How did you get involved in the Kirunatopia project? How did it start?
The framework of the project was already defined when I was invited to it. It was initiated by two artists and professors at the Umeå Academy of Fine Arts: Ingo Vetter and Florian Zeyfang, together with Rainer Hauswirth, director of the Goethe-Institut in Stockholm. Florian Zeyfang and Ingo Vetter had done a workshop with their students in Kiruna in 2008 about the moving of the city and its implications. Rainer Hauswirth came to Sweden in August 2008 and got interested in the special situation of Kiruna from the very beginning of his stay. He had the idea to develop a residency and art project with international artists there. When all three first met at the opening of Florian Zeyfang's show "Slow Narration Moving Still" at Umeå Bildmuseet in February 2009, they decided to collaborate and the project was born. But the situation was still very open when I was invited, not much was predecided on how the project should actually be performed.
Was that a good moment for you as curator to join?
For me it was very interesting that there was no predecided concept for the project since that allowed us to investigate it together. Of course Kirunatopia had a well-defined framework built around the place of Kiruna itself, but as for the rest of it, the project was open. That was the basis for Kirunatopia and it intrigued me a lot from a curatorial standpoint.
What was the particular situation of the city of Kiruna at that time according to you?
In the beginning, our focus was very much on the moving of the city. But after being there myself in June last year, and then going up there again with some of the artists in December, I think the focus turned much more to the narratives and the history of Kiruna.
What are these narratives? What is so exciting about Kiruna?
What struck me was that we got told so many different and contradictory stories. For instance those regarding where the city is moving as well as about the history of the place and the relationship between LKAB, the municipality and the inhabitants. Growing up in the south of Sweden, the image of the north is either non-existent or very exotic and based on a lot of fake projections. In tourist information, Kiruna is associated with sagas, nature, reindeer and northern lights. But once you are there, there are other strong narratives that strike you: the political narratives and events like the big strike in the Seventies, the establishment of the Sami Parliament and so on. Kiruna reminds you about a lot of the things that were intentionally left out of the official Swedish history.
The narratives of the city might be invisible to most of its visitors. Is there anything that distinguishes Kiruna from other Swedish cities that you can you actually see?
What is impressive, when you go there in summertime, is of course the landscape and the light – the tourist information is not lying! The sun never goes down in summer and the landscape is very different from where I live in Stockholm. But this is of course something you find in a lot of cities far north. But what is significant for Kiruna is the dominance of the mine, visually, physically – you can even feel the explosions at night time – socially, economically and historically. I’ve never been to a city with a similar relationship to a company. Of course there are places where one industry dominates the whole area, where you see logos all over a city, but in Kiruna enormous piles of by-products are part of the skyline.
Thursday, June 16. 2011
“Focus on the Process” – Curator Kim Einarsson about Images of the North, Object-oriented Art and Her Work for Kirunatopia
What is non-Swedish about Kiruna?
I am not so sure that I actually know what Swedish is or if I’m so interested in trying to define it. But I guess I would like to answer your question by saying that Kiruna plays an important role in industrial and modern Swedish history. Iron mining has a long tradition in Sweden and the workers’ movement has very much formulated the identity of Swedish social democracy. But I think Swedish or Non-Swedish are just not the right categories.
Let’s talk about your work for Kirunatopia. In your curatorial practice you "constantly question the modes of operating and organizing art production and dissemination" – what kinds of "artistic guidelines" do you have as the curator for Kirunatopia?
I am interested in settings, which are not so well defined. Also when it comes to the places for presentation, I often find it quite hard to work within existing art institutions because there are so many set rules, rituals and regulations on how to do things. Here the artists are invited to develop their research and there will be a number of different opportunities to make the works public, both in Umeå and Kiruna, but also in other places. When we were thinking about which artists to invite, we thought it was interesting to engage artists who use different working methods. Some of the participants use performance, some are more or exclusively conceptual, while others work with sculpture or handicraft.
