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Travel to Stockholm

 
 

Underground in Stockholm

23 July 2015

Words and images: Geoff Brokate

The world’s longest art exhibition spans decades as well as kilometres. It borrows from the artistic pioneers of the 1950s and highlights the avant garde artists of the modern day, combining them all and housing them deep beneath the city.

T-Centralen

This station is the heart of Stockholm’s metro system as it’s the only place where the three lines converge. This vast station is covered with numerous pieces of art; from pillars with stone and glass mosaics to walls adorned with decorative ceramic figures. Finnish artist Per Olof Ultvedt designed the centerpiece in 1975, and it features boldly painted blue silhouettes of vines and flowers on the walls and ceiling, giving the impression that you are passing through a large forest.

The effect is a moment of tranquility, which is remarkable considering it’s the busiest station in the city. Elsewhere on the platform Ultvedt also pays homage to the workers and builders of the underground system whose silhouettes can be seen toiling away.

Kungsträdgården

As you make your way down the escalators of this, the 91st station to open, your senses are distracted by what first appears to be an ancient Roman garden with a petrified waterfall, painted arches, hanging vegetation and a concrete mosaic floor. An installation by Swedish artist Ulrik Samuelson, it was created in 1977 with the remains of the Makalös Palace that had been destroyed in a tragic fire in 1825.

Formerly the grand mansion of a Swedish nobility, artifacts obtained by the Nordic Museum were donated to Samuelson’s installation along with relics rescued from the many other buildings pulled down during the redevelopment of central Stockholm during the 1950s and 1960s.

Rådhuset

The Swedish artist Sigvard Olsson has created what has now become the signature style of the metro station. The bare blasted rock, painted a browny-orange, gives the feeling of a deep cave, as though you’ve just entered the very bowels of the Earth. Olsson called his artwork The Findings and was inspired by Kungsholmen’s historic evolution.

Farmland that was donated by the crown to the military and artisans, in the 19th century the area became industrialised and is now predominantly an urban residential landscape. Olsson has planted into the walls of the station imaginary architectural finds that chart the island’s evolution, none more impressive than the large cement column at the base of the escalators.

Solna Centrum

The standout feature of this incredible station has to be the bright red bedrock ceilings that double as the foreboding sky in Anders Åberg’s political murals. Environmental issues such as deforestation, pollution and population migration were important topics during the ’70s and Aberg daringly broached these tough subjects by painting a kilometre-long spruce forest with various scenes playing out around the station.

Farmers can be seen fertilising their crops while the infrastructure of industry begins to loom in the distance. Stuffed Elk and models of old traditional villages inside glass casing have been built into the walls of the station, in an attempt to preserve something that has been lost.

Universitetet

Found in the Frescati area north of central Stockholm, this area is known for its botanical gardens and the Museum of Natural History. It’s this which inspired the Belgian artist Françoise Schein to create frescoes – including maps and texts, statistics and images – designed to reimagine the journey that the influential Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, made to Lapland in 1734.

Schein said of her work, “I wanted to question how, from a gaze on things of the world, one reaches a better understanding of the consequences of our actions on the planet.” The station is also known for its playful take on emergency exits that appear on the platform, showing a repeated pattern of a man running as though late for the train.

Tensta

In an act of solidarity, the artist Helga Henschen opted to address the social issues faced by the Tensta district with her artwork. Known as an area that houses a high number of immigrants, it faces social isolation as a result of its ethnic diversity. In Henschen’s work A Flower to the Immigrants, the walls are painted with murals of animals, flowers and plants.

They appear as old cave paintings, recalling a time when humanity was less complicated and life was simpler. Throughout the station are quotations written in 10 different languages. One, found on the wall of an American cell, reads: “Freedom is the most important thing man has. You can jail a man but never jail the thought of freedom.”

Solna Strand

Originally named Vreten when it first opened in 1985, it was renamed in August 2014. Vreten was a reference to the street that the metro entrance is situated on and was known as an industrial area. The name change is an attempt to change the identity of the area and now refers to the harbour and waterway that the station resides near.

The art installation at this station, by Japanese-Swedish sculptor Takashi Naraha, is influenced by its district’s industrial origins. Glass cubes filled with paintings of clouds and blue sky protrude from the walls of the station, removing that sense of being underground and replacing it with an openness.

Huvudsta

This station on the blue line is occasionally overlooked as a piece of artwork, simply because it doesn’t follow the more eye-catching underground grottos. Swedish artist Per Holmberg patterned the platform with a colour-graded diamond pattern that points to new digital age that was only beginning to take root in the mid-’80s.

He also created an installation called Hanging Gardens which are painted metallic spirals and cylinders that hang from the ceiling of the station. This attempt to create a sense of natural beauty with industrial materials seems to be a reference to the above ground area that was known for its industrial landscape.

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