Luleå Biennial 2020:
Time on Earth
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.
Where is the great mathematician that can calculate how much each one of us living beings on earth need, of clean air, clean water and food; to feel well? Is there enough of all of this? For each and every one? In that case, get started and distribute the resources before he who never has enough destroys the possibility of a life on earth for all beings. The only consolation for the suffering is that ”he who never has enough” will also be gone when the catastrophe is a fact…
From Ruth Åkermans diary, Småskär early 90’s – Ruth Åkerman (1927–2018)
Whose realism is valid today? This edition of the Lulu-journal reflects on the question of the possibility of imagining a weak realism.
This issue of the Lulu-journal wants to present a chorus of voices as possible way of conceiving this notion of weak realism, and what it could mean today. Starting from how our main instrument – language – shapes our understanding and thus which world we can create, to historical considerations of struggle and truth-telling before power. Through poetry, conversations, personal reflections and historical excavations, various moments of struggle and truth-telling are presented, through the internal resistance evoked by the last year’s corona pandemic among other ways.
The journal takes as a starting point the ongoing exhibition project A Very Careful Strike°, through which questions on how a society can be organized are asked. What role has art played in collective struggles and through what expressions? What does it mean to reproduce the history of a movement?
Can the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo’s idea of a “pensiero debole”(1), a weak thinking, be a starting point? A kind of positive nihilism as an antidote to the destructiveness of modernity’s metaphysical truths, political institutions and grand narratives? If we are to imagine the validity of realism today – and thus perhaps a return to realism in György Lukás (1885~1971) sense, meaning works that reflect the contradictions of society regardless of what class interest the artist represents – it must be by enabling a radical hermeneutics. A form of reading that intensifies democratisation through a weakening of a strong interpretation. Could this be the practice of weak realism, the uncovering of circumstances without invoking simple solutions? Weakness is perhaps too reminiscent of undesirable contemporary realities. The feeling of powerlessness in the face of an impending and irreversible global climate collapse, the fear of a deadly virus that has exposed the necropolitical(2) foundations of our societies, the absence of security and repose, and the numbness faced with authoritarian regimes that abolish freedoms and rights. Seeking support in the weak as a starting point can seem counterintuitive with the spontaneous will to power that arises when realizing the complete indifference shown by authority. How can a defence of a weak interpretation be reasonable in a world where mutual listening and recognition are constantly put out of play, where truth is fragmented into self-referential spheres and a shared truth-seeking is constantly distracted? How much weaker can truth-telling, the power of telling the truth before power, be? Vattimo’s proposal is clarified in his reflections on the validity of communism today, presented during the conference The Idea of Communism organised by Slavoj Žižek shortly after the 2008 financial crisis(3). The 20th century has taught us that revolutionary takeover and a leftist determination to win elections and find compromises easily lose their transformative energy. Capitalism, and with it, the desire to govern, is infinitely stronger than that. Rather than a belief in the “realistic” model of reforms and institutions, an “undisciplined social practice” is needed that refuses to formulate a total system. According to Vattimo, communism – as a form of society base on the general capacity for cooperation and solidarity – must have the courage to ramin a ghost to have a chance to become a reality. One does not have to look for long to see evidence of how the belief in this spontaneous, unconstituted, weak communism is constantly asserting itself. During the first weeks of the corona crisis, the gradual dismantling of countries’ contingency stocks became a harsh realisation of the real consequences of decades of neoliberal austerity and privatisation. The rapid self-organised production of protective equipment is a clear example of capitalisms dependence on the hidden unpaid reproductive care work. How is it then that capital as a social order is constantly saved? How extensive and imminent must crises become for another world to appear more reasonable? Is it really capitalist realism, this recurring nagging about the end of history, and the inevitable condition of capitalism that justifies this solidarity with the system that oppresses and exploits? Today, the working class does not have to look very far to understand capital. The struggle goes inward, in the working class’ understanding of itself as political power and the possibility of denying itself as a productive force. During the struggle itself, this becomes clear. In the heat of the moment, during occupations, strikes, protests, the producer is identified and understood as the enemy. When demands are made on wages and conditions, against closure and austerity, deforestation and pollution, class is set against class and class against itself. The power of the description of reality through the media, legal and cultural narratives is crucial in these moments. It is said that the first thing that is lost during a conflict is the truth. But what happens to truth claims when life is a constant low-intensity warfare? Through struggle, the working class confronts its work as capital, as a hostile foreign force. It is here that an antagonism emerges, but also the possibility of organising this antagonism. And it is here, at this moment, faced with the possibility of realising a righteous resistance to the systemic violence that has forced us to this point, that the need for a weak realism emerges. A realism that has been cultivated through careful collective work situated in an experience and where the telling of the truth comes from an immediate and urgent need to resist powers attempt to dictate the conditions of what is true despite the truth. The current order is increasingly asserting that the world does not require the ability to interpret despite diligent attempts to rule the world. The truth constantly catches up with humanity through the shortcomings of humanity.