How do you work with the artists? When does it start?
Often I collaborate very closely with the artists. In many of the projects that I have been involved in, the research has been done collectively. In the case of Kirunatopia all invited artists are doing their individual research, but there is also an ongoing dialogue between me and the artists as well as within the participating group.
How do you handle the geographical distance?
This is of course a problem. I often wish I would be in Kiruna during all the artist residencies. That would be ideal. There are, of course, many practical discussions about who to meet, how to find information and so on. It would not be possible to do this project without our collaboration with people living and working in Kiruna, like Susanna Lörstrand Unga, Agneta Andersson and Lennart Lantto.
That also refers to the local and collective thought processes of Kirunatopia, you were talking about.
Exactly. We also wanted to invite people who have different relationships to Kiruna: some of the artists know Kiruna very well, some are living there, while others had never heard about the place before being invited. So the approaches to Kiruna and the project are quite varied.
Is it exciting to see how those who have never been to Kiruna will deal with the isolation, the cold, the whole situation up there?
Well, I guess it can be quite a tough situation, but we picked artists that we imagined could handle this (laugh). Seriously, I think that is something you can experience at most artists’ residencies. That’s why our local staff, Agneta and Susanna, become key persons in this project.
How important is the artist’s process and its documentation?
That is quite important. It’s always a bit of a struggle, how to think about documentation – what is actually documentation? We might follow certain kinds of formats of documentation that maybe don’t necessarily represent the process. That is something we need to do by trial and error. For some of the artists, documentation is part of their practices.
…like you said, the project is not focusing on only one exhibition. To focus on the process is the character of the project – is that common in artist residency projects or is that something special about Kirunatopia?
The time each artist spends in Kiruna is not very long. So for me it was important to think of this as a long term discussion. We already started these discussions last year. I am skeptical towards the kinds of residencies where you are invited for three weeks and you are supposed to produce something about that specific area within that period. This is one of the big challenges for me with this project. I think it is important to partly separate the residency from the presentation of the work. Meaning, that if one of the artists would go there and say: “I cannot come up with any ideas”, we should be open to that as well. On the other hand, it is quite often impossible – and not very desirable – to distinguish research from art work. For me the residency is not about commissioning works, it is rather about opening up a research platform.
Is that the main difference from your work as curator for Konsthall C?
At Konsthall C I force people to produce works for an audience all the time (laughs). I am not saying that making something public is not important, because it is important. I really like working with exhibitions because it is a spatial investigation and experience. But in general I would say I am not so object-orientated, even though the result could very much end up in objects. I often see exhibitions as processes rather than final products or results.
What role does unpredictability play in this context? You never know what is going to be theresult in the end. Are you not afraid of this at all?
I don’t think I ever have done a project where I knew all the works beforehand, where I invited only existing works and put them together. Quite many of the projects I’ve been involved in start out from collaborative research with artists. When I work with group exhibitions, it is important to invite all the artists together, to meet face to face. This way we can see the exhibition making as a process where we all share ideas.
Do you have any wishes for the project? Something you have in mind, not necessarily in terms of concrete results, but what comes out in the end?
I hope this project will offer an interesting research and working process for the artists, both individually as well as collectively. The invited artists have quite different working methods and I can imagine that there will be some interesting experiences to share and exchange within the group. I’m very excited about how the individual projects will be presented in Kiruna. This we don’t know yet, as the projects probably will be presented according to the logic of the work itself. I imagine that many of the works will be quite system or site specific. You could say that we use Kiruna and its specific history as a case study, but I’m pretty sure we will touch upon subjects and issues that are valid for a lot of other contexts and places.
You spoke about the public presentation of the project. What kind of role does the blog play?
I think the blog is very important. Especially due to us all being in different places, but also because Kirunatopia is based on process and research. The blog is a very good way of communicating and an opportunity for an audience to take part in the development of the project. The blog is just as important as any exhibition space.
Interview by Lea Gerschwitz
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