The term environmental theater is said to come about in 1968, when Richard Schechner used it to describe the experimental nature of the work of his performance group. He took the art form out of it´s confines of the theatre and extended the meaning of scenery, stage and space to encompass the world around people. In this way he wanted to make the performance more authentic and real. In this, of course, lies a deeper fact that original theatre once was more in tune with the real world, before it became a performance on stage extracted from reality. Storytelling, as done by shamans around the fire, told real stories about real people in it´s natural environment. The environmental theater about Klemet goes back to this origin and tells the real story in it´s natural landscape. The scenography moves freely in-between land-art and theatre following Shaman Klemets life, which was a constant environmental drama tied with the visual and subconscious layers of nature and human nature as part of nature. The stage opens up in different layers: the natural stage is the surrounding mountains, farms and the river running down from the glacier. This natural setting is focusing on a temporary collage of a constructed stage setting with elements from Klemet’s life and the life of the villagers. All the construction materials used in play are recycled from the valley.
Why did you do this design?
I was invited by the art director of Åarjelhsaemien Teatere (Southern Sami Theatre) to do the design on behalf of the farmers in the valley of Leirskardalen. Around year 1900 Klemet was living in between the Okstindan glacier on the mountains and the farmers in the valley. He was a Sami, torn between living the traditional nomadic Sami way of life and the life of the farmers. Despite living as an outcast under a rock “heller”, his memory among the farmers is still very strong. Not many years ago the “heller” was blown to pieces in an act of cultural sabotage. The spirit of Klemet had never left the farmers in peace. The environmental drama of the Klemet theater play aims into the psychological liberation of the valley. The whole community was playing a part, either as actors or producers of the play. The designprocess was very natural, in the way that it was more an act of discovering what was there, more than creating a new stage set. This way of designing is more about “being there” and letting the space, memory and place speak by itself, than merely having the ego creating things on it´s own. As an odd story, it can be told that Klemet came to me in a very powerful dream while I was doing the design of the theatre, reminding me of the powerful drama that surrounded his life. In a way, this method of designing is a more shamanistic, or meditative approach to design; being in tune with nature, people and the project at work.
How do you think about the relationship between building and the culture?
Through thoughtfulness and craft we can make architecture part of culture and fine art. Culture is how we do things, including architecture, and the refinement of culture is also part of evolution. But, as evolution, it also has it deadends. Culture can become to stiff to adapt, as can architecture. Culture is the vehicle of how we do things, and architecture should embody this, being able to adapt to our changing habits. Jaques Derrida had a wonderful text about this theme: ”All experience open to the future is prepared or prepares itself to welcome the monstrous arrivant, to welcome it, that is, to accord hospitality to that which is absolutely foreign or strange, but also, one must add, to try to domesticate it, that is, to make it part of the household, and have it assume the habits, to make us assume new habits. This is the movement of culture.” Jaques Derrida And this is what it´s about, culture as open form. That is an culture able to adapt to the future, open for change, at the same time possesing traditional knowledge and eternal truths. If architecture can be a vessel that embodies this evolutionary culture, we are somewhat getting closer. Open form is an architectural theory that can embody this changing culture.
In China, people always talk about tradition, how do you think about it?
Tradition is a very important aspect in Norway as well, allthough we are on a path were we are forgetting traditions because of modernity. We are so getting used to all this technology making our life easier that we are getting further away from nature and everyday rituals. Traditions can in a very positive way be a vessel of knowledge that is now getting lost. I myself went living in a traditional Norwegian farmhouse to come more accostumed to the rhytms of nature and rediscovering the real reasons behind the traditional architecture of Norway. For example, on this old farmhouse on the island, life is very different in the dark winter than in the 24hr summersun. In the winter we would naturally come together in the core of the Kitchen, which was the only place which could hold the warmth in the cold winternights. In the summer we would all be gardening, fishing or going barefoot on the beaches. The architecture naturally embodies this knowledge with small cores made of timber, and bigger unisolated spaces protecting agains storms. Out on the island life is about seasons, doing the traditional farming in the summer, collecting berries and hunting in the autumn which is again stored for the cold winter. While the blizzards were making it impossible to be outside, we would assemble by kitchenstove eating reindeer and berries by the fire, waiting for spring to come again..Of course we should not forget that traditions also can become empty. Empty of knowledge that is. In europe we see this as modern homes ”dressed” as old houses containing none of the knowledge of the old houses. Even theatre and religious rituals can become empty, having lost it´s spirituality and drama, becoming nothing but bad theatre. Architecture should not become a mimic of old architecture, but a vessel of wisdom open to the future. Traditional knowlegde of nature and landscape has a very important aspect when it comes to urbanplanning as well. Due to modernity´s exclusion of nature, we somehow seem to think that we are invincible and independent of nature. We are building everywhere without knowledge of nature, cities sprawl on farmland and every spot of land available. As a consequence the cities become more vulnerable for erosion, floods, storms etc. This sitespecific natural knowledge were part of the human conscience before, and even in the story of Klemet this was of utter importance. Klemet built his home under a rock under a glacier, building his home just 10 meters in any direction would have been sure death for his whole family. This traditional knowledge of the sami and old rural communities can be used in modern cities to create a more sustainable urbanism. Even big metropolis´s can be naturally ventilated and more in tune with nature using zero-energy by having this natural knowledge. This knowledge should be the fundamental principle of urban planning.
What is your architectural philosophy?
My architectural philosophy is based on a comprehension of landscape, theories of open form as thaught by Professor Svein Hatløy, urban acupuncture as thaught by Professor Marco Casagrande as well as montage and the architecture of event. In this lies an understanding of architecture not only as a vessel of culture open to the future, but also in tune with nature.I have been very lucky to be a student under Svein Hatløy which is the origin of open form in Bergen school of architecture in Norway. The lectures were of great help to get a comprehension of landcape and architecture as open form.I have also been very lucky to work very closely with Marco Casagrande and get a closer insight into his philosophy. We are now doing workshops together in Northern Norway working on the local knowledge of the Samis and traditional scandinavian architecture. This knowledge should in time be brought back to the cities of the world.There has also been some literature that has had a major impact on me. Lisa Henchows “Thermal delight in architecture” and Junichiro Tanizaki´s “In praise of shadows” were an eyeopner into thermal design but also on the creation of meditative space. The meditave space opens us up to being present with oneself, but also with other people and nature. By this follows an architecure of life...