Preparing the ground

Over the past year, the commissioned artists for Slow Space in Oslo have been researching and developing a range of different projects. Their ideas have been transformed through the conversations on the ground with residents, architects, landscape designers and developers.

Amy Franceschini and Futurefarmers
Amy Franceschini and Futurefarmers have begun to develop a proposal for a bakehouse to be sited in the Loallmenningen Common. This project will be developed through a temporary mobile oven project over the next year. Inspired by the possibilities of urban food production, Amy’s previous Victory Gardens‘ project in San Francisco, and previous historical artist works in the public realm such as Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield in Battery Park (1982), the city has commissioned a test-field project to prepare the ground for the Slow Space commissions and the bakehouse.

Herligheten Parsellkollektiv (The Glory Allotment Collective)
“Herligheten Parsellkollectiv” is an ecological initiative and project about urban food production which was initiated in April 2012 and developed during April and May 2012.  The Herligheten is located at Loallmenningen in Bjørvika, a rocky “island” in the middle of a rough building site surrounded by roads, railway lines and the airing towers for the submerged tunnel underneath. The project involves:

  • Herligheten Allotment Collective with 100 allotments
  • A field measuring 250m2 where several types of ancient grain such as spelt, emmer, einkorn and bere barley and clove will grow.
  • A programme of events and seminars for learning and exchanging ideas in August 2012.

Allotment Collective
“Herligheten Allotment Collective” offers the use of 100 allotments free of charge. Nearly 4000 residents applied for one of the allotments with the project providing the necessary infrastructure such as pallet collars, garden netting, soil, water and common areas.  Each of the 100 allotment owners were given enough pallet collars to make a 5m2 garden with free rein as to what they wished to grow.  Allotment owners were encouraged to exchange seeds, plants and know-how with other fellow gardeners, and last and to discuss and influence the development of Bjørvika.

On Saturday 12. May, the allotment collective was established through a weekend “dugnad” by volunteers. You can follow the project on Facebook, and you can read the Herligheten blog on

The Herligheten Allotment Collective was initially a project without funding.  In a very short period of time supporters enthusiastically pledged their support for the project. Statens Vegvesen Region Øst (SVRØ), Sørenga Utvikling AS, Oslo S Utvikling, Hav Eiendom, Bjørvika Infrastruktur AS, Byfabrikken (link), A-lab, Tigerjord fra Oslo Kompost, Bjørkheim&Lindheim Landskapsarkitekter og Caféteateret/Nordic Black Theatre. Majobo, MAAEMO ecological restaurant, Farmer and ancient grain enthusiast Johan Swärd from Vestre Aschim Farm Mill, Erik Johner from Bioforsk and Etterstad Kolonihager.

Is it safe to eat vegetables produced in a polluted area? We think so.  To start off with we planned to grow only flowers and other plants not meant for consumption, but after having consulted various experts at Bioforsk, Bymiljøetaten, Universitetet for Miljø- og Biovitenskap, Norsk Institutt for Luftforskning and Bjørvika Utvikling our ambitions increased.  One necessary measure is to cover the surface with a thick fibreous sheet preventing the new, clean soil from making contact with the surface underneath. Plants grown in clean soil are clean. It takes at least 10 years for the soil to become polluted through the air, and in Oslo the worst levels of air pollution are reached during the winter outside the growing season.  The airing towers spread the polluted air from the submerged tunnel so high up it is carried away by the wind.  Our conclusion is that vegetables can be grown as well in Bjørvika as in any of the other already existing allotments in Oslo. But we are not leaving things to chance. Bioforsk has agreed to measure levels of pollution in plants before we harvest.

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Artists announced

The artists who will be commissioned to produce projects over the next five years for Oslo harbour have been announced. Download information here Bjørvika art programme pioneers new approach to public art commissioning.

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Slow Thinking

Slow Days concluded with discussions on the nature of commissioning and curating within a public realm and a summary session with key stakeholders for the Bjorvika development.

Slow Days Oslo final summary session

“Slow can be considered as an appeal for mindfulness, rather than ‘less speed’. Slow isn’t really about ‘time’. It is about the depth of thought and action, bringing ones complete attention to the moment, as opposed to a notion of ‘slow’, taking ‘a long time’ in what you are doing.” Mary Jane Jacob

“There is both the experience of commissioning but also the experience of public space – in that context what does slow mean? Could a productive, collective public space be a slow space?” Claire Doherty

“The project has huge potential which is not like other public art or development programme. We have tried the leisure approach and, generally speaking, it has not worked. We need to think of Bjorvika as part of a much broader social ecology… In terms of slowness, this is about how we manage energy in a system. Bjorvika is like a growing organ within the city. Art is about improving and enhancing what is already there.” Alistair Hudson

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Slow Days Oslo photostream

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Working things out…

No powerpoint in the forest!

