A film by Johanna Billing with Mix Dancers
For almost three years, the artist Johanna Billing has been collaborating with the dance group Mix Dancers from Råslätt, Jönköping. In the meeting between the dancers and her artistic practice, the film In Purple has emerged during a long process of discovery, where an activity that usually takes place in a basement with purple painted walls has taken the shape of a parade.
The dance group Mix Dancers perform hip hop, afro, and dance hall styles. It was started by a group of young girls who got tired of everything being about football. For over a decade the dance group has evolved into an important activity in the area through the dance school Mix Dancers Academy. The dance group’s history and great importance for the place and in many young women’s life are central to the artwork.
The area Råslätt is built around a centre with schools, sport fields, a church and other public services. It was part of the “Million Programme” (a public housing program carried out in Sweden in the 1960s and 70s). Like many other housing estates from that era, most of the outdoor sporting arenas are for activities mainly practiced by men. Dance is a mix of sport, spare time activity and cultural expression aimed at an audience that was not taken into consideration when the sports facilities were built in the 1960s and 70s. In Purple illustrates the lack of public space for women and girls as well as how the knowledge and work within the group is carried forward into the future, from the older participants to the younger.
The film depicts a physically demanding, choreographed parade where the group slowly moves along the estate’s pedestrian paths and green areas, accompanied by the sounds of lawn mowers, birds and utility vehicles. Together they carry large, heavy, purple window panes, they pause between the buildings to change their grip. The panes reflect the pink, green and purple of the surrounding façades, created by the artists Jon Pärson and Lennart Joanson who in the 1980s painted 80,000 square meters of the façade to soften the brutalist architecture. The camera lens places it all on the same level: gestures, surroundings, sound, movements, and architectural motifs are interwoven into a unified experience. The movement is focused and methodical, but also vulnerable. One small misstep and the glass panes could break. The simultaneously heavy and fragile panes become a filter that colour the surroundings, and literally illustrate how Mix Dancers have affected their environment. They also show how strong, but at the same time exposed a self-organised group can be.
In a symbolic act the older members of the group hand over the panes to the younger ones they have trained to take over the activities, and who onerously carry them on. This generational shift, both the figurative one in the artwork and the one in the real world, emphasise the working conditions and sometimes high expectations on young shoulders that the volunteers behind a group such a Mix Dancers face. In Purple is a tribute to the enthusiast who carry things forward, an establishment of their necessity and a call for the surrounding society to give them reasonable conditions to succeed. With her background in dance and music, Johanna Billing also has a personal entry point to the project. She grew up in Jönköping herself and has her own experiences of trying to organise alternative cultural platforms outside of the established frameworks.
The music in the choreography has been created in collaboration with Neva Deelay. The piece was commissioned by the Public Art Agency Sweden within the governmental assignment Konst händer (Art happens). Collaborative partners: Mix Dancers and Jönköping municipality/Stadsgården.
Photo: Jenny Lindberg