Curatorial text

There is always the possibility of reading too much into a title of a song, book, artwork, exhibition, or in this case, a biennial. However, Luleå Biennial 2022 – Craft & Art requires further explanation. The most obvious thing to begin with is that the biennial includes both craft and art. And not craft in relation to art, a relation that would confirm a long historical hierarchy within western art history. Instead, we are situating craft in a broader landscape of making that includes everything from food preparation and weaving, car modifications and wood carving, straw craft and jewellery. Our interests concern a definition of craft that exists within the everyday, regardless of practitioner’s origin, class and education.
The next aspect of the title is how we understand craft and art in relation to producing a “biennial”. The art biennial has become a recognizable and at times an unsustainable format for organizing, showing and thinking about art. We have therefore asked, what can a biennial do in relation to a broader definition of craft practice. With craft practices that might not be familiar or even interested in the codes associated with a contemporary art biennial. However, thought otherwise the biennial can also be a resource for craft, a place to share stories, knowledge and create connections that open new perspectives and other stories.
And to something that is not within the title, the absence of an overarching theme for the biennial. From the onset we decided it would be problematic to impose an outsider frame on a geography that has a complex history and one that we neither live or were born in. Instead, we began to work with the biennial by listening and learning with Norrbotten, to locate stories and important questions found within this geography. Story threads that we could weave, spin and knot together.
To focus our ears and find a direction for listening we formulated four principles for the development of the biennial. The principles have steered us, allowed us to find a common language to share, and at times been helpful reminders on how to act. Beyond Border Thinking was to think beyond established boundaries between crafts and arts, to go beyond sharp divisions between practices, peoples, traditions, and places. Decentering was to generate dialogues with places and people on their own terms and to avoid viewing things through predetermined hierarchies or value standards. To listen carefully, learn and not to impose. Earthed Imagination focused on identifying practices that shift imagination from the individual to the collective. Here, we foregrounded a collective imagination that starts from the earth and the places where we gather and find ourselves. An imagination that allows us to consider the world we inhabit and leave behind. Custodianship was to work with the overall ecology of the biennial, making the biennial with an awareness of how to manage its resources and taking care of it as a resource for future guests and hosts.
Along the way, we have listened to numerous stories and learned about a variety of creative practices and complex histories. There is a dense richness within the region that has been a privilege to work with and understand. Through this process, many have given their time and we are grateful for their generosity. These stories are the backbone of the biennial, mediated through the Learning Room, Festival and Exhibitions.
We began by listening to the biennial itself, revisiting its origins as a winter art biennial for ice and snow over thirty years ago. Through the lens of craft, we paid particular attention to the material conditions of ice and snow and how our understanding of these materials has changed over the years. Here, we located our first thread, ice and snow, and how the production of artificial cold through refrigerated transportation and storage is central to our way of life, global economics and politics. Ice and snow is very much a part of Norrbotten, there are many creative practices of working and living with this environmental material and a diverse language to describe its many nuances. Over the past years, melting ice has become one of the emblematic images of climate change. Climate change is a very tangible condition within the region and already impacts a way of life that has existed since time immemorial.
Along with the everyday realities of climate change, Norrbotten is a landscape characterized by various forms of extractivism. Climate change is predicated to a long history where humans, predominantly in the global north, have lived beyond the earth’s resources. These are assets that have been extracted in places other than where they have been consumed and the economic profits have been accumulated. The wounds in the lands are deep and continue to deepen. We have followed this winding circular thread as it now continues to unravel into the region’s plans for a green energy future, where we see the building of fossil-free energy initiatives, large-scale forestry, wind farms and mining through the continued pursuit of growth. And at the same time, the logics of extractivism apply to arts and culture where there is an extended history of observing Norrbotten from a distance, from the outside. Here the principle of custodianship becomes particularly important and where possible we have sought to form a biennial with Norrbotten, creating space for many different perspectives to be heard. Through sharing of principles and careful listening, we have formed collaborations with local artists, crafters and organizations to generate knowledge and structures that have the possibility of thriving beyond the biennial.
Working with Norrbotten has meant spending time with complicated histories. In many historical accounts of the region, the “wasteland” is a recurring theme for writers, researchers, and artists alike. An imagined wasteland that lacks traces of human presence or activity and a landscape depicted as “empty” with its resources waiting to be used. Norrbotten has never been empty, the relationship to the lands has looked different here from the understanding of the writers, researchers and authors that have tried to capture this diverse landscape. A consequence of this relationship is that identities have been essentialized in politics such as the Sami-shall-be-Sami as an alternative to the hardline assimilation policies against Tornedalians, Kvens and Lantalaiset who have had experiences and histories erased. We should not forget that 2022 is one hundred years since the State Institute for Racial Biology was founded, a national institute that was very active in Norrbotten. At the same time, there is a fantastic wealth of creative practices that exist and have existed here, deep stories that the landscape carries and networks. These are stories where people have not lived separately but supported and depended on each other.
