When the National Museum in Oslo opened its new, half-completed structure to the public for the first time, it could not have been done in a more poignant way. The world premiere of A-form, a collaborative work by the four Japanese composers/artists Ryuichi Sakamoto (b. 1952), Fujiko Nakaya (b. 1933), Min Tanaka (b. 1945), and Shiro Takatani (b. 1963), questioned fundamental understandings of art historical categories by presenting a piece that represented what an art museum is not.
A part of Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival, the site-specific work on the roof of the unfinished museum might be described as an assembly of formless forms: Ryuichi Sakamoto’s atmospheric soundscape, which resist definition in terms of tonality, melody and rhythm; Shiro Takatani’s light design, slowly flowing over the site and playing with the sky as the natural light inconspicuously changed from light to dark during the one-hour performance; Min Tanaka’s movements that made him float through Fujiko Nakaya’s fog sculpture, which in turn displayed a sense of complete decentrality. A-form was almost nothing, yet it made everything explicit. It was a performance in flux – continuously moving – displaying something that never really stabilized. In turn, it demonstrated a form of art that resisted being slotted into a single, definite discourse.
The work did not allow any concrete and stable form to appear and become realized. Rather, it was characterized by an expenditure of energy – of light, dance, sound, life and fog. Unintentional elements also took part: birds were drawn to Takatani’s light constellation, and the rain, which had been pouring down all day up until the time of the performance, changed the concrete museum roof into watery mirrors reflecting the various shapes. The work expanded in every direction. It expanded into the water, it expanded into the sky, and it even expanded into our bodies as Nakaya’s fog sculpture flowed through the air we were breathing.
What happens when a form has no beginning and no end? It rests in a sphere of flexibility and adaption. The atmospheric work transported the audience into a world where categories such as substance and essence were replaced by a sphere of infinite transformation. To borrow the words of theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes, A-form was “less a thing than a trace of movement.”
Everything tangible has a form, and the form is the aesthetic compass that critics and historians utilize to navigate the history of art. When a work has no form, will it be situated outside of history? The very first work of art to be displayed inside/outside the new National Museum posed this question: can this artwork be placed into discursive art historical categories? The work dwells within an ontology which cannot be accommodated within a historical discourse. Does it then precede knowledge? Is it then an unthinkable form?
Not entirely. When considering the site of A-form, this unthinkable entity is transported back to the thinkable. A roof is, in essence, static and an art museum represents everything A-form is not: linear conceptions of time, solid foundations and clear structures. A-form was a movement that never really stabilized. Enacted on the roof of the museum – a structure still without walls – the work represented a conceptual contradiction. The first art work shown at new museum belonged to a mode of thinking which will probably never enter the museum. When the half-completed structure closes its wall on the world, the art inside will most likely rest in a definable and attainable space; a space with readable structures. Contrary to this, A-form poetically opened up the notion of the unfinished. The work opened minds and brought people close. Outside history, it enclosed us.