citizens of the city of Reggio Emilia in Italy for the exhibition “Human, all too human”, for Fotografea Europea, 2008. The video work was shown there as a site-specific installation and is now included in the city’s art collection. The version “Same Unknown (strain 1, 2 and 3)” was originally shown during the Venice biennale in the exhibition “Fear Society”, in 2009. Sound production was by Jonathan Bepler. “Kretslopp” was filmed at the same time as the work “My country (somewhere in Sweden)”, from 2010 that was based on the 38 day, 720 km long journey on horseback from Stockholm to Skåne that Ann Sofi Sidén undertook together with a colleague in 2009.