Reflections on a Sun Mirror

By Liv Gunhild Fallberg.


No rays of sunshine ever reach the small town Rjukan in Norway, during the cold winter months. From October to March, the sun is blocked by the mountains, prevented from shining down the valley [1]. This changed in 2013, when for the first time in history, you could stand at the bottom of the valley in winter and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Artist Martin Andersen is the man who made this possible, when he placed a structure of three mirrors on the hillside, guiding the sun over the mountains, and down to a carefully composed circle of light in the middle of the town square. The area that is litt up by the sun is quite small, around 600m2, but visible from afar [2]. The sun mirror can be seen as both an utility-object and an artwork. It tells us about the importance of the sun in this town, and raises questions about the coexistence between human and nature.

The sun has always played an important part in peoples lives in Rjukan, and it was a significant factor in the establishment of the town. Sam Eyde, the founder of Norsk Hydro, bought the rights to the Rjukan-waterfall in 1902 [3]. There were only a few scattered farms in the valley at this time, so when an industry with power production was established, there was a need to build a town where the workers and their families could live. Hence, Rjukan became Norway’s first planned industrial town, designed from scratch [4].


The area where Rjukan was built, had optimal climate conditions for production of hydroelectric power [5]. But the town was built on nature's premises, in the shadows. The biggest happening of the year in town was, and still is, when the sun returns in the spring, and all the inhabitants come together in a big celebration of the sun [6]. Because the sun is so important in peoples lives, and for their welfare, it became essential to utilise as much of the sun as possible, while it was still visible, in constructing the town. The housing was designed so that the people in the most important positions were offered the best conditions. Their houses were placed the highest so they could enjoy the sun for up to a month longer than the rest of the workers, who’s houses were built further down in the valley [7].


There were also some attempts to bring the sun to the people. The initial idea of a mirror in the hillside reflecting the sun down to the small town, came in 1913. The project was abandoned, however, because the technology to realise it was not available at that time [8]. Instead, an aerial cableway, Krossobanen, was built by Norsk Hydro to easily transport people up the mountains. This way, both workers and highly ranked people could benefit from the sun in winter.


A century later, Norsk Hydro has partly moved out of Rjukan, but the town and the cableway remains. When Martin Andersen moved to the small town around the year 2000, he resumed the idea of a sun mirror. What had stopped the project in the first place, was lack of necessary technology, but this was no longer an issue. After many years of planning, fundraising and bureaucracy, the mirrors were finally set up, on October 30 2013. The sun mirror now ranges above the small town, reflecting 80-100% of the sun hitting its surface, down to a small area in the town square [9]. The construction uses sun and wind to generate power, to adjust the position of the mirrors according to the moving sun.


As a site specific work, the sun mirror has a special connection to the area where it was placed. The mirror points to the correlation between nature and culture in Rjukan. Nature’s resources were the basis for building the town in the shadows. Now, with the sun mirror, the inhabitants have moved the sun down to them. The work would loose its meaning if it was placed somewhere else, which is another criteria for a site specific artwork. The work of art is not only the physical machine and the mirrors, but the light that flows down to the town, and the experience you get stepping into the light, after not having seen the sun for a long time.


The sun mirror can be seen as a good example of the coexistence and dual dependance between nature and culture. Traditionally we are used to separate nature and culture, and see them as oppositions to each other [10]. But by the end of the 20th century, with the rise of post-humanism, it has been recognised that nature and culture are entangled. In “The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness” from 2003, professor Donna Haraway talks about the dog-human relationship, how dogs and humans have evolved together over time, as an example of a human-nonhuman relationship [11]. In a wider sense, this involves all of nature, and all of culture. Haraway shows us that nature and culture are inseparable, and equally dependent on each other, because they are so closely linked. The sun mirror is literally a natureculture entity, it is both natural and artificial. The sun and the mirrors have no function separate from each other in this work; neither can perform its task without the other.


The sun mirror also raises the question of where the line goes between coexistence and exploitation in the concept of natureculture. The people living and working in Rjukan are dependent on nature to live as they do. They rely on the weather; that the snow that falls, melts evenly, so the waterfall can be used to generate power, and they are dependent on the sun for their own welfare, like most people. The fact that humans are willing to spend millions of kroner to feel sun-ray’s on their skin in winter - that they won’t be satisfied by putting up some streetlights - reminds us about the importance of nature in our daily lives. The changes in the climate we are experiencing, and causing, is a crossing of the exploitation line. We have to be careful not to destroy the relationship between nature and culture, exploit the environment and take too much. There needs to be a balance, because nature can live without humans, but humans can’t live without nature.


Notes


[1] Visitrjukan, “Solspeilet.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] Visitrjukan, “Fakta om Rjukan og Tinn.”

[4] Taugbøl og Andersen, “Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site”, 33.

[5] Ibid., 222.

[6] Visitrjukan, “Solspeilet.”

[7] Taugbøl og Andersen, “Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site”, 74.

[8] Visitrjukan, “Solspeilet.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ferrando, “Posthumanism”.

[11] Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto.


References


Ferrando, Francesca. “Posthumanism”. Tidsskrift for kjønnsforskning 38, 02 (2014): 168-172. https://www-idunn-no.ezproxy.uio.no/tfk/2014/02/posthumanism.


Haraway, Donna. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003.


Taugbøl, Trond and Eystein M. Andersen. “Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site: Nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage List Norway “. Dossier prepared by the Directorate for Cultural Heritage on behalf of the Min istry of Climate and Environment. 2015.

https://whc.unesco.org/uploads/nominations/1486.pdf.


Visitrjukan. “Fakta om Rjukan og Tinn.” 10.12.18. https://www.visitrjukan.com/om-rjukan/fakta-om-rjukan-og-tinn.


Visitrjukan. “Solspeilet.” 10.12.18. https://www.visitrjukan.com/severdigheter/solspeilet.


OSLO FORM LAB 2018