Katie Paterson spoke of constellations of remarkable ideas – the black firework, the moonlight bulb, the atom in the grain of sand – against a skyline of trees leading down to the city

Heather and Ivan Morison took us back to the origins of ideas and spoke of the forest as a site of imagination and of work – the sheer physical labour of making a remarkable intervention often collaboratively – and of the need for tenacity in a creative process. They took us from Birmingham to Bergen, from Wellington to Bristol and back to Oslo.

On the walk down to the city, we came across forest under threat of ‘redevelopment’, playing fields and camping areas – sites of civilised leisure, restaurants and lakes, but nowhere did we encounter a recognisable site of production. One of us asked whether sites of production have become embarrasing in our cities, now hidden beneath our plazas and our cleaned up green spaces.

We then encounterd a public space still reeling from the blast of the bomb on 22nd July. Boarded up windows and cranes testified to the destruction here, but it was perhaps our host at the Deichmanske Bibliotek who had the biggest impact on us. He had opened the libary room for us, despite extensive bomb damage to the entrance, and describe with a simple hand to his chest the sheer long-lasting mental trauma of the blast on library staff. It was his words at the end of our session that drew the loudest applause – that the new library in Bjorvika to be opened in 2017 had to be a place to gather – an anchor of sorts.

Alistair Hudson spoke of Grizedale Arts commiment to questioning the visiting and the visited in a place formed through rural tourism. The landscape, however, to be worked with was not the environmental or topographical landscape, but the landscape of social networks, of assumptions and personal histories, of forgotten skills and reclaimed public spaces.

Marianne Heier questioned the branding of Oslo as the Fjord City and to whom the Fjord City is addressed. Her gift of water, earth and a stone from Bjorvika emphasised our need to revise the notion that Bjorvika is a blank canvas on which can be projected a vision of the Fjord City’s waterfront. Rather it is part of the ecology of the city.

Tomorrow we leave by not so slow boat to an island…


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What grows from a slow process…

The first of our Slow Days in Oslo drew to a close this evening here at Etterstad Kolonihager (allotment gardens), who not only hosted an incredible meal – but even raided their gardens for salad when the final ingredients didn’t show up! Gathered round the tables of this rarefied setting and surrounded by the overlooking apartments, we reflected on an afternoon of debates and discussions.

Artist Amy Franceschini and curator Mary Jane Jacob led those discussions in the yard of the Community House over a few hours, relating stories of their experiences in San Francisco, Charleston and the Phillips Community respectively. These places seemed a world away from the streets of Oslo, and yet it was notable how many of the challenges faced by both artist and curator resonated with the challenges in Bjorvika.

These are just some of the remarks, ideas and questions which have been paraphrased for brevity.

MJJ: Ideas should be allowed to rise up and then fall away, until the idea which seems to meet the conditions of a particular context occurs.

Amy: Victory Gardens arose out of the specific conditions of San Francisco – it couldn’t simply be repeated elsewhere. There is a danger that such successful projects can be assimilated and used for political gain.

MJJ: I’m seeking art which is effective. This doesn’t mean that art which is not ‘effective’ is not valid – simply that it is not my main concern.

Audience member: But what of the artistic gesture which is ‘ineffective’ or not exactly functional?

Michael Prior: Perhaps there is a middle ground – for the remarkable work to offer a spark of interest which leads to unplanned ‘effects’ e.g. the Black Cloud – Heather and Ivan Morison.

Alistair Hudson: Perhaps we should be considering what the art in Bjovika could do for the city, rather than attempting to use it to bring the city to Bjorvika.

Tomorrow… the forest!



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Just two days to go…

Ancitipating the arrival of all our speakers here in Oslo for four days of stories, debate, discussion and enjoyment of all Oslo has to offer. Follow us on Twitter at #slowdaysoslo and join in the conversation.

A new addition to our Reader. Check out Boel Christensen-Scheel on ecology as a relational principle. Article “in press” in In Formation – Nordic Journal of Art and Research, Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus.

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