Although I’ve been to Bergen in the west of Norway more times than I can count, until this weekend I’d never been to Oslo. The reason for the trip was that I had a few pieces in Again, A Time Machine at Torpedo/Kunsthall Oslo. Exiting the airport with Katrina Palmer, I found that Nordic precision led the coach driver to tell us that he only went to the central bus station not the central train station. We decided to risk this and arrived in central Oslo to discover – not very much to our surprise – that the central bus station was very very close to the central train station.
Rather than find the bookshop and gallery that were hosting us, Katrina and I headed first to The Anker Hotel where we chilled for a couple of hours. We then found our way Torpedo/Kunsthall Oslo where we were greeted Jane Rolo and Gavin Everall from Book Works, who introduced us to Elin Maria Olaussen and Karen Christine Tandberg who were putting us on. I had a look around the exhibition featuring Stewart Home (aka Mister Trippy – that’s me!), Dora Garcia, Jonathan Monk, Laure Prouvost, Slavs and Tartars plus The Book Works Archive. I particularly liked my own work – a wall painting and two films – but then I would wouldn’t I!
Next we moved on to a restaurant where we were joined by Will Bradley of Kunsthall Oslo, one of his technicians, and last but not least a representative of the agitprop group Slavs and Tatars. Everyone else seemed to be eating fish but I went for the vegetarian option; a surprise rather than something listed on the menu – and it turned out to be creamed potatoes, tomatoes, peas, some really wild mushrooms and other groovy non-exploitative nosh! After our 4pm dinner, we went back to the gallery for the opening of the show at 7pm. The place was rammed and the kids were loving it. I spoke to a whole lot of different people but I didn’t catch all of their names, so in the interest of fairness I won’t mention anybody. After much wine had been downed some of us headed on to a bar, while others went to catch some shut-eye.
Saturday found Katrina and I at breakfast but there was no sign of the Slavs and Tartars representative who was also at our hotel (but who cannot be named for security reasons). We’d arranged to eat together at 9am and then head out at 10am. We discovered later that The Tartar was recovering from a night of serious drinking and this was why he failed to rendezvous with us for an outing to see the Gustav Vigeland sculptures at Frogner Park. The park is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist and the most popular tourist attraction in Norway, averaging between 1 and 2 million visitors a year. The Vigeland Sculpture Arrangement covers 80 acres and features 212 bronze and granite sculptures all designed by the supremely obsessed Gustav Vigeland.
An area was prepared for the installation of the Gustav Vigeland fountain in 1924 and eight years later the final plan was released by Oslo city council. Most of the statues in Vigeland’s section of Frogner Park depict people engaging in activities such as dogging, preparing to have intercourse, wrestling, dancing, hugging, holding hands and other sexualised frolics. Vigeland also included odd statues – such as one featuring an adult male fighting off a horde of babies or those featuring two individuals of the same gender together- to remind us that some men and women seek to resist the link between sex and human reproduction.
In 1940 The Bridge was the first part of the Sculpture Park to be opened to the public. 58 of the park’s sculptures reside along The Bridge, a 100 metre long, 15 metre wide connection between the Main Gate and The Fountain. All are clad in bronze and most are overtly sexualised nudes. At a low point on one side, close to water, are statues of babies with one standing on its head, and two others in what appear to be the yoga poses of cobra and table top.
The Monolith Plateau is a platform made of steps that houses The Monolith totem itself. 36 figure groups reside on the elevation and officially represent a “circle of life” – but in reality are so sexualised that they function as a text book example of polymorphous perversity. Access to The Plateau is via eight figural gates forged in wrought iron. The gates were designed between 1933 and 1937 and erected shortly after Vigeland died in 1943.
Construction of the monument began in 1924 when Gustav Vigeland modelled it in clay. The design process took ten months and the initial model was then cast in plaster. In 1927 a block of granite weighing several hundred tons was delivered to the park from a stone quarry in Halden. It was erected a year later and a wooden shed was built around it to keep out the elements. Vigeland’s plaster model was set up beside it so that three masons could copy the design. Chiseling began in 1929 and it took 3 stone carvers 14 years to complete the work. It was finally finished at the end of 1944 and shortly afterwards the shed surrounding it was demolished. The Monolith is 14.12 meters high and is composed of 121 human figures rising towards the sky. Officially they represent man’s desire to get closer to the spiritual and the divine. In reality they reveal Vigeland’s obsession with sex and death and the piece brings to mind mass graves and the Nazi holocaust. Indeed, as recently as 2002 a bronze statue called Surprise was added that reinforces this reading. The plaster version of Surprise was completed 1942, only months before the model – Austrian refugee Ruth Maier – was sent to Auschwitz and murdered by the Nazis.
The sculpture area is laid out with an obsessive symmetry and this combined with its sexual content means that the entire ensemble is ultimately a monument to kitsch. Once Katrina and I’d had enough of Vigeland’s absurd idealisation of the “Nordic’ nude, we walked back to Torpedo in the centre of Oslo. The Slavs and Tartars representative showed up about an hour after us, just in time to catch a presentation by Jane Rolo and Gavin Everall about Book Works and then deliver his own talk. There followed a break in which the audience drank complimentary wine and ate waffles. Katrina Palmer then read from her novel The Dark Object before I stood on my head to recite modified penis enlargement spam collected together in my book Blood Rites Of The Bourgeoisie. Once I was back on my feet I gave a short lecture about Marx, Bakunin and Bordiga and their very different relationships to the Russian Revolution (which was of course a capitalist and anarchist revolution, and not in any way communist). I then proceeded to shred a copy of my novel Down And Out In Shoreditch And Hoxton while explaining why this increased its value by transforming it from a mass produced cultural commodity into a unique one-off luxury art object.
Once I’d finished people headed in various direction. Katrina and I, along with Elin and Karen from Torpedo, made our way to Kunstnernes Hus (The Artists’ House) for a free screening of Paris Is Burning. This is a 1990 documentary directed by Jennie Livingston that chronicles the drag ball culture of Afro-American and Latino gay and transgender groovers. I spotted a number of people who’d been at our event at Torpedo/Kunsthall Oslo at this screening presented by Girls Like Us. Once the movie was over there was drinking and talk before a number of us headed off to meet up with other friends for more nosh. Norwegian hospitality is very convivial and there was much more eating and drinking to be done… But what happened next is really another story….
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!