Who is Present in Public Space?
What if instead of building a new and demolishing the old, we focused on seeing, knowing, reflecting on, and appreciating what we already have?
For the past couple years the Fotobokfestival Oslo’s main event has taken place at the Arbeidersamfunnets plass in the blue containers, but as this year’s edition focuses on photography as a practice of seeing, it proposes a different approach. Instead of adding another layer to the already problematic square, the temporary installation will allow one to ‘see’, ‘reflect on’, and simply ‘be’ in the public space. The experience of reading a photobook will appear in a different form.
One of the inspirations and references for the events and installation at the Arbeidersamfunnets plass is Viel Bjerkeset Andersen’s sculptures, Towards North (Mot nord), installed in 2009 when the square was renovated; the title refers to the cardinal axes and the movement of the magnetic north. Photos from around that time show its clarity in a literal and architectural sense as well as its functionality. The installation Mot nord encouraged people to stop by and sit on the sculptures, while the grey lines going through the square emphasized vistas; space felt light and present.
The original 2009 renovation plan placed a special emphasis on music and opportunities for various concerts, leaving the space open and flexible with a green frame. The fluorescent lamps for Sentrum Scene marked the lines that were reinterpreted in the Mot nord to serve as natural benches. This fact is important to emphasize, as the square could have easily been imagined with random ones. The original functionalist form of the Samfunnshuset – the 1940 building designed by Ove Bang – seems to disappear with layers added with time, but it is definitely visible in Carl Normann’s photograph from 1946.
In its current state, the Arbeidersamfunnets plass seems to be forgotten or somehow more unstructured; the sculptures need cleaning and restoration, the space is most often chaotically filled with scooters, and the possibility to sit down or stop by is limited by commercial actors. Who is really present in this public space? And isn’t this ‘state of forgetting’ more perpetually occurring trouble? If we look at the photos taken just before the renovation, a similar ‘forgotten state’ emanates from a different period of time. The temporary installation for the Fotobook Festival 2021 is a response to the troubles and potentials already present at the Arbeidersamfunnets plass.