OSLO FORM LAB: About the Project

By Emma Christine Karlsen.

“Attuning ourselves, through poetry, art, and

description, to pay attention to other times;

developing techniques to begin to think through

the limits of our temporal frameworks, and then

thinking beyond them—these are crucial practices;

in fact, they are matters of survival.”

– Heather Davis & Etienne Turpin [1]

How does humans relate to nature? Can science fiction tell us something about the de facto future? Can a stove set fire to itself? And what does the elephant in the room of the Harald Sohlberg exhibition at the National Museum say? These are only a few of the questions you will encounter on the research website Oslo Form Lab: a website run by students of the course “Art and Criticism in the Anthropocene” at the University of Oslo.

In 2002, Paul J. Crutzen popularized the term “Anthropocene” referring to a new geological epoch where human impact on Earth is both visible and irreversible [2]. Oslo Form Lab was created as a platform for ecocriticism, particularly in relation to contemporary art. The website explores different strands of critical thinking regarding climate change and related urgencies of our time revolving around art, architecture and design. Other cultural phenomena such as music, literature, and film are also addressed through the texts. To quote the course description: “What can art and criticism do in the age of the Anthropocene?”[3] In October – while the students were still engaged in their writing – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its most recent climate report. The conclusion was daunting: More needs to be done in a shorter amount of time than previously expected. In fact, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45 % in the next 12 years if we are to reach the 2 degrees Celsius limit [4]. The words Crutzen wrote sixteen years ago, is more pressing now than ever: “A daunting task lies ahead for scientists and engineers to guide society towards environmentally sustainable management during the era of the Anthropocene. This will require appropriate human behaviour at all scales […]” [5].

Students of both BA and MA level from different fields of studies (art history, museology, philosophy, sociology, political science) have contributed to developing the site. Drawing from seminar discussions, studio visits, guest lectures, self-chosen literature, current events and historical material, the website presents a variety of texts addressing different issues relating to the Anthropocene. This epitomizes art’s ability to open new rooms of possibilities. Early in the semester, McKenzie Wark held a lecture at Litteraturhuset in Oslo. This resulted in two commentaries, providing accounts of his conceptions. Wark suggested that attending to the past can be useful when facing a historically unmatched crisis in the present, and we are – amongst other things – introduced to soviet thinkers and theories. At the same time as discussing theorists and relevant literature, students also bring considerations of their own to the table. Another student interviewed artist Marte Aas after her talk at Kunstnernes Hus. Aas is interested in how humans use and inhabit landscapes and the interview elaborates on one of her works, a video about a dog in a post-apocalyptic world. The movie demonstrates how a shift from the anthropocentric view can bring new and necessary perspectives. Various theories are activated when examining the concept of nature, for example in a review concerning landscape architecture in Bjørvika. Inspired by a studio visit at Growlab Oslo, one student investigates how design can break free from the capitalist force design – and architecture – so often are intertwined with. Furthermore, even the term “Anthropocene” is questioned. Oslo Form Lab is not limited to the above-mentioned questions and issues, these brief excerpts only serve as a preview of what is to come if you decide to further engage with this website.

A speculative approach to the subject dominates the texts – a predilection for academics and theories rethinking existing categories. This points towards a common perception that rethinking is crucial when trying to deal with a world on the verge of downfall. Humans, nature, technology, and how to understand the relations between these are key issues. As mentioned, the students have visited numerous exhibitions and related events, mostly in Oslo, and these have become subject for critical considerations. As a result, Oslo Form Lab can be read as a document on Oslo’s art scene of 2018. The website gives an insight to the issues at stake at this particular time in history.

Oslo Form Lab communicates to a general public. While at the same time publishing the texts online, free for all to access, this marks a will to open the field of humanities to everyone interested – regardless of holding a university degree or not. In a time of climate change, extinction of animal species and other extremes, humanities can offer new understandings and view things differently. As part of this, Oslo Form Lab shows that art and criticism can give valuable insight in this regard. This is a criticism “associated with more, not with less, with multiplication, not subtraction[6]. Oslo Form Lab may very well be the “powerful descriptive tool” which Latour calls for in the article “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” A tool able to deal with matters of concern and capable of outlining ways of achieving a more sustainable world.


[1] Turpin and Etienne, “Art & Death”, 12-13.

[2] Crutzen, “Nature of Mankind”, 23.

[3] University of Oslo, “KUN2500 – Current Topics in Art History”.

[4] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2018, 2.

[5] Crutzen, “Nature of Mankind”, 23.

[6] Latour, “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?”, 248.


Crutzen, Paul J. “Nature of Mankind”. Nature. International journal of science. Vol. 415 (2002): 23. Retrieved 13.10.2018. https://doi-org.ezproxy.uio.no/10.1038/415023a

Davis, Heather and Etienne Turpin. “Art & Death: Lives Between the Fifth Assessment & the Sixth Extinction”. In Art in the Anthropocene Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, 3-29. London: Humanities Press, 2015. Retrieved 14.10.2018. http://openhumanitiespress.org/books/download/Davis-Turpin_2015_Art-in-the-Anthropocene.pdf

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2018. “IPPC Press Release”. Retrieved

11.10.2018. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/session48/pr_181008_P48_spm_en.pdf

Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of

Concern”. Critical Inquiry Vol. 30, No. 2 (2004): 225-248. Retrieved 15.10.2018.


University of Oslo. “KUN2500 – Current Topics in Art History.” Retrieved 11.10.2018.