Memorial for 22 July at Governmental Quarters in Oslo

The design of the memory at the governmental quarter in Oslo, was conducted through an intensive collaborative process with the support group for the 22nd of July events, AUF (labour party youth branch) and representatives of employees in the governmental quarters

Most of us remember where we were when it blew up in the government quarter July 22, 2011. I myself was on the couch reading, then dozed off. When I woke up, the world was not the same. But how should we remember this incident in common? Could any public monument accommodate the grief, create a place to think about this traumatic event?

In the years after the terror this has proved to be difficult. 3RW arkitekter are behind the temporary monument that was unveiled in the government quarter. The memorial has been criticized for resembling a shower cubicle and being artistically sloppy, but I think it actually gains from being careful when it comes to aesthetics.

The memorial consists of a 11 square meter plastic rectangle, with lines on a sheet, showing the names of those who died on July 22, 2011. It is framed by steel and on the sides, a few meters away, two walls are screening for the monument. The plastic rectangle is transparent so we look straight through. On each side of the memorial there is something that looks like broken glass arranged around two of the beautiful linden trees that have been here since the 1800s when the old hospital, Rikshospitalet, was still here.

The memorial is in all respects unobtrusive and soberly artistic, which is also what makes it work. For July 22th, it is not aesthetics, but the ethics that should guide the design. In this monument there is no symbolism that suppress the naked fact which means something, namely the names of those who passed away this day. The work is stripped of anything but this and thus also leads the attention to the essence of what such a memorial should be about: to create a place where we can gather thoughts about what the loss of life implies for the individual and for the nation – without this naked grief having to compete with artistic statements about the attention.

The names are shown soberly, one by one, as we write down what we should not forget in a notebook, line by line. Perhaps also in the way we make a list of what we must remember every day to cope with life – the sort we hang on the fridge or pin over the desk. Remember this! The content is in both cases more important than the form.

The broken glass adds a poetic touch to the memorial, which is more charged than what it looks like at first glance. Because, even though it is an expression of the destruction the bomb caused precisely in this place, there is a melancholy silence in the carpet of glass pieces that widens this room for calm reflection. The glass that is gathered around the trees reveals how easy the beauty can team up with the grief: through the white shine of the glass-carpet, a poetic atmosphere is created and it leads the thought to a white layer of fresh snow and how this brings an air of intimacy and reflection in a wide open world.

The poetry works because it never disappears in the symbolism, never attempts to transform the destruction to something entirely different, something artistically strong: although the melancholy glass-carpet calls for calmness, we never doubt what destruction it actually originates from.

The doubleness in the broken glass also correspond with Ahmad Gossein’s Relocating the Past: Ruins for the future (2013), which is another memorial only a few meters away. Gossein’s work is the most precise monument to the terror we have as of today: it consists of the news display case that broke when the bomb went off. Just as the new memorial brings forth a poetry in destruction, the thin lines of the broken glass in front of the newspaper pages – which still show the news from July 22, 2011 – show a form of poetry with dark undertones.

For there is hope in beauty when it makes us enjoy details of the cruel, without ever forgetting how much the terrible is associated with the beautiful. When we can see beauty in the broken glass, we also see a future, another story, which contains something more than the traumatic.

Ethics comes before aesthetics, I stated. Why is this so crucial? Because those memorials that really matter, are not found out there, in the world, but in ourselves. And because the monuments that are raised between us in public spaces should lead us to this inner memory-place rather than shining in their own lustre.

The public memorials are an entrance to ourselves, an incentive, a framework for clearing a place in our feelings and our minds, where we manage to think about the unthinkable. Therefore, the memorials outside of us must help us find calmness; that is the purpose they serve. They must take our hand and comfort us, but also help us find a way forward.

In all its soberness, the 3RW arkitekter’s monument does exactly this.

Reviewed by Kjetil Røed – Vårt Land; 30 Juli 2018

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