Can we think of children’s programs on television as part of cultural heritage? In Sweden, the answer would be yes, if we speak about the period from 1965 to 1985. The exhibition The TV Trampoline: From Children’s Television to Contemporary Art and Literature explores this heritage through new works by eleven artists and writers. Like the chosen children’s television programs, they bring histories and experiences from different parts of the world and walks of life, perspectives that highlight and complicate the heritage.
Ever since the late nineteenth century, childhood memory has been a central topic in art and literature, a form of blueprint to who we are and how we view ourselves and the world around us. Growing up in Sweden in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, television turned into an essential part of those memories, as the children’s programs became increasingly culturally significant, shaping the world views of entire generations.
In the prime of the social welfare state, the so-called record years, children, their living conditions and rights, had indeed been prioritised, including through access to a wide range of qualitative children’s programs on first one and then two public television channels. From the late ’60s on, new subjects, formats and forms of address were introduced. Many famous writers, actors and artists wanted to make programs for children, which, as important cultural events, were a topic of public debate.
What can these productions tell us today, in an era that is in so many ways different from then? We addressed this question to the eleven artists and writers, and the result is The TV Trampoline. Each artist and writer in the exhibition was paired with a particular children’s program shown on Swedish television between 1965 and 1985, using the programs as a trampoline to make new work for the exhibition.
We sought out productions from a range of political and cultural contexts that seemed to have had a significant impact both in Sweden and elsewhere: Cheburashka and Gena the Crocodile (Soviet Union), Sesame Street (United States), Little Sandman (East Germany), Professor Balthazar (Yugoslavia), Fabeltjeskrant (The Fables Newspaper, Netherlands), Havoc in Heaven (China), Once Upon a Time … Man (France), and The Mole (Czechoslovakia). We also selected a couple of unforgettable Swedish productions: Pippi Långstrump (Pippi Longstocking), Vilse i pannkakan (Lost in the Pancake) and Tjejerna gör uppror (The Girls Revolt).
The artists and writers in The TV Trampoline were invited to investigate, comment on, and respond in other ways to these children’s shows and television formats. Some of the artists and writers have departed from the programs themselves, while others stay closer, clearly referencing and reflecting on their starting points. The power of fables, the function of memory, nonverbal communication, censorship, cultural resilience, and the ambiguity of cuteness are some of the themes in the commissions. They range from sculptures, comics, and videos to installations, a YouTube channel, and a playground. There are also four specially written texts, one in the form of a children’s book.
In a time of closing borders and rising nationalism, when children’s culture is profoundly affected by commercial interests, it is particularly interesting to take a close look at the history of children’s television as an example not only of cultural heritage but also of trans-local cultural exchange. At least in Sweden, during the period in question, children’s television was a veritable melting pot of partly contradictory cultural and political references, merging the two sides of the Iron Curtain and, not least, the Non-Aligned and neutral nations. In this way, television constitutes a collective childhood memory for people who grew up in different parts of the world, even where there were and still are political barriers that made such exchanges difficult. This was also a period when television broadcasts went from being mainly national projects to cross-border transmissions that challenged the formula “viewers = citizens.”
Until the late 1980s, television in Sweden was broadcast solely as a public service, aiming simultaneously to entertain, socialise, and educate. The approach of Swedish Television was to regard children as competent viewers who should not be prevented from learning about life and the realities of the world, although some filtering was deemed necessary. Fairy tales and fiction, birth and death, friendship and conflicts, war and hardship; all had a place in the programming, in which the voice of the children themselves played a certain role. However, the programs were not always seen as unproblematic, whether due to their occasional promotion of Western historiography or on account of left-leaning messaging. At the same time, many of the programs mentioned above were shaped by issues and values highlighted and explored in today’s art and literature, among them environmental sustainability and gender equality.
The artists and writers who participate in The TV Trampoline: From Children’s Television to Contemporary Art and Literature could be seen as correspondents who study and process how children’s television relates to broader issues, including those of public education, entertainment, consumption, citizenship, and political movements. How are these ideas reflected today? And what has become of children’s culture in contemporary media, social and otherwise?
Andjeas Ejiksson and Maria Lind
The exhibition was initiated by Maria Lind and Andjeas Ejiksson and produced by Bildmuseet and Kalmar konstmuseum. The exhibitions is curated by Maria Lind and Andjeas Ejiksson in collaboration with Sofia Johansson, Bildmuseet and Bettina Pehrsson, Kalmar konstmuseum.
The first part of the TV Trampoline opened at Fabrika in Moscow in December 2021. During the spring and summer of 2022, a second part is presented at Kalmar konstmuseum and during the autumn and winter a third episode will be exhibited at Bildmuseet, Umeå University. A fourth part is being published as an issue of the magazine Ord & Bild in May 2022. These iterations of the exhibition should be seen as episodes in a series.
Annika Eriksson’s work, related to Little Sandman, is also shown at Galerie für Zeitgenössiche Kunst in Leipzig, in the spring of 2022. And Petra Bauer’s project, which takes Tjejerna gör uppror as its starting point, will be partly realised in Istanbul.