Foxtrot

Ulrike Andersson.

Foxtrot: the winner takes it…all

Foxtrot is the dance allotted to men and women of my generation: the European youth lucky enough to be born into the peace, wealth and newfound sexual liberty of the 1950’s. Sixty years from now I’ll will be making video documentation of the dance steps to explain to our grandkids the intricate ways in which young men and women interacted in order to have fun and to have…ancestors, but for now: foxtrot is it.

It all takes place on a November night: at the small dancehall down the highway where all the farmers’ sons have gathered for ritualistic dating. The evening is coming to a close and the end-of-night process of selection is about to begin. Girls choose dance partners once per evening and this once is now: the last dance, the one she chooses. I didn’t have to be here.

My uncle went to Quebec and stayed until he became wealthy, then came back. Papa stayed in the village: we looked on as uncle returned for vacation with a car that he triumphantly drove through the village. I was back in town, still in uniform from my conscription service and ladies would have paid me attention it not for the giant Chrysler humming before them, driven by uncle who struck it big somewhere west of the Sierras.

We all drank his whiskey and cursed his name. “Yankee” we whispered: thinking it was a bad word. When a woman chooses her dance partner it is the culmination of an entire night’s effort on behalf of an aspiring Romeo. He: Mike, Charlie or whatever his name is has asked her to dance all night: Tango, Waltz, this new thing called Rock and Roll. She obliged, But now it is her turn to choose.

I know I will be all right in the end. In the end I make the video for my daughter’s son named Oscar: and he politely listens and grandpa tells him the story of how I searched for love within the system. Juliette didn’t help me getting there. As she chose another (was it Victor? My memory eludes me) I told my friends I had to go get my coat so I wouldn’t have to stand in line when the band stopped playing. They saw through me like an Xray, so one can’t call it a lie.

This part of the countryside is largely vacant now. Where hopeful young men once gathered in order to find wives that would be willing to open milk farms with them, there is only golf left. Lonely men golfing in rain and shine. They are golfing alone where my grandfather’s milk cows walked. We shouted for the cows to return come fall, but only the memories and echo of our voices is remain now. We buy our milk from the Alpha supermarket. I make videos of our dance rituals and show them to younger relatives. They are usually of a 35mm film projecting on a wall: a film my uncles shot some 50 years prior. It’s my digitized record of their analog record. There are other films of uncles going through their daily lives. Flickering images of men with their hands in their pockets, looking down. Men with hats weighing a baby: almost three kilos.

As I became successful I strayed very far from this delta of man-made forests and natural brooks. I found love and children. I found hotels with dozens of television channels and with the money that I earned on my travels I bought the family farm. An uncle had inherited it, then let it decay as he sank into his own deadly stupor.

After his death I went though his cabinets: Tea from India: though he didn’t leave the property during the last fifteen years. The day he was found the doctor came through the front door that had been closed for the last decade. Uncle always used the kitchen entry. It’s been 20 years since I’ve owned it but the house now looks like it did when I danced the foxtrot. The walls have been repainted in their original pastel colors.

The decorative items that impressed the locals in the 1950’s have been re-hung on its original pegs. My radio gramophone plays my 78rpm records with astonishingly beautiful sound emitting from the ancient speakers. I had some of the old records framed and hung above it: one with the unfortunate image of Louis Armstrong dressed as a  Zulu Warrior. We were an ambitious family when I was a teenager.

We were property owners running a company, and exotic markers of our technological and international ambitions were strewn across our home. I would like to think the farm has been reborn now that I own it, but fact is I only come here once every other month over a weekend or so. Over the holidays my grandchildren stop by on their way to ski at the resorts in Lima.

Their mother chuckles at the outmoded decor at the house that made my grandfather proud. It that caused a bit of a family feud when the property was divided into sections after uncle’s death. When I bought the property I was told by my then elderly relatives that the place carried duties with it. It had been a place kept in high regard by my ancestors, and I should be ready to shoulder the mantle. They were a bit late with their demands and concerns: Uncle had sold the animals and allowed the wallpaper to slowly peel off the walls in order to focus on his vodka interest.

In my hometown all but five storefronts on the mainstreet have shut their doors in favor of big-box shops in neighboring villages. While my lot of land was to be the most stable ground for future wealth as a dairy producer, my ancestors never predicted it would prove itself a profitable site for tree cultivation. Now I get calls from entrepreneurs wanting to lease it for windfarms.

The source of value seems to constantly shift, slowly but constantly. My daughter looks at me sternly when I bring home groceries from Alpha Markets. “Why don’t you grow your own vegetables here?” she asks. “Alpha Market’s are owned by the Bravo Corporation” she says. It’s clear by her tone that Bravo Corporation is bad. They bought the utilities company I worked for all my life. If my daughter wants to buy a farm she’ll probably have to work for them.  

Bio ~ Ulrike Andersson.

Ulrika Andersson is an artist living in California. She is currently developing a photographic chronicle on the slow decay and speculative rebirth of a milk-farm owned by relatives in her native Sweden. An artist by training and interaction designer by profession she is mainly concerned with how humans speak to machines, and by extension how landscapes speak to humans. Her recent Series “We who were kings will rise again” portrays the tranquil setting of a farm household, while inviting the fiercer aspects of rural life. The sense of struggle is apparent in each scene; whether it’s the fight to kill for food, a fight to keep the ancient lifestyle sustainable, or the fight to keep the farm’s children from forgetting.

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