Theater of Cruelty

The Norwegian ideal state

FUTURE / From 2017 to 2019, we traveled around the country in the artist group Alt Går Bra to learn about the Norwegian population's visions for the society of the future. The second most popular theme was climate and sustainability (ten percent). Three percent answered freedom, according to technology optimism, education and the importance of roots. For the vast majority, a completely different factor was most important.


With author Branko Boero Imwinkelried

Bergen, August 2019: We are present at the Bergen Business Council's breakfast meeting, where the consulting company Rambøll presents its report Better cities. As background material for the report, there is a survey among the city's residents about what makes the city attractive to live in. According to Rambøll, people are primarily concerned with security against crime, clean air, good job opportunities and access to housing at a reasonable price.

We are invited to participate in the meeting with the art project The Norwegian ideal state , where we talk to people about their dreams and visions for the society of the future. After the presentation, we will talk to some of the participants at the meeting. "People need contact with other people, not just on the internet," says a man in his 60s. We move to a table where three women in their 20s are sitting: "We need more social meeting places," they say. "We have to get out of our home and into the social world. Having something to fight for, collectively, gives life meaning", they further explain.

Meeting places

Today is the end of a two-year journey around the country, where we have sought out numerous arenas to talk to people about their ideal future society. We have been in Kristiansand in the south and Kirkenes in the north, with stops at a number of small and large places in all the country's nooks and crannies, also at art centres, but primarily other arenas: People who were willing to get involved in our question , we found in shopping centres, libraries, workplaces, sports clubs, schools, pensioners' cafes, pubs, youth clubs and in denominations.

In shopping centres, libraries, workplaces, sports clubs, schools, pensioners' cafes, pubs, youth clubs and in churches.

"We should listen to each other more, talk more together," said a union leader from the southern coast. A youth group in a small town in central Norway said: "There are too few social meeting places. We want an outdoor meeting place with a roof over it." "Meeting points are important, places with benches", said a pensioner in the high north, highlighting the possibility of "meeting places you can make yourself". In one of the country's larger cities, we met a hard-nosed journalist who stressed that "people need meeting places for contact with other people". An artist in Eastern Norway formulated his answer as follows: "To take care of our humanity, we must see each other."

Everywhere we got the same answer, to our great surprise. In retrospect, our informal statistics show that over 70 per cent of the participants in the project wanted more contact with other people.

The methods

I Ramboll investigation of what would make Bergen a better city, the need for meeting places was nowhere to be found. This was, of course, a scientific investigation, which used verified methods for compiling statistics. For our part, we collected our answers in the form of informal conversations based on a single open question, as part of an art project.

But isn't it the case, no matter how well-developed a survey is, that it will unwittingly ask for answers within a certain universe of possible answer options? Also with answer options in the form of free text, haven't you already brainstormed your respondents on a train of thought that defines a certain horizon of possibilities for what you want to answer?

It was clear that the trust that arose in the human encounter between us and the participants was an important premise for the talks. We must take into account that we, as interlocutors, helped to define the conversation space and the horizon of possibilities for the topics that were discussed, whether we invited to conversations under four eyes, public assemblies or group discussions. After a hesitant introduction, it often became difficult to stop the flood of words and end the conversations. The need for expression seemed to be enormous, and many thanked us for the opportunity "to talk about something meaningful".

We made one requirement: the answers had to be formulated in positive terms and not as negations – i.e. as visions for "more of" as opposed to "less of".

In the context of the answers which were about requests for meeting places, a number of adjacent topics were also brought up. Community, friendship, care, tolerance and trust were popular keywords. "To work well together, we have to respect each other," said a musician from a small western village. Fairness and honesty, ethics and morality were also mentioned, and also humanity, solidarity, togetherness, equality and justice. Three teenage boys in Southern Norway believed that we need a more outward-looking society, but that a fairer distribution of social goods is necessary in order to create better relationships between people.

Several also highlighted the individual's responsibility to create a better society, and to achieve contact and establish more meeting places. The right and duty to participate in a community was described in words and phrases such as "we must all contribute", "we must take action ourselves", "we must get involved", "if not us, who?", "initiative counts » and «everyone must have the right to co-determine».

A well-functioning social life plays an important role if we are to achieve security and the long-term, believed several, such as the woman in her 20s who experienced it as security that in the local community "everyone knew everything about everyone".

Ideals for future society

Towards the end of the talks, we asked our participants to summarize what had been said, to specify their ideas in a kind of conclusion. We told them that the answers would be used in the design of artworks that would be presented as the population's visions of the future.

Now suddenly the participants gave us completely different answers. They went from focusing on human relationships to putting forward something that resembled a list of the UN's sustainability goals – well-formulated ideals for future society, but often far from what was said in the original conversation. It made us think about the results from Rambøll's survey, and how context and intended use seem to influence how we experience the horizon of possibilities for our answer options.

For our part, we treated the anonymous responses as if they were commissions for works of art – paintings in the form of national coats of arms as collective symbols for the "ideal states" of the future. A selection of these can be seen this summer at the National Museum's opening exhibition.

It may appear as if the need for meeting places that was expressed in our informal survey has a connection with precisely a desire to participate in more complex and meaningful conversations. Just asking questions that open up complex issues and create room for reflection is a role we hope art can help fill.

Agnes Nedregård
Agnes Nedregård
Leader of the project "AltGårBra".

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