The Department of Education, Stockholm University, 2010 (polyester, styrofoam, lacquer paint)

The Department of Education (Stockholm University) is neighbouring The Swedish Museum of Natural History and its research departments. The entrance where the piece Pearl is installed is located at the end of a winding path that is rather hard to find. In brief, it’s a place out of sight but with a fairytale-like, almost mythical atmosphere.

The place made me think of a famous Swedish scientist with connections to nature and learning as well as research: Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus is said to have been playful, almost slightly mad. He was working as a botanist, physician, geologist and zoologist. Many people know of him because he developed a system for the classification of plants. But the life of Linnaeus is also surrounded by various curiosities; stories and scientific discoveries of a questionable nature. Among many other more or less eccentric projects, his lust for experimentation led him to try growing pearls in the Fyris River in Uppsala. He had discovered a way of producing artificial freshwater pearls by planting a gypsum grain inside the mussel. In total, he produced nine pearls. Linnaeus saw a potential in a Swedish pearl industry and he discussed it with the Swedish government, but the negotiations were slow. Linnaeus ended up selling the growing-patent to a Swedish merchant by the name of Peter Bagge who got the monopoly of developing a business of the pearl growing. However, it never evolved. Yet it is said that it was because of the pearls that Linnaeus was later raised to the nobility. This story triggers my imagination. What did the pearls look like? How many experiments were needed before he succeeded? The fact that Linnaeus approached this idea was maybe not so surprising. During the 18th century it was popular to fish pearl mussels in Norrland. He went there to study the fishing and got inspired. He supposedly said: Since it doesn’t show on the outside whether the mussel contains a pearl or not, one has to open many, maybe a thousand, to find a single one.

I think this is a nice image of a scientist’s or a student’s searching and “wandering”. It is also not so different from a pilgrimage; to embark on the unknown road in order to reach the “sacred”. There is a clear connection between pilgrimages and pearl mussels too. As a proof of having walked to the pilgrimage destination of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, one received a pin in the shape of a mussel to put on one’s clothes, a sign of an achieved result, not that unlike the universities’ graduate certificates and heraldic use of symbols.


Foto: ©Eva Lundin, Stockholms universitet