Accepted Paper:

The art of suing the state: Arctic oil and Norway's Trial of the Century  


Ragnhild Freng Dale (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper seeks to explore how aesthetics, performance and politics are understood differently by state representatives, artists and environmentalists in a landmark lawsuit over Arctic oil in Norway, and asks how their contestation shapes our understanding of art's relation with the state.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores how state representatives, artists and environmental NGOs draw different boundaries between art, politics and reality in a landmark lawsuit over Arctic oil. Last November, Greenpeace and Nature and Youth met the Norwegian government in court, accusing them of unconstitutionally allowing new petroleum licenses in the Barents Sea. The case has been called Norway's Trial of the Century: nothing less than the future of petroleum, the country's largest industry, is at stake. Some eight months earlier, a theatrical mock trial using representatives from politics, NGOs and universities as witnesses for and against Arctic oil, had been staged during the Barents Spektakel festival in Kirkenes. Everyone invited turned up, except the state and the oil industry.

The state employed a similar stance in its engagement with the actual court case: beforehand, governmental representatives sought to delegitimize the grounds of the case and 'Americanizing' Norwegian politics. In the courtroom, the state's lawyer accused the plaintiffs of staging an 'environmental-political performance'. He drew a clear line between the court proceedings and the events taking place outside the courtroom, including public events, media debate, and an artwork of ice placed prominently outside the court.

This boundary drawing between illegitimate and legitimate, performance and reality, creates a paradox, as the state itself regularly engages in staging announcements concerning the petroleum sector. Delving into these different understandings of the interface between performance and politics, this paper deliberates how contesting what counts as legitimate aesthetics creates new connections between political artwork and the state.

Panel P065
The state of the art: the anthropology of art and the anthropology of the state