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National Library: It's as if the building has been waiting for this

The National Library recently opened an exhibition on Norwegian sci-fi. "Maybe more than ever we need a genre that can contain philosophical and difficult questions about our existence," writes author Hanne Ramsdal.


DISPLAY: Great future
National Library, Oslo
Up to 6. April 2019

Unlike many others, I was never concerned with sci-fi in childhood. Those I know who were passionate about it say in retrospect that they used the books and movies as an escape, as a way of dreaming away. And that they did not see the political aspects of sci-fi as a child.

I must have fled and dreamed myself away in other ways, by reading passages in the books on the bookshelf to my mother who could recall an adult life. Novels with a great deal of realism, with words like pubic hair and lovers. I arrived late at puberty. I couldn't grow up fast enough.

Unreal really

Now I'm an adult. And now I'm into sci-fi. Why? Because it's foreign to me. Because there's something playful or infantile about it, maybe. And fantastic. And unreal really. And because my son of 14 draws me into it. And, most profoundly, I'm beginning to understand that sci-fi is an extraordinarily interesting way in to the question of the human being: Machine man is confronted. In the meeting with the stranger there is a room for both progress and danger. And maybe more than ever, we need a genre that can contain philosophical and difficult questions about our existence. That's why I suddenly find myself at seminars on robots and cowboys. I have been following the sci-fi program at the Torshov Theater. Last year I saw the exhibition Into the unknown at The Barbican in London. This year, our own National Library is focusing on sci-fi – primarily the Norwegian one. And I have made myself happy.

The exhibition, which lasts until April 2019, starts already when I stand at Solli place and look at this library, which together with the warehouse in Mo i Rana not only preserves our national and shared memory, but also symbolizes this memory. All documents produced in Norway are subject to handover to the National Library. "In the National Library's collections, the future is already recorded: books that tell about the political utopias of the past, movies about journeys to other planets, terrifying dystopias, and stories about robots, androids, and alien beings," the exhibition program states. This self-awareness is the foundation when the National Library is to house possible futures for six months – or wonderful future, as the exhibition is called.

Through film, TV series, comic books and music we gain an insight into the Norwegian sci-philosophery in particular.

It is as if the building has been waiting for this opportunity. The three frescoes of Axel Revold and Per Krohg in the stairwell, with Voluspa as a theme, emerges and suddenly takes on a new meaning. Especially in Per Krogh's modern version of ragnarok, where humans resemble machines. It is as if our own Norse vision of the future becomes a prologue, or a point of view, to the exhibition. Through film, TV series, comics, books and music we get an insight into the Norwegian sci-fi landscape in particular, and I stop especially at composer Bjørn Fongaard's unpublished score from 1964 with music written for the future. Since the technology of the day was not advanced enough to realize the soundscape he wanted, you can look at it as future music. For the occasion, the entrance is turned into a "spaceship" – a copy from NRK's ​​series blind Passenger (1978) by Jon Bing and Tor Åge Bringswaard. The exhibition itself is physically small, but the program is extensive and runs over half a year – with talks, film screenings, conferences and lectures.

Enthusiastic curiosity

I am of course in the opening day of November 15, with my newfound enthusiasm, and hear Eirik Newth talk that since the moon landing in 1969 we have forgotten to think about Mars. Only now has Elon Musk found a reason to go to the red planet, Newth points out: We need a backup on Mars. If we have something worth preserving, we have to send it away, he says. Afterwards, we get to experience an episode of the unrealized sequel to the aforementioned TV series blind Passenger. Of dust you have come (published at Pax Forlag, 1990) is staged as a lecture with actors, music by Sjur Miljeteig and directed by Kristina Kjeldsberg. Tor Åge Bringswaard has his own narrative voice. And it strikes me how nicely the unrealized episode dresses the reading format. The sketchy attempt to draw or play out an unrealized journey with the spaceship "Marco Polo" is reminiscent of how fragile our own time and future are.

On the way home, I feel the same enthusiasm as when I saw Georgia O. Keeffe's exceedingly large flowers at Tate in London, since the oversized flowers become alien and make me look properly. And I feel the same curiosity that the author Thomas Bernhard may have felt when he let a character in a novel say that he couldn't kill because he would then miss the future. But I also know the anxiety about the characters in Lars von Trier Melancholia, while waiting for the meteor that may hit the earth. Because I wonder how much microplastics my great-grandchildren should consist of. How far the limits of the human will stretch. Will the technology solve the climate challenges? When is our existence over? And what exactly is a human being? Who will we be in the future? Where are we going?

My questions are both open and anxious, and I will take them back to the National Museum to watch movies and listen to conversations about the past and future. Maybe I'll even get along with my son at 14.

See also:

Hanne Ramsdal
Hanne Ramsdal
Ramsdal is a writer.

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