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Only a few generations ago, people were publicly executed in Sweden. The executions took place not only in the cities, but all over the country – the “penalty” should be paid where the crime was committed. The idea that public death sentences would deter people from committing crimes was deeply rooted, and children and young people were encouraged to be present in the public to learn what could happen if they didn’t abide by the law and social norms.


Today’s humane society, governed by the rule of law, was not always self-evident. Between 1800 and 1864, there were 644 people publicly executed in Sweden – almost one per month and in the 1700s there were many more.


The Prison Museum of Sweden, together with Region Gävleborg, has engaged local residents to identify and investigate former execution sites in the county of Gävleborg. These sites reflect historical circumstances that have been rendered almost invisible in Sweden; many are unmarked and forgotten, despite the cruel and degrading acts that took place on them.


Starting from these detailed local studies, the project, BORDERLANDS, SPACES IN BETWEEN, PRECIPICES, will include contemporary art, museum programs and tours of a selection of the former execution sites. We will also place these sites in relation to the continuation of the death penalty in other parts of the world, and look at how these thematically limited spaces can be connected with other places with regard to power, repression and violations of equal rights in the world today.




The principle goal of the project is to highlight nine or ten execution sites, and mark at least five of them with site-specific contemporary art installations. We will offer educational programmes at these places, inviting people who can contribute different perspectives on the sites to participate. We also aim to place a memorial on at least one site by the time the project is concluded. project. The project will end in December 2017 with a summary exhibition at the Prison Museum of Sweden and it will be documented in a book.


The project is conducted in cooperation with local residents, whose immediate surroundings contain the sites and their history, and therefore it is important to maintain good communications with the local populace. In the course of the project we will gather together reference groups of interested people in various parts of the county.


The project is financed by contributions from the Postkodlotteriets KulturStiftelse (Post Code Lottery’s Cultural Foundation): see KulturStiftelsens project blog KulturStiftelsens projektblog 


It is often just at borders that we find the former execution sites; old parish boundaries that were marked by stone mounds and called boundary markers or boundary lines. These borderlands resembled a no-man’s land, a space in between, a place where undesirables were sent, located outside the village and everyday life – on the margin. According to popular belief, lost souls got caught and stuck in these spaces, and therefore suicides as well as executed people were buried there.


Can we identify similar borders, spaces and precipices today? In what way are these spaces, execution sites and death penalties associated with perceptions of identity, class, ethnicity, sexuality and gender? How can we challenge boundaries that seem to cut through what is humane, that form the basis for social positions and existence inside – or outside – shared feelings of community?


We are convinced that thoughtful cooperation is a prerequisite for the project. Obvious partners include regional museums, archives and the municipalities in the county. That the previous execution sites are often located on boundaries also invites a more cross-border collaboration and inter-regional exchanges of experience with the surrounding counties. If you would like to be one of our collaborative partners, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are open for proposals and suggestions.


At the moment, we are cooperating with the following:

Kulturutveckling region Gävleborg



Amnestys aktionsgrupp mot dödsstraffet


Stigfinnaren Arkeologi


The Prison Museum of Sweden is the formal leader of the project BORDERLANDS, SPACES IN BETWEEN, PRECIPICES,.  From an historical perspective, we create platforms for reflections on our own time and the values we share. We  concentrate on the darker sides of society, its power structures and human faults and failings. The Prison Museum of Sweden is run by a voluntary association and is located in Gävle. The museum is responsible for the Swedish Prisons and Probation Service’s historical collections and manages two permanent exhibitions, one in a castle prison from 1732 and a gaol cell from 1847.


Read more about the Prison Museum of Sweden


Staying within the walls, however, restricts us if we want to discuss and problematize the historical formulation, “punishment to himself and a warning to others”. The castle prison was a county gaol where people were detained while waiting for their verdict. The detention period could be long, especially in cases of a death sentence as the sentence must first be approved by the Royal Court of Appeal before it could be carried out. The condemned person should also be counselled by a priest to prepare for the execution. The punishment, or sentencing, would then take place in the community where the crime was committed – “a warning to others”.