– Spring/Summer 2016

Loyal Subjects of the Image: ‘Pictures of Sweden 1969'

Kim West

Slide depicting a May Day rally in Stockholm in 1969, projected in the multimedia space of ‘Pictures of Sweden 1969’, Sweden House, Stockholm, 1969. Photograph: Bildaktivisterna

Today a country belongs to the person who controls communications.

— Umberto Eco, 19671

In Öyvind Fahlström’s only feature film, the scatological semi-documentary Du gamla, Du fria (Provocation), released in 1972 but shot during the summer of 1969, a group of left-wing artist-activists enter the recently inaugurated Sweden House in Stockholm, armed with canisters of ammonium sulfide. A sequence of miscoloured and poorly framed stills, probably shot with a concealed camera, show the nervous pranksters as they awkwardly stroll around the building’s ground floor and shopping area, and conspicuously ‘forget’ large paper bags below the ventilation ducts. An alert elderly lady observes their curious behaviour and helpfully hands the weaponised bags back to the discomfited rebels, who quickly retreat and disband.

Why Sweden House? Earlier that summer, the new centre, designed by the functionalist architect Sven Markelius and located at the picturesque Kungsträdgården, in the heart of the city, had been the site of a highly publicised scandal. For the building’s formal opening, the centre’s executive organisation, the Collegium for Swedish Information Abroad, wanted to commission an exhibition that would present the centre’s activities in an interesting and modern way.

  1. Umberto Eco, ‘Towards a Semiological Guerilla Warfare’ (trans. William Weaver), Travels in Hyperreality, Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1986, p.135.

  2. The new centre housed the headquarters of the Swedish Institute for Cultural Exchange, as well as representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, the Tourist Agency, the Trade Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Information Department, the national and the international press bureaus and the International Department of the Swedish Radio.

  3. See the protocol from the Collegium meeting of 9 November 1967, National Archive, Collegium for Swedish Information Abroad, SE/RA/420460 (in the following, NACS), FIa/19. All translations are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

  4. The initial points of contention were the alleged deviation from the exhibition’s brief to deal with the ‘image of Sweden abroad’ and the legality of screening a critical interview with a trade union representative against his will. As the debate continued, these allegations would be dropped and new ones presented that, generally, claimed the project was politically biased.

  5. The exhibition was closed, Pär Stolpe and his collaborators claimed, because it was ‘politically uncomfortable’. ‘Utställningen Sverigebilder tillsvidare stoppad’ (press release), 31 May 1969, National Archive, Swedish Institute, SE/RA/2709/10/F/F1 (in the following, SI), 282. Among the protest actions, the most famous was the artist Siri Derkert’s decision to block the public inauguration of her permanent, site-specific artwork for the façade of Sweden House ‘as long as the exhibition “Pictures of Sweden” is not opened’. S. Derkert, letter to Håkan Landelius, superintendent, Sweden House, 31 May 1969, NACS, FIa/222.

  6. See Per Olov Enquist, ‘Inga slag vinns med censur’ and ‘Vi ska kila in oss, sa Öberg’, Expressen, 11 and 20 September 1969.

  7. The only historical account of the exhibition is the section devoted to it in Nikolas Glover, National Relations: Public Diplomacy, National Identity and the Swedish Institute 1945–1970, Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2011, pp.146–54. I am indebted to this text for helping me navigate the vast Swedish Institute archives. The debate triggered by the exhibition’s cancellation is also discussed in Marianne Hultman, ‘The Inauguration of Sweden House in May 1969: A Collage’, in Maria Lind (ed.), Liesbeth Bik & Jos van der Pol: Moderna Museet Projekt 24.11 2000–28.1 2001 (exh. cat.), Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 2001, pp.72–75.

  8. Alongside Pontus Hultén and Carlo Derkert from the Moderna Museet, Stolpe was a central participant in the ‘expert group’ that was appointed by the City of Stockholm in 1968 to develop a general programme proposal for the Kulturhuset project in central Stockholm. Between 1969–1978, Stolpe worked as a curator and producer at Moderna Museet, where he was responsible for, among many other things, the experimental space Filialen (The Annex, 1971–73). Regarding these projects, and several associated ones, see my ongoing dissertation project, The Exhibitionary Complex: Exhibition, Apparatus and Media from Kulturhuset to the Centre Pompidou (Stockholm: Södertörn University), from which the present article is extracted.

  9. ‘Hello City’, curated by Sture Balgård, Eva Björklund and Jöran Lindvall, was on view from 1–17 April 1966; ‘The Model – A Model for a Qualitative Society’, from 30 September–20 October 1968. Regarding ‘The Model’, see Lars Bang Larsen and Palle Nielsen, The Model: A Model for a Qualitative Society, Barcelona: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2010. See also L. Bang Larsen, ‘True Rulers of Their Own Realm: Political Subjectivation in Palle Nielsen’s The Model – A Model for a Qualitative Society’, Afterall, issue 16, Autumn/Winter 2007, pp.121–26.

  10. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, ‘Constituents for a Theory of the Media’ (1970, trans. Stuart Hood), in Reinhold Grimm and Bruce Armstrong (ed.), Critical Essays: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, New York: Continuum, 1982, p.55.

  11. See Jean Baudrillard, ‘Requiem for the Media’ (1971), For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (trans. Charles Levin), New York: Telos Press, 1981.

  12. Jean Davallon, L’Exposition à l’oeuvre: Stratégies de communication et médiation symbolique, Paris: L’Harmattan, 1999, p.36.

