Emma Arnold & Karen O’Brien
University of Oslo, Norway
We are living in a decisive moment, or in a plurality of decisive moments: a moment when we face unprecedented environmental change; a moment when more and more of the global population lives in cities; a moment when dualities and inequalities are rife and extreme; and above all, a moment that calls for radical transformations. Though moments vary in time and duration, content and form, they are inexhaustible and continuously invented (Lefebvre, 2014). Yet they can also represent “significant times when existing orthodoxies are open to challenge, when things have the potential to be overturned or radically altered” (Elden, 2004). Moments are full of possibility.
Much discourse on urban t
Artists have long been regarded as agents of change, closely associated with social movements and the progression and innovation of ideas. Surprisingly, the links between art and transformation have not been widely reflected upon in the urban global change literature. The art/science divide has had a tendency to maintain art separate and distinct within global change research, particularly in the more scientifically-oriented environmental disciplines. The innovative and transdisciplinary work of many artists working collectively in the city bring together these not so disparate disciplines. Arguing that artistic interventions in urban spaces are critical to transformation may seem puzzling. Yet this is precisely what artists are doing in cities around the world: intervening and transforming. Art is transformative, and at a time when radical transformations to sustainability are needed, it may be time to pay closer attention to art in the city.
When it comes to transformation of the everyday, artists have been highly effective in reimagining urban space and its possibilities. Sometimes interventions are done without permission, sometimes illegally. Works are quite often impermanent and maybe not always so easily understood as art. Graffiti writers and street artists are the most obvious of those who intervene so visibly in the spaces of the city. They leave their marks substantially and materially upon the substrate of the city, raising questions of what is and is not appropriate in public space. As Tim Cresswell writes: “Art in public space, particularly when political or activist in nature, transgresses some long-held and almost invisible boundaries of what constitutes appropriateness.”(Cresswell, 1998). Graffiti and street art often challenge powerful interests; whether political, commercial, or cultural. Many other artists also use the spaces of the city for their work, but not always in as obvious and material ways. This is particularly the case for many performance and non-representational artists (See [Thornes, 2008] for a discussion of representational and non-representational environmental art.).
Artists intervening in the city blur disciplinary boundaries as well, meshing art, science, and technology. Just beyond the gardens of Herligheten, a peculiar enclave full of informality and community, several beehives are nestled in a sea of vegetation not so far away from the Oslo Fjord, the Barcode Project, and the waterfront developments of Bjørvika. In this sliver of verdure amidst concrete and construction – where the Flatbread Society bakes bread over open flames beneath towers ventilating exhaust from the tunnels below – artists meet and congregate. The keepers of those beehives are two artists and cultural entrepreneurs: Marius Presterud and Mikkel Dagestad, otherwise known as Oslo Apiary. The work of Oslo Apiary exemplifies the inextricability of art and science in everyday life. Their work may at first glance be difficult to understand as art. They keep bees on rooftops of art galleries and shopping malls and in other unsuspecting spaces of the city. They are artists who keep bees but prefer not to be called beekeepers.
How is the work of Oslo Apiary more than merely urban beekeeping? What makes their work art? As artists they challenge our understanding of what art is, as artists often do, and they challenge divisions of nature and culture. These two artists see possibilities in unusual spaces and places in cities. The most profound change lies in the transformation of the everyday and everyday spaces (Lefebvre, 2014).
Seeing possibility in unlikely places is arguably at the very heart of transformation. With global environmental problems, including climate change, we are confronted with an unprecedented sense of urgency. Such a sense of urgency can be motivating, but also debilitating. Perhaps it is the slow and artistic transformation of the everyday that is truly critical. Art opens up opportunity to create moments in the city, a momentary disruption to material and human flows. It slows us down or even stops us for a moment, and sometimes presents us with a new perspective. The art of transformation in urban areas will be realised by creating moments of possibility.
Like honey dripping down a marble banister, perhaps we should be thinking of slowing flows in the city instead of accelerating them. More efficient networks and movements are inexorably linked to more efficient consumption, affording not more leisure time but more time to work. Marilyn Hamilton describes the city as a human hive that is evolving its strategic, social and systemic intelligences for resilience. She considers the honeybee’s strategy as life-sustaining because it has developed learning feedback loops that contribute value to the whole, not just to a single bee (Hamilton, 2008). The city with all its machinations and connectivity forms a social collective moving and working in tandem; each individual has some role to play in the hive. If the city is the hive, perhaps transformation is the honey; the product of collective action, slow and sticky but infinitely sweet. Creating the moments of transformation that really stick, like honey, depends on the art of seeing new possibilities.
Special thanks to Marius Presterud and Mikkel Dagestad of Oslo Apiary; for sharing their work so openly with us and students at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo, and for the many inspiring conversations that led to the writing of this piece. For more information about the work of Oslo Apiary, please visit their website: http://osloapiary.com/
Header image: Oslo, Norway. Credit: Emma Arnold