2 days left! The day after tomorrow Kirunatopia’s first exhibition opens up at Bildmuseet. Here is the second to last interview of our countdown: Ingela Johansson about her research and presentation of an art collection that has its roots in the big mining strike at Svappavaara, Malmberget and Kiruna in 1969/1970, the act of donating art and the potential of striking miners to change society as well as a gigantic amount of archive material.
Something that permeates many of your works is your interest in how art is collected and mediated, and the ideologies involved. In this project you have chosen to show the art collection that was established in connection with the big mining strike at Svappavaara, Malmberget and Kiruna in 1969-1970. What specifically about this strike and collection interested you?
The strike helped bring to the fore the power relationships in working life and the forces behind society’s development. One wanted to have increased influence over work and the organisation of work. The critique of ideology was a strong current in the intellectual world and the city political machine’s influence over cultural practice was a complicated one. There was a massive support fund raised for the strikers among cultural practitioners around the country. I find the act of donating art in solidarity with the strikers very interesting: to give away something as a gift with the idea that the striking miners had the potential to change society. The collection tells a history about the fact that artists stood up for the miners in a labour market conflict that shook the Swedish Model significantly. It is also a great resource as a document of its time that allows one to further analyse larger structures, such as the power relationship between the individual and the state during a time of social flux, as the ‘60-70s is commonly characterised. Precisely this perspective felt relevant and important to address in relation to the artworks that are represented in the collection, which has found a home at Gällivare Museum, a hundred kilometres south of Kiruna. The collection consists of sculptures, paintings, drawings and graphic art: works that were donated by artists to the miners to supplement their strike fund through various auctions and collections.
In another parallel work-in-progress I examine the zeitgeist of the ‘60s and ‘70s and other cultural productions that were connected to the strike, which was a part of a larger widespread current of activism that occurred around the strike. On the whole, this is an almost impossible task because I was not involved myself during this period, but I’ve studied it a great deal and can contribute by showing the collection in an art context, and convey a symbolic image of the strike in dialogue with other collections. What is especially interesting with the miner strike’s art collection is that this historical representation is broad: that it has roots in the people and worker’s movement, but also in an art scene with many prominent modernists represented. It is an important document of its time.
Your work builds on several years work on this strike and the cultural productions that arose as acts of solidarity with the striking workers. You have a gigantic amount of archival material. Can you say something about your presentation of the project in Umeå? How have you made your selection and what feels important for you to show in this context?
It is important to see the collection as a collection with its own body and its own fate. It represents the strike committee.
I have been having the opportunity to collaborate with Gällivare Museum to research on the collection for a larger ongoing text work as a parallel activity to actually loaning it and presenting it physically to an audience in a museum. Considering the historical context of the collection, that it belongs to the strike committee, I have started from the minutes of the committee meetings where the collection is mentioned. The collection was not sold after the strike, but the committee did wonder what they should do with it. They wanted to initiate a travelling exhibition, where the librarian Adolf Henriksson in Malmberget would be responsible, and the art would be shown together with other documents from the collection, but this was not done for some unknown reason. I wanted to pursue the idea, but have made a compromise before the exhibition at Bildmuseet. Gällivare Museum has gotten the work in as good as condition as possible since the collection is not complete. It is important to not make a selection, but to initially follow the inventory list from the committee and the strike committee’s protocol as much as possible. The collection has not been shown outside of Norrbotten before. Bildmuseet is today the largest art museum in northern Sweden and the opportunity was given to showcase the majority of the collection under the umbrella of Kirunatopia.
For the opening you have arranged a staging of the speech that the author Sara Lidman gave to the miners in connection with the strike. Can you say something briefly about the connection between the speech and the strike collection?
Sara Lidman was a key figure during the strike. She rose to prominence as a reporter for TV 2 and gave an impromptu speech at the general meeting in Kiruna Sporthall on 11 December 1969. Sara knew the miners from earlier. In 1968 she wrote the texts for a book called Gruva (Mine), about the human relationships that were formed in the LKAB mine, accompanied by Odd Uhrbom’s photography. It was an exposé - portraits in words and images, anonymous stories of the evils and abuses of the state-owned enterprise - and a book that would come to play a major role in the strike’s development and defining the dispute. For example, it came out that the finance minister Gunnar Sträng disliked the book’s influence and sought to discredit it.
At the strike meeting in Kiruna Sporthall, Sara decided to donate 10,000:- of the honorarium she received for the second edition of Gruva as the nucleus of a strike fund. It was a telling gesture that encouraged other cultural workers to follow suite. The staging of Sara Lindman’s speech therefore gives the collection a background context in the nationwide fundraising effort and explains directly how the strike fund came into being. Sara also had a strong rhetorical voice that influenced public opinion and she spoke passionately at demonstrations to get people to support the strikers. Sara was also very good friends with Berta Hansson and Siri Derkert, two of the artists represented in the collection. Berta directly initiated an art auction at Galleri Heland in Stockholm.
Coming up: Florian Zeyfang about his sculpture Measure Point as a marker of a change in Kiruna’s history and his video Ghost Train…
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