Looks like things are getting steamy in Stockholm with the opening of a new exhibition exposing the twin Swedish sins of sex and alcohol. At the end of May, the Sprit museum will display an exhibition that was created in collaboration with artist Peter Johansson, allowing people to explore the paradox of liberation on the one hand and Lutheran guilt on the other, as well as how the rest of the world viewed Sweden’s seeming moral elasticity from the fifties onwards.
The art will include a maze of peepholes that show a variety of things within Swedish culture that have in one way or another shocked society; from film scenes and audio clips to objects, magazines, articles and sculptures, all of which have contributed to the arousing nature of some of Sweden’s hottest erotica.
“What we are trying to show is the long-lived myths of Sweden and how these myths were constructed,” says Anna-Karin Svanberg, who is one of the producers of the new exhibition. “Do people know about the history of Swedish sin? What is it today?”
The exhibition takes a look at movie scenes that sparked both controversy and plentiful bouts of blushing, such as Ingmar Bergman’s Sommaren Med Monika. When it came out in the early 50s it shocked viewers with its bold portrayal of nudity – one of the first films to show how sexual we really could be.
“These films defined Sweden as a really sexually relaxed people compared to others,” says Svanberg.
But sex isn’t the only thing that is part of Sweden’s history’s sinful behavior. After observing the unusual combination of rebellious exuberance and shame that Swedes displayed when buying spirits, writer Susan Sontag published an article in an American magazine portraying Swedes as a nation that saw themselves as leading others morally.
Soon enough, Sweden’s self-image was being redefined, especially in terms of sex as film and other media pushed the boundaries, putting the country’s stance against moral conservatism in the spotlight.
In time, Sweden became a paradise to the outside world, where people are beautiful and indulge in “sinful” behavior – or in laymen terms, love getting laid. “Foreigners played a huge role in creating the Swedish sin. Sweden was seen as this exotic country with blonde-haired girls, running around naked with big boobs. They saw us as more promiscuous, depressed, and drunk than the rest of the world. It was all a myth created by the outside world, but we really started to like the attention and reveled in the fact that our country was so progressive and liberal compared to others.”
The comprehensive exhibition provides a platform to examine all the naughty things that helped to shape Swedish culture today. It’s also a story about the Swedish welfare state and how it shocked conservatives in other countries. “Countries like the US were appalled by the way we were bringing sex education into our schools and saw it as if we were promoting sex to kids,” Svanberg says.
It also looks at the slightly seedier, more kitschy side of the equation. “We reconstructed a Swedish porn shop window from the 70s and I think that’s pretty cool to see,” Anna-Karin tells us. “You can peek into what shops looked like on Klara Norra Kyrkogata when porn paraphernalia lined the street.”
The Swedish Sin brings to light the daring choices Swedish directors, writers, photographers and artists took that first stunned Sweden and ultimately changed how it was perceived in the world.. Consider a visit there one of the unmissable guilty pleasures of the spring.
The Swedish Sin exhibition opens on May 22.