The University Plaza, UiT The Arctic University of Norway

Guttorm Guttormsgaard (NO), whose artistic output includes prints, drawings and public artworks, has been a leading figure in Norwegian cultural life for many years. One of his most striking works is Labyrinten [The Labyrinth], a sculpture that has become an iconic feature of the University of Tromsø.


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  • Labyrinten, Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: Jaro Hollan
  • Labyrinten, Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: uit.no
  • Detail of Labyrinten, Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: uit.no
  • Labyrinten, Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: uit.no
  • Detail of Labyrinten, Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: Jaro Hollan
  • Detail of Labyrinten, Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: KORO
  • Detail of Labyrinten, Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: KORO
  • Detail of Labyrinten, Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: uit.no
  • (ufo), Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: Kjell Ove Storvik
  • (ufo), Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: Kjell Ove Storvik
  • Labyrinten, Guttorm Guttormsgaard. Photographer: KORO
  • (no title), Annelise Josefsen. Photographer: KORO
  • (no title), Annelise Josefsen. Photographer: KORO
  • (no title), Annelise Josefsen. Photographer: KORO
  • (no title), Annelise Josefsen. Photographer: KORO
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About the project

About the project

In connection with building work for the University of Tromsø, which commenced in 1978 and continued throughout the 1980s, a competition was held for a public artwork for the university plaza in Breivika. This open space lies between the National Archives, the library and the Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education. Previously the area had been something of a no-man’s-land, surrounded by buildings of little architectural interest. The winning entry was Labyrinten by Guttorm Guttormsgaard, who re-imagined the space as a bowl-shaped amphitheatre containing a serpent-like 620-metre-long labyrinth coiled around a pool of heated water. The water in the pool, which is maintained at a constant temperature of 37oC, generates a cloud of steam in the winter and associations with more southern parts of the world in summer. A metal plate at the bottom of the pool depicts the stars visible from the Northern hemisphere.

Labyrinten, which Guttormsgaard created in collaboration with the landscape architect Bjarne Aasen, is strongly linked to the culture and landscape of northern Norway, in particular ancient Sámi stone labyrinths. There is a theory that these labyrinths, which existed as early as the 14th century, were built to provide magical protection against external threats. Guttormsgaard’s labyrinth is made of natural stone, using only materials and labour from northern Norway. The Sámi artist Annelise Josefsen was invited to carve two large stones to function as the “guardians” of the labyrinth. One stone discovered by Guttormsgaard was transported to Tromsø using a military motor landing craft. Another is from the remotest part of Rebbenesøya, an island in Troms County, while yet another was transported from the island of Vanna. Other stones include a polished green paving stone from the village of Masi in Finnmark County, and a stone that previously bordered a swimming pool in the municipality of Lødingen in Nordland County. Some of the stones have a natural appearance, while others have been embellished with reflectors, spirals, checkerboard patterns and so on. Heating elements have been installed under parts of the spiral and the pool, ensuring that the labyrinth is also visible during the winter.

Guttormsgaard’s project is remarkable as a public art project for several reasons. At the time it was created, public artworks were generally considered to be subordinate to the construction process and the surrounding architecture. Labyrinten had a far more active approach to its surroundings, defining and creating the plaza it now inhabits. One could say that the artwork has become the place: formed like an amphitheatre, the plaza functions as a gathering place for students and others, and has contributed to creating the university’s identity. Frequently forming a background to photographs of visitors to the university, a stylized version of the labyrinth has been adopted as the university’s logo. The complete nature of the conceptual approach underpinning the work – a type of approach that nowadays has become more commonplace – put it at the cutting edge of the public art of its time. Labyrinten is also one of the few artworks created under the auspices of KORO (at that time known as Utsmykkingsfondet for offentlege bygg, or the National Foundation for Art in Public Buildings) that is clearly influenced by the land art movement, which came to prominence in the 1960s. Land artists made works in the landscape using natural materials, often for temporary projects that were brief in duration.

Guttorm Guttormsgaard (born 1938) started his career as a printmaker in the 1960s before gradually extending his practice to include letterpress, typography, poster design and image reproduction. After several major exhibitions early in his career, Guttormsgaard withdrew somewhat from the public eye in the late 1980s. He has completed several public art commissions, including the façade of Byhallen/Oslo Spektrum, while at the same time building up a unique collection of books, images and objects, which can be seen at the Old Dairy in Blaker, a village about 50 km east of Oslo. In 2015, Oslo’s Stenersenmuseet hosted a major exhibition of objects from Guttormsgaard’s collection.

Facts

Facts

Address

Hansine Hansens veg 18, 9037 Tromsø

Date completed

01.07.1993

Project manager

Dag Wiersholm, KORO

Art consultant/Art Committee

Per Kleiva
Hilde Hauan Johnsen

Building owner/developer

Statsbygg

Architect

John Kristoffersen Arkitektkontor AS
Borealis Arkitekter as

Duration

Permanent

Accessibility

Accessible by the audience

Program

Art scheme for new government-owned buildings

Kunstverk

Kunstverk

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