Ann-Sofi Sidén: »Station 10 and Back Again«, 2001
by Sabine Himmelsbach
The work Station 10 and Back Again provides an insight into the daily routine, the life and working tempo of a fire station in Norrköping, Sweden. On 18 monitors we follow the comings and goings of the firemen and one woman whom Sidén accompanied for weeks going about their lives. She has condensed and arranged the mass of material to fill 18 DVDs.
18 surveillance monitors relate what happens in a fire station. Arranged in pairs or singly on metal shelves, the monitors are complemented by a series of everyday items associated with this professional group. The items and objects firemen use on a daily basis - hoses, helmets, cordoning-off tape, flashing lights, sirens, canisters, lamps and boots underscore the documentary character of the work. They attest to the recordings having been made in original surroundings, lend the work authenticity. Water hoses are neatly rolled up on the shelf, lie ready for a possible emergency call. Firemen’s helmets and boots are tidied away; still showing clear traces of their earlier use. And amongst all these items are the images on 18 surveillance monitors, observing the response and common rooms of the fire station in Norrköping.
A surveillance camera is installed in almost every room of the fire station. Some shots are fixed, some make a pan through the room. We see response headquarters, the garage with the fire engines, the offices, the corridors and common rooms. We become witnesses of the course of events in a fire station, we observe the firemen going about their daily tasks, getting ready for a mission, taking a shower, talking easily with colleagues, cooking together, making their beds, or having their evening meal in the common room. Sometimes you see hectic movement, swift responses prior to a mission, other times you see only empty corridors and empty rooms in which nothing happens. We are initiated into the everyday life of a professional group whose actions are familiar to us only through their responses to fires and other emergencies. But you do not see that action here. Such missions are the exception; hours and hours of waiting and passivity separates one from the next. We observe the moments that the public is not normally privy to, namely the time between emergency runs.
There is no consistent course of events, no narrative structure. It is only the drifting from room to room, through the succession of rooms in the fire station that an overall picture emerges. 18 monitors offer a wealth of information, a stimulus satiation for the perceiving eye. Sidén presents the images of fire stations without any commentary. Her artistic intervention is evident only in her subjective selection from the host of material available. Documentary reporting is replaced by the »live images« that confront us with life itself. Of course, what we see are recordings, but the effect surveillance cameras produce creates the impression of being actually present. »Video surveillance functions as a code signifying reality. But precisely because these are recorded events, we are cut off from the reality we expect to see on video surveillance screens.« 
Though there is no drama to speak of the aesthetics of the surveillance cameras leads us to continue observing as a voyeur in the hope of seeing an extraordinary event, maybe in the very next minutes. Surveillance also means spending hour upon hour waiting for the decisive moment. Most of the time nothing happens, and that is exactly what Ann Sofi Sidén shows. The profession of fireman is ideally suited to providing a cliché-like base for daring rescue operations, nerve-wracking tension and hero-like behavior in extreme situations in action movies. This expectation is broken through by the everyday tedium that Station 10 and Back Again confronts us with. The observation of life becomes a replacement for life itself.
Sidén has been using surveillance cameras in her work for some time, beginning with Prop for World Picture II . She used the camera of a greengrocer’s store in Harlem, New York, and edited the filmed material on a monitor in the installation. In Who told the Chambermaid? , a work with a similar concept to Station 10 and Back Again, a large number of surveillance cameras, arranged on a shelf and combined with the typical requisites of everyday life in a hotel - towels, cleaning agents, bedding - shows the comings and goings in a hotel. We cast a glance into occupied rooms, observe a man and a naked woman playing chess, see another couple talking, a man getting dressed in front of a wardrobe mirror, a woman in the process of undressing. We also see the public parts of the hotel under surveillance, the lobby, the kitchen etc. This is evidently documentary material, the hotel occupants were asked for their cooperation prior to the recordings. »Thus the video surveillance, featured in an installation, monitors nothing and is merely an imitation of itself which both effects and designates the act of intrusion.« 
In Wait a moment! she accompanies with the video camera the life of prostitutes in Motel Hubert in Dubi [Czech Republic], close to the German border, where prostitution has become an important source of income.
Her works break through the division between private and public, they trace and bring to light things seemingly hidden and private. In the work Would a Course of Deprol Have Saved Van Gogh’s Ear  Sidén assembles masses of advertising material for psychedelic drugs, that she discovered amongst the effects of a deceased New York psychiatrist. Her work casts a light onto emotional states of mind.
1 Julia Garimorth, Seeing is a trap, in Ann-Sofi Sidén. The Panning Eye Revisited, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris 2001, p. 34. ^
2 Julia Garimorth, op. cit. ^
3 The title is taken from an advert for the medication Deprol in an issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry [August, 1968]. ^