“It’s not art: it’s a house”

“House of Commons” confronts oil-rich Norway with its past

Photo: svennevenn / Flickr “House of Commons” is a simple farmhouse placed on the grounds of Stortinget.

Photo: svennevenn / Flickr
“House of Commons” is a simple farmhouse placed on the grounds of Stortinget.

The Local

The dilapidated wooden house that appeared last month on the square outside Norway’s parliament has delighted Oslo residents and visitors alike. Is it art? “No,” says Marianne Heske, the conceptual artist behind it. “It’s just a house.”

For the project, entitled House of Commons, Heske, one of Norway’s leading conceptual artists, had a small abandoned provincial house from Østfold, south of Oslo, moved to a space in front of the Storting, the seat of Norway’s parliament.

The house, which was unveiled on October 21, has generated huge interest, with an average of 700 people an hour coming to visit it over the weekends.

“It is incredible really. It’s touching something in people obviously,” Heske told The Local. “People are reacting so much, people are queuing up all the time. It’s been in all the newspapers, and they are all kind of surprised, because it’s only a simple house.”

Heske’s most famous project saw her dismantle a 17th-century Norwegian log cabin and reassemble it within the halls of the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

“I never said it was art,” she said of the Østfold house. “Artists are insistent about things being their work, but it’s not my work, I just moved it. I don’t say anything about it. I just move the house. That’s it. I don’t say a word.”

She said she believed the house, which like the parliament building in front of it was built about 150 years ago, had been transformed by its new setting.

“It’s an old farmhouse for a small farmer and now it’s in a new setting, so it’s changed into the House of Commons—that’s our mind-screening, it’s our way of seeing it.”

She said the work was intended to confront the oil-rich country Norway had become with its more humble past.

“Norway has changed enormously,” she said. “You can’t imagine the simple life which they had in the house. They would have been growing their own vegetables, fishing their own fish, making their own clothes and living very cleanly, with no money of course.”

She said she had first noticed the house some time ago.

“I was driving past it so many times, and I was watching it just falling apart almost, and nobody lived there, so I asked a man in a neighboring house who it belonged to. He said it belonged to the Norwegian Public Road Administration, and they wanted to take it down, of course, because they are building this highway to Sweden, so I asked them if I could use it for art, and they said ‘OK.’”

She said that she had now had so much interest from art collectors wanting to buy the building that she planned to auction it off after the exhibition was over in January.

Despite her playfully spare descriptions of the work, Heske said that she saw the project as a way of “moving realities around.”

“My work is thinking. I’m not a carpenter. I’m more like a philosopher. Moving realities around,” she said. “People think that reality is fixed, but it’s not, you know.”

This article was originally published on The Local.

It also appeared in the Nov. 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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