Painters Mussel

Painter’s mussel (unio Pictorum) – as a celebration of the Painter’s mussel, a citizen of the river Stångån, Bigert & Bergström want to honor the little freshwater mollusk that has assisted artists through the ages before the invention of the palette. Outdated for artistic purpose, the mollusk still helps us without us noticing it: The painter’s mussel works like a small purification treatment plant in the stream of Stångån. The life length of a mussel is like a human – up to 90 years. While we above the water level exploit, pollute, destroy our existing environment, the little mollusk works tirelessly to filtrate the water out of particles. The red-listed mollusk is, however, threatened today by climate change as the stress of human impact. The 5-meter high monumental sculpture of the little hero aims to be a landmark, a lighthouse on the promenade, a site for discussion on how we live together, above and below the bridges. 

The sculpture consists of several laminas in polished stainless steel in different colors, representing the concentering rings of the mussel. During the summer, the shell grows in the nuances of gold, while the strokes of black are a consequence of colder water. However, it is not only the inside of the mollusk that can help us to understand our surroundings better: spectral-microscopical studies have shown that the shimmering shell reveals information about its environment, water quality, PH-value, and temperature. The mussel becomes a kind of archive, an insight into the historical change of climate and water quality as the impact by humans on the same.

Video documentation by Lars Siltberg

The sculpture lights up during the night in different rhythms and colors – the light show starts in the dusk in warm reddish colors of dawn, it slowly shifts to bluer tones of water ripples as the night arrives. Occasionally, the sculpture lights up in the colors of the rainbow, like flickering reflections of nacre. Nacre, or the mother of pearl, is created on the inside of the mussel’s shell. The composite material is a natural reaction when parasites or sand get into the mollusk. From that point of view, the shimmering colors of the nacre during the night become an illustration of the silent purification work the mollusk performs. When the city is asleep, the mollusk is awake, untiring working to improve the water of Stångån and simultaneously creates a beautiful and baffling material that has been a luxury commodity in the history of human culture.

The reflections of the laminas mirror the surrounding cityscape and oneself standing close. Situated on Storgatan with its wider side, the installation posses a central spot in the city of Linköping. The highly polished laminas become a surface where we can mirror and reflect upon ourselves. The bent steel creates a fish-eye effect, a humorous distorting mirror that hopefully can broaden our perspectives on how the threatened world below the Stångå bridge connects to the life above; how the latter is reliant on the formers tireless work. A threatened little helper that should be honoured and praised before it is gone.

Painters Mussel, 2021
Electro titanium plated stainless steel, LED-lights, micro computer
240 x 445 x 100 cm
Photo: Studio Bigert & Bergström
Photo: Studio Bigert & Bergström
Photo: Studio Bigert & Bergström


Concept Design
Shell shape of Unio-species, according to Zhadins-system, 1938
Unio pictorum


Photos: Studio Bigert & Bergström

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