A NATION RESTORED
The destiny and memories of landscapes is a human responsibility. We choose what to know and what we want to remember. Landscapes, therefore, are political sites.
Since 1923, 165 square kilometres of mountain landscape on the slopes of Snøhetta, situated more than 1,000 metres above sea level, have been used as a military test site and shooting range for the Norwegian army and NATO. It is probably one of the most heavily bombed landscapes in Norway. However, the entire area is to be restored to its natural state by removing all traces of military activity. Committing more than 60 million Euros to the project, the Norwegian Defence Estates Agency has named it Back to Nature.
Highway E6 runs across the Dovre mountain range, and from the village of Hjerkinn a gravel road takes off into the wilderness surrounding Snøhetta. The mountain measures 2,286 metres in height, and was for a long time regarded as the National Mountain of Norway. This is where the shooting range is situated. The Dovre Mountains are home to one of the largest populations of wild reindeers in Europe, the animals being one of the main reasons why this country was first inhabited some 13,000 years ago. The mountain plays a significant role in both Norway’s history and its origin myths.
200 years ago, at Eidsvoll in 1814, the constitutional founders swore allegiance with the oath ‘Enig og tro til Dovre faller’ (United and faithful till Dovre falls). The oath, placing the mountains at its centre, expresses what these men must have felt to be the essence of the ‘Norwegian’ – wild, natural, constant and eternal nature. The potential of wild nature to form the basis of the construction of a national identity was expressed through national romanticism in the years following 1814. Today, 200 years after the renowned oath, wild nature still holds an undisputed position as a cornerstone in the national identity of Norway.
There is an obvious ambivalence between the image of modern Norway as a nature-loving, peace-promoting nation, and its large-scale export of weapons and arms and increasing military contribution to armed conflicts around the world. In the last twenty years, Norway has performed numerous peace negotiations. This has contributed to a national identity based on an image of ourselves as peaceful and good by nature.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the restoration of this mountain is so popular and undisputed. Almost the entire area is being manually searched three times over by military personnel and dogs, to detect and remove explosives and other hazardous waste. Unmanned trucks and excavators knead the desolate mountain landscape and remove what is no longer wanted. In explosion-proof bunkers, often far away, these machines are controlled with millimetre precision by GPS and remote-controlled cameras. All traces of metals and fuels are either buried or sent away for destruction outside Norway. Some of the contaminated mass is being buried deep down at Hjerkinn and covered with gravel and soil to mimic natural forms in the landscape. At other sites, seedlings of the local flora are being planted out to reinforce the restoration process.
The project has a moving aspect, both from an ecological perspective – its belief that nature can be restored – and because of its desire to deal with the more brutal side of the modern and official Norway. The restoration of nature at its core, aiming to minimise the damage done by humans and re-establish ecosystems, has good intentions. But the project going on at Dovrefjell has other perspectives: it is not only nature, as genuine and untouched as we could imagine, that is being reconstructed, but our very idea of Norway and the way we want it to be.
www.andreasbennin.com Upcoming shows: Skjønne sjeler, Seljord kunstforening, end of june - august 2014. Til Dovre faller, Lillehammer kunstmuseum october 2014.