Elias Kautsky on Monument

Future reader, as time has passed and habits have changed in a way I cannot possibly foresee, I feel at once obliged to introduce you to the present in which the following took place, and at the same time I realise it would be impossible. How do I even know if we share the same meaning for words like memory, art and monument? Even my peers in the present hardly agree on what they mean, and I am in no position to account for the whole discussion. Instead I will briefly explain to you what happened just before the actual performance at the theatre, the one I had a ticket to, as the scene served as an coincidental introduction for me, and now for you. 

To reach Turteatern I chose the metro, a transportation system that runs on tracks in tunnels, and descended the stairs at Kärrtorp, the station just next to the theatre. In the staircase everyone looked almost the same, except one man wearing huge cowboy boots, with his feet completely pointed outwards. I followed this unusual gait and wondered where he was heading, until a sudden cry caught my attention and I lost track of him. The sound came from another man, but this one was on the ground with his face turned to the floor, wearing handcuffs on his wrists behind the back. He was flanked by two standing security guards, seeming to ignore the cry. Not just I was watching this happen, but two metres away there was a cat, similar to those we see in children’s books: black and white, with a red ribbon around the neck and a little heart attached to it. She was sitting neatly with her tail wrapped around her feet and watching the man on the floor with delight, as if she had ordered the guards to catch him. 

Now, without further delay, I will move on to the actual performance that took place in Turteatern 24th of March at 7pm, it had been given the name “Monument”. What is a monument? As much as you may ponder this question, so did also choreographer and filmmaker Gunilla Heilborn, who had come up with the idea for the performance and directed it. In the foyer of the theater was a little stage, with a scenography vaguely reminiscent of classical antiquity, some pillars and slabs of stone. It could also have been a postmodern interior in mint and white by the Memphis group. Whichever you prefer, it looked like fragments of something. Then, by two tour guides (played by Lorenz Kabas and Kristiina Viiala), that entered the stage, the audience was introduced to another fragment: The Owls by Aristophanes. The tour guides handed out a leaflet in which we could read the remaining fragments from the play – they barely made any sense. This however, did not stop the guides, from transforming into the two main characters from the play, Kallikrates and Ictinos. Soon they were also accompanied by a choir, as is customary in the ancient Greek drama, with the only difference that in this play they were owls. In a competition between Kallikrates and Ictinos, the owls tried to the decide which monument would be erected in Athens, their hometown. How were the owls supposed to think? What would most successfully carry the memory of the owls and goddess Athena into the future? And would the monument speak to the future even if the world will change and there will only be a fragment left of the original conception?

Before we got any answers, the second part of the performance had already begun. The guides were back and they took us to the next room, the Centre for Monument Research. Fragments everywhere! It was monuments developed by the CFM, assembled with great care and sensitivity by the scenographers Katarina Wiklund och Susanna Wiklund. “Monument for the disappointed” was one of them. “Monument with unnecessary ornaments” another, and so on. Next, the guides moved on to describe further monuments, at places outside of the theatre. Fragments of conversations about these monuments were being recited by the guides. “Was Evert Taube really as short as his statue in Gamla Stan or did they make him smaller?” The everyday conversations were elevated by the skillful timing and sense of diction that Kristiina Viiala delivered. It was irresistibly funny in one way, but it also made me think of dementia. Dementia as a past that crumbles into fragments, held together only by the whims of a struggling mind. 

Future reader, I will confide to you that in my present, this deterioration is not only affecting those diagnosed with dementia. Memory is barely within the mind, but belongs to devices outside of our bodies, much like monuments. Was this what Gunilla Heilborn tried to tell me? I thought about it, returning to the metro station after the performance was finished. The station was now completely empty. No sign of the cowboy boots, the handcuffed man or the security guards, and the cat who was previously in charge of the place had let go of all responsibility. The scene had in other words been completely absorbed by the past. Future reader, I am afraid this is the only thing that is left of that evening in Kärrtorp.