Outdoor World

Bergen, where Jo Nesbs Snowman carried out his grisly work, refashions its image

Bergen is dead set on ensuring its fame isnt merely for fictional noir slaughters by running huge sums into raising its global artistic profile, writes Vanessa Thorpe

Bergen, with its safeguarded historic waterfront and romantic, low-hanging mountain mists, is quite used to being packaged for foreign consumption. Long sold as” the gateway to the Norwegian fjords”, the Viking port is an established stop-off for Nordic cruises and, since the recent international literary boom in Scandi-noir fiction, it also observes itself a big describe for fans of the bestselling misdemeanour genre.

Some of its surrounding geographical features have become synonymous with gruesome fictional deaths, largely thanks to the enormously successful Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo. And Bergen’s streets, with their processions of hooded quilted coats, zipped against the rainwater , now say merely one thing to most modern tourists: “murder”.

The release this weekend of the mega-budget thriller The Snowman , a film starring Michael Fassbenderand based on the seventh book in Nesbo’s detective saga, should really mean that the city is bracing itself for another icy detonation of association with grim murder. After all, much of The Snowman was shot on place in and around Bergen and the popular Vidden hiking road between the Ulkriken and Floyen mountains is the scene of one of the horrific slaughters detailed in the book.

Yet this weekend, the person or persons of Bergen are actually busy celebrating the advent of an entirely different cultural landmark. Their gleaming new Kunst Musikk Design( artwork, music and designing) faculty house, which opened its entrances to students four weeks ago, is a key part of a concerted national bid to throw Bergen back on the European cultural map. The objective is to be recognised as a destination for more than just stately Saga sail daytrippers or devotees of BBC4′ s hit Scandinavian dramas. Backed by Norwegian government monies, the country’s second city is pushing for renewed status as an international centre of creative excellence, able to attract students and top artists from around the world. So the founding of this PS100m home for only 350 arts students at a time is a deliberately lavish strategic move.

Applicants from abroad, Frode Thorsen, the dean at KMD, promises, will be welcomed with open arms. Already about one in 3 of those who receive doctorates are foreigners and some are even funded. Most universities in Norway are state-owned and reasonably heftily endowed. Students are supported by the various kinds of loans and awards that would astonish British freshers. Tuition fees are covered by the government and those studying for a PhD at Bergen University are paid employees. What’s more, much of the teaching is be done in order to English.

Last week, Britain’s Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller was one of the high-profile guests invited to recognize the opening of the building , now formally is incorporated into Bergen University. Talking to a central dorm full of students and lecturers about his operate, ranging from his re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave during the miners’ ten-strike to his ” bouncy castle” Stonehenge, Deller emphasised the relevant recommendations that an artist can bring their work to the public in a variety of forms.” I haven’t really done any project that is conventional artwork for a long time now. Everything changed when I realised I could work with people, with communities, instead ,” he said.

It is a particularly appropriate message for this new house, which has been designed by the acclaimed Norwegian designers Snohetta specifically as a home for multi-displinary collaborations. The notion behind the KMD building, an amalgam of six schools previously scattered across the city, is that sculptors and ceramicists should be able to work right alongside fine artists and fabric decorators. It is interactions like these, said programme director Astrid Renata Van Veen, that may trigger new ways of thinking:” These encounters cannot be forced by an architect, of course, but you have to create spaces where these things might happen, to find ways for students to watch one another and find their work .”

Indeed, the logo Deller has created for the commencement of the celebrations presents an octopus deftly juggling several musical instruments, a paintbrush, a camera and knitting needles; a different artistic tool in each tentacle.

The first school of art was established in Bergen in 1772 and, while there is some unhappines about leaving the age-old faculty builds in the city centre, the big investment in the new site, coupled with the multi-disciplinary nightmare, seems to have won over most of the teaching staff.

Michael
Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole in The Snowman, a movie adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s book. Photo: Allstar/ Universal Pictures

For the vice-dean, Professor Anne-Helen Mydland, herself a former art student in Bergen, the value of artistic effort is philosophically closely linked with a political commitment to promoting democracy. She is therefore of the opinion that by cooperating with each other, across the disciplines, the arts stand a better opportunity:” Even in Norway, artwork is always fighting for itself. Art is about allowing new voices to listen to and it is always a struggle to communicate how important that is. And, with everything going on in the world now, it has never been more important .”

So, while British artwork colleges and university faculties are pondering how to cope with a future outside the European union, Norway, likewise an EU refusenik, has been quietly orchestrating a plot spin are worth one of Nesbo’s detective stories. A stealthy behavior to survive in the choppy seas of international markets, the government believes, is to use part of its vast and continuing national income from North Sea oil( PS1, 240 bn since production started in the 70 s) to position itself at the forefront of international artistic thinking. Now, on the back of the present popularity of Scandinavian style, the new artwork school will be using some of these oil funds to remind Norway’s larger neighbours, including Britain, that there is more to the country’s imagination than sleek chairs and cosy rugs.

And the KMD is just a portion of the Norwegian investment programme in the reputation of Bergen. As well as a planned new home for the city’s renowned music school, The Grieg Academy, to go up next door to the new artworks faculty in Mollendal, Bergen already has a pristine new airfield and is in the middle of erecting a light railway system. All this, despite the fact the entire metropolitan area only has a population of 420, 000.

Back in the 13 th century, Bergen was Norway’s capital, before Oslo overtook it in the 1830 s. Sitting at the centre of a lacy network of inlets on the west coast of the country, the Vikings first spotted its potential as a naturally sheltered harbour. But Bergen’s historic significance in Europe chiefly dates from its glorious period, running until the 16 th century, as one of the towns of the powerful Hanseatic League, the trading federation established all over the Baltic Sea and northern Europe.

Since then, several fires have reduced the size of the city’s most recognisable bit of visual branding, the attractive waterfront Bryggen district, a world heritage site recently traversed by the urgent feet of Fassbender as detective Harry Hole. Whatever the critics may say about The Snowman , it will doubtless attract a fresh wave of tourism to this part of town.

But perhaps the cultural attraction that best sums up the style Bergen now recognizes itself is a place that has already been drawing in the sightseers for decades: the hillside home of Edvard Grieg, the composer of the Peer Gynt Suite.

For, although that other Norwegian culture giant, the playwright Henrik Ibsen, writer of Peer Gynt, once run as a stage director in Bergen, it is the mighty reputation of Grieg, born there in 1843, that looms over the city, both metaphorically and literally. A visit to the villa in Troldhaugen that he lived in with his wife, the vocalist Nina Grieg, until his death in 1907 is charming enough. But what really stands out is the way the Griegs applied their small home, somewhat out of the route as it was for their fellow city dwellers, as a crucible of artistic and social activity. It was frequently full of musicians and regularly used for concerts, its bare wooden walls chosen for the best acoustics and its partitioned ground-floor chambers hosting impromptu performances: a perfect model for what the city of Bergen now hopes to become in northern Europe.

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ world/ 2017/ oct/ 14/ bergen-refashions-its-image-jo-nesbo-snowman-jeremy-deller

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