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.

Silver tongue, an archive montage
Ingela Johansson
Still image from *Silver tongue – The Great Miners Strike 1969–70*, Ingela Johansson, 2020

Ture Rantatalo, I understand that many want to say what they have been up to. There is an old saying that goes: silence is gold and speech is silver. We must be content with the silver. You can not silence all problems.
/Ture Rantatalo

On December 9, 1969, the great miners’ strike broke out in the Ore Fields in Norrbotten. It engaged 4,800 miners at LKAB’s mines in Svappavaara, Kiruna and Malmberget.

Silver tongue – The Great Miners Strike 1969–70 (2020) is a montage piece with historical material from the mining strikes based on forgotten press photos and private archives. The work was produced for the exhibition Kiruna Forever at ArkDes and was also part of the 2020 edition of the Luleå Biennial.

In addition to the great interest in the miner’s strike that attracted researchers, social workers, journalists and cultural workers, the Ore Fields, especially Kiruna, were invaded by press photographers. In photographs, journalists gather around the miners as if they were courted celebrities of today. Flashing cameras and microphones pushed under the nose of the strike committee’s spokesman Hilding Lindström. But there are also several moments where nothing remarkable is happening. While waiting for the results of the negotiations, press representatives sit and chat along the corridors, or read the newspapers, probably exchanging analyses with each other. The photos reveal how courted the miners were by the press corps consisting of young journalists who also belonged to the 68-generation. It’s easy to forget about the deep commitment anonymous press photographers showed at the time.

Working with Silver tongue, I developed several hundred negatives preserved on various negative rolls. Today, the press photographers’ material is owned by Norrbottens Media, which includes most newspapers such as Norrbotten Kuriren and NSD. Press photographers have the non-profit right. At the Archive Center in Luleå, only a few pictures were marked on the back or directly on the archive folder. I can only hope that the press photographers I did not get hold of, or named, would not object to me using their pictures. What would the alternatives be otherwise, that they remain in the archive undeveloped for another 25 years? My idea was that the images I digitized are made available and used in the archive for further research. The big motivation to make a film that operates as a meta-archive was that fifty years had passed since the strike that occurred in the winter months of the turn of 1969/1970. Don’t you think it is worth remembering the strike that opened up the wild strikes of the 1970s and contributed to important labour laws, such as LAS and MBL? These strikes were a united working class struggle, supported by thousands of industrial workers who eventually led LO1 to decentralize its power and open up to local working class influence.

The strike is almost mythical. Much was at stake in the mining communities in Norrbotten, a self-igniting dynamite. It was about the struggle for influence in the workplace at the political level, which was in short, a conflict between Social Democrats and Communists. The mining strike threatened the Swedish model based on long term peace on the labour market. A miner was not to set an example and challenge the state. The centralized trade unions went against its own collective. Sara Lidman gave a fierce speech about the unfair treatment of workers in the larger machinery affected by excessive rationalization due to the introduction of Taylorist time management. Movement-time study systems were introduced where eye-tracking was recorded. Gunnar Köhler was reassigned after drinking water during working hours.

A placard reads:

I fell into the shaft. 1957
Earnings SEK 17.22
Relocated. 1969.
Earnings SEK 11.20

The entire population of the country was on tenterhooks during Ekot’s news broadcasts. The military was within reach, and IB2 was revealed shortly afterwards. In the media reports, the strikers were often vilified. Still, with a sharp tongue, Harry Isaksson went on the defensive. It was just a matter of checking the facts by asking them directly so that suspicions would be dispelled. They had nothing to hide. The photographers were usually employed by the newspapers. Editorial work and the media narrative often stood outside the direct task of documenting the course of events.

Margareta Vinterheden and Alf Israelsson’s film The Mine Strike 1969–70 depicts a broader sociological perspective on the community and how people’s everyday situation was affected by the strike. Silver tongue provides a similar outlook at society, architecture and small-town life. The press photos contextualize the strike based on everyday life and the reproduction of work—photographs from services in Kiruna’s beautiful wooden church and pictures of switchboard operators and business assistants. In a snow-white landscape with LKAB on the horizon, a poster can be seen at the roadside with the text “Return home, think of your co-workers!”. Many photographs depict the places for negotiations at Hotell Ferrum and LKAB’s company office and the café Brända tomten where they met more unofficially. Many mineral water bottles are documented on various meeting tables. The young press photographers probably experienced the mission of their lives documenting and interviewing the strike leaders that were challenging the welfare state, but from time to time everything was paused when the negotiations stalled, in these moments their attention turned to the town and everyday life.

I was searching closely for women and children in the pictures. The mining strike is mostly represented by almost iconic images of serious miners. On the benches from large meetings, children’s faces can be seen peeking out. Happy, open faces. There are pictures of women going to the grocery store and shop, participating in the strike by providing housework support. The uncertainty with how long the strike fund would last, they had to shop with extra caution. Pictures like this pass by. Who is the woman with children standing in front of a well-known architect-designed house in white winter light?

The film should not be seen as a truthful historical document. Although I have worked carefully to position the visual material so that it corresponds with the audio recordings from meetings, I had to replace occasional gaps in the audio-visual material with equivalent material to piece together the narrative. The narrative follows the development of the strike, a 57-day strike resulted in a 57-minute piece.

