Heather Jones: For those readers who haven’t yet heard of it, can you describe Sølyst and the initiative to bring art there?
Monika Wuhrer: Sølyst is the first stop of several islands connected by a road off the coast of Stavanger, Norway. The island is an idyllic place with a few houses, an old greenhouse and many nature paths. The nature reminds me of scenery in some of the Star Wars movies: very mystical, beautiful and quiet. Recently, the owners of the greenhouse on the island have sold the old greenhouse plot to the developer Veidekke, who is planning to build a new residential area on the island. In connection to this plan, LEVA Urban Design was brought on as consultants. The focus was to give something back to the island and to the city, while removing a big piece of the beautiful history of the island. From this Kulturøya emerged, inviting artists to come to the island and enrich the already stunning nature with public discourse.
- HJ: You’re currently based in New York, where you run Open Source Gallery in Brooklyn. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you arrived at curating? How did you come to be involved in Kulturøya and this project specifically?
MW: I am originally from Austria, lived in Italy for two years and then studied and worked with Michelangelo Pistoletto. Working with him, I became interested in socially engaged art. I began working on long-term projects and my artwork involved research, grant writing, negotiating contracts and working with people.
One of my biggest projects to date was at the Museo Pecci, where I negotiated with a garment company to employ three of their workers. Instead of working at the factory, they worked at the museum in my installation. At the museum I created a mini-factory where the workers were in charge of the production of their own line of cloths. They used a textile that functioned as a catalogue with images and text. The project was very successful and was exhibited as a mini-store that functioned for more than six months.
When I came to New York, socially engaged art was not “in fashion.” Open Source, even if not initially planned that way, was a way to continue the mission of creating art that involves the general public and my community. We exhibit local and international artists in a space that is on street level. With large doors that open the entire space to the street, in the summertime it feels like a public space. Our exhibits are often site-specific and the artists are always present. We are very interested in showing challenging, yet accessible, art. In the winter we focus on creating interesting events to generate a diverse audience. For example, we host a recurring series of nightly dinners each December. People can sign up to cook a meal for around twenty guests, some of them homeless, and while they serve their dinner, they exhibit their art in the gallery. We also have a monthly storytelling series where people tell non rehearsed stories.
Curating 10 years of exhibitions at Open Source has given me credibility as a curator and I have since curated multiple projects outside of the gallery. The mission for Kulturøya and Find your Eyes is very similar to what we do at Open Source. The plans for youth programming, family engagement, kids workshops, and other programs are endless and Leva supports my idea of creating a dialogue not only for artists, but for Stavanger as a whole.