Current exhibition
Johanna Gustafsson Fürst

Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue

17 Jan – 18 Jun

Stockholm-based Johanna Gustafsson Fürst is the third artist to exhibit at the new exhibition space and the first to present sculptures and installations in all of Accelerator’s exhibition spaces. Gustafsson Fürst’s art touches on the connections between social systems and individuals. In the development of Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue, she has been concerned with how power is exerted through language and the relationship between language and body.

The exhibition is closed for installations March 16th–20th 2020, opens again on Saturday March 21st 2020.

Johanna Gustafsson Fürst "Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue". Photo: Gustaf Nordenskiöld.
Johanna Gustafsson Fürst "L/anguish–But if the Word Gags, Does Not Nourish, Bite it Off, 2019. Installation view from the exhibition "Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue" at Accelerator 2020. Photo: Christian Saltas.
Installation view from Johanna Gustafsson Fürsts exhibition "Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue" at Accelerator 2020. Photo: Christian Saltas.
Johanna Gustafsson Fürst "The Mothertongue", 2019. Installation view from the exhibition "Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue" at Accelerator 2020. Photo: Christian Saltas.

About the exhibition

Johanna Gustafsson Fürst’s practice is characterised by dialogue: with materials, spaces, other professional groups, poetry, colleagues and places. The attempt to understand complex contemporary events and social relationships is embodied in her sculptures. Her work is rooted in site-specificity and self-organisation, often in long processes in public space. Consequently, Accelerator has invited Gustafsson Fürst to participate in a dynamic exhibition format that allows change. Gustafsson Fürst visited Accelerator early in its construction process and the works were created in tandem with the development of Accelerator’s galleries. The exhibition Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue is structured as a two-part drama in which several works will take on a different form and new works will be added in part two.

Language violence and subject formation
Work on Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue began in the summer of 2018 when Gustafsson Fürst spent a research period in Lainio in Norrbotten, close to the Finnish border1..  She describes how she met people who had been affected by the language violence that was part of the Swedification process of Tornedalen, which began when Sweden lost Finland in 1809. In the 1880s, all teaching in state-sponsored schools was in Swedish, which meant that other contemporary languages were de facto banned from schools and libraries.  The result was that school children were deprived of their ability to communicate. Gustafsson Fürst became concerned with how such an experience affects subject formation and the intimate conflation of body and language. In today’s Sweden, bills have been introduced in parliament proposing the banning of the speaking of languages other than Swedish on breaks in elementary schools and to withdraw mother-tongue education. The discrepancy between such language policies and the encounter with language-loss experiences and the promotion of pluralism has been central to the creation of the works in the exhibition.

The title Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue derives partly from a poem byBengt Pohjanen and partly from the work process in the studio in which the synthesising of bentwood according to the method of grafting became a metaphor for how languages infect and disseminate into each other. In the poem Jag är född utan språk [I was born without language], Pohjanen writes[2]:

Jag är uppväxt vid gränsen [I was brought up at the border]
i korseld mellan två språk [in the crossfire between two languages]
som piskat min tunga [that have whipped my tongue]
till stumhet [into silence]

Borrowing the words whip and tongue, Gustafsson Fürstchose to create a bidirectional movement. An exhortation for one’s own tongue to whip, to act and at the same time a masochistic prayer for a linguistic challenge.

[1] The research trip was part of the artistic initiative Residence-In-Nature: a cross-disciplinary project initiated by Åsa Jungnelius where artists are invited to work with a specific locality. Residence-In-Nature in Lainio was organised by Hans Isaksson, Åsa Jungnelius and Lisa Torell.

[2] From Bengt Pohjanen’s poem Jag är född utan språk [I was born without language], Vår Lösen, 1973:3. Bengt Pohjanen writes novels, plays, film scripts, songs, poems and librettos in three languages: Swedish, Meänkieli and Finnish.

" I am fascinated by how language intertwines our bodies and societies, and, above all, how it feels when language is broken down, and what the consequences are. What does the linguistic violence exerted by governments to maintain and expand the nation state do to us? Although many people are aware that language is changing perpetually and is stimulated by diversity, there are calls for uniformity, through cutbacks in teaching first languages, for instance, and demands that proficiency in Swedish should be a condition for citizenship. "

Johanna Gustafsson Fürst

Works in the exhibition

VOX, 2020

The first work the viewer encounters in the exhibition is VOX, 2020. Vox is Latin for ‘voice’. The installation comprises various elements that disseminate into all the galleries of the exhibition space. Modelled aluminium poles and distressed barrier tape create obstructions. A piece of fabric found on the shore of the Baltic Sea on the southern tip of the island of Öland has been installed like a flag. A steel rack covered by reflective fabric is illuminated by a spotlight that lights up the reflector and, at the same time, blinds. Language is a constant, collective negotiation in which words and dialects continuously appear and disappear. The work assumes different forms depending on the position of the viewer.

