All That Is Solid Melts Into Water: Archaeology, Hydropower, Indigeneity
at Kunsthall Oslo and Oslo Museum: Intercultural museum
with Ignacio Acosta, Arild Våge Berge, Carolina Caycedo, Fadlabi, Hanni Kamaly, Keviselie, Theodor Kittelsen, Katarina Pirak Sikku og Ala Younis
Curated by Mariam Elnozahy and Rado Ištok
29th April-11th June 2023
Opening Friday 28th April at 6pm (Intercultural Museum) and 7pm (Kunsthall Oslo)
Norway is a world leader in hydropower, a reliable, secure, and renewable source of energy that meets 90% of the country’s needs and is vital to a low-carbon future; but hydropower development can also mean the intrusion of modernity into wild landscapes, the destruction of cultural heritage and the disruption of traditional patterns of life. All That Is Solid Melts Into Water looks at the way artists have responded to and reflected on this development – from Telemark to Sápmi, from the Mapuche lands in Chile to the Nubian territories of Egypt and Sudan.
This project has been developed for Kunsthall Oslo by the curators Mariam Elnozahy and Rado Ištok and is presented in collaboration with the Intercultural Museum. An earlier presentation at Uppsala Museum in 2022 focused on Swedish histories and collections; this iteration has been expanded with works by Kittelsen and Keviselie and new commissions from Ignacio Acosta, Arild Våge Berge and Fadlabi.
The exhibition at Kunsthall Oslo begins with a remarkable series of large-format watercolours by Theodor Kittelsen depicting the construction of Norsk Hydro’s first power stations at Svælgfoss, and comes up to the present day with the words of the Mapuche spiritual leader Millaray Huichalaf, as inscribed by artist Ignacio Acosta, protesting against the Norwegian company Statkraft and their development of the Pilmaiquén Hydroelectric Plant. Arild Våge Berge’s installation works offer a poetic exploration of Norwegian hydropower engineering, while works by Sami artists Keviselie and Katarina Pirak Sikku present a critical view from Sápmi. Colombian artist Caroline Caycedo’s River Books depict traditional ecologies and political conflicts around river systems in various indigenous territories. Ala Younis presents a new sculpture recalling the life of Osman Ahmed Osman, the Egyptian contractor who led the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
The presentation at the Intercultural Museum offers a rare chance to see one of the Nubian archaeological artefacts discovered during the building of the Aswan High Dam on the River Nile (1960–70), alongside newly-commissioned artworks by Fadlabi and Hanni Kamaly that reflect on the social upheavals caused by the dam’s construction.
Works on display at Kunsthall Oslo:
Theodor Kittelsen, Svælgfos Series (1907–1908)
With thanks to Telemark Kunstmuseum/NIA.
A few months after Norway gained independence from Sweden in 1905, the industrialist Sam Eyde secured a large investment from the Wallenberg family of Sweden – still one of Europe’s most powerful elite business dynasties – to found Norsk Hydro. The company would usher Norway into a new era of modernity and independence by harnessing the resources of Norway’s waterfalls to produce nitrogen fertilizer, and ultimately allowing Norway to become a regional leader in energy production.
In 1906 the Norwegian government, waking up belatedly to the resource value of the country’s myriad waterfalls, introduced the so-called Panic Law, which meant that developers would need to licence hydropower rights from the state. Under attack by politicians and the press, Eyde turned to the painter Theodor Kittelsen to help him weave a fairy-tale narrative around the industrialization of the landscape. Kittelsen, who had become famous as the illustrator of Asbjørnsen and Moe’s Norwegian Folktales, was inspired by both the technological accomplishment of dam and the force of the waterfall. Over the course of five works, he tells a fantastical story of the complex feat of the workers and the engineers, and the conquest of the forces of nature in the form of trolls and dragons. In 2015, almost a century after Kittelsen’s paintings, UNESCO designated the power station at Rjukan as a World Heritage Site.
Carolina Caycedo, River Books (2016–2018)
The four hand drawn books on display are Watu, Iguacu, Pisibaiya, and Ume Vindel, all of which convey stories that interpret the social, political and spiritual context of particular rivers in dispute across the world. In each book, the river’s course is used as the central element of the written and visual narration. The text and accompanying illustrations are based on indigenous and local knowledge and histories, as well as actual environmental conflicts; they are often written in the first person, embodying the voice of the river. The theme of natural animation runs throughout Caycedo’s works, and the natural world is shown to have agency in the face of destructive exploitation projects. Similar conflicts have arisen again and again around the world in recent decades. Often represented as clashes between tradition and modernity, they are perhaps more concerned with expropriation – resistance to the transformation of common lands and free natural resources into property and capital, and to the militarized ownership regimes that extract profit while leaving behind the environmental and social debts.
Arild Våge Berge, The Gravity of a Lake Focused Into One Point (2016–2017)
This work is a talismanic rendering of technocratic expertise. Over a two-year period Berge explored a family history of involvement in hydropower engineering in Hjørundfjorden. Sketch material and documents from the private archive of the artist’s grandfather Sveinung Oddvar Berge complement the installation, composed of concrete construction residue of the Tussa dam, slate rock and dried clay from the dam site, and pulverized salt crystal collected in the Tussa power station tunnel.
