Ting: Noun, derived from Old Norse, meaning ‘great assembly’ and also ‘thing,’ a place or void to be enacted and given meaning by action and content. Often refers to a site remote from the city (cf. Icelandic Althing or old parliament).
‘The “here” - where we are - is an enigma. We are all lost.’
Bruno Latour (in conversation with Line Marie Thornsen and Anette Vandso)
Bruno Latour’s latest book ‘Where to land?’ urgently challenges current systems of governance, which privilege limited and unbalanced aspects of human interests, ignoring the many things and conditions which must be taken into account if we are to stand any chance of resituating ourselves on a wounded, misunderstood earth.
Our workshop has looked at how Norway -as a beacon of democracy and Europe’s Green Capital 2019- could propose a new, evolving form of deliberation, reflection and even legislation -something like a parliament or council- which attempts to approach this complexity. It is situated in a ‘almost-here,’ floating in the Oslofjord.
Parliament is performance and theatre, partly fully presentational, partly backstage and rehearsal room. Parliament is also -more broadly- how we manifest as a society in microcosm, how we communicate, how we collaborate and compromise, how we create spectacle to convince, how we relate through modes proper to theatre and scenography such as participation, witness, awareness, ritual and narration.
Our laboratory proposes an experimental council, a legislative body that includes representations of things and conditions missing from ‘standard’ democratic systems. Aspects of the Land (by which we can understand all terrestrial 'agents' - inanimate or not - such as air, water, soil, forest, wild or domestic animals, as well as marginalized indigenous groups and 'ordinary' citizens) will be given parliamentary representation as legitimate elements of a true terrestrial democracy. They will take their place alongside traditional elected and unelected power groups in the expectation that historical oppositions of left-right and capital-labour will become increasingly irrelevant in future politics.
The overriding political question of the coming decades will be that of global disorder due to inevitable climate change, with profound impacts on farming and food, infrastructure, and human, animal and vegetal migration, as well as further geological effects such as erosion and drought. The Land Ting will be charged with planning for and reacting to these conditions and can be seen as a prototype which will self-adjust, evolve and eventually exist in all nations and as a planetary body, also in Oslo: a kind of United Nations of the entire earthly system.
The proposal resulting from our workshop takes the form of an anchored, floating platform, 90 metres in diameter, on which is built a 70-metre diameter lightweight, transparent geodesic dome. An artificial mountain made of waste material (construction debris, gravel, sand) sits inside and partly outside of this dome and is shaped to allow various forms of occupation. It comprises an amphitheatre and a ridge path leading to the council space, a ring hovering around the mountain summit, accessible from one point only above a gash in the mountain. It has 50 seats around a central void with an acoustic screen behind, the inaccessible mountain top occupying the space as a reminder of the things, agents and conditions whose role is fundamental in this council. The space is conceived to allow totally egalitarian eye contact and audibility between all the participants. A gangway beyond the seating (at a slightly lower height) allows individual contact and private conversation, as well as private briefing of members by their advisers.
The council ring is isolated, but can benefit from various forms of secondary and logistical space. Each member will have a delegation sail boat proposing sleeping, eating, office and meeting facilities. The arrival for deliberations (and departure if they conclude) will take on a ritual character. The ‘island’ will be accessible to the public outside of meeting sessions, and public debate, explanation and performance can be held on the harbour and in the amphitheatre.