Carola Grahn, Fasad (Facade), 2020, wood, 13' 11⁄2“ × 13' 11⁄2” × 13' 11⁄2".

Carola Grahn, Fasad (Facade), 2020, wood, 13' 11⁄2“ × 13' 11⁄2” × 13' 11⁄2".

Carola Grahn

Röda Sten Konsthall has no gift shop. Carola Grahn changed this with the exhibition “I Have Scrutinized Every Stone and Log on the Southwest Side of the Mountain,” for which she installed Shop, 2020, at the entrance to the nonprofit art space. On coffee mugs and sweatshirts, the artist evokes her Sámi heritage by posing in ethno-punk style, wearing a traditional gákti. In the corner stood Ice Ice Baby, 2020, a freezer full of ice cream with her portrait on the wrapper. The scene evoked a blissful 1990s mix of ironic ethnic marketing and playful institutional critique.

But the ground floor was only the first strategic stage of a complex exhibition drama occupying the four floors of the konsthall. Entering the stairwell, one could already notice a change of tone, signaled by the characteristic scent of birchwood from the second floor. There, in the gallery’s biggest and most industrial space, the sculpture Mur (Wall), 2020—a sort of barricade, more than twenty-five feet long, of cut firewood—rose up like a gentle Richard Serra sculpture. Also here was Fasad (Facade), 2020, which looked from the front like a thirteen-foot square of the same material. The “natural resource” of the forest makes birch firewood congenial to an art project reflecting the psychological effects of Swedish modernity.

Stacked firewood looks more or less the same whether the logs have been industrially processed or hand cut with an ax: The accreted sculptural form here made visible the temporalities of labor as well as the annual rings of the trees. During the course of the exhibition, the sculpture likely went from unseasoned and fresh to seasoned and dry, ready for the springtime fire. Fifteen text-based works on paper, Dikter (Poems), 2013–19, with legends such as DET MEST SAMISKA JAG HAR / ÄR SMÄRTAN (The most Sámi in me / is pain), seemed to make colonial violence a subtext to all the sensations in the space.

On the third floor, the atmosphere changed completely again. Installed in a snug space with a carpeted floor was work from the series “Notes on Hide,” 2017–: a mixture of wall-hung pieces made from textiles and reindeer skin in simple configurations sometimes drawn from the iconography of duodji, traditional Sámi handiwork. The words GODNATT LILLE LAPP GODMORGON SVENSK (Good night little Lapp good morning Swede), embroidered on a woolen blanket of the sort used at the boarding schools for Sámi children until the end of the 1970s, contrasted an atmosphere of care and contemplation with the soft biopolitics of education, which left many people in Grahn’s parents’ generation unable to understand Sámi languages.

On the fourth floor, the exhibition reached its conclusion with the video installation Look Who’s Talking, 2016—a frenetic post-internet-style montage about identity and history, mixing images from Sámi cosmology with texts highlighting the politics of race and assimilation. Spelling out the problem without drawing any conclusions, Grahn produced a melancholic yet desperately demanding affect. Rather than an Olympian overview or an internal cognitive map, the show was a drama of emotional stratigraphy, each floor a layer of sensations from an unhappy consciousness haunted by Swedish colonialism. What was strange was that, with the worn tools of contemporary art, Grahn’s work made this situation attractive by totally surrendering to an impossible mission. Perhaps her short wall texts, poetic fragments such as DET ÄR OMÖJLIGHTEN / SOM LOCKAR (It is the impossibility / that entices), said it all. Whatever the Sámi aspect of this art is, it cannot be indexed to a specific signifier or a specific feeling, not even pain.