  13. See ibid., p.26ff.

  14. H.M. Enzensberger, ‘Constituents for a Theory of the Media’, op. cit., p.75.

  15. J. Davallon, L’Exposition à l’oeuvre, op. cit., p.36.

  16. Per Kågeson and Pär Stolpe, ‘Sverigebilder 1969 / Pictures of Sweden 1969’, in Sverigebilder 1969 (exh. cat.), Stockholm: Sverigehuset, 1969, p.2. It was exactly these lines that Kjell Öberg reacted to in the letter that led to the postponement, and then cancellation, of the exhibition. See K. Öberg, letter to the Swedish Institute, 27 May 1969, SI, 282.

  17. P. Stolpe, letter sent from the Swedish Institute, co-signed by Bo Wingren, 17 February 1969, SI, 282.

  18. In this respect, ‘Pictures of Sweden 1969’ can be seen as a minor, critical and idiosyncratic contribution to the tradition of politically radical trade-fair exhibitions, dating back to the press-agency exhibitions in post-revolutionary Russia and El Lissitzky’s famous exhibition design for Pressa in Cologne in 1928. See Maria Gough, ‘Model Exhibition’, October, no.150, Fall 2014, pp.9–26.

  19. P. Stolpe, ‘Programmering till Pär Stolpes skiss för utställningsform’, appended to promemoria from the Sweden House exhibition group, 16 February 1968, NACS, FIa/222. The exhibition ‘Andy Warhol’, curated by Pontus Hultén and Olle Granath, was on view at Moderna Museet from 10 February–17 March 1968.

  20. N. Glover, National Relations, op. cit., p.152, and promemoria from the Sweden House exhibition group, 16 February 1968, NACS, FIa/222.

  21. P. Stolpe, ‘Kort beskrivning av förslag till öppningsutställning: Distance center, Sverigehuset – 1968’, 12 March 1968, SI, 282.

  22. On ‘Hello City’, see Sven-Olov Wallenstein, ‘1966: Thinking the City’, in Architecture, Critique, Ideology: Essays on Architecture and Theory (forthcoming, Stockholm: Axl Books, 2016). Thanks to Mats Eriksson Dunér for additional information.

  23. See P. Stolpe, ‘Distance Centre: Sverige, sverigeinformationen i utlandet, nationell kommunikation, internationell kommunikation (Beskrivning av modell med förslag till invigningsutställning i Sverigehuset 1969)’, 9 April 1968, NACS, FIa/219. See also Stolpe’s letter of 17 February 1969, op. cit. Although the group behind ‘Pictures of Sweden’ arrived at this arrangement independently, it should be noted that, at the time, the notion of the exhibition or the installation as a newsroom was relatively common among conceptual artists such as Hans Haacke, David Lamelas and Roberto Jacoby. See Julia Bryan-Wilson, Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009, p.173ff.

  24. The plastic furniture, also installed at other places around the exhibition, was designed by Istvan Foth in collaboration with Pär Stolpe.

  25. The song was commissioned by Stolpe, who had met Björn Häggqvist at Öyvind Fahlström’s home the previous summer. See P. Stolpe, letter to B. Häggqvist, 2 September 1968, SI, 282.

  26. See David Joselit, ‘Feedback’, Feedback: Television Against Democracy, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007, pp.91–103.

  27. P. Stolpe, letter to the press bureau at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 30 April 1968, SI, 282.

  28. See Stolpe’s letter of 17 February 1969, op. cit.

  29. J. Baudrillard, ‘Requiem for the Media’, op. cit., p.177.

  30. Ibid., pp.177 and 181.

  31. After the definite cancellation, the exhibition group was barred from Sweden House. Bildaktivisterna were denied access to the material they had produced but a juridical process was set in motion, which resulted in the return of some of their photographs and videotapes. See Bildaktivisterna, letter to the Swedish Institute, 11 September 1969, SI, 283.

  32. P. Kågeson and P. Stolpe, ‘Innehållsbeskrivning till utställningen Sverigebilder’, 2 June 1969, p.1, SI, 283.

  33. See Olle Wästberg, ‘Fallet Kotzikos – ett skrämmande exempel’, Expressen, 28 May 1969; and Lawen Mohtadi, Den dag jag blir fri: en bok om Katarina Taikon, Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 2013.

  34. P. Kågeson and P. Stolpe, ‘Innehållsbeskrivning till utställningen Sverigebilder’, op. cit., p.1.

  35. Bildaktivisterna, P. Kågeson and P. Stolpe, ‘Propaganda och verklighet’, Foto och filmteknik, no.1, 1970, p.36ff.

  36. Clas Brunius, ‘Expressen hann titta: Inga märkliga bilder’, Expressen, 17 June 1969.

  37. ‘Förteckning över diabilder 1:a majdemonstration’, unsigned and undated, SI, 282.

  38. See Tor Sellström, ‘The Shadow of Cabora Bassa’, Sweden and National Liberation in Southern Africa, vol.1: Formation of a Popular Opinion 1950–1970, Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 1999, pp.483–504. After intense criticism, ASEA withdrew their bid, and in 1970 the Swedish state recognised and began giving economic support to FRELIMO, the Mozambique Liberation Front.

  39. ‘Förteckning över diabilder Cabora Bassa’, unsigned and undated, SI, 282. I have not been able to determine the authenticity of the quotations.

  40. The author would like to thank Pär Stolpe, Tommy Tommie and Cecilia Grönberg.