2020 has been an unexpected and challenging year for the world, including the arts. But despite cancellations and postponements, there has been a rise of digital content, concerts and innovation.
We asked our Norwegian Arts contributors to round up two of their best cultural moments from 2020, and one thing they’re looking forward to in 2021. Here’s what they had to say!
Theatre & Art by Sue Prideaux
The enduring power and influence of Ibsen and Munch is astonishing. The last live performance I saw before lockdown was Steff Smith’s Nora at the Young Vic in February. A new take on A Doll’s House, the play showed the slow evolution of feminism over a century through three different Noras, who exist in three different moments of history: 1918, 1968 and 2018. Rich in ideas, the issues raised stood up to sustained examination during the long, empty months and sent me scurrying back to read more Ibsen, which left me marvelling at his modernity.
The next stand-out cultural memory of the year occurred today when I attended a preview of the Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch show – with works by both artists – at London’s Royal Academy. Born in 1963, exactly a century after Munch, Emin cites the Norwegian as her defining influence. Subtitled The Loneliness of the Soul, the exhibition finds Emin exploring similar motifs of love and loss. It makes for an emotionally shattering exhibition.
What am I looking forward to in 2021? I can’t wait for the opening of the new MUNCH Museum in Oslo. At last he will get the world-class space his genius deserves.
Sue Prideaux is the author of Munch: Behind the Scream and I am Dynamite!: A Life of Friedrich Nietsche
Design by Claire Dowdy
2020 saw the opening of Pantechnicon, a new venue in London’s Belgravia. It comprises five floors of restaurants, cafes and shops, which mix and match cooking styles and goods from Norway and its Nordic neighbours with that of the distant but equally design-conscious nation of Japan. The result is a culture blend rather than a culture clash, making Pantechnicon a good place to hunt down Norwegian treats not normally available in the UK, like the eye-catching ‘Fluffy’ chair by furniture manufacturer Eikund.
Norway’s new passports have broken design borders. Norwegians now brandish a minimalist, bright red document featuring illustrations of the country’s landscapes, which change from day to night under UV light. Created by Oslo design firm Neue, they have been in development for six years.
Art-lovers wanting more of Edvard Munch, following the current Emin / Munch exhibition at the Royal Academy, can head to Oslo for the opening of the new MUNCH museum, due to open in the spring. It will host the world’s biggest collection of works by the artist. Perched on the waterfront, the glazed building, the top floors of which look as if they’ve been tilted by the wind, has been designed by Madrid architects Estudio Herreros. A lovely bold logo – by London design studio North – also has a backward slant.
Clare Dowdy is a journalist who writes on design, architecture and branding for BBC Online and The Guardian
Classical Music by Andrew Mellor
Those of us who frequently travel to Norway have missed the country this year. But we’ve managed to stay in touch. The cultural organizations I follow – mostly orchestras and opera houses – have suddenly become filmmakers. Some are better at it than others but I love an atmospheric little film from the Trondheim Soloists which made me pine for Norway (and for the intimacy of live performance in a small space). I was touched when I received an email from the orchestra telling me it was, in part, inspired by an article I had written in 2009, which had tried to put their unique sound into words.
People all over the world have loved the new recording of Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes made in Bergen – a Norwegian former fishing community telling a story about a British former fishing community that faces it directly across the North Sea. The performance from Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is shattering – and then there’s the singing!
What will 2021 bring? Plenty of live music hopefully, but it’s dangerous to pick something that might be cancelled. So, I’ll simply say I’m most looking forward to whatever the Norwegian label Hubro produces – because, whatever the genre, it’s invariably outstanding.
Andrew Mellor is a Nordic music specialist and regular contributor to BBC Radio 3’s Record Review
Documentaries & pop music by Dan Cromb
One thing that 2020 hasn’t been short of is inspirational women shining a light on the sheer depth of talent in the Norwegian music industry. Established artists Ane Brun and Annie unveiled their first new original material in several years, exciting new talents Neon Ion and SKAAR dropped their debut albums and we finally got our hands on long-awaited records from Astrid S and Dagny. As if that weren’t enough, we heard first-rate follow up material from relative newcomers Iris and Moyka and critically acclaimed releases from favourites Anna Of The North and Emilie Nicolas.
However, for me the most powerful cultural happening of 2020 occurred right at the start, with the release of Selvportrett and its accompanying soundtrack. This documentary offered eye-opening insights into photographer Lene Marie Fossen’s life, observing her struggles with severe anorexia before her tragic death aged 33. Not only did the film make for compulsive viewing, but it was accentuated by the harrowing soundtrack provided by Susanne Sundfør. A dual must watch/listen.
Dan Cromb is a freelance journalist and photographer who enjoys all things Nordic, writes for Ja Ja Ja Music.
Pop music by Gemma Samways
Music has always been one of my main sources of comfort in times of trouble, but even so, the solace it provided in 2020 has been truly immeasurable. Providing a welcome escape from the ongoing catastrophe that is COVID, I spent most of the summer immersed in the twilight world of Dark Hearts, Annie’s first album in 11 years. Hugely cinematic, and by turns both gently wistful and playfully dramatic, it’s pretty much the perfect pop record.
Another big cultural highlight was Ane Brun’s eighth LP, How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow. Written following the passing of her father, and released just a month after its comparatively upbeat companion-piece After The Great Storm, these gorgeous meditations on grief surely rank up there as some of her finest work ever.
Like most music fans, my big hope for the next 12 months is that the live industry recovers, because – let’s be real – a life without gigs and festivals is no life at all. Other than that, I’m super-excited to see what electronic production duo Smerz have in store for 2021; their forthcoming project Believer sounds fascinating.
Gemma Samways is a freelance writer, editor and broadcaster, specialising in new music for London In Stereo and the Evening Standard amongst others.
Read the other recommendations in Part II, published on 30 December 2020.