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.

To speak without words: strike and care
Karl Lydén

In March 1983, during a long conversation with the general secretary of the labour union Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT), Michel Foucault said that the union could function as a veridique, that is, as a truth-teller.(1) This unremarked and inconspicuous statement is, as it happens, very interesting in relation to Foucault’s late work – and for two reasons. First, Foucault takes a concept he has discussed in his investigations of truth-telling’s political and philosophical function during Greek and Roman Antiquity and transfers it to his political present. These investigations that Foucault worked on during the last four or five years – and which were left unfinished, unresolved, and inconclusive, after a long period during which Foucault hadn’t published any new books – concern individual rather than collective subjects, and they have been understood by many as an ethical rather than political project. Their relation to a political present has remained unclear and little examined, perhaps also due to Foucault’s cautions against the perils in applying one historical epoch’s solutions to another’s problems. Nevertheless, here he transfers one of the central concepts, “veridiction” or truth-telling, to a political agent of the present, which all of a sudden allows us to engage the rich ancient material with regards to the emergence of collective, political subjects in our political present.

Second, Foucault refers to an agent whose speaking of the truth does not merely consist of speech in its proper sense. Apart from the sheer number of members behind every statement, there lie potential actions. Among the means available to the union, the strike is the most important, but other industrial and direct actions are also necessary. Hence the truth-telling or veridiction of the labour union is not best understood as speech in the strictest sense but as a speech accompanied by a non-discursive, wordless establishing of absolute truth. Why is this interesting? Because Foucault, in his analyses of neoliberal theory in the lecture course The Birth of Biopolitics(2), asserted that one of the central and fundamental characteristics of liberal and neoliberal governmentality is that it makes the market the privileged site of veridiction for governmental practice, or, in other words, the site and mechanism that states the truth to which all government must be fitted. Moreover, stating this truth is not primarily undertaken with words but with the balance of economic assumptions, calculations, and transactions.

Suppose we put these two forms of veridiction – which Foucault discusses on two different occasions – against each other. In that case, we have, on the one hand, capital and the market as a site of telling the truth that prescribes governmental practice. And on the other hand, labour, the association of workers and the labour union as truth-tellers. Never has such a fundamental and clear-cut line of conflict appeared within that which Foucault calls the “politics of truth”.(3) Nor has such a distinct “dialogue” crystallised on a level of economic relations and relations of force; a social system of signs which, despite being able to harbour various struggles, may bring to mind the social hieroglyphics of Marx’s commodity fetishism. At this point, it seems that everything of Foucault’s late work is at stake: the years of lectures devoted to the ancient Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman notions of truth-telling and the care of the self, the seizing of the present moment in the investigation of the then still emerging neoliberalism in The Birth of Biopolitics, the deep engagement in the Polish Solidarnosc union (which was the basis for the conversation with the CFDT), and that which Foucault defined as the will of not being governed like that in “What is Critique?”. At this point, we also find the prerequisites for moving further in some of the directions he pointed out.

In March 2020, when the coronavirus was classified as a pandemic by the WHO, when the lockdowns came into effect, when indoors social gatherings ceased, when different forms of play and games between people stopped, when, in short, everything was affected by a terrible paralysis, a kind of acute state of boredom – then I started having a very difficult time to work. That is, to write on my PhD in Philosophy, which also constitutes my employment. It was not what I wanted or what I needed. It was absolutely necessary: I have to write; moreover, I want nothing other than to write. Time was abundant. But I could not.

It was probably due to different things. I admit that the disorienting condition – of global insecurity, both in medical and financial terms, but also the sudden drive for, until then denied possibilities to with just a few pen strokes take massive financial and legislative measures, hitherto considered impossible – made me question the relevance of philosophy and its ability to in any meaningful way intervene in these processes. In the form of the first self-realised, predictable reactions and comments on the pandemic, philosophy itself did not make it easier. Maybe the vanity of philosophy became more explicit through the new actuality of death, death in the form of drop infection – even if this realisation should have been reached by studying all proper antique and modern meditations in philosophy on that life simply is the preparation for death. On a more prosaic plane, I should not deny an absolute lack of surveillance in my inability to work. At the start, I missed the possibility to visit the university: the unglamorous barracks outside the city centre that seem to be the symbol for administration and blandness have always appealed to me in how they remind of the intellectual and academic work as a public task, where certain transparency is included. This need for a more personalised but still just as much indirect control was perhaps my desire to be back in the panopticon, to the workspace with glass doors where no one watched me, but I knew that I could see.

However, despite these reasons, something that overshadowed the other appeared: a most personal militant and counterproductive labour struggle. Something I could not avoid considering a form of strike: I still tried to start, I forced myself to write the first words in the sentences, the first sentences in paragraphs. However, deep down in what drives my work forward, in the small lighting spark or impulse, in the force, will or what we want to call it, a burst of cold and hard laughter echoed, and an absolute refusal: “No. I will not work under these conditions.” Furthermore, how could I not understand? How could this incomprehensible creative precondition work without everything that I quite deliberately made into the forms for my life: to share food with others as a basis for a conversation, to invite and be invited, to show and receive care, to spend time be in public and in some way dissolve the border between friend and stranger, to play and invent with others, to commit to a political manifestation or act together with others, and then look back upon and discuss all of this with others? How would all of this fare without everything that I in a most unconscious fashion have rendered important components of my life, that in some instances did not even believe that I enjoyed: the small talk with people one bumps into, the uttering of politeness’es and greetings to colleagues and acquaintances, the slow progressions of conversations with colleagues and friends that sometimes stretch over the years? What I am describing, in other words, cannot be characterised as the care invested in the strike, but rather as a strike against the lack of care, a strike which arose out of the impossibility to tend to myself as I would wish to.

I have now begun to learn new forms of care. It is necessary. Not least because of the fact that strikes which relate to reproductive labour or the reproduction of labour, tend to affect those who themselves are striking, to some extent more than those who are the intended target (as opposed to strikes within production which affect all included parties).

Strikes and unions play an essential part still to this day in the politics of truth. Simultaneously, the situation differs decisively from when Foucault discussed the issue four decades ago. While the organised industrial working class in countries like France has shrunk and lost its power, industrial production has mostly been relocated to places where labour unions are prohibited or strictly limited. Thus, it is probably relevant to reflect upon other possible forms of truth-telling and their place within production — truth-telling that similarly can combat those market outcomes that premise all governance. And even if it remains unclear which collectivities we — we as salaried, unemployed, persons on sick leave, registered unemployment programs, racialised or comprised in the logic of racialisation, we as governed subjects – can come to be merged into in order to adopt this new “speech”, the only thing I think I know is that it has to work through some form of care work not only because I have noticed a lack that the lack of care is harmful to the advancement of critical work. But also because the care of self is in the Hellenistic and roman form that Foucault describes in L’Herméneutique du sujet(4), also includes a truth telling of the world: a critical task to identify and liberate oneself from that which one is enslaved and limited by.


  1. Michel Foucault, “La Pologne, et après?” in Dits et Écrits II, 1976~1988 (Paris: Gallimard, 2001), 1323~24.

  2. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at The Collège de France 1978~1979, trans. Graham Burchell (Houndmills/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 33.

  3. Michel Foucault, Qu’est-ce que la critique? suivi de La culture de soirméneutique du sujet, (Paris: Vrin, 2001), 39.

  4. Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the subject: Lectures at The Collège de France 1981~1982, trans. Graham Burchell (Houndmills/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 237~38.

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!