Katarina Pirak Sikku, Snavva Once Upon a Time (2022)
Sikku investigates the often violent legacies of the Swedish presence in Sápmi. In a group of paintings commissioned for this exhibition, the artist turns her attention to the mid-19th century farmhouse of Snavva. In the 1960s its last residents, the elderly Sámi siblings Sara and Jakob Jakobsson, were forced to move to the nearby village of Tjåmotis after their farmhouse was burnt down and flooded due to the construction of the Seitevare Dam (1962–1968) across the deep valley of the Blackälven River.
Ignacio Acosta, Kintuante (2023)
In this newly-commissioned work, Acosta brings a message from Machi Millaray Huichalaf, a spiritual and community leader tasked with defending the Pilmaiquén River in Chile from the construction of dams that would flood places sacred to the Mapuche-Williche people. In the message, the Machi emphasizes that Statkraft’s continued exploitation of the Pilmaiquén will lead to the destruction of the Kintuante, and the Mapuche way of life.
Keviselie, Luleju (1977–1978)
Porjus, the first power plant in the Lule River (Luleju in Lule Sámi) by the mouth of the Julevädno on the Bay of Bothnia, was inaugurated in 1915. The hydropower station was expanded in size with new dams and plants downstream along the river from 1971 to 1975, with detrimental consequences for major Sámi communities in Sweden, for reindeer husbandry, farming, and the landscape, including the biodiversity of the river. In Norway in the 1970s, plans for a hydroelectric plant on the Alta river met with mass opposition, and protesters waged a campaign of civil disobedience that lasted several years. Keviselie wrote the epic poem Luleju, the Story of a Sámi Siida and a River in response to events on the Swedish side of Sápmi; he published it in English in 1981 in the context of the Alta protests. Although the Alta campaign failed to prevent the dam’s construction, it nonetheless energized a wider movement for indigenous people’s rights in Norway and Sweden which remains a significant political force.
Ala Younis, High Dam (Rock Forms) (2023)
In this newly commissioned work, Kuwaiti artist Ala Younis explores the autobiography of Osman Ahmed Osman, Egypt’s most prolific engineer and the contractor that built the Aswan High Dam project. In a small-scale granite sculpture, Younis anthropomorphizes the geological formation carved to create the High Dam. By detecting haunting smiles in both the inanimate rocks and politicians alike, Younis highlights the involvement of natural, non-human actors in the political and theatrical production of Egypt’s largest hydropower project.
Works on display at the Intercultural Museum:
In Egypt, as in Norway, a newly independent state turned to hydropower with the ambitious construction of the Aswan High Dam (1960–1970) which flooded 5000 km2 of the Nile valley. By the time it was finished the dam was producing half of Egypt’s electricity and had displaced a population of over 100,000 from across the Nubian region. While Nubian families were displaced en masse, international actors rushed to the rescue of the historic cultural sites that were to be flooded by the dam’s construction. Norwegian experts consulted on the dramatic relocation of the Abu Simbel temples, and participated in the Scandinavian Joint Expedition to Sudanese Nubia from 1961–1964. This archaeological mission excavated thousands of sites along a 60km stretch of the Nile’s eastern bank and resulted in a vast number of artefacts being shared between collections in Sudan and Scandinavia.
Fadlabi, The Weeping Hill (2022)
In his newly commissioned work, Fadlabi addresses his maternal Sudanese Nubian heritage. The installation consists of a sound recording of an excerpt of a popular Nubian song, a lament of a mountain feeling abandoned by the Nubians who were displaced due to the flooding of their ancestral land by the reservoir of the Aswan High Dam, known in Sudan as Lake Nubia. The monumental painterly triptych and mural are a response of the artist to the history of the Nubian displacement, and an attempt to reckon with the inter-generational trauma caused by this erasure.
Hanni Kamaly, Sing of Poisonous Flowers (2022)
This newly commissioned video work by Hanni Kamaly interrogates The Nubian Village (1968–1969), a tapestry designed by the Swedish artist Hilding Linnqvist (1891–1984), installed today in one of the Swedish Parliament’s party meeting rooms. During his 1960 journey upstream the Nile, Linnqvist visited the city of Wadi Halfa in Sudanese Nubia and the surrounding villages shortly before the so-called Nubian exodus (1963–1964). B the time the tapestry cartoon was shown in the 1965 exhibition Nubia: Abu Simbel at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, such villages were already emptied and flooded.
The Scandinavian Joint Expedition: The Nubian Collection
For millennia, people have settled by rivers and left their mark in the shape of settlements, temples, and burial sites. The threat of flooding as a result of dam construction is a strong impetus for archaeological excavations. This was the case in the Scandinavian Joint Expedition (1961–1964), which took place within UNESCO’s International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia as a response to the construction of the Aswan High Dam (1960–1970). Four Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden – organized an archaeological expedition to the northernmost part of Sudan. Notably, for the first time since the end of the colonial period, the archaeologists were able to bring home one half of the finds, while the other half remained in Sudan. A single artefact from the Nubian Collection in Stavanger is on display as a part of All That Is Solid Melts Into Water.
