We are taught that the sun shines on everyone. The sun is one of the best things in life, and the best things in life are free, or so we’ve heard. But that’s not how it is. The sun belongs to someone. The clouds belong to someone. The roads, the trees, the houses. The sound of footsteps on the street. It’s all for sale. You can buy the smell of wet asphalt, the dew on the lawn, the roar of the city, the sparkling sea. The splashes of sunlight on the bedroom wall in the morning that you saw for the first time when you were too young to understand what they were, but which you have never forgotten. Who wouldn’t want to give their children images like these, memories like these? All you need is a bedroom that the sun shines into and, of course, that you can buy. You get it when you buy a cabin on Koster, a house at Nordberg, a penthouse in Oslo. We know the truth in this, even though we have always been told that things are otherwise. Ever since our industrial cities were built, and even before that, the rich have lived in sunlight and the poor have lived in the shadows—in narrow streets, in courtyards without sunlight, in a room with a view of the neighboring alley.
In the same way that you buy an apartment, if you have money, you can also buy an entire plot of land, a vacant lot next to the sea or right in the center of town, where you can build streets, squares, and plazas—deep, narrow alleys where the sun slants in at certain times, in winter so low that its rays shine straight into your eyes, in summer high, high above the roof terrace. And at these times you can follow the shining disc for a while before it disappears around the corner and the sky begins to grow dark. All this can be planned: other people’s experiences and feelings, other people’s encounters with the sun as they walk through alleyways built by somebody else.
Someone decided that this façade should be made of glass, and someone put that road in front of it. Someone planned for these reflections of the passers-by to occur on this axis, in this direction, with this shadow, this strip of light. Someone wants something from our movements. Perhaps they pictured the contrast between our warm, living bodies and these vast, cold surfaces. Perhaps they calculated that these elements should combine to make the architecture even more dominant, to make us feel even smaller deep down inside. And so now we are part of their plan.
It is very likely that there were many people involved in these decisions, and that certain democratic processes were followed. But there might as well have been one person behind it all. Or perhaps not even a person, but more like a will, a hand, a thing. A big “It.” “It” decided how long and wide the road should be, how dark the shadows. How small we should feel. And they, or “It,” intended that we should enjoy this feeling, that we should be overwhelmed by it. We should be reminded that there is something which is more than we are, something that will remain once we are gone. You look up at the façades, up and up, and you feel like a child at the feet of a giant—a giant who leans over and looks you in the eye with his blank windows.
The exhibition “The rich should be richer” was shown at Kunsthall Oslo, which is located in one of those high-rise buildings in Oslo’s new developments that have penthouses on their upper floors. Originally presented as film material, the exhibition looked at the ownership of sunlight in the late-capitalist metropolis and the association, both metaphorical and real, between poverty and darkness. In connection with the show, I proposed a banner for the façade of Oslo Central Station, where very different social groups of the district meet—Oslo’s poorest, junkies, Roma, the homeless, along with tourists and privileged residents. The banner text read "The rich should be richer," along with a photo of the view from the roof terraces of Bjørvika. This project was ultimately halted, without room for appeal or compromise, by the developers of the docklands.
Ane Hjort Guttu, (b. 1971), is an artist and curator based in Oslo. In recent years she has explored issues of power and freedom in the Scandinavian post-welfare state through video works, picture collections, sculpture, and photography. Guttu also writes critical as well as poetic texts, and several of her projects discuss art and architectural history. Recent projects and exhibitions include: Bergen Assembly, Bergen, 2013; Society Without Qualities, Tensta konsthall, Stockholm, 2013; Learning for Life, Henie Onstad kunstsenter, 2012–2013; The Rich Should be Richer, Kunsthall Oslo, 2012; and West of the East, Y Gallery, Minsk 2012. Her forthcoming projects include: Sydney Biennial, Australia, 2014; In These Great Times, Kunstnernes hus, Oslo; Les Ateliers de Rennes, France, 2014; and a new short film for Tensta konsthall, Sweden.