Elf Dalia

by Maja Daniels

Most people in Älvdalen still speak Elfdalian, an ancient language derived from the Vikings’ Old Norse. How it is still spoken today is a mystery to linguists, as Älvdalen has never been an isolated community.
In 1668, an Älvdalen girl was accused of walking on water, sparking the Swedish witch hunts. Twenty women and one man were executed in the region, largely based on the testimonies of children.

In 1935, a man called Tenn Lars Persson spoke on national radio – in Elfdalian – about sorcery and the Black Book of Magic. Persson was an avid photographer and collector of local history and myths. Drawn to the unknown, he used photography to experiment in astronomy and physics, building a telescope and photographing the moon.

In 2012, Maja Daniels began working in the region, engaging with Persson’s photo archive, questions around language, her own family history, and the many mysteries associated with Älvdalen.
As the very idea of community becomes ever more fluid and complex, this project seeks to engage in a deeper understanding of our place within it. The attention brought to the materiality of the photograph creates a symbolic parallel between the fragility of a photographic negative and a language that is at the brink of disappearing.
Elf Dalia explores themes of language, history, ritual, mystery and the strangeness of the everyday, navigating the world through photography, sculpture, film and sound. When restaging the act of looking at “Tenn Lars” archival images both presence and absence, past, present and future is evoked in a timeless narrative filled with mystery, wonder and loss.


Colour images: Maja Daniels, Image from Elf Dalia (MACK 2019), Courtesy the artist
Black and white images: Tenn Lars Persson (1878-1938), image from Elf Dalia by Maja Daniels, Courtesy of Elfdalen Hembygdsförening (EHF)