OsloBIENNALEN is indeed a very ambitious curatorial project, stretching the concept of a biennale from two till five years. And since it is called «first edition», let us assume it does not end there.
The very first bunch of participating projects were launched in May 2019. The projects, well spread out around in the city, somewhat disrupt the mundane. Like Carole Douillards performance “The Viewers”, where a group of people stand together for hours at various locations, staring at people passing by. Or Ed D´Souzas “Migrant Car”, a model of a car with a special history, moving through the car-free zone of Oslo.
And now, five months after the initial release, an new program has emerged. It is a little confusing since there appears to be no logic behind the time of the release. What does “October-program” really indicate? Does it mean that October will be the month of releases every year? Or is it randomly selected? It is hard to fully grasp.
It is likely to think that new projects would be dropped either one by one, or as a group every six months or every year. Like chapters. It would give the audience prediction and something to look forward to.
In general, it is unnecessarily hard to find information about the biennale – where to find the simple where, when and what. It should be organized in such a way that even osloBIENNALEN beginners may easily follow.
It is more like a treasure hunt.
To explain the October-program in short, eight new projects have been added to the existing program. A publication and installation by Adrián Balseca (EC), a sculpture/installation by Marcelo Cidade (BR), a film by Jonas Dahlberg (NO), a billboard project by Oliver Godow (GE), postcards by Katja Høst (NO), a film by Javier Izquierdo (EC), a field recording by Alexander Rishaug (NO) and a film by Knut Åsdam (NO).
No less than three of the eight projects are about the Government-quarter. It is not unexpected as October is the month when supposedly the Y-block, a central building in the government-quarter and an icon in Norwegian post-war architecture, received its death-sentence.
It all begun with the terrorist attack in the government-quarter on July 22nd, 2011. Parked among the buildings, a car exploded, killing 8 people and damaging many surrounding iconic buildings. Even after 8 years the atmosphere of the quarter still oozes of the severity of what had happened.
It is exactly the death-silence of one of the government-quarter´s buildings that Norwegian artist Alexander Rishaug has made his project of. Over two nights in 2017, Rishaug recorded the sounds inside the damaged tower-block, the H-block. The result will be released on an LP in December 2019, as part of the osloBIENNALEN.
The Y-block is where the Norwegian photographer Katja Høst has anchored her project. In various locations around the city, people can pick up Høsts postcards for free. There are 24 different motifs from in and around the block in black and white, but of various artistic quality. Some are really capturing the current atmosphere of the block, but others are quite uninteresting. It is thus a way to spread the word about the block and give the audience a little memory of what it was once it is gone.
The third project on the Government-quarter is Jonas Dahlberg´s film “Notes on a Memorial” presented in Kunstnernes Hus. Dahlberg had been selected to make a memorial of the 22nd of July, where in his film he takes the audience into the complicated planning phase, presenting a number of strong opinions. As the 22nd of July is one of Norways great tragedies in modern times, it is indeed not an easy task to be given. It ended with both his memorial at Utøya and at the Government quarter being cancelled. The film is more or less a documentary, giving new life to the thrown away projects that really would have been great to see realized. It is political, emotional, poetic and informative, all at the same time.
Surprises in public places
The twoo projects that sneak into public places are works by Oliver Godow and Knut Åsdam.
I had to return to Majorstua Metro-station two times in order to find Godow´s work. There is one small and one big billboard with an image of a yellow sack with trash from renovations. The yellow sack is so common in public space that it is not really a shock that the work was hard to notice, even on a big billboard.
In the catalogue, the project is said to be “(..) depicting scenes of urban development that the City of Oslo has been – and still is – undergoing”. It sounds interesting on the paper, but the Majorstua-work is a little bit “so what…?”. Hopefully, the book and postcards that supposedly extend the project are more interesting and clarifying regarding Godow´s overall project.
Standing out from its environment is Knut Åsdam´s film “Oslo”. Shown in several unexpected places such as underground or at the meat market, it is a surprise that awakens curiosity
The fragmented film is based on stories and observations about Oslo, and it will continue to evolve over the coming years, resulting in a full version to be launched in 2024. A project I look forward to.
Merging with the City
I love the concept of putting art out where people do not expect to see it. It somehow liberates the works from all the prejudices that come with the label “art” and “art institution”. Besides, the institutions of contemporary art normally have a specific, narrow audience, so the use of public space is a way to welcome everybody into the world of contemporary art.
This does not mean that the projects are always so easy to find. It is more like a treasure hunt. OsloBIENNALEN is not screaming for attention, but that does not mean it is without statements. It is exactly what helps to merge with the city so well. Plus, its wide geographical placement including all the districts, is to be praised.
It is thus a paradox how individual projects manage to be so physically accessible to the people of Oslo, yet the biennale is so restricted in its ability to communicate.
It is all or nothing: Either you really dive into the large and complicated material and get it all, or you get confusing fragments. But confronted with the actual artworks, it is surprisingly uncomplicated.
It is not hard to understand how it must be challenging to manage a “biennale” of this size, and hopefully that means it will grow into its ideal shape over the years.