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.

Some Notes on the Concept of “Neutrality” and Swedish Neutrality Politics Around the Start of World War II
Emma Kihl

What does it mean to be neutral?

Perhaps it is as Isabelle Stengers provocatively suggests: to meet a situation neutrally, and not from some position of objective rationality, is one of the most perilous things one can do, since it implies an inherent practical engagement. It entails no prescribed methods, does not start from a position of judgment, but instead provokes the thought to respond to and actualize the possibilities of a particular situation.

Reflecting on being neither-nor. Is it the same as trusting possibility? To show pragmatic care for what is articulated through an event? Or is it on the contrary to submit to general interest, in the belief that there is something that might be at once relevant and distinct?

To be neutral is to affirm delay without declared loyalty. According to Stengers it implies a distribution of roles and an active participation in the representation of the problem or the conflict.

What we know is that most of the time, with “neither-nor”, there are few that can be neutral. At least over time.
Neutrality concerns political lines and strong cultural traditions.


Neutrality is a concept of diplomacy and international law that stands for non-participation in military alliances and wars. Central to neutrality is military impartiality in wars and therefore also an expressed will to respect those rules of international law that, when war has been declared, distributes rights and obligations between the states in the conflict and the neutral states. Sweden has chosen to stand outside of military alliances in order to be able to choose neutrality in wars between other countries. Switzerland has chosen permanent neutrality, which has been accepted by other countries.

Swedish neutrality has a long tradition. It is an actively elected temporary neutrality, which includes no demands of international law regarding the contents of neutrality policy during peacetime.

Soon after the country ceases to be a great power in Northern Europe around the beginning of the nineteenth century, neutrality is presented as a possible attitude to the war, which never breaks out, between England and Russia. Since then, there has been peace.

Sweden takes a position of neutrality in the war between Austria and Prussia in 1866.

And also in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870~1871.

On Friday September 1, 1939, Sweden’s prime minister Per Albin Hansson declares, over what I imagine are crackling radio waves, that the terrible has happened. Germany has invaded Poland and “for Swedes it is now important to calmly and decisively unite around the great task of keeping our country outside of the war, of nurturing and defending our inalienable national values, so as to master the challenges of these evil times in the best possible way. The desire for complete neutrality that animates and unites our people has […] today been announced.”

On the morning of November 30, the same year, Soviet artillery opens fire and infantry crosses the border at the Karelian Isthmus north of the Lake Ladoga.

Sweden then changes its “desire for complete neutrality” and declares that the country is a non-combatant part in the war between the Soviet
Union and Finland. And a wave of emotions sweeps across Sweden and the opinion affects the government’s decision to silently support Finland through the free corps, without official support from the government. This shift clears the path for the habit of tolerance, what Stengers would describe as a machine of hegemony that rejects differences. But it also shows how a problem could unite people in collective thinking through resistance.

As a non-combatant rather than a neutral part, Sweden can choose to aid Finland through material support, air force, and voluntary units, employed by the Finnish army.

In April 1940, Germany invades Sweden’s neutral neighboring countries Denmark and Norway. Countries that run along almost the full western border of Sweden, with a strait separating Sweden from Denmark. Norway’s border runs from the western shore of the Iddefjord in Bohuslän, up to the Three-Country Cairn, and there is at this time no military presence either in Kiruna or in Riksgränsen.

But through a combination of pragmatic Realpolitik and geopolitical location, Sweden manages to avoid attack from the Germans. As part of the deal, Sweden allows the Germans to travel by Swedish railway along the Norwegian border, to reach further north than the Norwegian tracks can take them. In December 1940, Sweden also enters into a trade agreement with Germany.

Swedish resources are sold and so contribute to Germany’s rearmament.

Anticipating this, Brecht writes, in the play How Much Is Your Iron?, from 1939:

SVENDSON takes it hesitantly. Uneasily: But you see, I’ve only got a small iron business.I can’t get mixed up in the quarrels of the big corporations. Some of my customers might take it amiss if I were to join this kind of organization.

Everyone maintains good relations with Sweden, Brecht writes, because Sweden is one of the few European countries that can deliver tons of iron ore. Svendson says: “Even when they’re at each other’s throats, they’ve got to treat me with respect. Because they need my iron.” In the play, Svendson manages to stay out of the conflict, remaining apparently loyal with his neighbors who are threatened and murdered, and maintaining good relations with his customer.

This is also the winter in northern Europe when strong winds combine with cold air, resulting in record temperature drops. A strong cold wind is something you must take personally, an upset friend says.

Another voice explains the central element of military neutrality. Neutrality occurs in conflicts between parties. The purpose of neutrality is to stay out of the conflict. Neutrality is a political means for achieving this purpose. Which means that if there are difficulties with this purpose, then the politics is changed.

MRS CZECH: The whole neighborhood’s talking about it. They want to organize a police force. We must all join up. You too, Mr Svendson.
SVENDSON dismayed: Me? No, that’s impossible. I’m not cut out for police work, Mrs Czech, not in the least. I’m a peace-loving man. Besides, my iron business takes up all my time. I want to sell my iron in peace, that’s enough for me.
THE GENTLEMAN: And you think Whatsis-name wouldn’t need your iron any more if you were to join our peace league that would guarantee your security and everyone else’s?
SVENDSON: Of course he needs my iron. I honestly don’t know what he does with it…
THE LADY amiably: He makes machine-guns!
SVENDSON ignoring her information: As I’ve said, I don’t know, but he’d probably have to buy it even then. Only, as I said before, it might make him angry, and you see, I just happen to be the peaceful kind. To be perfectly frank, I’m expecting him now, and I’d rather he didn’t find you in my shop. He’s uncommonly sensitive and quick to take offence. So you’d be doing me a favor if…

In Sweden the concept of neutrality is gradually redefined. Measures are camouflaged to protect neutrality. I read a text that explains that decision makers in Sweden during this time see technology as something neutral, which means that all decisions concerning technology are understood as neutral, which in turn makes the camouflage metaphor misleading. Instead, technological systems promote national politics, presented as neutral security policies, and so influence how Swedes understand themselves. As Brecht writes: “I can assure you that I abhor all violence”, and “my motives are of the purest”.

Around 1942, when Germany runs into trouble in the war, Sweden gradually reduces its trade and instead begins to support the allies, with iron ore, ball bearings, and timber.

Because in Sweden, technology and politics are not the same.

In January 1946, 146 Baltic soldiers who have fought with Germany and then fled to Sweden, are extradited to the Soviet Union.

After the war Sweden maintains that it was neutral.

After the war the country wants to set up a Nordic defense alliance.

After the war Sweden does not want to be a part of neither the Warsaw Pact nor NATO. Because if you are a part of NATO then you are bound by paragraph 5, which states that if one country is attacked, then all NATO countries are involved in the war.

Since 1948, Sweden is not neutral. Since then, the country does not belong to any defense alliances, because it wants to be able to choose neutrality in the event of a conflict.

Svendson stands up and returns to his Ling exercises and his boring music, Brecht writes. This country with a great conscience and no taste for war.



Per Cramér, Neutralitetsbegreppet, Stockholm: Norstedts, 1989.
Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitics II, trans. Robert Bononno, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
Hans Weinberger, ”The Neutrality Flagpole: Swedish Neutrality Policy and Technological Alliances, 1945–1970” in Technologies of Power, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001.

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!