When artist Jonas Dahlberg first visited Utøya, the island in Norway where dozens of people were tragically killed by a right-wing extremist in 2011, he started thinking about what keeps memories alive. The island was the site of a summer camp, and as Dahlberg went inside empty buildings that still bore traces of violence, he says the place felt “like an open wound.”
Outside, though, on a piece of wilderness that the Norwegian government had selected as the site of a new memorial, it was hard to know that anything had happened. “Although we stood directly on the very place where many people had lost their lives, nature had already begun to obscure all traces,” Dahlberg wrote in a design proposal when the government hosted a competition for the memorial. He decided to create a memorial that could act as a permanent, visceral reminder of the attack: His winning design slices a piece of land out of a nearby peninsula, like a wound that will never be able to heal.
“The cut is an acknowledgement of what is forever irreplaceable,” Dahlberg wrote. “It reproduces the physical experience of taking away, reflecting the abrupt and permanent loss of those who died.”
Visitors will walk down a wooden pathway in the forest to a tunnel that leads to the cut, and then look across the gap to a stone wall with the victims’ names.
“It should be difficult to see the inherent beauty of the natural setting without also experiencing a sense of loss,” Dahlberg says. “People will find their way around the landscape surrounding the cut, looking down at the channel and to the names from a higher perspective, or looking out to Utøya, establishing their own private ways of seeing and remembering.”
When the three-and-a-half-meter-wide slit is carved out of the peninsula, the rocks and trees will be taken to nearby Oslo, where the same attacker also killed others that day. Dahlberg plans to use the stones to build a temporary pathway, and later, a permanent amphitheater with the victims’ names.
The final memorials will be unveiled in 2015, on the fourth anniversary of the attacks.