It’s a brilliant time to visit Oslo, but it’s not a brilliant time to visit Oslo if you are hoping to meet a lot of Oslo artists. It’s July and ‘the whole of Oslo is on holiday in July’ as one artist told me, so after many understandably unanswered emails and messages, I leave things up to chance and go with the flow. The flow brings me to Tori Wrånes at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Nasjonalmuseet) and her brilliant troll-filled Hot Pocket and Track of Horns. Strange chimeras of legs and rucksacks and wings, pink and blue bulbous beanbags, oars, flutes and haunting songs. I resist video art, which generally has all the fun sucked out of it, but Tori squishes it all back in and then some.
On one of the islands in Oslo’s harbour there are permanent artists’ studios and a temporary gallery, run by Kunstwerket, open in summer when their Oslo city gallery is shut. There was some stunning and thoughtful work by the resident artists (including Anne Karin Jortweit, looking at invasive plant species and their properties and Kari Steihaug, also working in textiles and the plants of the island) and it was interesting chatting to the gallery assistant, who, like the gallery, lives a double life working in Norway and studying art history in London. Talking to her was a reminder to me of what the UK still has to offer: we have an internationally renowned art market and world-respected art schools. We produce brilliant artists and can attract people to study and work here in art, because we are seen to be at the heart of the creative world. So why does it feel such an uphill battle to make a living as an artist in this country?
Helen Eriksen from Tenthaus was generous enough to squeeze in a cup of tea and a look round the studios with me, in between her holidays. Tenthaus work a lot with schools and have a toolkit on how to be ‘an artist in school, not a school artist’. It’s a socially engaged practice and is also looking at how to work with migrants and promote women artists. It would be idealising to think the Norwegians have this more sorted than in the UK, but it’s refreshing to know that there are inspirational groups working on these questions. Artists in Norway have been able to apply for guaranteed stipend or wages from the government to allow them to concentrate on their art, which seems unbelievably sensible to someone coming from the UK, but opinion is divided as to whether this makes artists simply too reliant on the state. The Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) offers grants for practitioners with an invitation to participate in an exhibition or project abroad. Then they also apply to Arts Council Norway, who have bigger budgets. These two institutions are both state funded. In Norway there is no tradition of private money in the arts, but that is exactly what the current Conservative government is trying to change, with initiatives such as Talent Norge and Kreativ Norge. OCA also has a new grant scheme, which supports galleries, which in the end will help artists sell their work.