Deep in the Norwegian woods at a fantasy festival

We visit Oslo’s artistically mysterious two-day event called SOPPEN – here’s what we found out

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Soppen Festival 2016
photo: Margit Selsjord

Think of one of those rare occasions in life when you were totally blown away by an expression of contemporary culture; remember how it made you swerve and swoon, plunging you straight into a waking dream, filled with the redolent colours and sounds of a faraway and fantastical world. For two nights only, on August 19 and 20, a bunch of eagle-eyed folks from all over the world, including myself, had the pleasure of experiencing exactly that. I thank you, SOPPEN.

This magical two-day festival of music and performance took place during August in Ekebergparken – an impressive sculpture and heritage park at the top of a hill overlooking the city of Oslo. The name itself, SOPPEN, which literally translates as fungus, mould, yeast or mushroom, invokes a number of earthy qualities which ingeniously summoned the audience to tread a slippery line between the carnal, grotesque, glamorous and sublime. Drawn toward such a terrain of liminality, we nestled through a small, secret passageway of forest leaves, furs, mushrooms and branches, entering into the moist and playful grounds of SOPPEN, a world in which artistic practice and subversion were one. 

Organised by Trollkrem and OSLO PILOT, in collaboration with Architect and artist collective Fellesskapsprosjektet å Fortette Byen (FFB), the dreamy landscape was conjured in the form of a multifunctional installation comprised of a tree-house stage, a bar serving the specially produced SOPPEN beer made from chaga mushrooms, by Norwegian artist-led micro brewery Dronebrygg, and a cosy-sized audience and dance area. Among the trolls and trinkets of this Norwegian woodland, the festival brought together an exclusive selection of performance artists, musicians and DJs from Norway and the US. The full programme was beautifully curated and timed, including wide-ranging spectacles by: Nils Bech (NO), Peter Clough (US), Genevieve Belleveau (US), Tyler Matthew Oyer (US), Marthe Ramm Fortun (NO), Zackary Drucker (US), Marcel Alcala (US), Monica Winther (NO), Actually Huizenga (US), Elysia Crampton (US), DJ Thotworld (US), La Porscha (US), Agatha Wara & Ill Tariq (NO), Casey Jane Ellison (US), Synnøve G Wetten (NO), Narcissister (US), and DJ Drippin (NO). 

All the artists, united by a taste for the carnivalesque and the transgressive, put queer consciousness and sexuality on the front-burner. Through a variety of creative and critical means – whether it was dancing, speaking, video, acting, singing or comedy – each performance generated a unique vision that both unsettled the viewer while providing a productive space of shelter to question the dominant rules and representations of identity, gender, race and desire. From Nils Bech’s heartfelt performance of two autobiographical songs, set in the magnificent site-specific work Skyspace by James Turrell, to an irony-ridden video piece about current American politics by Zackary Drucker, transgender performance artist; from the soothing sounds and poetic delivery of Agatha Wara’s reading, to Tyler Matthew Oyer’s unabashedly flamboyant parade of multiple personas; the droll, pithy awkwardness of Casey Jane Ellison’s stand up comedy; and finally, on point and with flawless execution, balance and intelligence: Narcissister, the show, the face, the secret – the erotic par excellence. 

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