It's been almost three years since a gunman detonated a bomb in Oslo and then stormed a small summer camp off the coast of Norway, killing 77 people and cementing a record as the worst mass shooting in modern memory. This month, the country revealed plans for a memorial to the tragedy — and it's beautiful.
Designed by a Swedish artist named Jonas Dahlberg, the plan is more land art than architecture. On the island of Utøya, where the gunman gained access to a summer camp by dressing in a police uniform and showing a fake ID on 22 July 2011, Dahlberg proposes creating a massive gap of water and air. By slicing a huge section of the island's landmass away, he would create a steep fjord through the site where the shooting occurred — a void that he describes as "a wound or a cut within nature itself."
According to Dahlberg, the idea emerged during his first visit to the island.
"I noticed how different the feeling was of walking outside in nature, compared to the feeling of walking through the rooms of the main building," he explains in a statement. "The experience of seeing the vacant rooms and the traces of extreme violence brought me — and others around me — to a state of profound sadness."
But, outside, things felt different, as though nature was already in regeneration. "Although we stood directly on the very place where many people had lost their lives, nature had already begun to obscure all traces," he explains.
So he came up with an idea: Rather than building a monument or structure, he would focus on nature itself. A 21m wide gap carved out of the island, separating the headland from the main island, would serve as the ideal spot to reflect and memorialise.
On the jagged edges of the cut, the names of those who died in the attacks would be inscribed into smooth stone. "The names will be close enough to see and read clearly, yet ultimately out of reach," he says. "The cut is an acknowledgement of what is forever irreplaceable."
Public memorials are a difficult proposition. Too bombastic or saccharine, and you run the risk of alienating visitors. Too diminutive or abstract, and you run the risk of failing to provide a space to mourn and remember. Dahlberg's design is the perfect balance: It will literally transform the landscape of the island forever — but by putting visitors out in nature, it will also give people the freedom to take what they will from the experience.
In the end, Norway's approach could serve as a vanguard for other memorials to mass shootings — and the people who are torn between wanting to remember them and trying to forget. [Bustler]