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Critical Studies in Public Space with N55: January 9–February 5, 2015

N55 will be in residence in the Perlman Teaching Museum during Winter Term 2015, under the auspices of the Lucas Lectureship in the Arts. During the five-week residency, Ion Sørvin, Till Wolfer, and Anne Romme will work with students to imagine a hypothetical new building complex for the Cowling Arboretum.

As a site that appeals to ecological scholars, student revelers, neighborhood hikers, weekend bicyclists, and cross-country skiers, the Arb sometimes becomes contested territory, claimed by constituencies with conflicting interests. Can a building satisfy the varied needs of the Arb’s disparate communities? Could a building complex catalyze and sustain a productive tension between users?


Art & Design Collective N55 Examines Ownership of the Arb

January 23, 2015 at 4:12 pm
By Jennifer Kwon '17

Upon returning to campus for winter term, many visitors to the Weitz Center for Creativity’s Perlman Teaching Museum showed signs of confusion when they first walked into the Braucher Gallery. Instead of the standard exhibit of photographs or drawings, they encountered a group of students and two artists in matching black outfits, ardently working at a huge table occupying nearly half of the space.

It is, in fact, not an exhibit but a studio art class called “Critical Studies in Public Space with N55 in action.” For the first five weeks of the term, eighteen Carleton students will be working with Danish art and design collective N55 to come up with a proposal for a hypothetical building in the Cowling Arboretum, commonly referred to as “the Arb”. 

N55, consisting of Ion Sørvin, Till Wolfer, and Anne Romme, questions the definition of public areas and the ownership of communal spaces through their creations. Their previous works, such as “Walking House” and “XYZ Spaceframe Vehicles,” emphasize a nomadic and environmental-friendly lifestyle which they strive for. 

Sørvin explains his fascination with the concept of land ownership. “We all take it for granted that we can own land, but if you look at it from a philosophical perspective, it doesn’t make sense that people can occupy land and prevent other people from using that land,” he said. “Eventually, if this situation persists, some people would not be able to walk on the surface of earth.”

That is an idea that N55 is incorporating into the project of building an Arb office. The students and artists will investigate the functions of the Arb for not only students and faculty members of Carleton but also for those in the local community, examing the Arb as a contested territory that generates conflicting interests among various populations. 

It is a project that weaves different disciplines like sociology, history, and architecture—and therefore helps the students to go beyond their areas of expertise. “It is different from how students here usually work, so they have to be more self-reliant and creative,” says Wolfer. “Building an office requires rather more complex process than it seems.” 

The students already held meetings with local citizens on their general opinions of the Arb, asking how often and what purposes they use the area for, and complaints they might related to College restrictions in the space. Some students specializing in history looked into the changing policies of the Arb over the years. 

Even though there is no concrete plan to build any buildlings in the Arb for now, the artists hope they can contribute to the discussion on the issue that will likely to happen in the future. “There will be several ideas pointing in various directions that people can be inspired by,” Sørvin elaborates. “We are doing something that will not necessarily happen but will raise discussions and show different aspects of these complex relations that people have with land and how to share land in a meaningful way.” 

N55 was invited to campus under the auspices of the Lucas Lectureship in the Arts that sponsored Salmon Rushdie’s talk last school year. The lectureship rotates different disciplines in arts and for this year, its focus was architecture. One of the few art history professors specializing in architecture on campus, Ross Elfline saw the opportunity and contacted the artists whose works he has been following for more than ten years. 

“I didn’t like the model of bringing in one famous person for a day or two and then have them leave,” he said. “I wanted to bring a group of artists and actually have them work with students in a more engaged, longer term basis.” 

Elfline first discovered N55 when writing his master’s thesis on blurring distinctions between fine art and design. He never had a chance to work with them before and was impressed with their working method, which is very different from the traditional American model. 

“There is an end goal like building an Arb office but the process of achieving that goal is more open-ended,” he explained. “In that sense, it is very different from other Carleton classes that have a constructed syllabus with every week rigorously planned out. It is much more flexible.” 

Rob Reuland ’17 (Brooklyn, NY), a sophomore student taking the class, commented on his appreciation of N55's teaching model. “We don’t really have any architecture classes here; this is the only class that takes an idea and creates it into a physical mode, which gives you a lot of hands-on experience,” he said. “I like how architecture is not just making a building, but it is also creating an environment.”