Johanna Gustafsson Fürst “VOX” (detail), 2020. Installation view from the exhibition “Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue” at Accelerator 2020. Photo: Christian Saltas.
Johanna Gustafsson Fürst “L/anguish–But if the Word Gags, Does Not Nourish, Bite it Off, 2019. Installation view from the exhibition “Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue” at Accelerator 2020. Photo: Christian Saltas.

L/anguish–But if the Word Gags, Does Not Nourish, Bite it Off, 2019  

The installation is composed of 21 sculptures in which parts of bentwood have been synthesised using various grafting methods. The bentwood, which in itself has been elaborated into shapes beyond its organic capacity, has, in the sculpture, been further compressed until cracks and tears appear. Grafting is a method in plant breeding. A foreign part is united with a growing plant by insertion. For example, grafting makes it possible for several types of apples to grow from one tree. Grafting is both enriching and violent. Gustafsson Fürst has returned to the idea of banning or confining a language as a kind of mutilation in contrast to the proliferation by grafting. The title is composed of two synthesised fragments from two poems in the collection She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks (1989) by poet M. NourbeSe Philip: “L/anguish” from the poem Discourse on the Logic of Language and “but if the word gags, does not nourish, bite it off” from Universal Grammar.

The ABC-book, 2020

The exhibition process set out from the experiences of language loss that Gustafsson Fürst encountered in Norrbotten. The ABC-book is a work that began as an in-depth study of language policies as an instrument for constructing a nation. In 1611, Johannes Bureus created Sweden’s first alphabet book for schools, a primer on national language teaching and a Swedification tool, which has appeared in various versions since then. In the work, steel fence sections have been joined together into a mesh. In a public environment, fence sections constitute a directional structure. A tool for public administration in order to protect or constrain. The question of how a language system is interwoven and how individuals encounter and are woven into the system has been central to Gustafsson Fürst.

Johanna Gustafsson Fürst “THE ABC-book”, 2020. Installation view from the exhibition “Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue” at Accelerator 2020. Photo: Christian Saltas.

The Mothertongue, 2019

The title The Mothertongue is borrowed from the English mother tongue, one’s native language. Gustafsson Fürst notices with interest that the English word points to the assumption that a specific language is related to origin and body. The development of a language is an organic and changeable process of synthesisation with no a clear beginning or end. A language is always in a state of flux and if one is raised in a multilingual environment one has several “mother tongues”. In the sculpture, chair components and burls from Norrbotten have been synthesised. In some sections, the material has been carefully ground to achieve a seamless body; in other sections, the breaks are clearly visible.  

Johanna Gustafsson Fürst “The Mothertongue”, 2019. Installation view from the exhibition “Graft the Words, Whip My Tongue” at Accelerator 2020. Photo: Christian Saltas.

Exhibition publication

Editor: Sara Abdollahi
Graphic designer: Jonas Williamsson
Authors: Ida Börjel, Balsam Karam, Negar Naseh, Lars Raattamaa and Loretto Villalobos

Researcher collaborations

In the process of producing the exhibition for Accelerator, Johanna Gustafsson Fürst met with language researchers at Stockholm University who generously shared their research. Stockholm University has long defended and upheld a strong position in foreign-language teaching, language didactics and linguistics. The research, and not least the researchers in language didactics and multilingualism who have been involved in the exhibition, agree that mother-tongue education promotes further language learning. In collaboration with researchers at the university, Accelerator will present a series of talks based on the exhibition’s central issues.

About Johanna Gustafsson Fürst

Johanna Gustafsson Fürst is born in 1973 and lives and works in Stockholm. She has an MFA from the Royal Institute of Fine Arts in Stockholm (2003). Fürst has been exhibited both in Sweden and internationally, and is represented by Belenius Gallery in Stockholm. In 2017, she received the Friends of Moderna Museets’s Sculpture Prize, followed by an extensive solo exhibition.


Johanna Gustafsson Fürst, Artist

Exhibition team Accelerator
Therese Kellner, Curator
Richard Julin, Artistic Director Accelerator
Tove Nilson, Communications Manager
Erik Wijkström, Exhibition Technician

Collaborators to the artist
Gustaf Nordenskiöld, artist
Lisa Torell, artist
Malin Sternesjö, artist

The artist wishes to thank:
Sara Abdollahi, author
Axel Andersson, author
Eva Arnqvist, artist
Henrik Eriksson, artist
Christina Fürst
Thomas Gustafsson
Hans Isaksson, artist
Åsa Jungnelius, artist
Jarmo Lainio, professor of Finnish, Stockholm University
Inger Lindberg, professor emerita, Department of Language Education, Stockholm University
Mona Mörtlund, poet and language activist
Malin Nordström, artist
Liv Strand, artist
Erik Torvén, architect
Jonas Williamsson, graphic designer
Lena Ylipää, artist
Karin Ylipää, teacher
Gallery Niklas Belenius

See all events at Accelerator