Oslo Biennalen First edition 2019-2024
A five-year programme of art in public space
Public Sounds – A selection of encounters with art in public space and the public sphere
Over the course of history, our cities have been shaped by disease, by war, by migration, by weather, by trauma, and the twenty-first century is no different. Curated by Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk, osloBIENNALEN FIRST EDITION 2019-2024 has set out, through a five-year programme, to explore the unusual contexts and questions deriving from art in public space. With all of us now living in socially distanced self-isolation and taking into consideration official guidance related to Covid-19, the biennial programme continues to investigate the subtle and myriad ways in which people encounter art in public space and the public sphere. The spring programme started with an exploration of sound environments with works by Norwegian artists Alexander Rishaug and Øystein Wyller Odden.
Y (59 ° 54’54.76 ″ N 10 ° 44′46.03 ″ Ø). What does a building sound like after a terrorist attack? This is what Norwegian artist Alexander Rishaug explores in his sound recordings captured in different spaces in H-Blokka, a building targeted by the car-bomb that tore through Oslo’s government quarter on 22 July 2011, killing eight people. The coordinates in the title refer to the geographical position of its adjoining highrise, Y-blokka, which is scheduled for demolition. Since 2011, Y-Blokka and H-Blokka sit empty, a poignant reminder of the city’s collective trauma. The destruction caused by these terrible explosions was devastating and what fills these buildings now is a silence that surpasses its spatial dimensions, a silence that speaks of a before and an after.
Described by literary scholar Tore Stavlund as a “psychoacoustic landscape in the empty Høyblokka as it stands today, tottering above the Government Quarter – a monumental memorial to the persistence and perhaps also helplessness of the bureaucracy” (a description that also resonates with contemporary political criticism), Y (59 ° 54’54.76 ″ N 10 ° 44′46.03 ″ Ø) was recorded over the course of two nights in October 2017 and creates a sonic portrait of the abandoned building’s current state of haunted emptiness, irrevocably connected to the past. Rishaug’s audio artworks capture both memory and place. Through acoustics, resonance, frequencies, vibrations and sub/ultrasounds that are not typically audible to the human ear, the artist reveals how absence is evoked by the sound of silence, a reminder of both earlier human activity and how it ceased.
Y (59 ° 54’54.76 ″ N 10 ° 44′46.03 ″ Ø) has been released as a vinyl LP with a suite of eight tracks, each lasting exactly eight minutes and accompanied by a booklet with photos from H-Blokka and a text by Rishaug. The booklet and LP are osloBIENNALEN FIRST EDITION 2019–2024 spring 2020 programme: Public sounds 2 distributed by Motto. The project was carried out in collaboration with Hagelund/Christensen and with the support of KORO/URO. The release coincided with a special online launch, hosted by osloBIENNALEN FIRST EDITION 2019–2024, which took place on May 25, marking the anniversary of the biennial’s first public launch.
Compositions for Oslo City Hall. Øystein Wyller Odden’s work addresses the relationship between technology, architecture and people, investigating and exposing their underlying structures. These two pieces were conceived for the first edition of osloBIENNALEN and performed in Oslo City Hall, home to the annual award ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as immense frescoes by Alf Rolfsen and Henrik Sørensen’s enormous painting. A controversial space – “No building divides the city more” – it is, as described by Norwegian critic and writer Arve Rød, a space that is at once “monumental and ostentatious… sombre and unapproachable… truly a cathedral dedicated to profane forces”.
Power Line Hum (Composition for the Organ in Oslo City Hall) takes as starting point the history of the pipe organ in Oslo City Hall. When the building was raised, the elaborate pipe organ that was originally planned was deemed too expensive and was replaced by a Hammond organ. However, the pipes remained as decoration, a “silent facade”, and, for Power Line Hum (Composition for the Organ in Oslo City Hall), several were made functional by the organ builders Ryde & Berg. A wind system was installed to give air to the pipes and the Hammond organ was refurbished. The work contains the sound of these two organs, the previously silent and its electronic replacement, each playing the same chord. It was played over the course of several months in Oslo City Hall and reproduced the low humming bass sound made by electricity at a frequency of 50 Hz. This low hum, with the resonances and harmonics it creates in the fuse box, has been transcribed by the artist for reproduction on the organ. The reproduced hum of the current is the sound of modern society and enters into a dialogue with the social-reali art of previous eras presented in the City Hall.
Kraftbalanse [Power Balance] (Composition for Piano, Alternating Current and Orchestra) was co-composed with Jan Martin Smørdal, and performed twice over the course of the biennial in Oslo City Hall. In this monumental space, a dramatic osloBIENNALEN FIRST EDITION 2019-2024 spring 2020 programme: Public sounds 3 soundscape of a grand piano and a string orchestra responded to fluctuations in current frequency, creating a portrait of power distribution, both of the transmission of electrical power to the country by Statnett, Norway’s state-owned company responsible for the power grid, and, ultimately, the income of the City of Oslo. Video and audio material from Øystein Wyller Odden’s sound compositions, Kraftbalanse and Power Line Hum, have been broadcasted online in May. Power Line Hum has been accessible online from 5–10 May, while Kraftbalanse has premiered online on 12 May, and played every day until 16 May. Each has been accompanied by a series of special online events, including a live-streamed conversation with the artist and curators.
Curated by Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk, osloBIENNALEN FIRST EDITION 2019-2024 has set up a specially conceived infrastructure to support a ground-breaking new five-year format, with artists invited to work with the city, public space and the public sphere. The programme includes diverse arts projects, concerts, performances, readings, workshops and symposia. The biennial is the outcome of OSLO PILOT, a two-year experimental and research-based project, curated by Eva González-Sancho Bodero and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk, which laid the groundwork for the biennial. Both the current Biennial and its grounding pilot have been financed by the City of Oslo, Agency for Cultural Affairs, Norway.