When darkness turns to light and snow burns in flames. Opening in Umea

When darkness turns to light and snow burns in flames. Opening in Umea
Kaspars Garda, Rīga 2014
Kristīne Budže
Umea is the northernmost European Capital of Culture and Swedes played out this trump card during the opening of the “Umea 2014” programme on 31 January and 1 February. They presented themselves as a winter town and turned the centre of Umea into a snow realm with strongholds-giant slides, art projects, performances and ice sculptures, made by both - local Swedish artists and guests. The Sami were the main hosts of the town and their major settlement was established at the town square with bonfires and giant pots for cooking hot northern soup and tea. Reindeer furs covered almost every snow-clad square meter and reindeer horns were used to make ample urban decorations; the Sami in their bright blue traditional costumes, townsmen, tourists and guests were among the decorations, but the most of honours were paid to Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden, and her family.

The show “Burning Snow” was the moment when the festivities in the town reached their peak. It was the hour when darkness turned into light and when snow burned with the brightest flame. Swedes showed that in the darkest and the coldest hour of the year, such magical transformations may be achieved with the magic wand of culture, which can change not only the town, but also the mind. The frozen Ume River was chosen as the stage of the show for the traditional northern culture elements performed by Sami to merge with the wonders created by the latest technologies. It was a symbolic way to live-out the eight Sami seasons of the year with dancing, poetry, music, play of light and darkness; these seasons will be the keystones for the program of the European Capital of Culture during the whole year. German interdisciplinary art group, called “phase 7”, in cooperation with the local townsmen implemented the show and were the authors of the idea; the artists of “phase 7” also created the closing ceremony of Stavanger, the European Capital of Culture in 2008. The fanatic enthusiasm, merge with the latest technologies and artistic expressions, using computer software, developed especially for the event, as well as movement and wave field sensitive robots, is the reason for recognizing the work of Germans, both globally and in Umea. The entire show took place on the Ume River, in air and on ice, and the giant bonfire on ice in the middle of the river was an impressive conclusion of the show.


Sami culture was integral also in other events of the Umeå as the European Capital of Culture opening programme. At the Umea Museum of Art, opened a year and a half ago, which is part of the group of faculties of art of the Umea University and one of the most significant objects of the town’s contemporary culture, the contemplations of Katarina Pirak Sikku, a Sami artist, about the status of her people in different periods of time and its imprint on the minds and hearts of modern Sami people, were displayed along with the exhibition of the internationally recognized spirited artist Leonor Fini of Argentinean descent from mid-20th century, whose work has been designated as surrealism against her will. Katarina Pirak Sikku searched for the cause of modern problems in a Freudian manner in more distant past, i.e., the beginning of the 20th century, when biologic surveys of races were carried out in Sweden by sorting the population according to their skin colour, shape of head and other biologic parameters. Katarina surveyed the descendants of the Sami and studied herself in the respective manner which resulted in her classifying herself as a Sami of the beginning of the 20th century.


Also the Swedish photographer Sune Jonsson, laureate of Hasselblad Award 1993, has often photographed the people of Umea through emotionally moving portraits, documented in manner characteristic to Inta Ruka. Opening of the Sune Jonsson Centre for Documentary Photography was amongst the events of the “Umea 2014” programme opening. Its features the majority of Jonsson’s negatives from the middle of the 20th century until the 1990’s and approximately four million photographs of cultural historic importance from the end of the 19th century until nowadays.

It is possible that the Museum of Guitars, which has been established in the premises of the former school building in the town centre, is telling about the people of Umea in most truthful way.

Umea stands out with the particular passion of its population for different stylistic directions of metal music.

The private collection of guitars made in 1950’s and 1960’s, owned by twin brothers Samuel and Michael Åhdénpresent, is estimated to be worth several million euros, was a surprise even to the  people of Umea. The twins, who avoided publicity, have collected and played guitars since their childhood and they never considered their hobby as a profession. While organizing the museum of guitars and systemizing the collection, Åhdén brothers discovered that they possess 25 rere guitars they had forgotten about the existence of these guitars during the course of time. Today the museum of guitars of Åhdén twins is one of the most popular objects of visits within the program of Umea as the European Capital of Culture.


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