About the artists
Arild Våge Berge (born 1983, Volda) studied at Bergen Academy of Art and Design and at Akademin Valand in Gothenberg. Berge works with photography, sculpture, text and video, exploring themes of technology, landscape and time. His recent solo exhibitions include Grieghallen, Bergen and Skien Kunstforening. In 2018 he won the Norwegian Kunstforenings’ Debutant Prize at The National Art Exhibition.
Ignacio Acosta (born 1976, Chile) is an artist and researcher working in territories under pressure from extractive industries. His recent exhibitions include: Inverting the Monolith, MBAL, Switzerland (2022); Ewiges Eis (Eternal Ice), Museum Sinclair-Haus in Bad-Homburg, Germany (2022); Mining Photography Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Germany (2022). Acosta is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Brighton as part of the Solid Water, Frozen Time, Future Justice: Photography and Mining in the Andean Glaciers (2021-2024) and at the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism, Uppsala University, Sweden ,where he leads a 4-year visual research project Indigenous perspectives on forest fires, drought and climate change: Sápmi (2022-2026).
Carolina Caycedo (born 1978, London) is a multimedia artist based in Los Angeles. Born to Colombian parents, Caycedo received her MFA from the University of Southern California in 2012, and BFA from the University of Los Andes in Bogotá in 1999. Caycedo’s art practice focuses on environmental justice, energy transition and cultural biodiversity and she recently had solo exhibitions at BALTIC, Gateshead (2022) and Oxy Arts, Los Angeles (2021). She is a 2021–2022 inaugural U.S. Latinx Artist Fellow and the 2020-2022 inaugural Borderlands Fellow at the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands at Arizona State University (ASU) and the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School.
Fadlabi (born 1975, Sudan) studied art in Khartoum, where he grew up, and in Oslo, where he lived for over a decade and received his MFA from the Oslo National Academy of Art and Design. He has exhibited at the National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design, Kunstnernes hus, Bergen Assembly and at the Sharjah Biennial, among many other places. With Karin Erixon, he founded the Khartoum Contemporary Art Center in Oslo in 2017; he is currently based in Luleå, Sweden.
Hanni Kamaly (born 1988, Hamar) is based in Stockholm and studied at Malmö Art Academy. Kamaly has held solo-exhibitions at Ginerva Gambino, Cologne; Tegel, Stockholm; Skånes konstförening, Malmö; Almanac, London and Tag-Team Studio, Bergen and perfomances at Moderna Museet, Malmö; Rupert, Vilnius; Inter Arts Center, Malmö and Göteborg konsthall. Her recent group exhibitions include 34th Bienal de São Paulo, Intercultural Museum, Oslo; Lunds konsthall; Moderna museet, Stockholm; Luleå Biennial; Malmö Art Museum; Neues Kunsthaus, Ahrenshoop and Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo.
Hans Ragnar Mathisen, AKA Keviselie (born 1945, Narvik) is a Sami artist and poet. Mathisen studied at the Oslo National Academy of Art and in 1970 he became the first Sami artist whose work was selected for the National Art Exhibition. Perhaps his best known work takes the form of a map of Sápmi. Mathisen was one of the founders of the Sami Artists’ Group in 1974, and he was one of six Sami artists represented at Documenta 14 in Kassel.
Theodor Severin Kittelsen (born 1857, Kragerø; died 1914, Jeløya) studied at Wilhelm von Hanno’s drawing school in Christiania (now Oslo) and later in Munich and Paris. Early realist works gave way to epic landscapes and a visual language rich in animism. His illustrations for Asbjørnsen and Moe’s Norwegian Folktales made him one of Norway’s most popular artists and he was given a knighthood in 1908. The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design holds many of his works; there are also private museums at Prestfoss and Åmot dedicated to his legacy.
Katarina Pirak Sikku (born 1965, Jokkmokk) is a Swedish Sami painter and photographer. She studied at Umeå Academy of Fine Arts, Umeå University and is now resident in Jokkmokk, Norrbotten in Sweden. Her work has been shown at Moderna Museet, Stockholm and Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín, Colombia among many other venues.
Ala Younis (born 1974, Kuwait City) studied architecture at the University of Jordan, Amman, and Research in Visual Cultures at Goldsmith’s, London. Working in installation, publishing, and video, she employs archival found material in research-based projects that combine personal narratives with collective and national histories of the Middle East. She is co-founder of the publishing initiative Kayfa ta, co-Head of Berlinale’s Forum Expanded, member of the Academy of the Arts of the World (Cologne), and co-Artistic Director of Singapore Biennale 2022. She is research scholar at al Mawrid Arab Center for the Study of Art, at New York University Abu Dhabi.