Luleå Biennial 2020:
Time on Earth

Information regarding Covid-19

Last chance The Luleå Biennial 2020: Time on Earth

Wednesday February 10, 16~20 and Saturday February 13–Sunday February 14, 12~16
Galleri Syster is open. Group show with Augusta Strömberg, Susanna Jablonski and Ana Vaz.

Thursday February 11–Sunday February 14, 12~16
Havremagasinet länskonsthall in Bodenis open. Group show with Beatrice Gibson, Susanna Jablonski, Birgitta Linhart, Fathia Mohidin, Charlotte Posenenske, Tommy Tommie and Danae Valenza.

Saturday February 13–Sunday February 14, 14~18
The former prison Vita Duvan is open with an electro acoustic installation by Maria W Horn.

Saturday February 13, 15~19
The artist Markus Öhrn and the poet David Väyrynens sound installation "Bikt" is exhibited on the ice by Residensgatan in Luleå. Listen to older generations of Tornedal women and their testimonies.

Book your visit via Billetto. Drop in is possible as far as space allows.

For those of you who do not have the opportunity to physically visit the Luleå Biennale on site, a radio show including artist talks, sound works and specially written essays will be on stream on Saturday February 13–Sunday February 14. Visit our radio page here.

The exhibitions at Norrbotten's Museum, Luleå konsthall, Välkommaskolan in Malmberget and the Silver Museum are unfortunatly closed.

Ruth Berlau and the Workers’ Theater
Ingela Johansson

Ruth Berlau, who directed How Much Is Your Iron? in Sweden, had met Bertolt Brecht in Denmark. In her autobiography Living for Brecht:
The Memoirs of Ruth Berlau
, she describes her own commitment to working theaters in her homeland, and the influence she exerted on Brecht’s continued work. It also emerges that it was mainly through collaborations with workers’ and amateur theaters that Brecht was active during his exile period in Sweden. In addition to How Much Is Your Iron?, which was performed at the Tollare School of Adult Education (folkhögskola), Brecht also collaborated with The National Association of Amateur Theaters (Amatörteaterns Riksförbund) in Västerås, where Señora Carrar’s Rifles was performed, a play about the Spanish civil war that he had written a few years earlier, in 1937.

Ruth Berlau first learned of Brecht’s work in 1930, when she played Anna Balicke in his drama Drums in the Night. Berlau was at this time a student at The Royal Drama School in Copenhagen, and made her debut in Brecht’s play in her capacity as an actor at Per Knutzon’s The experimental stage (Forsøgsscenen). Knutzon then founded a free communist theatre group, the Revolutionary Theater (Revolutionært Teater) together with Berlau and Lulu Ziegler, in 1932. A year or so later Berlau met Brecht in Skovbostrand, and without his knowledge brought his play The Mother along to Denmark, where she translated it and staged it at the Revolutionary Theater in 1935. The play is based on Maxim Gorky’s novel A Mother from 1905, and describes the revolutionary radicalization of a mother. It is an experimental “lehrstücke”, learning play, set to music. Berlau gradually gained a more prominent role in Denmark’s first workers’ theater and sought support from Brecht as a teacher. Early on their exchange concerned translation issues, but gradually questions of directing and production became more prominent.

It is established knowledge that Brecht depended on collective working processes. During his exile in Scandinavia it became increasingly difficult for him to attract people to collaborate on his plays. Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, and his wife Helene Weigel were all women who to different degrees were involved in Brecht’s practice as a writer, dramatist, and director. In Denmark Ruth Berlau joins him and also becomes his mistress.

In Herbert Grevenius’s Brecht: liv och teater, Berlau is presented as the one who introduced Brecht to the Danish cultural scene. There is a circle of established artists, actors, and writers. According to Grevenius, Berlau has a clearly articulated and significant role. The journalist
Sture Bohlin describes her as a passionate woman on a motorcycle, wearing a black tuxedo outfit, silk stockings, and high heels. The actor Naima Wifstrand notes that she drives around in Brecht’s Ford wearing a well-used leather jacket. After many years, Brecht can now return to the practice of theater. In Copenhagen he has access to the Revolutionary Theater, whose ensemble consists of amateurs from the working class as well as professional actors.

In Living for Brecht, Berlau recounts how Brecht collects material by making people tell him their own and others’ stories. Described by herself and others as an unafraid person, she is “hands on” and a committed communist, with a true and deeply felt empathy for the working class. In her autobiography she writes about a writers’ congress where she participates together with Brecht, which then continues in Madrid. Brecht goes back home and Berlau engages more directly in the Spanish civil war.

