Fall 2006

Fruits of the Whine

Sweden’s pacifier trees

Mats Bigert

Photos Mats Bigert.

When entering the domesticated animal area of Stockholm’s zoo, Skansen, you immediately notice that there is something strange going on with the trees. Even though you might expect zoological gardens to spice up the flora with a few exotic additions, the outgrowths on the branches providing shade for the kitten enclosure look like nothing you’ve seen before. On closer inspection, the fungal growths competing with the foliage turn out to be clusters of baby pacifiers.

The string theory here claims that the evolution of this strange fruit started thirty years ago with a piece of linen attached to a piece of string. This contraption, which usually works well for playing with kittens, was not suited to the daily wear and tear at the zoo. The cloth was constantly being ripped apart and the zookeepers realized they needed to attach something more resilient at the end of the line. And then one day a baby drooling after a kitten dropped her pacifier in the kitten pen; the perfect bait had been discovered. The zookeepers tied the pacifier to the string, and as more and more babies threw their pacifiers to the kittens, the zookeepers hung more and more strings to accommodate all of them. Soon the strings started to look like crystalline necklaces dipped into a solution of plastic and silicon. With time, the kitten enclosure even shrank as a result of this inorganic invasion, and the pacifier necklaces grew up the tree trunks. By 2000, when the last count was taken, this hanging garden comprised 11,873 pacifiers.

These days, toddlers from all over Sweden make the pilgrimage to Skansen to throw away their pacifiers. By offering their pacifiers to the kittens, toddlers leave behind babyhood to take on the burdens of kiddyhood. From that point on, the kid is obliged to lead a life without substitutes. And perhaps this modern fruit de passage is a way of creating a more self-controlled individual who knows how to kick a habit voluntarily. And who also knows how to subdue the adolescent oral cravings that would otherwise one day lead to dope smoking and excessive use of cafellatio.

Mats Bigert is editor-at-large of Cabinet and one half of the Swedish artist duo Bigert & Bergström. They are currently participating in the 1st Singapore Biennial and in an exhibition called Crime and Punishment at the Tallinn Kunsthalle, Estonia. Bigert & Bergström are also in the preliminary stages of a film project titled Life Extended that documents the utopian quest for immortality. The film will premiere worldwide in 2007.

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