THE RJUKAN SOLARPUNK ACADEMY consists of a range of various initiatives aimed at developing a vibrant art scene in the small Norwegian town Rjukan.
Behind it all there is this agenda:
The World Needs a New School of Imagined Futures, and it should be located in Rjukan, Norway.
The Rjukan Solarpunk Academy intends to become an institution dedicated to addressing the most important paradigm shift of our times: the transformation of human societies in order to stave off environmental collapse. This massive and seemingly impossible transition to a sustainable and regenerative human life-world is no longer a subversive pipe dream, but a mainstream ambition.
As awareness of the climate crisis mounts, there is increasing recognition of the importance to develop narratives, visions, and pathways towards enabling real-life transitions to low-carbon futures.
The Rjukan Solarpunk Academy will take the point of departure in artistic-academic collaborations in order to imagine and discuss post-transition scenarios.
At present, we live in petrocultures shaped by a long-standing dependence on fossil fuels and their energy infrastructures. When imagining real-life transitions it will be important for the art sector to refresh and perhaps sometimes act counterintuitively in terms of taking part in generating real structural changes.
This comes down to the massive cultural tipping point of romantic era ecocriticism turning into mainstream ambition: radical ideas are no longer a safe pursuit within ebony towers and alternative communities. It will, therefore, be important to create new and fresh interdisciplinary meeting points, to have the knots and bolts of real-life transitions out of a petroculture reality properly presented and discussed in the artistic and creative sector.
As a medium, art is vital to the practical processes of sustainable transitions. It serves as a way of imagining and forecasting. The various genres of artistic production are indispensable tools for imagining, sketching, discussing, measuring and envisioning unknown futures. Art may well be an effective means to activate sociologist Ruth Levitas’ “Utopian Method”.
Spreading organically through social media around the world, the term ‘solarpunk’ is a modality of dreaming real-life constructive change. Googling ‘solarpunk’ yields a complex interdisciplinary heritage that meshes literature, art and ecocritical traditions with contemporary technological innovation in the energy sector and urban planning fields. Not yet institutionalized and somewhat anarchist, Solarpunk sensibilities, knowledge, and attitudes can serve as the lodestar for an art school built around the realities of climate emergency. Solarpunk can be imagined as a sustainable network structure of ideas, sensibilities and values, a Black Mountain College of the future.
With its recent claim to fame in the Rjukan Sunmirror – arguably the most famous Norwegian piece of art since Edvard Munch`s paintings, Rjukan is an ideal location for the Solarpunk Academy. Because its fame is located largely outside of the art sector, it is an ideal model for a new mode of art produced based on a new logic: the organic potential of contemporary worldwide communication oriented towards people. Rjukan itself is the counter-intuitive product of industrial hubris, a glittering Atlantis in the wilderness, like a miniature Dubai or Murmansk. It is both a Disneyland of industrial-technological innovation in the energy sector and – as the only Norwegian “company town” – a condensed city museum from the early days of industrial modernity. Essentials are within walking distance, and there is little around besides essentials. The UNESCO protected architecture rules out most contemporary chain stores. The lack of common brands within the city makes Rjukan a strange escape from neoliberalism and urban normality, creating a setting from which to imagine new worlds and different ways of organizing society.
Rjukanfossen, the hydropower plant the city was originally built around, symbolizes the beginning of institutionalized Norwegian art history. In the Romantic period, when painters across the continent were wandering in search of noble savages and the sublime and seeking to escape industrial pollution in the big cities, Rjukanfossen became the most prominent destination in Norway. This helped spark Norwegian art institutions, its tourist industry, and the Norwegian sense of self that led to liberation from Sweden. Today, the sharp contrast between the ambitious architecture of the little town and the Pleistocene landscape of the surrounding mountains makes it an “Anthropocene Diorama”, where the sense of the unreal can spur the imagination. Despite its stunning architecture, the lowest housing prices in Norway ensure affordability, a key element in making Rjukan a solarpunk convening place.
What kind of Academy?
The institutionalized art world, like the rest of contemporary society, has been shaped by the logic of our fossil fuel economy.
The transition and transformations demanded by the current crises will also demand profound changes to most aspects of how art is produced, transported, displayed, communicated, bought and sold.
The Academy itself will need to be established in a zero-footprint sustainable way, which again will be a fundamental shift from how Petroculture Art schools are run today. Cheap air flights have broadened horizons and accelerated cultural exchange for at least one generation, an abundance of mass-produced materials have shaped the visual culture we produce and live in. And so on.
The Rjukan Solarpunk Academy is as pr today, a very vital and realistic pipedream.
It can develop into a variety of real-life institutional structures.
In these early days of establishing the Rjukan Solarpunk Academy, we invite everyone interested to join in on the discussion on how this thing should be done.
Martin Andersen & Margrethe Kolstad Brekke,
Rjukan, Norway, January 2020.
Thanks to Alicia Cohen, Poet, Portland, USA and Siddharth Sareen, Post Doc, Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation, Bergen