Mapping and interpreting the historical specificity of a particular site, Maddie Leach’s practice offers testament to communities, events and histories. Her project for GIBCA delves into black metal subculture in Sweden. Leach examined the story of the band Dissection from Strömstad, who became recognised as black metal pioneers in the 1990s. As typical within black metal culture, the group’s identity adopted images and symbols of darkness associated with the occult and the satanic, such as the inverse pentagram or inverse crucifix.
On 22 July 1997, Josef Ben Meddour, a homosexual Algerian man, was murdered in Keillers Park in Gothenburg. He had been shot two times and was found near a stone water tower. Described as a homophobic hate crime, the leader of the band Dissection Jon Nödtveidt and his friend were imprisoned for the murder. Nödtveidt was released in 2004 and reformed the band with a new line-up, before committing suicide in 2006.
The title of Leach’s project, The Grief Prophesy, is derived from Dissection’s first demo tape The Grief Prophecy, released in 1991. Leach has collaborated with the artist Kristian Wåhlin (Necrolord), who produced album covers for Dissection, asking him to create an image of the water tower in Keillers Park. The image, visible above, shows also the Gothenburg Mosque symbolising the pluralisation of beliefs and backgrounds of people in Sweden over recent decades. This image appears on the cover of a new vinyl recording containing slowed-down versions of a Dissection instrumental piece titled Into Infinite Obscurity, performed on hurdy-gurdy and oud. Hurdy-gurdy (vevlira) is an instrument associated with Swedish folk music promoted by extremist nationalistic parties as ‘ true Swedish culture’. The other instrument used in the recording, the oud, is originating in North Africa and the Middle East. As a form of lament, the elongated recordings sit in relation to ideas of continued invisibility and memory that underpin The Grief Prophesy project.
An unrealised part of the project was based in Keillers Park itself. Leach observed a roughly drawn inverted pentagram, marking the water tower site, on a public map depicting key features in the park. As a response to this coded gesture, the artist proposed to engrave a small pentagram on the water tower’s entrance. The pentagram, a symbol common to different religions and folklore is, to many, inextricably linked to satanic aesthetics and the occult. However here the pentagram was to be configured the ‘opposite’ way round, in which it is associated with notions of protection, banishing, harmony and justice - intended as a quiet counteraction to mark 20 years since the murder of Josef Ben Meddour. Permission was declined for the proposal.
A presentation of the project and a live performance of The Grief Prophesy at oud and hurdy gurdy have been hosted by Musiclovers Records/Café Höga Nord on September 26th.
A discussion between Maddie Leach, Thomas Bossius and Kristian Wåhlin (Necrolord) around black metal culture, aesthetics and memory took place at Göteborgs Konsthall on September 27th.
Maddie Leach lives and works in Gothenburg.
The work is commissioned for Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (GIBCA) 2017
Supported by The Cultural Foundation of the Swedish Postcode Lottery and Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg
The Grief Prophesy, image comissioned from Kristian Wåhlin. Courtesy the artist.