At another time the same kind of signs shouted out “The Russians are Coming” and invited into a powerful art exhibition in one of Boden’s most spectacular buildings – Havremagasinet. The year was 2010 and Boden’s role as a military strategic defense against the east was over. The door to the world was open. Havremagasinet had turned into one of the largest art galleries in Sweden and has since then shown international contemporary art dealing with themes and topics such as democracy, human rights and freedom of speech.
When you think about it the choice is pretty obvious. Despite the restrictions on foreign guests Boden has always been in close communication with the outside world through its role in the Swedish defense strategy. The town grew around the military regiments, and what happened in the world was reflected in the city’s development. It still is – today Boden is welcoming new residents who have fled conflict areas and poverty.
Art is about looking at the world. In it’s best moments contemporary art has a unique ability to problematize events – political, human, social. To create reactions and counter-reactions. To make things visible, but not necessarily to take a stand. To formulate questions rather than giving answers. To found an arts center in Boden with the ambition to also connect to the location and it’s history, it is quite natural to continue to look towards an ever-changing society and the defense, not of areas and land, but of the right to free speech.
Havemagasinet’s first summer exhibition could welcome 13,000 visitors who could see the same work by the Russian art collective AES + F as the visitors at the Venice Biennale had done a few years earlier. But also other Russian contemporary art by Blue Soap Group, Alexander Brodsky and Diana Machulina. The basement was taken over by Fredrik Wretman together with sound artist Robert Henke, aka Monolake, with a work which highlighted the Russian gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea.
Summer of 2012 the exhibition shown was called Reoriented, pointing towards the reorientation Boden has undergone. Now it was about the Middle East, a very current topic given the tumultuous Arab Spring. Very helpful at that time was the internationally active art curator Jack Persekian who came with valuable contacts in this art scene. The Saatchi Gallery in London lent some works by the Syrian artist Diana Al-Hadid and at the exhibition the audience could, among other things see art created by an Iraqi artist Adel Abidin, Bouchra Khalili from Morocco, Laleh Khorramian, works in New York but was born in Iran and Marya Kazoun from Lebanon.
The Arab Spring continued in the fall of 2012 with the exhibition Liberation – a Process Review, where the head of the Sharjah Art Gallery in Cairo, Nagla Samir, brought together a number of artists who each gave their comments to the ongoing changes in Egypt. Artists who were active in the revolution, in revolt on Tahrir Square and the creating of what was hoped would be the new, democratic Egypt. The result was an educational journey between people, a rapprochement between different worlds that proved to have more similarities than differences.
Summer of 2013 it was time for the exhibition Elemental, Iceland and Beyond. Also this time Havremagasinet had established links with an international curator, Gregory Volk, based in New York. He brought a number of international well known artists to Boden – Olafur Eliasson, Kria Brekkan, Roni Horn, Roman Signer, Lawrence Weiner, Maria Friberg, Ivar Valgard, Birgir Andrésson, Ragna Róbertsdóttir, Hrafnhildur Arnardottir and Karin Sander.
This summer Havremagasinet returns to Russia. The exhibition Pussy Riot and The Cossacks will show Russian protest art, ranging from the seventies Sots-Art (Socialist Art) by Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid to today’s Pussy Riot. Russian artists have a long tradition of art activism which is not entirely safe to engage in in contemporary Russia. Given what is currently taking place in Ukraine and debate on human rights in Russia this exhibition is even more relevant.
The impressive rooms of Havremagasinet has been filled with the educational ambitions from the start. Hundreds of schoolchildren have been guided through the exhibitions and done artistic work in close conjunction to the displayed art. Children and adults have turned and twisted the concept, played with reality and created their own exhibits. Occasionally, some connection become very concrete: Boden now hosts many refugees and as a military town, it is not uncommon for Swedish children have their parents involved in wars in distant countries.
Even with big city standards is Havremagasinet is unique. Obviously the building, but also as an art institution. To find all of this is a military town in northern Sweden makes it important. In a part of the country where scientists often speak of “the natural resource curse” meaning the special little towns that often are results in a large-scale industry that comes with the natural resources, Havremagasinet points in an entirely different direction. This is a development we have long observed in European industrial countries. This says a lot about our globalized time and about the life that is lived also in places that can never be defined as the center.