Parallels
2:31 am
Thu March 20, 2014

Architect Remembers Massacre Victims With 'Wounded' Landscape

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 7:52 am

On a July day in 2011, the world first heard of a small island off Norway called Utoya under the most terrible circumstances. The island was a youth camp for Norway's Labor Party. On that summer day, a heavily armed right-wing extremist stepped onto Utoya and began to walk across it, shooting at random.

Sixty-nine people died, over a hundred were wounded — almost all young people.

This month, artist and architect Jonas Dahlberg was commissioned to create a memorial, due to open next year on the anniversary of this tragedy. Most striking is the way Dahlberg envisions a channel cut clean through the end of a peninsula, a concept he calls a "memory wound." He described his vision to Morning Edition's Renee Montagne.


Interview Highlights

On the experience he envisions for visitors.

You start your walk through a forest of evergreens, which is almost like Christmas trees, on a wooden pathway that are sort of circling through the forest. And you see a little bit of the lake, but you're pretty much enclosed on some sort of contemplative walk through this forest. After a while, this pathway starts to go down into the landscape.

Then, visitors go into a short tunnel and then emerge into daylight, where they stand at the edge of the severed peninsula. Across a narrow channel of water, there is a wall of stone engraved with the names of the dead.

It becomes almost like a gravestone, very polished stone. You cannot reach it. It's close enough to be able to read, but it's forever lost for your possibility to reach.

On what he means by "memory wound"

During my first site visit, the experience of seeing those gunshots ... it was like being in an open wound, and it took me to a stage of deep sadness where it was hard to breathe. So I didn't want to illustrate loss; I wanted to make actual loss. It's just a cut through the peninsula. ...

It's still almost impossible to understand [the shooting]. It's also one of the reasons why it's so important with memorials for these kinds of things. It's to maybe help a little bit to understand what was happening. So it's not just about remembering, it's also about trying to just understand — or helping to understand.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In the summer of 2011, the world first heard of a small island in Norway under the most terrible of circumstances. Utoya Island was a youth camp run by Norway's Labor Party. One day in July, a heavily armed right-wing extremist stepped onto the island and began shooting at random. Sixty-nine people died, over 100 were wounded - almost all young people. This month, artist Jonas Dahlberg was commissioned to create a memorial. He described to us the experience he envisions for those who come to look out on the island from a peninsula across the lake.

JONAS DAHLBERG: You start your walk through a, what do you say, a forest of evergreens, which is almost like Christmas trees on a wooden pathway that are sort of circling through the forest. And you see a little bit of the lake, but you're pretty much enclosed on some sort of contemplative walk through this forest. After a while, this pathway starts to go down into the landscape.

MONTAGNE: Down into the landscape and into a short tunnel. When you emerge, you are unable to go any farther. You can't get to the tip of the peninsula because it has been cut off, severed. So, all you can do is look across a narrow channel of water at what is now a wall of polished stone, engraved with the names of the dead.

DAHLBERG: It becomes almost like a gravestone. It's very polished stone. You cannot reach it. It's close enough to be able to read, but it's forever lost for your possibility to reach.

MONTAGNE: It's being called a memory wound. Exactly what do you mean by that?

DAHLBERG: During my first site visit, the experience of seeing those gunshots, you can see it was like being in an open wound, and it took me to a stage of deep sadness where it was hard to breathe. So, I didn't want to illustrate loss; I wanted to make actual loss. It's just a cut through the peninsula.

MONTAGNE: On the day of the massacre, just hours before launching his shooting spree on the island, the killer set off a bomb in downtown Oslo, leaving eight people dead. As those grim events were unfolding, artist Jonas Dahlberg had been out with his brother and stopped in at a seaside village.

DAHLBERG: In the harbor, it was silent, and this is the higher end of summer. So, it's normally very, it's a very lively place. And it was total silence there and it was a very, very strange feeling in the whole small village. And it's totally impossible to grasp what is going on. And then it just kept on. It's still almost impossible to understand it. It's also one of the reasons why it's so important with memorials for these kind of things. It's to maybe help a little bit to understand what was happening. So, it's not just about remembering, it's also about trying to just understand.

MONTAGNE: Artist Jonas Dahlberg designed the memorial for the 69 who died at a youth camp on Utoya Island. The attack was the deadliest in Norway since World War II. That memorial will open in 2015. And to see a virtual version of what it will look like, go to our website at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.