Cecilie Sachs Olsen is currently part of the artist collective SACHS/WESTERDAHL, and recently one of the chief curators of Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019. Previously, she was was initiator and member of the art collective, zURBS. zURBS works with a participatory approach in which a wide range of participants are invited to take part in workshops, exhibitions, model-making, treasure hunts, games, seminars, expeditions and walks in order to experiment with different approaches to how we can re-imagine the urban landscape through imaginative and creative processes that question what urban space means and is. The aim is to offer a mode of critique through a participatory and collective fantasy that focus on a “transgressive” imagination that questions aspects of the present by moving beyond the set limits and into the realm of the not yet set.
FIELDWORK Q&A – October 2016
How is fieldwork part of your practice?
Fieldwork lies at the heart of my work with zURBS. We use fieldwork in three steps:
1. To develop our projects: Every new project starts with walking around in the field, gathering impressions, exploring hidden places, finding new paths and talking to people we meet along our way. The projects are then developed based on the experiences and discussions we have had while walking around.
2. To “recruit” participants: We call this method “netwalking” – a form of networking involving walking around the neighbourhood, knocking on doors and, establishing contact with specific organizations, institutions, individuals or groups that are located in the area, and inviting them to take part in our projects. Accordingly, our participants varies greatly from project to project: from social workers to school children, from homeless to a local chess clubs, from elderly people to youth, from activists to urban planners and so on.
3. To give our participants a transformative experience: As part of our projects we send the participants out in the field with various tasks that we have prepared for them. This could be: to search for “invisible aspects” of their surroundings (e.g. elements that restrict their access to the city, that makes the city feel like a nightmare, that manifests the connections between people in the city); to search for “hidden treasures” (e.g. anything from beautiful views to traces of other people, from imagined encounters to places that functions as theatre stages for social drama); to search for objects that document the “here&now” of the place to be put in a time capsule for the future and so on.
How would you describe your fieldwork activity?
My fieldwork activity is inspiring, exciting and rewarding, but also exhausting, unpredictable and chaotic. It demands a lot of flexibility from me as an artists, researcher and workshop facilitator. It requires me to talk of ‘might’ and ‘if’, of mess and what is missing, of tensions and contradictions, of gaps and bridges between different worlds, of stories lost and stories retold, of slippage and fluidity. It is an experiment in meaning-making in which the ‘outcome’ is necessarily unpredictable. Participants in the fieldwork must play active roles as navigators, way-finders and meaning-makers, drawing their own observations and conclusions. This demands a form of explorative engagement that is oriented towards the experience of unusual and new features, in order to open up new understandings and perspectives.
How are you currently sharing your fieldwork?
I share my fieldwork with the participants in zURBS’ projects, in exhibitions of the outcomes of the various projects, in blogs and through our website, and finally through my academic research on our work (articles, conference presentations, performance lectures and teaching activities).