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Who can own a river?

Martin Andersen, NåDa/Tinn Assosiation of the Arts.
all photo: Ingvill Sunnby

Photocred David Odell

Rjukan Solarpunk Academy is collaborating with Tinn Association of the Arts and the NåDa-initiativ in the mediation of a project by the Sunmirror artist Martin Andersen, in which he asks:

Who can own a river?

Approx 1905: well-dressed agents make their way up Vestfjorddalen to buy the river and the waterfall. Previously, this waterfall, Rjukanfossen, had been made famous by artists painting and promoting it as the largest waterfall in the world.

Rjukanfossen was sold for a tiny nickel from old-rooted farmers and turned out to become the cornerstone in the industrialization of the nation from 1905. The town, with the name of the waterfall, was built on its banks to aid the moneymaking of the investment.

Presently, on a sunny summer day,  the river runs through the city -- but for some reason, no one is using it for swimming.. Why is that?

Martin Andersen



Throughout the summer of 2023, local youth will work together with Sunmirror-artist Martin Andersen to thematize, treat and work with ‘Cultural Heritage’, both as object and theme, on the youth's own terms. Important goals for the project is to do with youth that are raised in a post-industrial environment, familiar with contemporary art and how both art and ongoing cultural heritage processes can generate new meaning in the local community's structures, surroundings and forms, which in post-industrial context has lost its original functions.

Particularly important in this project is location, local environment and local context.

In 2015, the Rjukan-Notodden became an industrial heritage site included on UNESCO's World Heritage List. At Rjukan this meant that the youth's upbringing- environment (including housing, factories and natural areas as well as other central infrastructure) were transformed into Cultural Heritage. In concert with the emergence of new forms of valuation of equipment, buildings and areas that had lost its original features, the local community was subject to new regulations for preservation of so-called unique universal values. The management has in turn worked on how to convey these values, not only to visiting culture-aware tourists, but also to the locals, through kindergartens, schools, local museum and various activities. Local youth reside in this connection and are referred to as important ‘World Heritage Ambassadors’ for the times ahead, and it is emphasized that it is them who should inherit these values. Thus, it is these youths who are also going to inherit the obligations that come with the World Heritage Status, that is, to preserve so-called inalienable values for the Humanity of the future - materialized in buildings, machinery and river beds in their immediate area.

Such responsibility obviously requires an experience of ownership of the World Heritage Project, which can hardly be obtained only through one-way dissemination to children and adolescents by older generations of teachers, parents and museum employees. 

Knowledge of what was going on in Rjukan before industry began to shut down in the early 1990’s, is today a new form of capital which is mainly held by the elders. It is usually these keepers of knowledge who passionately volunteer in seminars that deal with the local World Heritage. The young people are not taught by these volunteers but through kindergarten & school, where they are presented with what they may preserve from Rjukan’s historical past and what relevance it might hold in our contemporary and future landscapes, which is still somewhat unclear and up to negotiation.

This project grabs and thematize these challenges. On the youth's own terms and through collaboration with a contemporary artist, the youth is encouraged to take hold of their unique inheritance, make use of it and shape it into creative visionary works of art & new streams of perception, explore the edges and what might lay beyond the edges of what they themselves consider to be restrictions and opportunities connected to the World Heritage as a contemporary art project.

Steffen Fagernes Johannessen, Tinn Association of the Arts

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