She returns to Denmark and Brecht expresses disappointment that she is not able to give a more detailed account of the political context, which is of more interest to his work. What Berlau is able to do, she says, is to tell of individual destinies, of the personal sufferings of those who have in different ways been affected by the war.

According to Grevenius, however, Berlau’s trip was more work-related than she admits. Berlau was supposed to go to Spain to do research for Señora Carrar’s Rifles, but instead she travelled to the front and took up arms.

With some help from Berlau’s accounts Brecht then writes the play together with Margarete Steffin. Like The Mother, it tells the story of a woman who rejects her passivity in favor of collective struggle. After having prevented her sons from joining the war, she takes up arms herself and at a decisive turning point in the play marches out to the front.

With the express purpose of supporting the republican side in the Spanish civil war, Berlau produced a performance of Señora Carrar’s Rifles at the social democrat Workers’ Theater (Arbejdernes Teater) in 1937, and at Borup University (Borup Højskole) in 1938, with an ensemble featuring actors from both the Workers’ Theater and the Revolutionary Theater.

The play was also performed in different cities in Sweden, directed by among others Berlau. In 1938 it had its Swedish premiere at the Odeon Theater in Stockholm, directed by Hermann Greid. In a photo from the Odeon Theater in Grevenius’s book, Brecht can be seen surrounded by Naima Wifstrand, Carlo Derkert, Berlau, and several others. The following year the play was performed in a production by the German actor and director Curt Trepte, who worked as an instructor at the Amateur Theaters’ Association in Västerås. The production travelled to several cities, and was played at among other places an outdoors theater at the Eskilstuna People’s Park, during the Social Democratic Youth days.

In connection to the performance Brecht says the following:

Ever since I worked with amateur theater in Berlin I have been interested in that form of theater. A normal professional actor does not have much contact with everyday life in shops and factories, with the masses and the working life.

In her memoirs, Berlau writes that she found it difficult to translate Brecht’s The Mother and Señora Carrar’s Rifles. When she attempted to place herself closely to a technically satisfying or even correct interpretation of Brecht’s language, the results were flat. It was only when the actors themselves adjusted the language, during rehearsals, that it came back to life. It was through practice and through actual use of the text, that the manuscript was fully realized. The translation of The Mother was corrected while the actors spoke their lines, Berlau says. It is tempting to imagine how the rehearsals for the agitprop play How Much Is Your Iron? looked. Were the lines adjusted in parallel to Berlau’s directing? And how was it that the comical element was so strongly emphasized? The subject was deeply serious, but it was vital to be able to laugh.

I started to work with some members of a Swedish social democratic workers’ theater, and then Brecht joined to help. In his hands our agitprop acting was transformed into something closer to slapstick comedy. Brecht insisted that the hair of the actor who played the iron salesman should stand up straight, like on a clown. We were able to arrange this with the help of a wig. (Ruth Berlau)



Bertolt Brecht, Journals 1934–1955, London: Routledge, 1993.
Ruth Berlau, Living for Brecht: The Memoirs of Ruth Berlau, ed. Hans Bunge, trans. Geoffrey Skelton, New York: Fromm International Publishing Corporation, 1987.
Herbert Grevenius, Brecht: liv och teater, Halmstad: Sveriges Radio, 1964.
”Passiviteten blir Europas undergång”, Eskilstuna-Kuriren, 1939~08~07.
”Senora Carrars gevär”, Eskilstuna-Kuriren, 1939~08~07.
Benedikt Hjartarson, Andrea Kollnitz, Per Stounbjerg, and Tania Ørum. A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925–1950, Leiden: Brill / Rodopi, 2019.
“Ruth Berlau (1906~1974)”, Dansk Kvindebiografisk Leksikon.

Radio 65.22 is an auditory cross section of the biennial’s theme and contents, which amplifies and makes accessible written texts, framed situations and artistic voices. Radio 65.22 also enables an encounter with chosen parts of the Luleå Biennial’s activities for those who cannot experience the biennial in situ.

With Radio 65.22, we want to inscribe ourselves into an experimental and exploratory radio tradition, where the media itself becomes a platform for our ideas on radio and its capacity to depict and mirror the world around us. The task of Radio 65.22 is to tell of reality, in further ways that may not be possible through the image or the text.

Under Fragments: Time on Earth you will find radio programmes and sound pieces in different genres and forms that reflect this year’s biennial in various ways. Spirit of Place is a touring series of literary conversations on language and place. The culture journalist Kerstin Wixe takes us along to places that have played a significant part in an author’s stories, or carries the story’s history. Woven Songs is a deepening series of radio programmes that accentuate singing, the voice and the role of storytelling in the creation of new world views and orders, produced in collaboration with Public Art Agency Sweden.

Listen, reflect, enjoy!