In a few sentences, Ruth Åkerman (1927~2018) presents a weak realism in her diary written on Småskär in the Luleå archipelago during the 1990s. If the earth belongs to all beings, then how can humans, with all their abilities, still fail to limit their unbridled desires? Today, Ruth’s question is perhaps more relevant than ever, as the catastrophe is constantly imminent, with the only cynical consolation that the unsatiable desires both within us and as social systems will be destroyed. Ruth’s realistic morality presented in just a few words forces us to question whether another world can be made possible.
One of the problems of realism is whether anything other than representation is possible, and thus with what form the world is recreated through impressions, thoughts, ideas and judgments. After realising the state of things, the question remains: What should be done? And in that which is immediately present and available to us, we are faced with the problem of form: How should it be done? Thought and the form of language are at the heart of politics. With today’s algorithm-regulated public sphere, the need for analyses of these forms appears urgent. The linguistic analysis of the Russian formalists in the early 20th century of the constituents and function of poetry has informed many later theoretical investigations of the relationship between language and power. In the essay A Brief History of Marxist Philosophy of Language, Sezgin Boynik gives us an overview of some tendencies and turns in Marxist linguistics. What are the possibilities of language to shape the world? And with Lenin in the back pocket: How does language itself constitute history? How can extensive complex events and historical shifts be thought of and conceptualised as a way to increase awareness of prevailing circumstances and thereby change them? Through abstractions, the world becomes comprehensible to us; simultaneously, the abstraction means losing the concrete circumstances, and they immediately lived. Overcoming this internal contradiction through language is central to the Marxist tradition of thought. In several tendencies, conceptualisation becomes part of political practice to change the historical material power relations that condition us. Language is not only a practice that needs to be studied materially but can in itself become a means for revolutionary change and thus also subject to government and power. For the Russian formalists, analyses of Lenin’s language became a way of defining the revolution’s actualisation. Their belief in the language’s inherent potential for change went beyond realism, making visible society’s internal contradictions. Suppose the struggle is located directly in the language. In that case, the idea of regulating speech through determinations of a specific vocabulary and form becomes central.
A clear example is the material consequences of gender determinations. A language without words for gender or a multitude of words for gender against only binary gender perceptions means completely different kinds of societies that enable different kinds of relationalities. The strength of weak determinations and the sensitivity to sexuality and the historical, material, and cultural constructions of gender are crucial starting points in a queer feminist analysis. How non-essentialising indeterminate determinations are to be made, in turn, requires a revolutionary theory, queer communism. Western Eurocentric and patriarchal epistemology inform the regulation of life by establishing norms and binarities and are thus one of the locations of a struggle for a revolutionary queerness.
A weak realism challenges epistemological principles. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, what we can regard as knowledge and how knowledge is acquired. Who can be said to have knowledge and in what form it is expressed are political-aesthetic questions. How knowledge is recognised and how a knowing subject is established is subject to regulation and control through norms, techniques and institutions. In the poem Portrait Session by Andria Nyberg Forshage, we encounter a flow of reflections from trans lives, “tranny days and tranny nights”, through fragments of everyday life, technology and bodies. Propositions such as “everything is sex” and “sex is nothing but surveillance” are met by affects that evoke a weak epistemology, a low-frequency noise, created in a queer community. In a state where sex is surveillance through sensation, technology and language, the body becomes a first battle surface. Each body has its form of knowledge to uncover from historically imposed determinations. This movement, the body’s weak epistemology, involves finding a counter-technique, a productive queer realism. With the emerging fascist and conservative tendency in many countries, women’s history, gender studies and queer theory have been repeatedly attacked. Bodies must be arranged, controlled, regulated and binarised. In recent years, transnational feminist movements have taken shape in many countries in the face of patriarchal violence and the deteriorating conditions for women and attacks on women’s reproductive rights. The corona pandemic has made the situation increasingly acute for many. The home as a place of residence, and workplace is separated from transparency. The exploitation of various forms and violence in close relationships has increased during the pandemic. Safe spaces and support structures for women, queers and transgender people are threatened, and many of the victories in the form of rights, support and acceptance are threatened or completely lost. The right to one’s own body and the right to love whoever one wants is not a given today. This calls for, if not a revolutionary project, a general social strike.
