The Ark is an exquisite and powerful metaphor. Håfström describes it in “Notes on the Ark”. But The Ark also has an imposingly physical presence. A volume as much as an ark. A shrine as much as a monument in Gamla stan. The pine ark reposes in its nest of steel and granite. From Stora Gråmunkegränd it sends its greeting to future generations about cooperation and humanity.

NOTES ON THE ARK

What struck me the first time I saw this place was how clearly the space was demarcated. Oblong, behind iron bars, it resembled some kind of glass cabinet for displaying rare objects. A museum-like feel, you could say. And the “historical” atmosphere was further enhanced by the proximity to the church on Riddarholmen. The royal sarcophaguses in their railed chapels have always fascinated me. So the place was inviting in a way, but nevertheless slightly treacherous, which felt like a challenge. A challenge I decided to accept.

While the mood in the small courtyard intensified, a special shape began to materialise in the empty space. Exactly what invoked it I cannot say. But it was very distinct: a ship.  Perhaps the shape of the forecourt played a part. That I had long ago seen an excavation nearby: fragments of quaysides and pilings. Whatever the case, a ship was anchored inside the iron railings. I knew that the idea would work.

The interesting and surprising thing is that some ideas seem to attract material that becomes essential and sometimes decisive to the development of the project. Shortly after my visit to Stora Gråmunkegränd, a material of this kind landed on my studio floor. A flannelograph from a free church in Småland, which had been used in Sunday school. Among the worn and faded pictures were Noah’s ark, which reminded me of my own childhood in the 1940s in Örebro, and Sunday school at the Emmanuel Church.

The Old Testament disaster suddenly felt very contemporary. The Ark and the Flood were infused with a strong symbolism that was heightened by the so called Democracy Workshop, whose windows open onto the courtyard. A ship – like a democracy – depends on everyone knowing their place and their duty within the collective. THE ARK was to be a daily reminder of community. At the same time, the shape of the ark holds its own antithesis: doom, death. Life and death under the same roof.

The iron bars around the ark are not needed to prevent vandalism. Their inhospitable air is intentional. In fact, I was not aiming to create a sculpture but an old-fashioned monument.  A shelter for something “holy”.

JAN HÅFSTRÖM

Read the full description from Statens Konstråd here

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