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Rotvoll Art Collective

Reinventing a former asylum into a house for synergistic collaboration.
Photo: Juliane Schütz

by Zane Datava, Evgenii Salganik

This five-hundred-year-old estate has housed a medieval monastery, the mentally ill, Serbian prisoners of war during the Second World War, college students of education – and is now home to a thriving art collective remembering the past through current experiential exhibition.

One of the most attractive elements of Trondheim is the ability to foster an idea and make it happen with relatively marginal resources. Possibly related to its size, as third largest city in Norway, it is as though small ideas pop up unexpectedly where like-minded people find each other and work together. This happens often in interdisciplinary groups, and with impressive drive and passion. These interest-based activities that aren’t often marketed or common knowledge, be it from pop-up concerts, to mini-food fairs, become a magnet for others to join and often welcome whoever is interested in contributing their time.

One of the city’s immersive subcultures, promoting inclusive and interaction, is the new artist’s collective based in Rotvoll, Rotvoll Kunsterkollektiv (artist collective).

Rotvoll Kunstnerkollektiv, also known as RKK, is scenically located in the calm surroundings of Rotvoll, just outside of Trondheim. Since 2019 it has offered studios for 65 artists, most being visual artists or musicians, and now the collective’s historical building is welcoming all art forms and visitors, currently including writers, theatre directors, and a stage designer.

Martin Smidt, the composer and musician who runs the space together with other artists, shares how residents often take a swim during their lunch breaks. The beach is just 100 meters down the hill.

“There was clearly a need for such a place, which would encourage collaboration between different artists and synergies,” says Smidt. “There was a need for a working space for those artists — they were otherwise working at home or waiting for some place to become available.”

From the outset there was this notion to gather artists in one common place so that they could work together, sparking synergies, where people would inspire each other and create a shared culture. Once the initial rental agreement with private reality firm x Eiendom AS was signed, the premises filled quickly creating a buzz. Katherine Butcher, one of the resident artists, expresses how she finds that collaboration comes naturally in RKK — one can just go over the hallway, knock on the door to meet their neighbours and ideas start flowing. The lunchroom is also a good place to start new artistic projects. Several joint projects have come to fruition on occasion, despite the rocky times and social distancing during the pandemic.

Some of the concerts and events have, paradoxically, fostered a new type of experience for very close and interpersonal connections as they have been played and performed for audiences as small as two people at a time. This type of intimate performance creates a sense of inclusion, where audience members feel instantly welcomed.

Some months ago, on a still cold spring day, a small audience had the pleasure of partaking in one of these events at Rotvoll Kunstscene with the showcasing of ImproSTUNT, directed by contemporary dance artist and teacher, Anna Thu Schmidt. The idea for this event perfectly mirrored what RKK stands for: the audience was led through the historical premises, accompanied by musicians and dancers and experienced a multimedial and multisensory journey. Thu Schmidt says that it was a lot of work to plan the logistics for this event so that audience members didn’t encounter each other closely, and could keep a minimum of one meter distance at all times.

“The new regulations informed and changed the performance in a way. But I think there is something beautiful being created during, and because of, the pandemic too — there are more intimate art experiences created which I would have not otherwise thought of.”

During performances artists, audience, and the space collide to create something unique and personal. Synergy is one of the key concepts binding RKK together. Artists outside of the collective, like Thu Schmidt, are invited to co-create so that potential cooperation isn’t bound by RKK’s walls. Martin Smidt adds that one of their aims is to inspire collaboration across disciplines, which they really try to encourage.

All of the artists agree that RKK’s building is inspiring and light, even though it has both limitations and possibilities (as with all buildings). There aren’t many big rooms, except the chapel, a venue for concerts and performances. Some of the ongoing plans for development include a soundproofing project has been funded to upgrade the building, which is obviously integral for musicians.

Not everything has been in balance, however. RKK occupies only one wing of the enormous building housing it, a building with a rocky past. The property has, in fact, within recent history been used as an asylum. Katherine Butcher reflects on this and attempts to connect the extreme sensory experiences in her work “Shiny Floor Show”. The bright mirroring material, which she used to cover the floor with, could be both blinding with its intense shininess as well as inviting participants to reflect on those intense and overwhelming sensory experiences from the past. Butcher adds that she feels the history is definitely still present, and equally as important to the building as its walls. Despite other periods and many years of housing teacher education, the building still holds onto its complicated past.

Photo: Evgenii Salganik

Photo: Evgenii Salganik

Uncovering history

Rotvollgårdene was a church and monastery estate during the Middle Ages and came into private ownership in 1690. The site name originates from the old Norse word ‘Rótválir’, which means ‘clearing land’ or a land filled with tree roots and stumps. The hospital was expanded and rebuilt during 1919 to 1928 by another Norwegian architect, Ove Bjerke Holtermann.

During World War II there was a camp for Serbian prisoners of war in the area. In 1962 the Rotvoll Asylum became part of Trøndelag Psychiatric Hospital. In 1980 it was renamed to Charlottenlund Hospital and was eventually closed in 1990. From 1991 until 2018 it was the location of Sør-Trøndelag University College (HiST). In 1994 Rotvoll housed a faculty of teacher education and deaf studies of as part of HiST. The Northern Norway Psychiatric History Museum was opened in the D-wing in 1996 and then closed again in 2015. After that Arnold Solbu, former director of the hospital, founded a Northern Norway Psychiatric history museum in a small part of Rotvoll, which was run by volunteers. The façade of the building is protected by state. Currently the site and the building is owned by the real estate company AHA Eiendom.

This redbrick building has a symmetrical masterplan and consists of several blocks connected to galleries. Upper windows have the shape of pointed arches, in reference to the Gothic style, while the roof is decorated with cornices. This shows that the building style is quite eclectic, with a combination of Gothic and Romanesque revival.

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