Transforming Ecologies: A Take on the Artistic Practice of Oslo Apiary & Aviary

By Emma Christine Karlsen.

Marius Presterud is one of 82 artists who was admitted to the National Autumn Exhibition this year. He is exhibiting two artworks, Work Relief and Lønn. The former consists of 16 reliefs made of beeswax and thermoplastic, and the latter of 150 gold-plated maple seeds. Both works revolves around nature in one way or another. Behind Work Relief lies a comprehensive artistic practice manifested in the artist group Oslo Apiary & Aviary – founded by Presterud in partnership with Mikkel Dagestad in 2013. The reliefs are visual representations of OAA’s different activities and performances and several are made of beeswax extracted from their very own beehives at the roof of Kunstnernes Hus. The duo has also kept beehives at other gallery roofs, such as Henie Onstad Art Centre and Galleri F5. Other projects include butterfly breeding, building hibernaculum and dovecotes and tree growing [1]. We will see that their artistic practice can offer new perspectives on how to live, or rather co-live, in urban spaces.

Extracts from Marius Presterud’s "Work Relief"

In interview with the Norwegian magazine Billedkunst, Presterud describes OAA as a “dark ecological service provider” [2]. The wording echoes Timothy Morton’s concept of “dark ecology” and suggest that OAA shares his view on humans as an integral part of the natural world. This assumption is further reinforced considering that they conduct activities according to the existing premises in the city. OAA’s practice can be found somewhere between art production and urban husbandry, in which their different projects create the backdrop for various artistic expressions, such as performances, talks, videos and exhibitions [3]. Their artistic practice can thus be characterized as ‘ecovention’ – referring to “an artist-initiated project that employs an inventive strategy to physically transform a local ecology” [4]. So what good can transforming local ecologies do? OAA works in different urban spaces, meaning they carry out their ecoventions in cities. These spaces are further categorized as public or semi-public areas, making their work accessible for people. In the article “The Art of Urban Transformations”, Emma Arnold and Karen O’Brien explore how artistic practices like OAA’s can generate much needed transformation to sustainability. They believe that artists, by using public spaces in “unexpected ways”, both can “challenge conceptions and behaviours” and “lead to a change in perspective”[5]. By transforming dead rooftops to lively ecologies, OAA presents us a new way to live in the city.

Ecoventions, Kunstnernes Hus (2014-ongoing). Roof-top beeyard, seabird sanctuary and sapling forest. Photo: Oslo Apiary & Aviary. Avalible at https://osloapiaryandaviary.cargocollective.com/Ecoventions-Kunstnernes-Hus

OAA is reevaluating the possibilities which exists within urban spaces. In the previously mentioned interview with Billedkunst, Presterud says: “The way it is now, we fill our environment with things we can control. And then we stop meeting otherness. And as urban humans we become more and more alone with ourselves and our species” [6]. By arranging for other species to live in urban areas, OAA counteracts the tendency Presterud outlines. By placing beehives on rooftops, breeding butterflies in the city and welcoming the commonly unwanted pigeon, OAA questions the otherwise so anthropocentric cityscape. In this regard OAA works with what Donna Haraway calls “multi-species complexities” [7]. In her studies, Haraway is concerned with making a more livable planet: not only for humans, but for all other kind of creatures as well.

Presterud and Dagestad’s ecoventions can be read as a reaction to the urgencies of our time – a time Haraway refers to as “a period of intolerable extraction, unequal human deprivation, multispecies extinction, and blasted ecosystems” [8]. By executing their projects in public spaces, the artist duo is teaching their audience to care for other species. This is what Haraway calls “response-ability”, which differs from the ordinary usage of the word “responsibility”. We are not speaking of OAA taking responsibility for our past generation’s mistakes when it comes to creating a sustainable world. Response-ability is about participating in a multi-species world and care for both humans and other species. “Response-ability is not something that you just respond to, as if it’s there already. Rather, it’s the cultivation of the capacity of response in the context of living and dying in worlds for which one is for, with others” [9]. OAA raise awareness about selected species’ endangerment and suggests including rather than excluding non-humans in the cityscape.

Work Relief depicts the practice of Oslo Apiary & Aviary and is therefore to be considered a story. A story about humans and other species co-existing in urban spaces. Haraway insists that we tell the story about the Anthropocene around things we care about [10]. Through Work Relief, Presterud conveys a story about extinction and an alternative urban life in such ‘harawayian’ spirit. Oslo Apiary & Aviary challenges human’s autocracy in urban spaces by facilitating for bees, doves, butterflies and other critters. They offer us a new perspective, a new way of being human in the city – with and for all creatures. Their artistic practice becomes a contribution to the stories of the city – a counterpart to the anthropocentric perspective.


[1] Oslo Apiary & Aviary. «Services.» Retrieved 19.09.2018. https://osloapiaryandaviary.cargocollective.com/Services-E-C

[2] Håland, Atle. «Å lene seg inn i andres liv». Billedkunst nr. 4 (2018): p. 132.

[3] Oslo Open. «Oslo Apiary & Aviary, (Marius Presterud).» Retrieved 21.09.2018. https://osloopen.no/nb/kunstnere/1863

[4] Sacha Kagan citing Sue Spaid’s Ecovention: Current Art to Transform Ecologies in Kagan, Sacha. Art and Sustainability: Connecting Patterns for a Culture of Complexity. 2nd edition. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2013p. 334

[5] Arnold, Emma and Karen O’Brien. «The Art of Urban Transformations.» UGEC Viewpoints. A Blog on Urbanization and Global Envirnonmental Change (blog). 10.10.2015. https://ugecviewpoints.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/the-art-of-urban-transformations/

[6] Håland, Atle. «Å lene seg inn i andres liv». Billedkunst nr. 4 (2018): p. 132.

[7] Kenney, Martha. «Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene.» In Art in the Antropocene. Encoutners Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, pp. 255-270. London: Open Humanities Press, 2015, p. 263.

[8] Ibid., p. 256.

[9] Ibid., p. 257.

[10] Ibid., p. 261.