After several rounds of protests and complaints, the public-sector property developer Statsbygg’s application for permission to demolish the Y-blokka building in Oslo’s Government Quarter was approved at the end of February 2020. On 2 March, Statsbygg began setting up building fences and preparing for demolition. The Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation confirmed to Kunstkritikk that once these preparations are completed, which they will be shortly, the physical demolition work will begin.
In response to what he regards as the government’s unwillingness to take note of the many protests and arguments against the decision to go ahead with the demolition, artist Jan Christensen published a manifesto on 4 March in collaboration with a number of other figures from the Norwegian art field. Aimed at Norwegian and international artists, the manifesto calls for a boycott on creating art and/or decorative works for the new government building.
“We’ve engaged in long deliberations on what form this manifesto should take, particularly whether it was to look back at the events leading up to the demolition, and describe the situation after the Y-blokka has been demolished, or whether it should serve as a call-out and warning to the authorities about the consequences of going ahead with the demolition,” Christensen told Kunstkritikk.
The manifesto highlights the negative economic, environmental, and symbolic consequences of tearing down the Y-blokka and concludes: “The absence of art will be a protest against the government for ordering the shameful destruction of masterpieces of modern architecture and visual arts.”
Christensen’s call for a boycott was first made on 4 January 2020 in the newspaper Klassekampen (The Class Struggle). The reactions from the art scene were mixed. Ivan Galuzin and Ebba Moi, directors of, respectively, BOA (Artists in Oslo and Akershus) and the Association of Norwegian Sculptors were among those who supported the initiative, though not as representatives of their respective associations. The chair of NBK (Association of Norwegian Visual Artists), Ruben Steinum, and the director of KORO – Public Art Norway, Svein Bjørkås, were critical.
When approached by Kunstkritikk, Bjørkås maintained his criticism, calling the boycott proposal paradoxical and unconsidered. “Every day, all year round, we work to showcase public spaces as spaces of expression for the artists. This will also apply to the buildings in the government quarter, which will house one of the most important political institutions in Norway,” he continued.
Bjørkås claims that the call for a boycott puts these spaces of potential expression in a position where they can be used as political bargaining chips in the fight against the demolition of the Y-blokka, and believes that such a move is rash and insufficiently thought out. He believes that, contrary to the initiators’ assumptions, an art boycott of the new government quarter will neither delay the demolition process nor cause the new buildings to remain devoid of art:
“The ministries already have thousands of works of art in their buildings. If a boycott were to take effect, the new buildings would be filled with existing works. The government quarter would not be without art, but without new art. A boycott will have little impact on the decision-makers in the government and in the Storting who have decided to demolish the Y-blokka. Those who will be affected are the artists themselves, and of course the general public.”
Curator of KORO’s Local Community Scheme (LOK), Trude Schjelderup Iversen, understands the reasons behind Christensen’s initiative, but fears that a boycott will put an unnecessary strain on artists, stating that “the artists should not be the ones to suffer financial losses by not taking part in the comprehensive art project in the new government quarter.”
Christensen understands that the boycott places the state-operated organisation KORO and artist organisations such as NBK in a difficult position, but emphasises that their opinions are irrelevant in the matter:
“The proposal for a boycott concerns only individual artists directly, especially those artists who would be likely candidates for assignments in the government quarter. The reality is that commissions for the new government quarter will be among the most prestigious an artist will receive in their lifetime. Only very experienced artists with proven and exceptional skills, references and artistic reputations will be considered. Of course, such artists will also be able to disregard any incurred financial losses.”
Christensen describes the manifesto as a point of view and an attitude that has turned into an artistic project, and sees it as a future resource for artists: “The initiative for an artistic boycott is now a work of art in its own right, called Et opprop om boikott som et usynlig minnesmerke [A Call for Boycott as an Invisible Memorial], which all artists can adopt, embrace, publish, include in their portfolio and use as a reference.”
The manifesto was prepared in collaboration with fellow artists such as Hanan Benammar and Maria Sundby. The twenty-three signatories include artist and KORO producer Bo Krister Wallström, artist A K Dolven, and art critic Tommy Olsson.