Undamming Rivers

Bonniers Konsthall is proud to present the newly produced installation Undamming Rivers (2022), that provides the name for the exhibition. The work is Cooking Sections’ call for action, a process of infrastructural removal that provides the name for this exhibition. Relating to the 50th anniversary of the landmark UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972, this new piece delivers a proposition for the future.

Hydropower dams are structures seen as a paradigm of modernity that, despite their aspiration to produce ‘clean energy’, needs to be reconsidered. Thousands of such concrete barriers are located all over Sweden but especially in Sápmi. And yet, most of the power produced is fed to the more densely populated areas in the south of the country. Many dams are nonetheless redundant, obsolete or produce very little electricity. Despite ongoing efforts by local residents and associations to unbuild them, they still have a harmful impact on human livelihoods and river ecologies. 

Following a long research process and a series of interviews with different stakeholders in Sweden and abroad, Undamming Rivers is a vision to remove unnecessary barriers to enable salmon to fulfil their life cycle by swimming upstream. The piece uses the exhibition to amplify calls for removing such obstacles, or speed up ongoing legal efforts and campaigns to dismantle them. Departing from the recent consent to remove Hednäs dam, depicted on the façade of Bonniers Konsthall, the installation consists of a stylised map of Sweden’s salmon rivers that are obstructed by concrete hydro-dams. 

The accompanying collages depict a series of cut-out dams that could be removed in what Cooking Sections refer to as a proposal for a major land-art project in the climate crisis. If land-art historically made additions to landscapes to highlight the temporalities between humans and the environment, Undamming Rivers focuses on the potential of removing redundant infrastructure from the face of the Earth. In a time when dependencies on fossil fuels are under fire and the many cracks of nuclear energy are ignored, it pushes us to think critically about how ‘renewable’ our renewable future should be. 

Hydropower dams featured in the installation

1. Rönne å, Stackarp kraftverk. Removal application submitted in 2022. The municipality is removing two dams in Rönne å, to allow the river to flow freely.

2. Helgeån, Genastorp kraftverk. 15 hydropower plants remain in the Helgeån, many lacking contemporary permits.

3. Mörrumsån, Hemsjö nedre kraftverk. The last standing barrier on a partially restored river.

4. Alsterån, Höneströms dammen. Existing efforts to remove small barriers and restore habitats. The entire area around Höneströms dam is designated as a national interest for nature conservation.

5. Eman, Högsby kraftverk. Under consideration for removal.

6. Dalälven, Älvkarleby kraftverk. Releases 140,000 farmed salmon smolts each year, contributing to the transformation of the Baltic into a giant salmon farm.

7. Dalälven, Trängsletdammen. Tallest dam in Sweden; it holds the largest artificial lake.

8. Testeboån, Strömsbro kraftverk. Ongoing application for removal.

9. Ljusnan, Ljusnefors kraftverk. Blocks salmon migration from the mouth of the river.

10. Ljusnan, Dönje kraftverk. Timber floatation led to famous ‘salmon quarrels’, whilst metalwork industry in the 19th century led to the river being coined ‘Ljusne Kätting’ – ‘Ljusne of Chains.’

11. Ljusnan, Långströmmen kraftverk. Around 200,000 salmon are released annually.

12. Ljungan, Viforsens kraftverk. This dam is the closest of 14 powerplants to the river mouth, acting as a major hindrance.

13. Indalsälven, Bergeforsens kraftverk. Near the mouth of the river where historic falls were drained (Döda Fallet).

14. Indalsälven, Järpströmmens kraftverk. The most remote hydropower plant producing electricity for Stockholm when built in 1944. Nearby town of Åre has stopped serving farmed salmon in schools and kindergartens.

15. Ångermanälven, Degerforsens kraftverk. Once mighty enough to be named as Angry/Deep Fjord. Today it is blocked.

16. Moälven, Anundsjö kraftverk. Despite river restoration efforts, three hydropower plants in the river system still prevent salmon from travelling to the riverhead.

17. Gideälven, Gideåbacka vattenkraftverk. Several dams block the river closer to its mouth.

18. Gideälven, Stennäs kraftverk. Part of the river is classified as a national interest for nature conservation.

19. Öreälven, vattenkraftstation Agnäs. Local salmon at 25% of expected population.

20. Umeälven, Stornorrfors. One of the energy company’s largest fish hatchery releases more than 100,000 salmon, sea trout and grayling annually.

21. Umeälven, Harrsele kraftverk. The wild salmon population in the river has gone extinct.

22. Vindelälven, Åman övre. Removal under consideration.

23. Sävarån, Sävar. Most of the river has been restored, but obstacles from the ironworks and sawmill industry are still standing.

24. Rickleån, Robertsfors power plant / Fredriksfors kraftverk. After salmon’s near extinction due to heavy metals exposure, the dam closest to the mouth is being considered for removal.

25. Skellefteälven, Kvistforsdammen. Salmon population is dependent on annual releases from fish hatcheries.

26. Skellefteälven, Krångfors kraftstation. An old dam dating back to 1928.

27. Skellefteälven, Vargfors kraftverk. Salmon population exists only due to releases from fish hatcheries.

28. Abyälven, Hednäs dam. One of Sweden’s longest salmon ladders. Inefficient, unproductive and expensive to maintain, the full removal of the dam, the last barrier of the river, is currently pending.

29. Piteälven, Lillpite kraftstation. Dam removal is under consideration. The deadline for submitting the application to the environmental court is 1st of September 2023.

30. Piteälven, Sikfors vattenkraftverk. Despite encroachment of one of the four largest Swedish river systems, the river is in the category of unharnessed rivers worthy of protection.

31. Luleälven, Bodens vattenkraftverk. The first major hindrance on a completely dammed river system. Despite being considered for removal, thirteen other dams are blocking the salmon migration.

32. Luleälven, Porsi kraftstation. Despite being a major disruption in the river’s ecology, the energy company declared the surroundings as their first nature conservation area.

33. Luleälven, Letsi dam. The 17-km dry bed created by the dam is often referred to as the longest in Europe.

34. Luleälven, Porjus dam. The dams in this river provide around 16% of Sweden’s electricity.

35. Sangisälven, Taipale dam. The only dam in the river, apart from the 51 other culverts from the tributaries, regarded as salmon migration hindrances.

36. Tornealven, Ekfors västra/Ekfors övre. One in three of the salmon that feed in the Baltic are born in this river system, one of the most important breeding areas for salmon in Europe. The dams in the Swedish catchment area are being considered for removal.