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

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)

The Violinist’s Cabin

The major challenge of the Oleana project is to find a way to visually recreate the parts of the story that are buried deep in the past. Oleana was founded in 1852 at a time where photography was in its infancy and it was still quite rare to see photographs reproduced in newspapers. In addition to this, the colony lasted only a little over a year, which made it difficult to find some time to document it. This is why there is no photographic evidence of the existence of the colony.

In the early 1900s some photographs were taken of the ruins of what once was Ole Bull’s castle. The violinist’s home turned out to resemble more a log cabin than a royal abode. In my project I make use of old photographs found in archives and historical society to re-construct and provide a visual representation of what is lost in time.

Giulia Mangione, November 2019

Sweet Water Rights

“I guess I’m trying to subjectify the world, because look where objectifying it has gotten us.”

  • Ursula K Le Guin

What happens when we start experiencing the world as a living subject? Through centuries, we have fostered a belief system stating the opposite, an idea that came with Christianity where the world was given to us humans as something to satisfy our needs with, ours to control. With the development of modern science, the world turned into a machine where the mechanistic worldview pulled the veil off of nature, wanting to expose her secrets to man. 

This mechanistic worldview has then turned forests into tree plantations, water streams to sewers, wildlife to cattle and mountains to mines. It has driven our culture to the brim of a environmental collapse on a global scale, a disruption of the conditions we need in order to live. Earlier this year the IPBES report came out, telling us that we are facing a tremendous loss of biodiversity with one million species threatened by extinction. While we are busy transforming nature to useless things we hardly need on the expense of countless ecosystems, we are losing the living world right before our eyes. It is a collapse with a magnitude hard to grasp. 

How can this even be possible?

Around the world, a movement that is asking this same question is gaining momentum: the movement for rights of nature where countries, states and cities are granting legal personhood to ecosystems. As people have, for decades, tried to understand how to protect their natural surroundings and finding the frustrating realisations that the old way of going about simply does not work. Trying to defend the living world, the ecosystems, has proven to be very difficult through the legal system. Something is fundamentally wrong within the system itself.

Lake Vättern’s splendour

“We need not only to talk about the environmental harm that is being done, we need to talk about the legal harm”

This is from Mari Margil, from the Community Environment Legal Defence Fund, when she visited Sweden in May 2019. She was invited to speak in a strategic meeting regarding the Swedish Lake Vättern. Margil has been a long time champion in the field of rights of nature, with merits such as being one of the advisors for the Ecuadorian government when rights of nature was written into the country’s constitution in 2008, the first in the world. She was also one of the writers behind the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, written in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba Bolivia in 2010. According to Margil, in order to get to the root cause of the problem of the environmental crisis we are facing today, we need to see that the system itself is at fault. The legal system itself is not about defending nature, it is about regulating the harm done to it. If we ought to not harm nature, we need acknowledge the inherent rights it has to exist in the first place. 

In the system we live in today, nature is viewed upon solely as a property that belongs to us. Rights of nature is, on the contrary, a great shift of mentality in our relationship to nature, wherein nature is rather acknowledged as a living entity with its own inherent rights, and something we can have relationship with. There is a world of difference between these two perspectives. 

The above mentioned Lake Vättern has, in recent years, received attention due to it being subject to many threats. As the largest sweet water source in Sweden, a country known for its strict environmental policies, it is a ghastly realization to see how the body of water is treated today. This lake, providing drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people daily and a home for countless species, is being shot at by the Swedish military, which releases large amounts of toxins and violently disturbs the ecosystem.  In Norra Kärr, north of Gränna, the canadian company Tasman Metals is planning a day pit mine, just few kilometers from the lake that all likely would leak toxic waste water into the lake.

This has led to growing protest around the lake, with locals closest affected raising their voices and trying to protect the lake. And it has not been easy, or as easy as one thinks it should be when it comes to protecting something as fundamental as a source of water. The example with lake Vättern has led the rights of nature network in Sweden to take interest in it, as it exemplifies how a system is at fault when a lake of that importance does not have legal standing. The network has during 2019 addressed the rights of lake Vättern by writing the Lake Vättern Bill of Rights where the declaration was the basis for a tribunal during the Earth Rights Conference in Sigtuna May 2019. 

With the project Jagjord Jagvatten, we are trying to get close to the idea of carrying this movement that is growing both internationally, and in Sweden particularly. Just this year, one of the key people in the Swedish rights of nature movement and of those who we have interviewed, Pella Thiel, was granted the prestigious price of Årets Miljöhjälte, the Environmental Hero of the Year, by WWF for her work with the matter. With the work, we aim at exploring the different levels of the idea itself, what it means in terms of activism, law, art, philosophy and politics. What does it mean when we live in a culture, or at least try to approach it, where the world is a living subject? Where does it take us? 


Jagjord Jagvatten is a project run by Arci Pasanen and Phil Jamieson and the name of the project is a tribute to the Maori people, who after more than 100 years got the government in New Zealand to recognize the inherent rights of the Whanganui river. They have saying that goes “Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au” translating to “I am the river, the river is me”.

Follow them on Instagram at @TracingtheSpirit and @jagjord_jagvatten

Arnfred & Syberg (red.): Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen (NSU Skriftserie 1973)

I initially imagined the writers in Future Echoes to respond to texts and materials from the archives of NSU written by women on any subject. However few of the complete texts I found in NSU’s archive, were edited or written by women. 

The parts of NSU’s archive that I got access to, did not contain many complete texts whatsoever. I was also able to search a selection only (more about the somewhat complex access to it here). The material consisted of a multitude of preliminary records: schedules, calls, drafts, notes, newspaper cuttings, informal notes or minutes from lectures or discussions. This probably reflects NSU as an environment for developing new thought, a description that in my own experience is still valid and valuable. 

But my impression of a general lack of female authors was strengthened by one of the publications I did find through the Danish National Library’s department in Viborg: Kvindeundertrykkelsens specifikke karakter under kapitalismen, edited by ph.d. candidate Signe Arnfred and student of literature Karen Syberg, at the time affiliated to the universities of Roskilde and Copenhagen respectively. Its content is divided in five sections named Family, Labour market, Classes, Sexuality and Culture, preceded by a short chapter on methodology and containing writings on these subjects by around 15 female scholars. It was published in NSU’s series of writings, January 1973. Its first 1500 copies allegedly sold out.

Like much social science, parts of this book appear dated in a contemporary environment. I propose it to the writers in Future Echoes as an inspirational springboard for sharing related thoughts and texts.

By Hild Borchgrevink, 14 August 2019. More info at https://futureechoes.hildborchgrevink.no