Open Forum is one of the main ways in which the Oslo Academy of Fine Art connects with the public. Run mostly by revolving teams of students who select artists, theorists, academics, philosophers, musicians, and beyond, to speak and present some evidence of their work or philosophy. Former students, arts administrators, gallerists, and others from the Oslo art scene gather deep inside the academy walls to listen to hear discussions about work and life. Talking about art is a large part of what we do at the academy, the lecture is a primary form.
The centralized Agora of ancient Greece is replaced by many de-centralized, diffuse and perhaps de-fused, specialized forums in our contemporary city. Our participation in fora is fragmented and depended on our specialization and social standing. The basic idea of an Open Forum is a protected gathering space where public debate and expression is free. This democratic idea is very important to Norwegian self image.
In the Oslo art life, there are several fora, but the academy Open Forum is among the most important. The US Supreme court in 1972 found that public forum is determined by the nature of the location, the pattern of its normal activities is what dictates the “kinds of regulations of time, place, and manner that are reasonable.” Questions and discussions follow each presentation, but within civilized limits, rarely have heated arguments erupted since a normal way to show both disagreement and indifference in Norway is silence.
Open Forum gatherings at the academy have been recorded on video for around 13 years. The videos are wonderfully inconsistent: there are at least 4 formats including a format of video tape that is so outdated we had to find a special adapter for it to playback in a standard VHS player. The videos look mismatched, jumbled and mysterious when seen as a physical collection. Some are marked with colorful hand written labels and some are typed, a typographic variety as interesting as the video formats themselves. Many names are instantly recognizable in an international art context. Some are Norwegian names that I have grown familiar with after having lived in Norway, and some are names that are completely unknown to me.
The contents of each video are as varied as their covers: some are too dark, some are out of focus, and some have monster bees buzzing in the audio soundtrack. But most of them contain between one to two hours of priceless, condensed knowledge, well worth the time spent struggling with quality and playback formats.
Students and I have been digitizing these formats into standard files, slowly, over the course of several years, with the end goal to upload them into the greatest open forum we have produced as a species: the internet. The primary experience of sitting in a dark room full of expectant, shuffling, whispering, coughing people is lost on these tapes. Gone also is the soft breathing and body presence of a human being at the front of the room. But what remains is a shadow of the time spent, and a small, soft video with hidden knowledge.