The architectural intervention, exhibition, and public programme ’Claiming Space’ came into being as a collaboration between Fotogalleriet, an small but impactful art institution located in a diverse neighbourhood in central Oslo, and Skeiv Verden, an organisation working on behalf of queer individuals and groups with a minority background in Norway. Over 8 weeks, the project addressed the lack of inclusive and queer spaces in Oslo and the lack of knowledge about this issue, as well as the neglect of many public/semi-public spaces such as backyards, empty buildings, empty retail spaces, and more due to gentrification as well as social restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic. The effect of not being able to access shared spaces outside of the home have been demonstrably devastating to communities such as the queer community and especially to individuals who are not necessarily free to be themselves at home.
‘Claiming Space’ was an attempt to explore and concretise physical urban, architectural and social interventions to understand what an inclusive community is, and how existing public spaces such as a street and a park, and semi-public spaces such as a backyard and an art institution can host and embody new functions that produce not only social cohesion and but create a new sense of neighbourhood and community rooted in a minority rather than majority perspectives. The project employed a team of artists, architects, and Skeiv Verden staff, as well as artistic advisors from the fields of architecture and art. The project was produced through a close collaboration between the two hosting organisations over two years, with Fotogalleriet’s location on street level in Møllergata 34 in central Oslo as the architectural focal point.
The project asked visitors of both a minority and majority background to consider what spaces in neighbourhoods and society exist for them, and how are the feeling of belonging, safety, identity and norms, in these spaces are produced and maintained.
The ‘Claiming Space’ architecture had a narrative function, but also created a space for social encounters, network-building, activism and public discussion, as well as an awareness of the transition from private to public or semi-public spaces. As part of the project’s public programme, the effect of Norwegian housing policies on queer and minority background individuals and groups was discussed, as well as how queer architectural theory might be implemented in practice.
The ‘Claiming Space’ methodology can be utilised in the context of OAT to identify public or semi-public spaces, whether they be streets, parks, or empty stores by following the different areas of application which proved successful in the exhibition and project context:
- A cross-disciplinary collaboration between architects, artists, institutions, organisations, and activist organisations.
- Using new built forms to address:
1) the existing identity of the backyard
2) to cater discovery, curiosity and more inclusive space
3) catalyse awareness and discussion of norms, and socioeconomic factors
4) increasing social acceptance
5) shaping new networks and interactions
- Valorising the neighbourhood by strengthening the transit corridor to the semi-public and creating a pedestrian network.
- Collecting data (theory, audience feedback, public discussions, digital/social media, etcetera) on the importance of queer spaces and inclusive neighbourhoods and community forums
Exhibition entrance in the backyard of Møllergata 34
Interactive map of 'Queer Oslo' in exhibition space
Exhibition architecture by Antoine Fadel with artwork by Ahmed Umar
Opening of 'Claiming Space' at Fotogalleriet 21 January 2022
In 2020 Fotogalleriet invited the organisation Skeiv Verden to propose an "institutional take-over" in the exhibition space in Møllergata 34. Together with curator and board leader of Skeiv Verden Bassel Hatoum, architect Antoine Fadel proposed an architectural concept which addressed the public space and backyard of Fotogalleriet. The project team consisted of Fotogalleriet staff, Skeiv Verden's board, staff and volunteers, plus six artists, a graphic designer and an architecture coordinator.