By Prerna Bishoi
This January, Kunstakademiet i Trondheim hosted an intensive English-language Experts-in-Teamwork village, “North by Northeast: A Free Passage from Norway to China” with generous support from NTNU Engage. The theme of the village dove into the tremendous consequences of climate change which will fundamentally reshape our understanding of the North. Polar ice caps are melting, and in a few decades from now, ordinary merchant ships are supposed to be able to take a shortcut from China to Europe, traversing a major ice-free shipping lane above Russia, which could turn Tromsø into a new Singapore or Kirkenes into Chinatown. The village challenged the students to imagine a future scenario, and from 50 years in the future (2070) look back at the year 2020, asking the question, “what could have happened for things to get to this?”
We took a multifaceted approach to immerse the students into the mindset of the North: organizing a public lecture series with researchers and entrepreneurs from the fields of geography, social anthropology, business, photography, performing arts and curatorial practices, living and working amidst unforeseen climate change in the Arctic region. We also installed a learning hub, with a specially curated library stocked with books suggested by our guests, an exhibition with previous students’ projects around the same theme and other art projects. Our unconventional approach, with a focus on artistic methods and local entrepreneurship, hopefully, shifted preconceptions and myths about what and where innovation can take place, engaging and mobilizing the students to create projects that they believe are important to society.
The students embraced this speculative challenge with criticality and fearlessly experimented with artistic methods, from filmmaking to woodwork and cooking! Being in EiT, their group dynamics reflected in their process and the final form they chose to work with – when they wanted everyone’s voice to have a place, they decided container formats like News Reels or mini-exhibitions that could incorporate various skills and ideas. Others chose to work with singular ideas like a board game or inventing recipes and cooking food.
The students brought to the projects their interests, political concerns and tacit learnings from their disciplines.
Each group’s outcomes were experimental and innovative: King Crab Mahjong: adapting and molding the hundreds of years-old Chinese game, Mahjong, to play with the geopolitics of the North. The game is a long-play and a great mix of chance and strategy where, with each round, you create the future (the history, as seen from 2070) you want to see. The game is a dance between personal gains and collective accomplishments.
The North-East Passage: a narrative board game that tells the story of the North-East passage through the life of an old Chinese sailor. The players sail from one port to the other with the throw of a dice, making their way from Dalian, China to Kirkenes, Norway, in a choose-your-own-adventure format.
An art exhibition, “After the Party”, reflected on the role of art as a chronicler of socio-political realities. The group imagined themselves to be an art collective in 2070, curating a mini art exhibition with several individual artworks made between the year 2020 and 2070. Through the artworks, they played with the ambiguity of the future of Norway, creating a narrative that teetered on impending doom: from natural disasters to authoritarian regimes.
One of the groups made a news report from the year 2070. Celebrating 50 years of their channel, the newscasters pretended to be in 2020, hosting “debates” and “street interviews” as if they were a forgotten format. The News Reel broadcasted news from the year 2070, stories of hurricanes to sporting events in the Northeast passage, scrolling under critical debates between ship owners and environmentalists. The abundance of news events and opinions reminded us of our everyday life in 2020.
Lastly, one of the groups imagined the future of the North through everyday food and recipes. A fictional chef in the year 2070 discovers his mother’s recipes from the year 2020 and makes notes and amends to them to suit the palette, the food economy and culture in Kirkenes in 2070. The group made tangy Chinese Tacos and a Russian-Norwegian combo-sweet, Truboshki. They experimented with the recipes in conversation with chefs from the Rosenborg Garden canteen.
Towards the end, NTNU Spark were invited to speak about the possibilities of taking projects beyond the scope of academia and into commercial spheres. We hope some of the groups have been inspired to apply.
Set amongst theatrical lighting, the final exhibition and presentation brought to life every team project. We had a day-long exhibition with a feedback jury consisting of a host of invited professors from the Art Academy, Department of Philosophy, Theatre, and NTNU Oceans. They were unanimously inspired and enthralled by the projects. Each project engaged with very real socio-political and economic situations that spurred the audience to think and question the world we live in and even gave us playful tools to make new futures!