In the gardens of the new housing development at Slottsgatan, there stands a giant who is five metres tall and weighs 750 kilos: a giant child wrapped up in an overall. We can usually judge whether we are meeting an adult or a child by their height, and when we meet children, we often treat them as if they were naïve or ignorant.
Charlotte Gyllenhammar’s gigantic little person makes us stop and pay attention. The dimensions distort our otherwise ingrained protective instincts towards children. The child portrayed here in a giant format makes us think twice, as if the tables have been turned.
The child in its protective suit is almost like an omen. Will we all be wearing protective clothing in future? The dimensions of the sculpture create a sense of urgency. The contemporary ‘prepper’ movement reflects society’s worries about impending doom. We are said to be living in the end of days and there are many possible apocalyptic threats looming ahead of us. The weapons of mass destruction are primed, and the tensions of the Cold War are fresh in our memory. Added to this are the current waves of refugees, a democratic crisis in the West and the ever-present threat of climate change.
Charlotte Gyllenhammar is considered to be one of the more influential contemporary Swedish artists. Though trained as a painter, she is best known for her sculptures. For these, she uses a range of materials and media from classic bronze statues to multimedia installations.
Her breakthrough came during the postmodern turbulence of the 1990s. A 120-year-old oak tree hanging upside down on Drottninggatan in Stockholm created a bit of a stir. The roots and the crown of the tree were still intact. It said something about life itself: the roots and the crown reached out for sustenance and the trunk that gave all this life stability was in between but upturned.
Childhood and parenthood are recurring themes in Gyllenhammar’s works. There are a number of variations on this theme where she portrays well-protected figures of children, often in their natural size. They act like silent witnesses, perhaps of the mad world we adults have created. They don’t look at us accusingly, but it is us, the viewers, who begin to feel uncomfortable nevertheless. Children are our hope for the future. Perhaps the long line of Gyllenhammar’s thought-provoking sculptures is a forerunner to what we are seeing today with the rise to fame of the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, bearing witness to our demise.