Jonas Dahlberg’s digital rendering of Memory Wound. Courtesy of Jonas Dahlberg Studio and KORO / Public Art Norway.

Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg was chosen last spring as the winner of a competition for a memorial in Norway to honor the victims of the July 22, 2011 attacks. His proposed piece, Memory Wound, is a cut across a peninsula that faces the island Utya, where the attacks occurred. Here, Dahlberg talks about some of the concepts behind the work, such as loss, distance, and vulnerability, as well as what it means to look and remember. The work will be finalized in July 2016.

THE PIECE IS commissioned by Public Art Norway (KORO), the government’s agency for public art under the Ministry of Culture, in commemoration of the events nearly three years ago, when a single gunman attacked a camp organized by the youth division of the Norwegian Labor Party on the island of Utya. Sixty-nine people were murdered and hundreds were injured on the island. Moreover, the same assailant bombed a government building, and eight people died. Memory Wound began mainly with two site visits, one on the island of Utya, where the events took place, and another on a small peninsula that faces the island, which is the site of the piece.

One of the foundational concepts for this work, that of “wounding” nature, came from the Utya visit, where we were taken on a tour that followed the footsteps of the attacker. After arriving on shore, we went from place to place where people had died, stopping at each spot with our guide, a person who had survived the attack, who told us about that day and the people who had lost their lives where we stood. On our tour, it became evident that the buildings had retained the event but in nature there was almost no trace of it. Inside the buildings, there was evidence of what had taken place: bullet holes in the walls and floors stained with cleaning agents. Outside, however, nature had healed in a way that the building couldn’t. As if nature had moved on, what had once attested and bore witness had now been covered up. Considering the site for the memorial, I thought about possibilities of doing something that wounded nature to the point that it couldn’t heal—to do something that would obstruct its inevitable self-restoration, to do something which couldn’t be undone.

From the island, we were then taken to the peninsula that the Norwegian government had designated as the site for the memorial. It’s a sharp point extending from the mainland toward Utya, and we walked out to its tip, seeing the island across the water in an absolutely picture-perfect setting. I determined that I wanted to leave Utya alone—in the sense that I felt it was crucial to break that gaze and not make the island a focus. One reason for this is that the youth organization wants to actively regain possession of the island by continuing to use it for their summer camps. Another is because that kind of gaze from that kind of vantage point is passive and turns people into onlookers, nonparticipating observers. As in my previous films, I wanted to work with sight lines and questions of what it is to see and be seen, and to see one’s own seeing, effectively making up a more contemplative space where each person’s sight comes into play as reflective. I wanted to turn the will to look at the island and cast it inward.

The meaning of monuments and architecture can shift with political change. And they deteriorate. To make something irreversible in nature meant, to me, that instead of making something abstract that would illustrate loss, one would make loss; rather than to allude to distance, one would make distance; instead of suggesting the vulnerability of an island, one would make an island. This became the cut across the peninsula, just wide enough so people won’t reach the other side. And instead of making a vista from which to view Utya, a downward slant leads to a room from which people will see the other side on which the names of the victims will be engraved.

— As told to Theodor Ringborg