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Thilo Frank. The Phoenix is closer than it appears. 2010

Culture Guide: Umeå – European Capital of Culture 2014 0

Agnese Čivle,

Starting with Athens as the first European Capital of Culture (in 1985), the baton has now reached Europe's northern countries. Along with Riga, the second Capital of Culture for 2014 is Umeå, in Sweden. One of Sweden's largest universities can be found in Umeå; the reserved and academic atmosphere of the city is balanced-out by the Arts Campusproject that was implemented in 2012 – the creation of an “art village” on the banks of city's river that joined together the university's arts, design and architecture colleges and institutions, as well as Bildmuseet – the university's museum of contemporary art and visual culture. An active cultural scene can also be found on the theater and music stages of Umeå, such as the Norland Opera and the Umeå Jazz Festival, which this year will be joined by two newcomers: the UXU Festival and the Umeå International Choir Festival.

As a European Capital of Culture, the main objectives that were chosen for the program in Umeå were twofold: the implementation of several social projects, and the popularization of both local artists and the local Sami culture. It is worth mentioning that the Sami are the only indigenous people of the European Union that have lived in the extreme northern regions of Scandinavia since the end of the last Ice Age, and their culture still contains many ancient elements.

And so it is that Sami cultural traditions will inaugurate Umeå's year as a European Capital of Culture, and over three days, no less. The highlight of the opening day will be the light-, music- and movement-show, Burning Snow, on February 1 (17:00-18:00). It has been put together by the internationally-renown group phase7 – Berlin's masters of multimedia and hi-tech performances – who will bring to life, on the banks of the Umeå River, the Sami goddesses Sarahkka, Juksahkka and Uksahkka. The rest of the Capital of Culture program will be based on the rhythm of the year-long Sami calendar, which is circular and based on the eight phases of reindeer migration.

Below, you will find's selected highlights for the first quarter of the Umeå 2014 cultural program – from January to March.

Untitled, C-print, Evita Vasiļjeva, 2013

“Hanging Above”
The Case in the Cafe, in three parts
Vita Kuben gallery, Umeå

Evita Vasiļjeva: January 24 – February 22, 2014
Ieva Kraule: February 28 – March 29, 2014
Darja Meļņikova: April 4 – May 3, 2014

When Riga will already have started on its year-long cultural journey as one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2014, a breath of fresh air will be injected at the end of January and start of February, which is when the northern Swedish city of Umeå, the second of the two Cultural Capitals, will begin its program. One of the co-projects going on between the two cities is being organized by the kim? Contemporary Art Centre (Riga) and the Vita Kuben gallery (Umeå) – a series of solo shows featuring three emerging artists from Latvia: Evita Vasiļjeva, January 24-22; Ieva Kraule, February 28 - March 29; and from April 4 through May 3, both cities will be exhibiting the works of Darja Meļņikova. “Hanging Above” is the title of this episode of “The Case in the Cafe” (a series of events and readings organized by kim?), its thematic guideline dealing with “the lost self”, which attempts to translate every normal situation into mutually inclusive readings of past and present conditions.

Operaplan 5
Umeå, Sweden


Thilo Frank
Bildmuseet, Umeå
January 19 – March 16, 2014

Mirrors and mirror-images have always had great meaning in art. The human mind is forever being likened to a mirror. What is written, painted, or created is an image of the mind, or, a reflection of it. Mirrors spur the viewer to look into his inner world, into his own mind...

The curators of Umeå's museum of contemporary art, Bildmuseet, have put together just this sort of exhibition – a journey into consciousness and space. One of the halls ofBildmuseet has been transformed into yet another visually beautiful dialog between space and humans – “The Phoenix is Closer Than It Appears”, as created by German master of installation and sculpture, Thilo Frank. The large-scale object is palpable, but at the same time – almost invisible. Everything that the human eye is able to perceive is only a mirrored reflection of the surrounding environment. It is both real and unreal; like reality and some sort of projection of it. The unbounded space and the unending reflections challenge both one's senses and coordination. When the pendulum hanging in the center of the room begins to sway, it makes the walls, ceilings and floors disappear, thereby bringing the experience of disorientation to its culmination...

