Swedishness dissected

An excerpt from Konstperspektiv, No 3, September 2012
By Sophie Allgårdh.

On 23 July, 2012, exactly a year and a day after the attack against the Norwegian government building and the Utøya massacre, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published a long article about the nationalist rock band Ultima Thule getting ready for its farewell concert. In a reference to Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, band member Jan Thörnblom declared that the Thirty Years War was over. The nationalist party the Sweden Democrats had been elected into parliament, and after a career spanning almost three decades, the band's mission was completed. In the article, the band, known for their muddled messages, make no bones about their political standpoint.

Ultima Thule had their heyday in the early 1990s, when the xenophobic party New Democracy changed the political climate in Sweden and the gunman John Ausonius was roaming the streets of Stockholm. Sweden was beginning to suffer from a cultural climate change. [---]

In a video from 1995, shot during a music lesson at school in Skutskär, 14-year old Joakim Forsgren and his classmates mime to Ultima Thule's song Balladen till Sverige (The Ballad to Sweden). Ultima Thule was the flagship of the nationalist wave in the 1990s, and the song is best described as a raucous and treacherous pastiche on Ulf Lundell's tune Öppna landskap (Open Countryside). [Lundell is a poet-singer-songwriter, often hailed as Sweden's Bob Dylan.] While Forsgren's pals are comfortable with the ballad, he himself looks almost embarrassed as he strums his guitar. He didn't want to play the song, but bowed to the majority of the group and his own wish to please his teacher. Later, he would describe how strange it felt to have his body enacting a message that was at odds with everything he believed in.

Historically, Ultima Thule or Thule has been used as a name for a geographical and mythological region in the far north, while the proto-Nazi German Thule Society claimed this was where the Aryan race originated. 15 years after music class in Skutskär, Forsgren used this video as the starting point for his MA graduation piece at Stockholm University College of Arts, Crafts and Design (Konstfack). In his project Längtan efter Ultima Thule (Longing for Ultima Thule), he subtly inverts highly charged national symbols.

Outside Konstfack's main entrance, he hoisted a rustling green tarp - an abstraction of the flag he was showing inside the college building. In an optical experiment, Forsgren cancelled out a swedish flag by projecting onto it a version of the flag in complementary colours. The result was a near-green banner with a greyish-green cross, an open symbol, ready to be invested with new values. In his mind's eye he saw a nationalist who, after staring too long at the blue and yellow flag, would move his gaze to the white wall instead, only to see a glowing after-image in the complementary colours yellow and violet. It is both an anti-flag, and a supplement.

Art critic in Svenska Dagbladet

Copyright © 2013 by Sophie Allgårdh. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, reposting, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission of the author. It is however permitted to use short quotes from the text, always citing the source.