The Nordic Summer University (NSU) has commissioned 10 artists and researchers to trace the spread of NSU’s values across the world. At the forefront of creative techniques in archiving, philosophy and creative methods, the projects will culminate in a mini-festival in Norway in Summer 2020 to celebrate NSU’s 70th anniversary – truly the oldest Nordic institution of its kind!

Follow links on the bar to the left to explore our history as it is revealed…

We are delighted to be funded by by Nordic Council of Ministers’ joint branding project, The Nordics, to trace the spirits of Nordicness across the world through NSU’s radical history of research

EŦNICITY INC. And the saami people

“By turning names into things we create false models of reality. By endowing nations, societies or cultures with the qualities of internally homogenous and externally distinctive and bounded objects, we create a model of the word as a global pool hall in which the entities spin off each other like so many hard and round billiard balls.”

Eric Wolf from Europe and the People Without History

The sculpture EŦNICITY INC.  (or ethnicity incorporated) is an eclectic piece designed to question the impact of the very notion of ethnicity. It attempts to recontextualise the concept itself and its material impact on the conditions of the living. Indeed, ethnicity as a concept has served as a tool for externally categorizing and arranging people in the present and the past, within evolutionary, ethnocentric, colonialist and racist frameworks. It also serves as a political weapon, both giving weight to nationalist rhetoric but also serving as a defensive legal tool for indigenous minorities’ rights to self-determination and protection of land; although, as we will see later, it too often fails to protect these very people, their ecosystems or resources.

At first glance, the sculpture is a bust: the canonically “western” format for representing a human individual endowed with some form of authority or power, it is almost always a political artifact. Here though, instead of a classical bust, the sculpture is an anthropomorphized spoon: the Saami spoon; recognizable by its short handle, pear shaped bowl, the hoops and rings on its sides and the decorative carvings. The saami spoon, both in archeology and in contemporary material culture, has been an effigy for saami “ethnicity”. Indeed, the saami people in the history of archeology have constantly been conceptualized as the “other”, they are seen as “ethnic” while the majority group of the Swedes are regarded as “non-ethnic”. They are the norm, the civilization, whereas the saami became a people without history, an ethnographic object, static and unchangeable. Where the saami spoon has become this intemporal effigy or artifact of saami ethnicity, its origins point in fact to diverse origins. Moreover, the evolution of the spoon is intertwined with other histories, inner socio-cultural struggles of the saami people and its place in a wider economic frame of markets.

The sculpture is designed to be observed from top to bottom. Indeed, the pseudo-realist portrait is the first thing that calls our attention. The portrait is a phantasm of the Saami “ethnic” physionomy; it materializes the inherent racism of associating physical traits to a kind of ethnic “geist” or essence. Its eyes are closed, becoming only a screen devoid of any inherent meaning. The meaning does not come from within but is projected onto it by the gaze of the one looking. Going further down along the handle or neck, we only see a decorative piece of furnture, the true meaning of the sculpture lies further down still in the bowl of the spoon, the part that is designed to bring the sustenance. The concavity of the bowl is placed in lieue of the convexity of the belly. In this sort of cave, we can then see engravings of pictogramms that reveal the true story at play.

The story is one of people devided by arbitrary borders, but also ecosystems cut-off by roads, pipelines, traintracks, etc. The people are alone and, in the center, you find the sea and an offshore deepwater drilling station. This one specifically is the Snohvit platform, a particular point of contention between the interests of big oil industry capitalists and the indigenous populations who also depend on the resources of the sea to maintain their mode of living. On each side of the platform is inscribed C. 169 – a reference to the Convention 169 of the Organization of the United Nations – concerning the rights of native and tribal people in independent countries. One of the articles states that governments need to take measures in cooperation with these people to protect and preserve the environment that they inhabit.

In the end, this artifact serves as a direct criticism of  the commodification of culture and identity in the framework of neoliberal capitalism. It materializes the hypocrisy of paying lip service to alterity and “ethnic tokenism” so long as it can be consumed in one way or another and so long as their liberties do not infringe on the interests of capital. This last part is emphasized by the presence of the title of the sculpture engraved in its back like the brand of an item of clothing, it is incorporated. It is quite literaly just paying lip service to the actual living culture, turning it into a brand : the saami Ŧ (th), itself already a product of acculturation, the saami culture not having originally had an alphabetical system of writing. To finish with a quote from Denise Ferreira Da Silva:

“On the one hand, there are those governed by interior motives and capable of self-determination and, on the other, those prone to exterior affectability. As a result, those “affectable subjects” are destined to be governed by a force external to them, be it the sovereign God of Christ, sovereign reason of enlightnement or the sovereign Nation State of modern geopolitical order, they are always situated in the waiting room for the exercise of freedom.”

