As Oslo looks towards the opening of two new museums in 2020 – the Munch Museum and the National Museum – a new arts initiative, osloBIENNALEN, is already bringing a range of diverse artistic projects to the city’s public spaces, inviting residents and visitors alike to rethink and explore a city that is undergoing rapid transformation. osloBIENNALEN is no ordinary biennial presentation, it will have a different time frame to the usual biennial format, unfolding over the next five years with an evolving programme of art in public spaces.
It is perhaps not surprising that a new way of envisaging a biennial has come out of Norway: the country's social democratic policy includes a longstanding tradition of placing works of art in public spaces and providing universal free access to art and culture, with the city of Oslo particularly committed to supporting art initiatives. Responding to the dynamic and changing nature of Oslo’s public spaces, the projects the are being rolled out will have varying tempos, rhythms and life-spans, offering a new way for how we encounter art in the public space.
Twenty-six projects by locally and internationally based artists are set to open over the course of 2019, and more are set to be announced at regular intervals over the coming years. An initial set of sixteen projects were this weekend revealed to the city’s visual arts audience in a series of interventions across the municipality. Free, accessible, and often unexpected, art in public space plays quite a different role to art in museums, and osloBIENNALEN First Edition 2019–2024, sets out to explore the unusual contexts and questions it presents.
Proposing a new biennial model, co-curators Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk note in their curatorial statement: “The works pose questions about the timeframes and situations in which they operate, contexts that overflow conventional, institutional time/spaces. How are such works produced and presented? How do they engage with audiences, or enter an art collection? What kind of curatorial framework supports these works and their timeframes, which may stretch indefinitely beyond the one-off event? How might this framework be designed or constituted?”
Over the past weekend, visitors have already begun to discover a range of projects encompassing sculpture, text works, experiences, performances, painting, sound, public outreach and workshops, and work by the following artists is to be included: Mikaela Assolent (FR), Benjamin Bardinet (FR), Julien Bismuth (FR), Carole Douillard (FR), Ed D’Souza (UK), Mette Edvardsen (NO), Jan Freuchen, Sigurd Tenningen and Jonas Høgli Major (NO), Gaylen Gerber (US), Hlynur Hallsson (IS), Rose Hammer, Marianne Heier (NO), Michelangelo Miccolis (IT/ MX), Mônica Nador and Bruno Oliveira (BR), Michael Ross (US), Lisa Tan (US/SE) and Øystein Wyller Odden (NO).
Of particular note from the UK, Ed D'Souza’s contribution is based on a full-sized, 3D photographic record of a crashed Hindustan Ambassador’s car found in Delhi, recreated in the Grünerløkka neighbourhood at a local workshop run by Oslo furniture maker Eddie King. Grünerløkka is considered one of Oslo’s chicest areas, known for its street art, bars, dance clubs and cafés, not to mention its vintage fashion outlets, and weekend markets flanked by small parks and cool industrial concert venues.
D’Souza’s Migrant Car ‘went live’ on 25 May and will be on view in Oslo until end of August. Ed D’Souza (aka Robert E. D’Souza, b.1969) is an artist, designer and Professor of Critical Practice at Winchester School of Art at the University of Southampton, although based in London. He is known for his temporal, site-specific and participatory/collaborative art and design projects, many of which connect to his own Indian heritage. His work explores critical practices that engage with a variety of production processes and producers and is supported by his critical writings around social, political and cultural change. Recent projects have been shown in art institutions, biennials and public spaces in China, India, Spain and the UK.
For osloBIENNALEN’s First Edition, D’Souza is co-producing a series of projects with students from Oslo National Academy of the Arts, OsloMet, and Eddie King’s Workshop, too. The car sculpture will be visible to a street audience passing by the workshop’s expansive window. The sculpture that once was a British-Indian car has now continued its journey, migrating from India to Oslo – a city that wants to get rid of cars from its streets! After moving around Oslo’s car-free zone, the Migrant Car will travel north to another place and reality: namely, the Norwegian town of Kirkenes. When it arrives at that destination, the collective Pikene på Broen will take care of it, perhaps moving it across or along the border with Russia.
Over the course of the next five years, the expanding programme for the years ahead will be announced at regular intervals as the biennial moves forward in time. Initiated and financed by the City of Oslo’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, osloBIENNALEN First Edition 2019-2024 opened on 25 May 2019 and runs until 2024. The biennial is the result of OSLO PILOT, a two-year experimental and research-based project that laid the groundwork for the biennial curated by Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk.
As part of the municipality of Oslo’s commitment to art in public spaces, osloBIENNALEN is central to the cultural agency in Oslo striving to ensure that professional contemporary art forms an integral part of the municipality’s buildings and outdoor spaces to the benefit of the general public. By supporting the arts in their various forms, the overall goal is to increase the interest in, commitment to, and reflection on art and its importance to society. Indeed, one effect of the biennial is that it can concentrate and highlight Oslo’s existing art dynamic public spaces – one more giant leap in Oslo’s long tradition of supporting significant art projects in the public realm for the benefit of the wider population.
The underlining mind-set here is one that is based on the democratic and egalitarian ideals that remain at the heart of many initiatives in the city and Norway more generally. The current art scheme ensures that 0.5% of funds invested in the Oslo municipality are earmarked for art, which makes it possible for the city to maintain an ambitious agenda in terms of art in the public spaces overall. osloBIENNALEN, it is therefore hoped, will attract international interest and attention, with the main objective of the biennial being to strengthen all of the arts in Oslo, while also providing local, national and international visibility to Oslo as a city that supports art. Strengthening the arts in Oslo is as important as the visibility of Oslo as a centre for art. The biennial, therefore, rather than appearing as an isolated entity, will operate as yet one more integral part of the art environment of Oslo in its totality.
In Issue 3 (autumn/fall issue) of Art North Miina Eskola will be examining the osloBIENNALEN initiative in much greater detail, so watch out for our special international report in the print magazine, and her online updates. If you have thoughts on this initiative or have photographs of your own of art from the streets of Oslo, please contact Miina directly here.