In 2014, Art in Embassies (AIE) entered a partnership with Bennington College to design an outdoor, site-responsive sculpture for the permanent art collection at the new U.S. Embassy building in Oslo, Norway. To facilitate the process, the College established a yearlong curriculum titled Art in the Public Realm under its Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA). Participants include nine students from different backgrounds and disciplines headed by faculty and team leader Jon Isherwood and faculty member Susan Sgorbati. Another student and team member, Keegan Ead, is documenting the process from start to finish through social media, still photography and video. Throughout the project, the team will work closely with Art in Embassies Curator Sarah Tanguy.
During the fall 2014 term, the team engaged in interdisciplinary coursework and with guest lecturers to define critical social issues and develop key concepts in relation to the commission. After studying various models of public art, they looked at the country of Norway itself, focusing their research on topics ranging from the arts, anthropology, and environmental sciences to economics, politics and current events. On September 15, Tanguy and AIE Curator of Cultural Programs Welmoed Laanstra led a class and engaged in discussions and meetings with students, faculty and administrators at the College. Then on December 4, 2014, Tanguy returned to the college to hear students presenting summaries of their research and brainstorming about next steps.
Two of the students, Tanner Bryant and Sarah Shames completed their six-week Winter Field Work Term in Oslo to gain in-country experience. Tanguy, Isherwood, team student Onur Fidangul, and David Rees, senior vice president for strategic initiative, joined them for a few days in early January 2015. During their visit, they conducted a hard-hat tour of the site in addition to meeting with U.S. Embassy staff, local artists, art professionals, and politicians for additional background. When the team reassembled on February 21, 2015 they began the process of translating their research into a visual design.
In the second term, the team focused on theme and design development. The final, three-part design, which was presented to AIE in April 2015, highlights the Arctic and the Arctic Council as both the U.S. and Norway are members. The BC team used complexity drawings to map various Arctic pathways of shipping vessels, birds, polar bears, among others. Next they translated the results into sculpture, and selected marble to conjure the Arctic. The other two components comprise the design of the arrival court to include perennials from Arctic Council country members and a selection of complexity drawings.
Members of the team will remain active through the implementation of the design, from the sculpture’s carving to delivery onsite; they will participate in the installation of the sculpture, planting of the arrival court and mounting of the drawings; and finish documenting the entire collaboration. Estimated completion is either fall 2016 or spring 2017.