07 April 2016
Jørund Aase Falkenberg / Oslo Utmark
Your ability to see, hear and sense nature never drifts far when living in Oslo. It literally surrounds us as the mountainous terrain forms a giant amphitheater of sorts - enclosing the city and the daily movements and dramas of its inhabitants. Curatorial project Oslo Utmark moves this play out from of the confines of the city, as Norwegian artist Jørund Aase Falkenberg commissions a number of artists to develop new works situated within the Østmarka forest area east of the city since the summer of 2015. Spanning 250km, Oslo Utmark is an opportunity for artists to embrace nature - works exist and are discovered by audiences throughout the landscape, alongside commissioned texts online, in an ongoing attempt to re-place artists back within natural spaces.
Alan Armstrong talks with Jørund about the ongoing curatorial project, working with nature and its effect on his own practice.
Maybe a good place to begin would be talk about the origins of Oslo Utmark. How did the project start? and where did the idea stem from?
The project took shape in the back of my head over several years. I've always thought the combination of art and nature to be interesting, that is to show or experience art in a context surrounded by objects that are not manmade. I'm attracted to this contrast. At some point I thought about the possibility of running some kind of exhibition space in the city, of which one of the big expenses would then be the renting of the space. It therefore struck me that there are large areas around Oslo which are free to use. So there is a practical reason for using the woods of Østmarka. Then you have the symbolic implications of the project taking place were it does, kind of in a grey field between the urban and the wilderness. I once took part in an exhibition that we called Utmark. I like the word and the meaning it has in Norway, it is defined as everything that is not "innmark", everything that is outside the inhabited and cultivated areas.
This feeling or desire to develop work in a more rural environment I think is prominent with a lot of artists, to leave the city spaces and attempt to work in a more open manner, in alternative surroundings. The generation of land artists working in the 60s comes to mind - maybe there is a revival in this attitude to working outdoors?
I´m sympathetic to land art projects but I think the genre can be limiting, often resulting in singular monumental works dominating surrounding nature. I thought there would be an interesting potential in thinking about the forest as a gallery space. To have the artist defining their own space and installing several works that communicate with each other, which function in a similar sense to a white cube. Only here you have many things going on all around you which are not controlled by humans. It´s a difficult space for an artist to think about and to work in, but it can also be very rewarding. How does art adapt to this situation? What strategies do the artists use to make something function here? I think putting art in this context is problematic and it makes artists deal with fundamental themes – both relating to art itself and to the world.
How have you been approaching the project in a curatorial sense? or maybe it makes sense to retain an artistic approach to the project? Could you talk about the challenges that come with Østmarka being such a significant forest area, how have you dealt with working within such a significant space?
I have limited the area in which the project functions to a set area, but still… it´s a big space. It´s not only big but the terrain is also extremely varied, if you step off the trail just a few meters you are in a rich environment. There are parallel ridges going from north to south through the forest. So the terrain and environments are changing a lot, from marshes, small lakes, running water and thick forest within the small valleys, to open dry mountainous areas where certain kind of trees and plants are thriving. In addition there are deer, moose, beaver, squirrels and a few years ago the wolf came back after being away for a significant time. These elements are part of the project and constitute a potential that the artists can tap into. My curatorial approach is to invite artists that I think can do something interesting within this context. There is a focus on artists incorporating elements of abstract formalism and/or poetical conceptualism, yet it remains very open how the artists want to deal with this invitation. Openness can be scary and in a gallery space you have perimeters in which to work from such as the walls, ceiling, flat floor for example. Yet here they need to work out where to base themselves – and find a small area in a giant one which is heavily loaded with vast amounts of organic matter. Whatever you put in there is going to be so tiny and limited compared to the surroundings; it´s an image of us humans in the universe. In our own built environments we may feel so important and big, and in effect we so easily loose perspective, in the woods I think art is put to an extreme test, where its legitimacy in the world can be judged.
Reflecting on the term 'outfield' for a moment, when we are thinking about the space that exists beyond our constructed spaces - it's a significant term within the Norwegian way of life and our relationship to nature, specifically when compared to more restricted access to nature across Europe. How is the project accessed or used by audiences? what is the local response? and what methods do you use in which to monitor this?