The soundtrack comes from Kenny Karlsson’s private recordings, mainly from the big meetings in Kiruna City Hall, but also from the meetings in Kiruna sports hall. The large meetings were open to the public. Strike meetings were also held in Malmberget’s sports hall. Still, Kenny did not follow up there, and he was also unlucky enough to fail with the recordings. The sound consists mostly of a big murmur. He introduces the tapes by informing that a magnetic strip disrupted the recording. When I met Kenny in Kiruna ten years ago, he was quite terse. We talked about the recorded material that he donated to Kiruna Library. I asked if it was fine to use the recordings for my book and have the tapes digitized. I could do what I wanted, he replied, it was mostly a fun thing. Whatever did not stick in Kenny’s recordings from Malmberget, I supplemented with recordings found at Norrbottens Museum and Gällivare museum. All the image and sound material I used is authentic, even the guitar solo that ended up on one of the strike tapes. Why was that there?

Silver tounge is a subjective interpretation of historical development, a montage, or a kind of cut-out from the large assemblies and the surrounding environment. The film provides a coherent picture and overall understanding of the strike events. However, it is with a certain humility that I make that claim. The 68-generation of filmmakers, Lena Ewert and Lars Westman, portrayed the strike truthfully, objectively. They shared the miners’ experiences of the strike process since they documented the closed rooms and followed the strike committee’s work from within. Comrades the enemy is well-organized edited by a post-production committee elected by the miners. I neither want nor can compare my archival work with the fantastic filmmakers of the 68-generation who with their excellent report books and report films wanted to overthrow structures and power relations. What I contribute with is simple, but still important in the contemporary context, I want to convey these speeches to a new audience.

The film was made as a three-channel installation for the exhibition at ArkDes. Parts of the demolished town hall in Kiruna were temporarily rebuilt. The pulpit with the beautiful wooden railings was installed. The idea, which emerged together with the curator Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, was that the audience would take the podium and from there be able to take part in the fantastic speeches given in the town hall by Elof Luspa, Martin Gustavsson, Harry Isaksson and Ture Rantatalo and others.

One by one, they stood on the podium and spoke from within the collective experience. The only one who deviates is Ebba Köhler, the only woman to take the podium. Instead of giving a speech, she reads a long poem. Afterwards, the applauses never seem to stop.

We felt the anger thrive
so deep deep within us
They earn more than double because
they are called the boss
Here we are to go and wear out
conform to everything
From the mine we will dig tons
never feel it is cold

We should not feel gases
nor stone dust or moisture
but beware of the rockfalls
and work hard with discipline
/ Ebba Köhler

The strike occupied large parts of the political conversation in public, and in the rostrum, the self becomes larger than itself and amounts to all the possibilities that the assembly presents. The City Hall in Kiruna was one of the democratic places where large meetings were held. The gathering strengthened the community and miner identity. The assembly as such constituted a we but nevertheless fragmented in its heterogeneity. To speak for a large audience is an art form. Unlike the “human microphone”, which is used as a tactic when microphones are not allowed in demonstrations, where everyone joins in reproducing a message, the strikers wanted to give individual testimonies to articulate demands.

No dissatisfied person can go to the workplace and perform a good job that provides results. We are indignant when nothing is done. Now it has been said that everyone who earns 130,000 today is a social case, which is also an inhibition. Suppose you go and work in the mine and it makes you think that I’m still no less than a social case as they uses to be called in poor care. In that case, you feel inferior, you hold back, you think should I work pennies and then have to go to social care and request extra subsidies. No, we must raise the wage to the extent that we can exist with the wage that we deserve, and from time to time, if not now then every month, save a penny so that one can use it when suitable, for healthcare and the like…
/ Ture Rantatalo

At the general assemblies, the workplace’s misconduct was discussed, the goal was self-determination and withdrawal of power. Some of the speakers spoke from a lifelong experience of practical political struggle. The opponent’s arguments were dismissed with satire elicits wild applause. But what does to speak with your own voice entail? There are many intense moments of work experience accounts of humiliation on a profoundly personal level. Shared life experiences about human dignity form the basis of solidarity and class composition among industrial workers. For me, the speeches surpass the political, organizational reality of 1969 and approach levels of poetic utterances and dreams of a world beyond the prevailing one. The assembly, which was a real force at the time, reinforces dreams and imagination of possible alternatives futures.

Silver tongue, the great mining strike 1969~70 was made possible thanks to the collaboration with Norrbottens Media together with its press photographers, freelancing for various newspapers in Norrbotten, documenting the strike: Duff Deutgen, Rolf Eriksson, Jacob Forsell, Lennart Norman, Lars Öqvist and many more whose names are not mentioned with the photos. Kiruna municipality and LKAB has supported the work through Börje Rönnberg’s photographic body of work. Thanks to Arkivcentrum-Norrbottens museum and ArkDes.


  1. LO stands for The Swedish Trade Union Federation.

  2. IB stands for Informationsbyrån, the Information Bureau, and was a secret service agency with direct links to the social democratic party since the 1940ies. The IB conducted intelligence operations on citizens targeting unionised communists.

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!