Our Gruesome Cultural Heritage: Håøya Island  

organized by  Norwegian Theatre Academy/Østfold University College

September 3–14, 2018

Håøya Island nearby Drøbak, 40 km South of Oslo, Norway

During the 2 weeks workshop on Håøya we investigated 3 chapters of the island’s history, which in their essence are barely known or not sufficiently revealed and reflected upon. The euphemism in respect to how we investigate our past and the accordant reception of thereby created “stories” in contemporary society and culture represent the starting point of the workshop questioning national mythologies under the title “Our Gruesome Cultural Heritage”.

We related to the following 3 stories:


  • In the night to April 9th, 1940 the German warship Blücher was sunk by two torpedoes shot from Oscarsborg fortress which gave rise to a significant conviction in regard to Norway’s situation in World War II. Beyond the military strategic prominence, the place in the Oslofjord where the remnants of the ship still lie, marks the place of death of over 800 soldiers, among them teenagers, of which corpse fragments washed ashore until the 1950s. Nothing in the surroundings commemorates the dead teenagers of the country, which then represented the enemy, now a close ally.

  • After several accidents at the dynamite factory on the mainland nearby, Dyno weapon manufacturer decided in 1914 to relocate the dynamite production plant onto the island Håøya. Due to the lack of voluntary workers, the police in Oslo hunted down prostitutes who upon seizure had the choice between prison and work in the dynamite factory. Aside from personal memories in the surrounding villages, very little is known about the women who ended up in forced labor in Norway. History books ignore this scar in the national identity.

  • The island has been settled since the Stone Age and shows several traces of settlements from the Bronze Age to Medieval times. It contains large amounts of signs of military activity during the last hundred and fifty years. The island also served the Gestapo as an execution site to murder Norwegian resistance fighters. After the war, as a punishment for their political involvement with the German occupying forces, the Norwegian national-socialist collaborators were forced to dig out most corpses to organize proper funerals for them. This happened with almost all dead resistance fighters with a few exceptions: 6 graves on the island still remain mysterious and have never been identified.


These three stories form the background for scenographic explorations in connection with reflections on national mythologies, how they emerge and how they are sustained.


The relevance of how to deal with, remember, and remind others about our past is one of the core tasks of the arts. Scenography, understood as the blending of architecture and theatre into a time-based spatial art form evoking all senses, inherently relates to our physical environment, the manifestations, left overs and the traces of our cultures. The workshop has questioned the notion of a memorial in this context, to create materialized statements, which refer to the past by pointing into the future, while critically reflecting contemporary conditions in the mirror of history.

photos: © Serge von Arx