During the Russian Revolution of 1917, the foundations of social relations, as well as the bourgeois patriarchal family norm with ownership as the governing principle of love and society, were challenged. In the text, The Gender of the Revolution°°, queer theorist and artist Bini Adamczak develops a queer feminist theory of revolution. Adamczak points to the expression of masculinisation and feminisation during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Women’s political organisation, mainly in strikes, peace protests and uprisings, was one of the leading causes of the Russian Revolution of 1917. A feminine political revolutionary agent was impossible to neglect. For a few decades, a unique awareness and openness arose in matters of reproductive rights, sexuality, and women’s status. During the years after the revolution, uniquely progressive reforms were introduced for that time, such as free abortion, health insurance, care structures and the legalisation of homosexuality. Women were given increasingly equal access to work, and conditions were to be equalised. With war communism in the 1930s and economic reforms that restored certain pre-revolutionary circumstances, the heteronormative nuclear family and the masculinisation of the worker subject and patriarchal working-class ideals were gradually restored as the central figure in the Soviet state. Bini Adamczak thus shows how gender is conditioned by historical material and political circumstances and can therefore be seen as a category that explains societal, organisational principles such as class, which can also be reconstructed, doing gender. It entails the possibility of a revolutionary understanding of gender as a broad collective process of change. The notion of given societal structures and historical categories becomes possible to change. A realism without a revolutionary project tends to preserve given structures through the need to visualise prevailing circumstances without providing a direction for overcoming them. The years around the revolution of 1917 and especially the beginning of the 1920s showed enormous relational and sexual liberation and social transformations. The development of the “new woman” also meant a new understanding of sexual and relational attitudes. The limiting private ownership of the other was challenged as the organising principle for love and community. Bourgeois and aristocratic ideals of family, sexuality and the relation between the sexes were challenged. Bini asks how the social construction of gender can be reconstructed. Gender relations are not a simple power relation between men and women but rather about how they create these categories. The goal is not primarily to improve conditions but to overcome these social and historical categories and the limiting boundaries they create.
The strike, the collective political organisation, is conditioned by reproductive work such as childcare. In the work E la lega la crescerá by the artist Iris Smeds, the struggle’s reproduction is discussed. Having children in a heteronormative, capitalist society poses significant challenges. Today’s norms, working methods and institutions condition queer relations and the possibility for political engagement. It isn’t easy in itself to give the children the care and time they require. Circumstances make it challenging to reproduce political communities. Thus, the children become strike-breakers or turn their parents’ into strike-breakers. The idealisation of one’s child, which is constantly placed at the centre without regard to all other children and their needs, also reflects an increasingly individualised society. Smeds suggests that society today consists of a union of strike-breakers who desire their own oppression and remain unable to be part of collectivities that can create the trust needed to distribute both burdens, resources and abilities. As in all bad relationships, perhaps the question of how we go from a union of strike-breakers to a union built on solidarity requires a radical practice of care that begins with telling the truth to each other.
Caring for oneself includes telling the truth about the state of things, thereby identifying and freeing oneself from what enslaves, and conditions writes Karl Lydén in his text Speaking without words: strike and care. Lydén takes his starting point in Michel Foucault’s later work. In a conversation with a union chairman, he mentions that the union can be seen as a kind of truth-teller. As a collective political actor and through direct action such as the strike, the unions can establish a certain truth. This ability should be understood in contrast to how Foucault in The Birth of Biopolitics(4) describes neoliberalism as a form of regulation that makes the market the location from which the truth-telling of governance takes its startingpoint. Through the conflict between these two forms of truth-telling, the market and the union, what Foucault calls the “politics of truth” arises. Today, when unions are increasingly exposed to bans, repression and challenges from individualising forms of work, we can see several possible collectives as truth-tellers in the fight against the market that condition everything. For Lydén, care is crucial for building the kind of collectivity that can deliver the form of truth-telling speech that manages to withstand the market’s regulating truths. What, then, can we learn from the truth-telling of historical collectives?
