Son of a Birch: It's Popular Again

From Sweden’s Post Futuristic Society comes an exhibition that is equal parts contemporary art installation, memory wall, and kitsch overload. 1,200 sapling slices painted and decoupaged with pastoral scenes from Sweden and beyond are the collection of Borghild Håkansson and Staffan Backlund, Swedish artists and curators who present these items to provoke exploration of the question, “What is art?”

Visitors will find the plaques installed in the contemporary setting of ASI’s new Osher Gallery in the Nelson Cultural Center.

Sold as tourist souvenirs in the mid-1900s, these birchwood plaques represent a cultural heritage about to be lost, an alternative aesthetic tradition of newly urbanized people, mirroring the modest dreams of those who rarely traveled but took pride in documenting the few journeys they actually made.

Itinerant and informal artists would create these by angle-cutting a small birch tree, painting an outdoor scene—or simply gluing a postcard to it and adding painted embellishments—and selling the piece to tourists and residents. The scenes point to the mid-century flood of Swedes into flourishing industrial cities and the growing nostalgia for more rural, outdoor settings of one’s past. The bark “frame” surrounds images of everything from sparkling summer lake scenes to bustling town squares—views of leisure, of visits to ancestral summer homes or aspirational sightseeing trips around the continent.

Exhibitions of the plaques in Sweden generated tremendous media and audience interest, and prompted inquiry and interchanges. The collection is on tour in the United States for the first time, and in Minneapolis as one of two stops.

Visitors to the exhibition will have the option of cutting and pasting their favorite scenes, using reproductions of postcards and scenes from ASI’s collection, and adding a birchwood plaque of their own to the display.

Originally opened under the working title #NameThisExhibit: 1200 Birchwood Plaques from Sweden's Post Futuristic Society, ASI solicited the participation of exhibit visitors by asking for title suggestions. The winning title, "Son of a Birch: It's Popular Again," was announced on May 1.

M.A. Rosko from Fox 9 Morning News ran a story on the exhibit on April 2, 2013. Check out the clip here:

Mar 30, 2013 to Jun 02, 2013