Luleå Biennial 2018

Henrik Andersson
Henrik Andersson, *Snow, Darkness, Cold*, 2018, at Luleå Konsthall
Henrik Andersson, *Snow, Darkness, Cold*, 2018, at Luleå Konsthall

Snow, Darkness and Cold is a study of the Udtja region in Norrbotten through a four-channel slide show. In a photographic montage, the moss, lichen and flora of the forest overlap with pictures from anthropological studies, and traces of the military activities that have taken place in the area since the beginning of the Cold War. Through the lens of the camera, we follow Andersson as he traces the ideological transformations of the landscape: In 1958 the Defence Agency built a massive Robot Testing Ground (RFN) in the area, the same size as all of Blekinge county (some 3000 sq km). RFN was the main testing facility in Sweden, established with the ambition to begin a nuclear programme. As the infrastructure expanded, more jobs were created, and the town of Vidsel as well as an airport was built. From there, the people in Udtja’s Sami villages were flown out as the military needed space for their training. In 2004, the state produced a report on how international military testing and training on Swedish territory ought to be developed for the future.

Your work in the biennial’s exhibition Snow, Darkness, Cold centres on Udtja, a rural site in Norrbotten. How did you become interested in this place?

In 2014, I worked on a site-specific piece for Marabouparken in Sundbyberg. There, I did an artistic interpretation of the Defence Research Institute's premises in Ursvik where I compiled various stories about an art collection, a peace demonstration and the nuclear weapons research that had taken place there. In my research, Udtja in Norrbotten came up several times, since part of the nuclear weapons research took place there. Since I have long been interested in landscapes, optics and narratives, Udtja seemed an interesting place to try and read as an area where the unconscious could appear, should I get the opportunity to travel there.

Can you tell us about your process and what it has been like to work on this project?

As a starting point for the work, I used a travelogue by the photographer Carl Fries in the STF yearbook from 1924, thinking that the route that he travelled by could serve as directions for the work. Udtja as such is completely fenced and blocked off to the public, but I had the opportunity to follow one of the rare visits that Ájtte Museum's members’ association arranged, which turned out to be a very special experience. We went by car from Jokkmokk and turned onto a dirt road to Udtja. We left buildings behind us and traveled past marshes and lakes into the big forest. After a long while we suddenly stopped at a video-monitored gate and fence, discussions followed on whether we had given over our social security numbers to the military, then we could continue our journey. Our guide told us about Udtja's Sami history. Again we suddenly had to stop and pull over to the side of the road. We had to give way to about 30 caravans that drove past us. Our guide was able to tell us that it was military staff that had celebrated Midsummer in Udtja. Once we arrived in Udtja village we were met by the people there, and a church service commenced, then a generous meal was offered. The trip became a very emblematic experience for me, partly because it exposed conflicts between industrialisation, militarisation and the people in Udtja so clearly, but also because the area, however banal it may sound, reminded me of the Zone in Tarkovsky's movie Stalker. Within the gates there is a permanent state of emergency and just as in the Zone, the laws of physics seem to be dissolved.

How do you consider the question of Swedish neutrality in this work?

One of my companions on the trip to Udtja told me that the Swedish Armed Forces have not practiced in the area, but that it is foreign arms industry and military that purchase services from the Swedish fortification works. It is obviously too expensive for the Swedish defence. So, the added value extracted from the landscape does not come back to the local area, but ends up elsewhere. As an example of the complexity of neutrality, it can be mentioned that bombs of the type that have been released over Gaza in Palestine have been tested in Udtja. I think this will come to have a great impact on how we understand landscape and identity from a culture-geographical perspective.

It is evident in your work how you have used archival sources in combination with material that you have produced yourself. What is the role of the archive in your artistic process, and why has the work has taken the form of a slideshow?

I think that the human psyche is structured like an archive, everything is there but cannot be picked up all at the same time. Rather, fragments can be placed next to one another to form a montage that suggests a certain narrative. Investigating how an archive is structured, compiled and arranged also becomes a journey through someone's fantasies. Because I have worked with photographic archives, I keep these images in mind when I do my fieldwork and try to recreate the ambivalence they produce in me.

Since I have worked with photographs in various technologies, formats and from different times, I needed a coherent form for the montage to work. Some of the pictures I had found were slides and so I decided to make a slideshow. There is a certain allure to actually seeing the photographic original, that is, the piece of the film that was in the camera at a given point in time. The slideshow lends the image an ephemeral character in that it is only visible for a short time before it is replaced by another image. Through this flow, a specific relationship between the images can occur with the viewer.