The Umeå Volcano would have created a place where people could meet for no special reason, away from home and public places where human behaviour is largely ritualised – like the bar, the restaurant, or the cinema. It would be a place where the ways of relating to other people would have to be reinvented.
The volcano was intended to be the beginning of a ‘new narrative’ about the town of Umeå, a narrative filled with exoticism and a desire to leave ‘the end of the world’, as its inhabitants themselves call it or, conversely, to bring the world closer to it. It was an effect of the artist’s profound sympathy for this place, her dismay at the self-inflicted isolation of the people living there, and, finally, it was an attempt to manifest the tension generated by that isolation.
The Umeå Volcano project would have necessitated the construction of a 15-metre volcano-shaped mound. It would be built on a system of steel supports arranged in a circle to form a cone. This would be covered with boards over which concrete would be poured to create a surface resembling solidified lava. Inside the construction there would be a chimney starting at a large hearth and, at the top, an opening serving as its outlet. A number of skylights with coloured panes would be set into the sides, and several irregularly placed openings would lead into the construction. Once inside, you would be able to sit on a comfortable bench and light a fire in the hearth using wood stored inside for the purpose. The Umeå Volcano would become ‘active’ when the people inside decide to light a fire in the hearth – the construction would start emitting smoke. The project was devised in consultation with the people of Umeå.
On 11th November 2006, a meeting took place at the town’s public library where those present discussed the volcano’s construction, function, and, above all, its location. It seemed that the best idea was to locate the construction on a stony hill called Hamrinsberget, near the town centre, a popular beauty spot. This was a suggestion by Amir, an Iranian-born engineer based in Sweden since the mid-1980s. What most interested the participants of the meeting were the volcano’s practical functions – whether it could be used as a toboggan run, a meeting place, a landmark. Though it was mentioned that the town needed a symbol, something that would make it special, the meeting’s participants didn’t speak about the need for a place where people could meet without a specific reason, nor, for that matter, about the Umeå inhabitants’ self-isolation and the resulting sense of tension, widespread alcohol abuse, and so on. The fundamental question of what the volcano would actually be for Umeå wasn’t discussed either.
At a dinner just before I left, the owner of Hamrinsberget spoke to me for the first time. He approached me, shook my hand and said: “Have a good time in Sweden.” And then he left.