Resources :

People, material culture and environment in the north. Proceedings of the 22nd Nordic Archaeological Conference-GUMMERUS KIRJAPAINO (2006)

Toward a global Idea of Race. Denise Ferreira Da Silva (2007)

The Climate of History, Four Theses. Dipesh Chakrabarthy (2009)

Emerging from shelves

The largest part of the research has been done… collecting all the different study circle programs from all the years that the Nordic Summer University has been active. Seventy years of data, in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. Only since 2013 were all the (titles) of the study circles in English. This month Sara Wengström helped me to translate all the study circle programs into English, so over the next months I can start analysing and write up my findings, to present at the Summer Session 2020 in Norway. 

Nicole des Bouvrie, Dec 2019

reflecting on a tumultuous past – with the University Histories blog!

We’re thrilled to have explored our history, and how Arts/Research is boosting our archiving, with the University Histories blog from the University of Manchester. #NordicnessInMotion

70 Years of Activism, Research and History with the Nordic Summer University — University Histories

Winter School

Almost as old as the Nordic tradition of summer schools – to which Nordic Summer Univeristy is indebted – is that of the Winter School. Generations of writers, thinkers, artists and mercenaries have met during the long days of darkness across Scandinavia to refuel: to learn, to discuss, to keep their brains warm.

Our 9 study circles each meet during the winter months, around February, for mini-symposiums. Pick a subject and find out more:

1. Urban Studies: Between Creativity and Power

2. Cybioses: Shaping Human-Technology Futures

3. Hospitality and Solidarity: Feminist Philosophy in Thought, History and Action

4. Narrative and Violence

5. Patterns of Dysfunction in Contemporary Democracies; Impact on Human Rights and Governance

6. Critique in the Age of Populism

7. Artistic Research | Performing Heterotopia

8. Learning and Bildung in Times of Globalisation

9. Comics and Society: Research, Art, and Cultural Politics

The dedication to extreme conditions marks the “winter school” experience – and we have been happy to hear that this typifies other, similar institutions!

As Bohuslav Balcar and Petr Simon recount for 25 years of winter schools on “Abstract Analysis” for Acta Universitatis Carolinae, “The worst living conditions were at Strazne 1979. It was necessary to break the ice if you wanted to wash your face or to use your toothbrush. One foreign participant arrived late evening, suffered through the whole night and escaped the next morning forever”.

Hopefully we have never been beset by such conditions – but it certainly brings back memories from our 1995 session, as you can read about here!

music theorists and meta scientists

Carl Lesche

A psychoanalyst, metascientist, philosopher and music theorist, Carl Lesche (1920-1993) was a member of the Nordic Summer University in its earliest days from 1952.

Robert Rauschenberg performing “Shotput + Elgin Tie” at a Fylkingen concert at the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm, 13 September 1964. From Fylkingen Bulletin 1:1966. Photo: Hans Malmberg/Tio. Retrieved from http://www.hz-journal.org/n19/hayashi.html

Also a member of the radical music group Fylkingen, Lesche was a theorist in the experimental music and performance field. His travels took him all the way to the Soviet Union, where he made some of the earliest recordings of orthodox liturgical music.

(from ‘A Short Biography and List of His Scientific Writings’ By Åke Åredal)

Visual Impressions

Luisa:


The following is a selection of the visual impressions I took from our October 2019 visit to the NSU archive housed in the Danish National archives in Copenhagen.

mural before entering the archives

The earliest materials found were from the planing of the first NSU summer session 1951 at Askov Højskole in Denmark.

Myna in the archives Oct. 25, 2019
1956 NSU cultural commission
1957 piano concert
NSU (1980’s)
Per in the archive Oct. 25, 2019
A Year in NSU – 1982
1982 critical Fascism researcher
1982, Il lavoro Fascista
1982
1984 “A New Europe”
Skinheads 1984
NSU Summer Session 1984
Feminisme, Marxisme
Marx Against Marx
it is
Daddy and the NSU
tension=behavior
mother father girl boy
NSU almost always near water (1980’s)
Norden
The specific character of the oppression of women under capitalism
Women should do it all!
NSU kids (1980’s)
Euroopa-Eesti
Myna, Camilla and Olga (Per and Luisa) Copenhagen meeting Oct. 26, 2019

On Being (A Keynote)

lightweight luggage – #2

One of our artist-researchers finding #TracesofNorth in NSU’s past!

Wanting to be a keynote… Not wanting to be a keynote.
Wanting to say wise things… But feeling unable to.

Stephanie Hanna (@zu.thun_und.lassen) asks How can thoughts help to transition our state of being?

From October 2019 until July 2020, a new episode or part of the ongoing series will appear, as a collective and audio-visualized thinking process.