Project Gjerdeløa: From Nature to Technological Culture

By Sigrid Stenerud Steien.

Throughout of the career of artist Marianne Heske, nature, culture, technology and the relationships between these, have been recurring subjects. With her big digital landscape paintings, and conceptual art pieces involving transporting buildings and huge pieces of stones from one place to another, she challenge the audience in how to look at the world and emphasize their role in it. This is also the focus in her art piece Project Gjerdeløa (1980), her most famous work, making a place for her in the international art scene.

Gjerdeløa at Center Pompidou (1980). Photograph courtesy of Marianne Heske. (02.10.18)

Gjerdeløa (1980-1981)

Project Gjerdeløa is understood to be the first Norwegian conceptual art piece of its kind. The piece consisted of a 17th century shed from Tafjord in Norway, transported and presented in Centre Pompidou in Paris at a biennial for young artists, where Heske was selected to exhibit. From being an overlooked shed in the Norwegian terrain, Gjerdeløa becomes a work of art within the white walls of Centre Pompidou [1]. The project is about the shift between nature and culture, between the Norwegian forests to the contemporary metropole of Paris. Tafjord is known for taking use of its waterfalls, and the landscape have been transformed with power stations, artificial lakes and more, making Gjerdeløa a symbolic work of “what once was”[2]. The building is an example of how to build on the terms of the nature: the materials are logs from trees and the construction of the shed is taken into account of the terrain [3]. It is a witness of a lost time, an obvious contrast to the architecture of Centre Pompidou. The two different buildings represent different kinds of values and ways of living. Placing the shed inside of Centre Pompidou’s modern architecture, the contrast between the two becomes clear; the shed becomes a time witness of a period where people lived more at the terms of nature, while the modern community has drifted apart from it.

When exhibited inside of Centre Pompidou, the shed is no longer just a shed; it has become an art piece. Transported from its natural terrain, by the artist herself, into the white cubical in Centre Pompidou, the shed was now placed within a cultured space, right in the center of the art scene [4]. This was underlined in the art work; In the passage of the exhibition, two monitors were placed, showing the shed in its original place in one of them and the audience of the exhibition in the other [5].

The encounter between Gjerdeløa and the audience of Centre Pompidou is also made a physical mark on the shed. In its tree logs people have been making inscriptions with sharp objects through all of the years it has been standing in Tafjord, with engravings all the way back to 1687.[6] While exhibited in Paris, the audience was invited to make their own mark on the logs. The shed was now a testimony of the meeting of people from 1980, all the way back to 17th century.

After the exhibition in Paris was done, Gjerdeløa was demounted and transported back to Norway. There it was exhibited at the Henie-Onstad Museum, before it was placed in its original spot in Tafjord, exactly one year after it was demounted the first time [7]. On its journey, the shed was now transformed into a tourist destination as art, not just as a shed from the 17th century.

Gjerdeløa (2014)

In 2014 the project got further developed. Once again Gjerdeløa was demounted and placed inside of a museum, this time at the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo. At this time, the terrain around the shed in Tafjord had no longer been taken care of, resulting in a wild landscape, overgrowing the shed [8]. While presented with photographs from the journey of the shed in 1980-1981, and a painting of the Norwegian national romantic painter Adolph Tidemand (1814-1876) in the exhibition called tour – Retour, Gjerdeløa was placed next to an identical copy made of white synthetic resin [9]. Even though the sheds are made identical, the difference between the two is obvious, making them a pair of dualisms. One is dark, one is white; one is heavy, one is hollow; one is made in the 17th century, while the other is made in the 21st; one is made in natural materials, one is made in plastic. The contrast between nature and technology becomes clear.

tour-Retour (2014). Exhibition at Astrup Fearnley Museum. The original shed exhibited together with an identical copy in white synthetic resin. Photograph courtesy of Astrup Fearnley Museum. (02.10.18)

From nature to culture

The distinct dividing between nature and culture are known within western thinking, understanding the humans as individuals, standing outside of nature rather than a part of it. The human is seen as an active being, whereas the nature is passive. Within the subject of the Anthropocene, a change of the western perspective is seen as a necessity, to break from the thought of individualism and begin to think collectively [10].

Within Project Gjerdeløa the dualism nature-culture is very much present as it is presented in 1980, and even more so in 2014. Even though the synthetic resin version of the shed is an exact copy of the original Gjerdeløa, the difference between the two is visible. Made in different materials, the two constructions become a representation of two different ways of living. The original shed represent a traditional way of living, using natural material from the Norwegian woods, constructed in the terrain it once was placed in. The other version of Gjerdeløa is a reproduction, made in synthetic materials. The whole construction and the materials it is made of is a result of contemporary technology. While the first shed represent a more harmonic way of life with nature, the other is detached from nature, revealing itself as a harmful product of today. The copy represents a time of overproducing and where plastic has an obvious place in the everyday life, making it one of the biggest challenges in preserving the environment today.

The move of Gjerdeløa for the exhibition tour-Retour was as a directly consequence of the neglect of Norwegian nature [11]. Thirty years after it gets demounted for the first time, the shed began to fall apart. The terrain around it was overgrown, making it harder to access the shed. As a result of the negligence of nature, there is a loss of Norwegian culture and history, as the shed is a symbol of. Making an identical copy in plastic, Gjerdeløa will forever exist, becoming a product of modern technology in a non-degradable material.


[1] Journn Veiteberg, To Whom it may concern, 70.

[2] Ibid., 69-70.

[3] Ibid., 69.

[4] Ibid., 71.

[5] Ibid., 71.

[6] Ibid., 68.

[7] Liv Klakegg Dahlin, s.v. «Marianne Heske», Norsk biografisk leksikon online.

[8] Solfrid Vartdal, «Gjerdeløa på tur med ny løeavleggar.»

[9] Astrup Fearnley Museet, «Marianne Heske – tour- Retour».

[10] Karen Barad, «Posthumanist Performativity» 828.

[11] Lars Elton, «Når kunnskapsløsheten styrer».


Astrup Fearnley Museet. «Marianne Heske – tour- Retour». Visited 02.10.2018.

Barad, Karen. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter

Comes to Matter”, Signs, Vol. 28, No. 3. (Spring 2003): 801-831.

Dahlin, Liv Klakegg. «Marianne Heske». Norsk biografisk leksikon online, visited 02.10.2018.

Elton, Lars. «Når kunnskapsløsheten styrer». Dagsavisen. 20.06.2018. styrer-1.1161129

Vartdal, Solfrid. «Gjerdeløa på tur med ny løeavleggar,» Sunnmørsposten. 11.10.2014.

Veiteberg, Jorunn. To whom it may concern: Marianne Heske. The Museum of Contemporary

Art, Norway. 2002.