At the openings we meet at the entrance to the forest, and grown-ups, children and dogs walk from ten to twenty minutes to the locations where the artists have installed their works. These have been very nice gatherings with the surroundings and weather creating a special atmosphere. We have first walked to the closest exhibition place, stayed for a while and then walked further on to the next project, where we relaxed and had some food and something to drink. I often have problems with exhibition openings and feeling stressed about being among many people in small spaces. Stressed because you feel like you have to make a good impression on people within these social situations. In the forest the social rules and hierarchies seem to wither, giving room for genuine interest and open meetings. After openings the specific locations are published on the webpage and on social media, along with maps and road descriptions. You can choose to see the projects with others or on your own, that option remains open. Of course a large proportion of the audiences are people coming by the works accidentally, and often people out in the woods walking or running. We have a box at the different locations with some information and a guest book where people can register and write comments. This has been interesting to see and most people who write comments have been positive, with many expressing surprise and gratitude. But quite few have also been negative and critical towards the work. Some individuals see the works as distractions and ruining the natural environment. Most of the works have been left alone for the whole exhibition period, but one of Tora Dalseng´s works was smashed and left in a heap after 1-2 weeks. Whilst this is not very nice for the artist, this kind of thing is to be expected and that becomes part of the project, for the works are left alone in the wild, so to speak - out of control. Thinking about this, it´s interesting to think about what happens around the works when no one is there. In Sigmund Skards project in spring of 2015 there was a wooden box hanging on a tree with a toilet roll inside and a transparent acrylic window built on the front. One day I came to document the works, and inside the box there was a wasp hanging from it´s ceiling building a hive – inhabiting the artwork, becoming part of it. I wondered what to do when the exhibition period was over, and thought about leaving the box and hive until next summer. But the wasp at some point stopped building and left by itself.
So whilst the project grows and contracts naturally, so far Oslo Utmark has commissioned four projects and on both occasions you have paired artists together. Could you talk about the reasons for this? Do the artists work together? or have any artistic relationship? In addition to the works, each project is accompanied by an essay - how do you see the function of the essay alongside the works in the forest?
The first installation of works was in May-June 2015 with Sigmund Skard and Ingri Haraldsen, and the second was in September-October of the same year, with artists Tora Dalseng and Jan Hakon Erichsen with Robert Johansson. Each project is in the starting point individual and independent from one another - but the artists are free to collaborate if they wish. The last project with Jan Hakon and Robert was special, as I invited Jan Hakon who was already working on a collaborative project with Robert, and they decided to work together for Oslo Utmark. There is not a very conscious direction in combining certain artists for the same period, it´s more or less intuitive. What combination would be interesting to see? and which artists would be good to introduce to each other?
I also like the aspect of the essays. Instead of publishing texts at the opening, writers are invited to see the projects first and talk with the artist and then write about it and formulate a response. The artists choose themselves who they would like to write about their work, and the essays are published on the website during the exhibition period. So it´s possible for people to visit the projects also after they have read the texts. In this way the projects are very open from the beginning, with little information defining them. Then later you have an opportunity to hear an individual’s perspective on the work. I think this puts more importance on the text, making it a happening in itself. It also makes it a more interesting task and an opportunity for the writer to go in to some depth, researching and unraveling the works and the essence of Oslo Utmark as a whole.
Does working on Oslo Utmark and spending time in Østmarka affect your own work as an artist? do they feed into each other? Knowing a little about your own work there are obvious parallels…or do you try and keep them separate?
I guess you can say that I started Oslo Utmark because I would myself find it very interesting to make art in such a context. If it affects my own work? i'm not sure, probably it does. Spending time on creating the arena, talking with the artists, seeing the works, getting feedback from people, and visiting the projects on my own to document them… I think it gets me closer to thinking about nature, and art in relation to nature. You can also say that the project comes out of how my art is evolving over time. Previously, during my time studying at the art academy in Oslo, I had great problems with chaos in art – accidents and the non-intentional, and not being able to anchor it in some rational fundamental starting point. Eventually I have found that you cannot get away from this - and this sort of becomes the fundament. Being aware of the impossibility of being able to control everything, and also how restricting control can be. Accepting this, the unintended and loss of control become a potential for something new to happen – new complexities and new meanings. Beauty comes out of this, it´s like nature, just happening through the processes of the laws of the universe. What is man-made can be judged to be ugly, while natural organic complexities mostly seem to appeal to our eyes, creating a sense of beauty. What is also important for me is the mystical aspect of things just existing by themselves. This aspect awakens the greatest question: what is the world? It is extremely fascinating to think that even though we move about in it, do things, build things, etc, we actually don´t know what the world is.
Forthcoming at Oslo Utmark:
30th April - 29th May 2016
Daniel Slåttnes & Mattias Cantzler
More information and documentation of past projects and texts are available to view at www.osloutmark.no