With the text Silvertounge, an archive montage, the artist Ingela Johansson writes about the work and background of the artwork Silvertounge. For more than a decade, Ingela Johansson has researched the great miners’ strike 1969~70 at LKAB in Kiruna. What is the correct representation of this important historical event? Through a montage of archive images and sound recordings, Johansson presents a fragmented and fragile truth about a working-class collective that had had enough and, against all odds, demanded its voice. The miners’ strike was based on demands for decent wages and conditions where the workers refused to comply with the central trade union leadership and the state’s intimidations. As in many similar situations, the political establishment tried to undermine the workers’ demands by various means. The strike was successful through a strong collective cohesion that was not least made possible by women’s reproductive work, work in the home, and planned housekeeping despite the depletion of the strike funds. The miners’ resistance became crucial to the balance on the Swedish labour market in the years that followed, which resulted in reforms of workers’ rights, such as the Co-determination Act and the Employment Protection Act. Today, time surveillance of workers with piecework salary systems in the logistics sector and other sectors is introduced through digital tools reminiscent of what the miners went on strike against. Today’s fragmented labour markets challenge the capacity to form the social cohesion that the miners’ communities managed to create in Kiruna during the 69~70 strike. Johansson’s work brings to the fore a history we today seem to be in urgent need of.
In 2018, union activists and politically interested people organised the Strike Back! campaign with the demand to strike back at the labour market reforms attacking the right to strike and the law on employment protection. The poem Strike Back°° by Athena Farrokhzad was written for one of the campaigns demonstrations in defence of the right to strike. The balance of power in the Swedish labour market reflects a longer tendency to deteriorate labour conditions and rights in many countries. In response, new grassroots trade union movements have taken up the fight against increasingly aggressive employers willing to push down wages and deny workers’ rights and dignity through short-term contracts, unsafe work environments, and surveillance. During the corona year, the situation has become more difficult in many sectors as strikes and political organisation have been hindered from organising. The situation is different in many places, which requires transnational trade union solidarity. The conditions for the possibilities and consequences of striking is made clear in today’s Belarus. Again, the idea of a weak realism in the light of police brutality may appear as ephemeral as it is necessary.
This edition of the Lulu Journal ends with Aleksei Boroisionok’s text The Secret Museum of the Workers Movement. The text brings us to the heat of the moment, during the revolts against a great lie, a stolen election, carried on by state repression. Amid the popular struggle against Lukashenko’s regime, a group of artists and activists seek answers to their contemporary predicaments through the objects and narratives found in a workers’ museum in Belarus. How was solidarity formed historically? How did one resist authority and oppression in previous struggles, but above all, what can we learn from the history of the labour movements that so often has been distorted and marginalised? What can the past teach us about the struggles that have taken place? What can the pictures and objects of the labour movement teach us about today’s struggles? The collective and radical truth-seeking of weak realism asserts itself in this group’s artistic problems during a popular uprising. The museum remains inaccessible, and the group’s diligent attempts to reach the exhibition halls directly from the street are considered a suspected activist provocation. The secret museum of the labour movement reminds us how the need to return to history is perhaps greatest when the opportunity to write history is at hand, but also the potential of critical fabulation(5), to not only accept what prevails, but to use political imagination to create a different reality.
Gianni Vattimo, Pier Aldo Rovatti (ed.). Il Pensiero debole. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1984.
Necropolitics is a concept that was first developed by the thinker Achille Membe in the essay On the Postcolony from 2003. The concept concerns how the use of social and political power conditions who is allowed to live and who must die. The word necrosis relates to physical dead and necropolitics should be understood in relation to Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics.
Slavoj Žižek, Costas Douzinas (ed). The Idea of Communism. London: Verso, 2010.
Michel Foucault. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–1979. London:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Saidiya Hartman. Venus in Two Acts. Small Ax Journal. Number 26 (Volume 12, Number 2).
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.
° Precarias a la deriva, 2005
°° This text is unfortunately not available in English translation for the English edition of Lulu-journal nr.9.
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!