Narratives of the Obsolete

Burkina Faso’s first cassette factory is resurrected as a dying sound archive in Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s exhibition at Färgfabriken in Stockholm.

Theresa Traore Dahlberg, Coppers (detail, 2019. Photo: Karin Björkquist.

The capacity of global capitalism to unite places beyond national borders and their cartographic lines is unparalleled. At the same time, these transnational connections can lead to commodities, production techniques and cultural practices sooner becoming obsolete. These aspects of contemporary life are addressed in Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s (b. 1983) Beckers Art Award 2019 exhibition at Färgfabriken in Stockholm.

Traore Dahlberg graduated from Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Art in 2017 and has made herself known for her documentary work. Her practice is also object-based, and the first thing that greets the viewer is a shadow play emanating from her installation Coppers (2019). Made up of an array of printed circuit boards, the piece is a shining quilt that hangs from ceiling to floor; white cotton thread runs through the copper cards. We are informed that these cards were made in Sweden in the 1990s, but that the industry has since undergone big changes, while the cotton thread has been hand spun by a women’s cooperative in Burkina Faso, the members of which were expelled from their communities after accusations of witchcraft. The context offers a reading of the witch hunt as a result of the social degradation of women whose contributions to society cannot be immediately incorporated into value-creating production.

As with the transition in circuit board production, it is the consequences of the global movement of capital that appear as a backdrop. But one problem is that the economic contexts are only hinted at, and the dialogue between them suffers from a lack of specificity. The distance between Sweden and Burkina Faso remains far too vast for the different materials to cast in a critical light the global spaces that unite the countries.

A far more dynamic and multi-layered convergence of the two nations occurs further into the gallery. If Coppers relies on the sculptural arrangement’s capacity to activate the latent histories of the material, then Traore Dahlberg adopts a far more active role in the documentary videos shown along the room’s right concrete wall, about the history of the Burkinese production company Seydoni. The company was founded in 1998 by the artist’s father, Richard Traore, and established a base for domestic music production, including the country’s first cassette tape factory. However, that medium would soon become obsolete, and the factory machines fell out of use – until now, when Traore Dahlberg has had them restored and exhibited, in tandem with the exhibition at Färgfabriken, at the Musée National du Burkina Faso.

In short sequences, the videos show the processs of restoring and transporting the machines, which are eventually activated in order to transfer music by Swedish artists to cassettes. Alongside this, a selection of Seydoni’s early catalogue is presented: visitors to the exhibition are invited to listen to a collection of Burkinese albums on a cassette player. The ephemeral quality of the medium lends an unexpected gravitas to the listening experience. Information on magnetic tapes begins to erode after thirty years, and the listener soon realises that this is a dying sound archive. Unlike the material in Coppers, the narratives carried by the cassette tapes and machines aren’t what it’s all about. The main subject is, rather, the potential narratives that can be created by inserting these objects in new channels for production and distribution. In this way, Traore Dahlberg manages to establish a number of interesting tensions between past and present, Sweden and Burkina Faso. At the same time, something in the presentation remains unresolved. A large video projection of the exhibition in Burkina Faso is displayed in the back of the room, amounting to another unsuccessful attempt at convincingly situating the viewer in a context that surpasses the walls of the konsthall. 

Installation view from Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s exhibition at Färgfabriken, Stockholm. Photo: Karin Björkquist.