And with this, we have been spinning our last thread, crafting beyond the wasteland. It has emerged through conversations with artists, crafters and organizations who have expressed a frustration in the marginalization of knowledge, histories and stories that exist within the region. These conversations articulate how the nationstate’s violent categorizations of people and materials has been reflected in how history itself has been written, as well as how resources and power has been distributed. We have collaborated with practices and organizations from craft and art that go beyond borders, challenge established categorizations and historical under- standings. There are gestaltningar and projects where Norrbotten, through diverse practices narrates its own stories about difficult histories, the joy of making and an earthed imagination. In crafting beyond the wasteland, we want to point out that this is not history that is unique to Norrbotten, but it has been a colonial trope, a prerequisite for claiming land and con- trolling people in many geographies. That is to say, it is not just a wasteland but wastelands.
This year’s biennial takes place through three overlapping formats, Learning Room, Festival, and Exhibitions. Recognizing the expansive geography of Norrbotten the Learning Room is a physical and virtual space to share knowledge from different perspectives. The Learning Room invites guests to talks, film screenings, making circles and workshops of many varieties. As such, the Learning Room provides the space to work with practices and organizations that might not find a natural fit within the exhibition format. In collaboration with Region Norrbotten’s craft coordinator, the biennials digital producer Karl Oskar Gustafsson has produced a series of experimental films about craft practitioners from the region. Together, the Learning Room is a testing ground to generate new insights and knowledge with crafters, artists and regional organizations. The Learning Room is made possible through collaborations with Aines Art Museum, Haparanda City Cultural Unit, Korpilombolo’s Cultural Association KUBN – Culture for young people and children in Norrbotten, Garland Magazine and Region Norrbotten’s craft. They are all essential in the creation of the room’s content and a prerequisite for its continuation beyond the biennial.
The biennial will host a Festival, stitching together a map of regional connections through workshops and seminars across multiple venues. The festival contributes to broadening the biennial’s narrative and creates a dialogue with the Learning Room and Exhibitions. Within the festival we have invited various organizations with their own specific and situated knowledge to curate exhibitions within the biennial. Here, the biennial has attempted to decentralize its normal operation to go to places where craft practices in-situ tell their own compelling stories. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to learn and work with the Sami Duodji Sami Craft Foundation, Kiruna municipality’s art collection, Jukkasjärvi parish, Sámi Dáiddaguovddáš Foundation, Korpilombolo’s Cultural Association and the regional museums of Sörbyn Sundsnäs and Aunesgården. The festival will begin on the opening weekend with an invitation to guests to ice skate together, eat blueberry porridge, listen to an organ concert at Jukkasjärvi parish, attend a making circle and dance at the self-organized Luleå Punk-House.
Returning to our question of what a biennial can do, we have been thinking with this question to curate the biennials Exhibitions. Here we have viewed the exhibition as a site for not only showing work but as a resource for artist, crafters and collaborating venues and organizations to further develop their ongoing research and practices. The exhibitions take place at Galleri Syster, Havremagasinet Länskonsthall in Boden, Luleå Art Gallery, Norrbotten Museum and Pontusbadet. We have shared our principles with the exhibition venues, for us to look deeper into their histories and to engage with their current interests and concerns. With Norrbotten Museum we have worked with their existing activities and the collections of this fascinating museum and repository of regional stories. Havremagasinet Länskonsthall, is a unique space which once stored oats for military horses through an internal circulatory system. We have worked with its circulatory design to form a choreography between artworks and the building itself. This year’s theme at Galleri Syster is friendship in work, and we have invited several of our new biennial friends to create a display of festival exhibitions and projects that are taking place in other sites across Norrbotten. The gallery becomes a new geography of friendships that we hope will continue beyond the biennial. At Luleå Konsthall, through its large windows, you can look out towards the water, the outlet of the Luleälven, the surface of which will become ice during the biennial period. The Luleälven, which today has many hydropower plants, including the first large power plant in Porjus, inaugurated in 1915. The works displayed at Luleå Konsthall in their own way are connected to the river, its flows and its circulation its material and its history. The river and the Konsthall create a local triangulation with Pontusbadet where we are displaying a work that looks at the biennial’s history through the future of ice, temperature, and custodianship.
In asking the question what a biennial can do, we have also been considering what it shouldn’t do. By studying the history of Luleå Biennial, where possible, we have been mindful of the resources we use, as the biennial format itself can be an extractive process, we have avoided the construction of large exhibition infrastructure, the international transportation of large works and where possible worked with existing gallery spaces and display systems. Through the know-how and creativity of the biennial’s technical staff, Olle Arbman and Tomas Hämén, it has been possible to find innovative solutions in how we can use existing materials or build new ones through recycling.
The biennial extends through many locations, both physically and digitally. With a foundation in craft’s rich pattern archive, the graphic designers Aron Kullander-Östling and Stina Löfgren have created decorative elements that contribute to creating space and recognition over a wide geography. And here we have also avoided the temptation to build an entirely new graphic identity for the biennial. Recognizing the brilliant work of the previous biennials we have maintained a continuity with how we visually communicate the biennial.
We would like to thank all the crafters, artists, organizers, cultural workers and institutions that have supported the biennial in many meaningful and insightful ways. And lastly, we would like to extend a big thank you to Paulina Granat, Elias Kautsky, Maria Ragnestam and Lucy Wilson who have tirelessly coordinated and produced the biennial together with us.
Onkar Kular & Christina Zetterlund