Norwegian Wood

A report from SOPPEN, Oslo, a performance festival uniting queer, trans and feminist artists

SOPPEN – a Norwegian word meaning mushroom, mould or yeast (including the nasty, infectious sort) – was the title and inspiration for a two-night performance festival in Oslo’s Ekebergparken Sculpture Park. Organized by Trollkrem (Tor Erik Bøe and Jennie Hagevik Bringaker) under the auspices of the art platform Oslo Pilot, SOPPEN used the metaphor of ‘diverse fungal reproduction’ to bring together queer, trans and feminist artists.


Visitors to SOPPEN, a two-day festival of music and performance in Ekebergparken Sculpture Park, 19–20 August, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

Visitors to SOPPEN, a two-day festival of music and performance in Ekebergparken Sculpture Park, August, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

Throughout the early 2000s, the neglected park, famously depicted in Edvard Munch’s Scream (1893), was a hotbed of prostitution and drug dealing. That was until billionaire beer magnate and real estate developer Christian Ringnes took over the area’s rehabilitation in 2003, reopening it as a sculpture park in 2013. The park’s transformation has drawn sustained criticism from feminists as most of the sculptures depict the female form, often nude – an issue Trollkrem’s event confronted head on in their programming. As their artist statement made clear: ‘The performing bodies of SOPPEN challenge the gendered representations found in the park to spawn new and exciting fleshy sculptures.’

To better understand the history of public sculpture in Oslo, I visited the works of Gustav Vigeland in Frogner Park on the city’s bourgeois west side. The tightly ordered Vigeland Sculpture Park is the largest of its kind dedicated to a single artist’s work, and remains one of Oslo’s top tourist destinations. Constructed mainly between 1939–49, a period spanning the Nazi occupation of Norway, Vigeland’s hulking figures in bronze, granite and wrought-iron align with fascist aesthetics in their heft, ambition and violence. Vigeland sought to depict the whole of humanity, from male athletes and old women to more disturbing fare, like full-on thrashing battles between the sexes or a mother on all fours whose children gag her with a rope. If there was any doubt that the park was an homage to patriarchy, at the park’s highest point stands an erect Monolith, into which Vigeland chiselled tortured, climbing bodies.


Marthe Ramm Fortun, SOPPEN, OSLO, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

Marthe Ramm Fortun, SOPPEN, OSLO, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

In contrast, the works in Ekebergparken, located on Oslo’s east side, have a more complex relationship with their natural surroundings. Visitors are greeted by Sarah Lucas’s Deep Cream Maradona (2015), a huge yellow bronze sculpture of a reclining male nude with an exaggerated phallus, and winding through the park, one encounters works by the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Dan Graham and James Turrell, all integrated into the woodland. SOPPEN’s nightclub-meets-treehouse venue was installed in a clearing about 10 minutes from the entrance. As Bøe, of Trollkrem, explained, the site had to be carefully chosen to avoid disturbing any remnants of Iron Age settlements. The two-stage architecture, designed by Fellesskapsprosjektet å Fortette Byen (FFB), adopted traditional techniques in order to conform to park regulations: They used horses to transport timber and secured the stages without the use of screws.

Though billed as an international festival, SOPPEN was heavily influenced by an American-style investigation of identity politics. Of the 17 featured artists, 10 were from the US, while the remainder hailed from Norway. Virality was a subtheme, with many artists operating between the spaces of art and entertainment. Fittingly, many invited artists live in Los Angeles, such as Transparent producer Zackary Drucker and artist-comedian Casey Jane Ellison, whose expert California-girl deadpan regularly gives way to hilarious misandry. Perhaps unsurprisingly, American politics was a key order of business. Early on the first night, Drucker (in absentia) presented a video where she mimicked three white cis Donald Trump voters. One character, with a heavy Southern accent, described herself as a proud ‘shit factory’. Marthe Ramm Fortun, a Norwegian artist, performed a lecture condemning Marina Abramović for her recent Tagesspiegel statements, which questioned women’s ability to juggle a career in art and a family. In the age of Trump and his dangerous anti-abortion agenda, Fortun said, it was a missed opportunity to assert a progressive mandate.


Actually Huizenga perfroming at SOPPEN, Oslo, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

Actually Huizenga perfroming at SOPPEN, Oslo, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

Other US artists addressed brutal histories of colonialism. Marcel Alcalá, bedecked in Juggalo-inspired makeup and accompanied by backup dancers, recited a text condemning imperialism and corporatization in witty hashtag-friendly language, making reference to the ‘Nazi graves’ of Ekebergparken’s makeshift cemetery during World War II. La Porscha, an African-American artist, performed a short, intense noise set while she dangled from the stage from platinum-blonde braid extensions – a Rapunzel-esque nightmare-as-lynching. Elysia Crampton, a Latinx producer, presented video and music related to her project Dissolution of the Sovereign: A Timeslide into the Future. The science-fiction pop epic is loosely bound together with the story of Bartolina Sisa, a murdered 18th-century Bolivian revolutionary, the plight of trans people in Mexico, and the future takeover of an AI consciousness. Agatha Wara, raised in the US but now based in Oslo, followed similar science-fiction themes about distortion pills and designer emotions in her text and sound  collaboration with DJ Ill Tariq.


LaPorscha performing at SOPPEN, Oslo, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

LaPorscha performing at SOPPEN, Oslo, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

Nightlife culture and high camp were celebrated throughout the weekend. Norwegian performer Nils Bech took up residency in James Turrell’s hillside cathedral-like installation and sang melancholic love songs in falsetto, while LA-based event ‘co-host’ Tyler Matthew Oyer introduced other performers as he embodied queer icons like Grace Jones and Kembra Pfahler. Singer and video artist Actually Huizenga pumped up the crowd in the tradition of Peaches with her exhortation ‘You don’t have to shave it’, while New York–based Narcissister brought down the house with her cabaret-style act combining sexualized moves with a critical attitude to the fetishization of female and non-white bodies. She presented a handful of vignettes, from her Burka Barbie (2014) video to the live act Upside Down, in which she contorts and spins while wearing masks on both her face and crotch.


Elysia Crampton performing at SOPPEN, Oslo, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

Peter Clough performing at SOPPEN, Oslo, 2016. Photograph: Margit Selsjord 

Largely affirmative, sex-positive and a lot of fun, SOPPEN was as much a queer community-building event as an performance festival. Here, hard lines weren’t drawn between fine art and pop culture, criticality and complicity; like many strands of recent performance, the artists selected by Trollkrem embedded theory and politics in a telegenic package. Of course, the easy marketability of queer and trans bodies has occasionally come under attack, but here Trollkrem’s intentions were clear and sound. The multiplicity of bodies gathered together at SOPPEN served not only as a response to Ekebergparken’s questionable identification as a site that pays ‘homage to women’, but to Vigeland Park’s ordering of the human race, and the forces that threaten to homogenize or suppress Otherness in an era of rising rightward politics.

Main image: Genevieve Belleveau and collaborator performing at SOPPEN, Oslo, 2016. Photograph: Birk Thomassen

Wendy Vogel is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn, New York.

Most Read

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018