17.06.2020  //  Tunnel construction

Interview - Viel Bjerkeset Andersen

Norwegian artist Viel Bjerkeset Andersen explains how a project team of artists, urban planners and engineers can create a special infrastructure.

Viel Bjerkeset Andersen



Viel Bjerkeset Andersen, you and KrampeHarex® have both contributed to the Ryfast tunnel system. Our fibres reinforce the shotcrete which stabilizes the tunnel walls. How does your artwork contribute to the safety of the tunnels?

Viel Bjerkeset Andersen:

The rational development of roads and tunnels; higher speeds, more vehicles and increased pollution pressure on our environment have forced new high speed roads to be located underground or away from densely built-up areas. As a consequence the act of travelling looses an important dimension; the dimension of human presence and culture - our identity. The travelling story, and its chapters, is taken away. Important details and local landmarks, which are references for both speed and orientation, disappear. To prevent monotony, drowsiness and tunnel phobia, we have to create new landmarks.

To examine the positive need for site specific art projects in road environments, the projects are closely connected to scientific research on traffic safety; the proposed site specific art projects undergo profound testing among a random selection of road users, along with a specific selection of road users with high level of discomfort. The tests are always compared with reactions from the same travelling without art projects. The results clearly indicate that art experiences connected to big road projects create new identities and recognitions, it gives better understanding of speed, space limits and dimensions, which are hand-in-hand actions for better traffic safety. Well planned and good integrated art projects can save lives.

New orientation points against monotony, drowsiness and tunnel phobia

“We need some metaphorical mental breaks.”

Krampe Harex

Your artworks are often site specific. How does your project „Behind the Breath“ correspond with the fact, that Ryfast is a sub-sea tunnel system and the Ryfylke tunnel the longest undersea road tunnel in the world?

Viel Bjerkeset Andersen

In a tunnel you can be anywhere, especially tunnels that are so long that you almost forget what the outside looks like. Metaphorically, preparations for this long and deep underwater tunnel can be compared to how large marine mammals prepare dives; - up and down to breathe to prepare for the big dive. To cope with the deep tunnel dive, we need some metaphorical mental breaks. Seeing a glowing bubble emerge, and then suddenly run across a bridge in a large open space, in a tunnel, with an infinitely sharp, blue light, gives you a feeling of finally being able to breathe, deep and well!

blue light, gives you a feeling of finally being able to breathe, deep and well!


Krampe Harex

How is it for an artist to work together with technicians and engineers which are at home in the construction industry? What can they learn from you as an artist and what have you learned from their profession?

Viel Bjerkeset Andersen

There is quite a difference between the way of working with art commissions «the ordinary way» with curators and an art committee as a secure buffer between the artists and the client, contra working with art from a more solitude point of view, like being a part of a project team. Here the artist is working on the same level as the architects, landscape-architects or engineers. It is a much more dynamic way of working. You have to be alert, be in front, and quickly comprehend changes or new constraints. I like that. One of my fads is that art is a way of thinking rather than the result after a working period or process, like the sculpture, a painting or an object etc. By involving artists in different discussions about society, urban planning or other social relationships, artists can elevate projects they are involved in. We are free to ask the silly questions, sometimes though, I think of myself, that my position in such settings is to be the Jester. As a participating artist in a team, I have seized the opportunity to change the mentality of the project.

Here the artist is working on the same level as the architects, landscape-architects or engineers


Krampe Harex

Many of your artworks are connected to infrastructure. What fascinates you about working on this subject? What is the difference between your infrastructure-projects and other artworks in your portfolio?

Viel Bjerkeset Andersen

There is a big difference between how to perceive a work of art connected to infrastructure versus viewing a work of art in a gallery or museum. In a gallery or museum you can study the artwork for hours. While driving, you usually have a few seconds. In addition, the moving perspective and speed have to be taken in account. What challenge and fascinates me is that the artwork has to be simple enough to be perceived in a few seconds, and contain enough complexity to keep developing further in the drivers mind after passing it.

after passing, the work of art develops further in the driver's head


Krampe Harex

How was your way to your specific form of arts? Were there milestones on this way?

Viel Bjerkeset Andersen

Well, I early realised that the art milieu was quite small and narrow minded, especially towards artists who are interested in site specific art. When I graduated in the middle of the nineties, site specific art projects and public art was esteemed with low value, and in many ways still are. I was restless and ambiguous, I saw potentials for site specific art projects in more or less undiscovered areas, like infrastructure and highways. And most important, I did not believe in being discovered by some powerful curator or gallery that would help me, so I decided to make it by my self, build up my career outside the defined art wold. There were no focus at the areas that interested me, I even got feedback from other artists that what I did provoked them. I felt quite alone, but I guess, the milestones must be that I have manage to create and bring several big art projects to fruition, which has given me an extraordinary experience and knowledge. I could not at all take that for granted if I had chosen the normal path. The choice I did back then, for about 30 years now, was one of my smartest choices I have done in life.

Author // KrampeHarex
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