Östra Strandgatan 30
Umeå, Sweden

Leonor Fini / Pourquoi pas?
Bildimuseet, Umeå
January 31 – May 11, 2104

The multi-faceted collection of works by Leonor Fini (1907-1996) – mid-twentieth-century Argentine surrealist and cultural legend – is coming to Scandinavia for the first time. It is made up of paintings, drawings, book illustrations, objects, texts, films and sketches of stage costumes.

Many of the subjects covered in Fini's works are still relevant today – question marks still hover over where to draw the lines separating the feminine and the masculine, myth and reality, and the conscious and the subconscious. Fini kept herself on a tight course in terms of the creative path and vision that she had chosen, and she did it so assuredly and demonstratively that she was labeled as a radical and individualist. She joined the surrealist movement and participated in their exhibitions, even though she never identified herself as a member of the movement, always stating that she was independent.

Besides painting portraits, and drawing and painting fantasy scenes, Fini also wrote prose, worked with design, drew illustrations for books, and worked in the theater with Giorgio Strehler and George Balanchine.

She was the costume designer for Fellini's film, “8 1/2”. The ballet “Son Leonor”, with Fini's libretto, decorations and costumes, was brought to the stage in 1949. Fini was also the first set decorator for Roland Petit's Ballet de Paris. Numerous poets, writers, painters and critics have dedicated works to Fini – Jean Cocteau, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Éluard, Max Ernst...

Östra Strandgatan 30
Umeå, Sweden

Life in Västerbotten
Västerbottens Museum
January 31 – April 20

Västerbottens Museum's exhibition of Sweden's most notable documentary photographer and filmmaker, Sune Jonsson, is one of the obligatory events of the cultural year, as well as one that will aid you in finding out more about, and getting a feel for, Västerbotten County, at the center of which is the city of Umeå.

Jonsson's famous photographs from the 1950s to the 70s give a revealing look on that time and the people who were actively migrating to cities in Västerbotten County at the time – how the events of these decades influenced the country's history and landscape, and how society transformed from an agricultural one to an industrial one. In Jonsson's photographs, this is all revealed through the mediating element of human portraiture. The melancholic, black and white photographs show average Swedes going about their lives: with scythes and rakes in their hands after a day in the fields; sitting on hay wagons as they pass by idyllic Swedish homesteads; standing in a seven-foot-deep hole, wiping the sweat of their foreheads after having just dug a grave...

Gammlia, Box 3183
Umeå, Sweden

Klara Persson, Molly & Sus, 2012 

Swedish Picture Book of the Year
Bildmuseet, Umeå
March 16 – May 4, 2014

Snöbollen – The Swedish Picture Book of the Year is a new award, and the only such award in Sweden that honors children's picture books as an artistic medium. The best children's book published in Sweden in 2013 will be announced at Littfest, Umeå's international literary festival, and the winning book will be presented in an exhibition at theBildmuseet contemporary art museum.

Östra Strandgatan 30
Umeå, Sweden


Littfest Literary Festival
March 13 – 15, 2014

Littfest is the largest literary festival in Northern Scandinavia. Exhibitions, performances, seminars and open-mike nights have been bound together in a platform for providing new cooperative opportunities between authors, publishers, literary critics and readers. 

Guitars – The Museum
Museum Opening on February 1, 2014

Why shouldn't the cultural year open with the twangs of a few guitar chords? The brothers Samuel and Michael Åhdén from Umeå are the owners of one of the world's largest private vintage guitar collections: electric guitars, bass guitars and other musical paraphernalia, among them real rarities and legendary pieces – a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst, a 1963 Gibson Firebird III, a 165 Mosrite Joe Maphis... At the museum, you can follow along how a guitar is made, from the wood used for the body, to the tuning pegs and frets. The museum also has a room reserved for temporary exhibits, such as rock'n'roll photography, stage costumes...

Vasagatan 20
Umeå, Sweden