How Norway Made the World Whiter. Environmental Lunchtime Discussion.

In this talk, artist Marte Johnslien and art historian Ingrid Halland will introduce their new research project The Materiality of White that explores how the Norwegian innovation Titanium Dioxide has changed surfaces in art, architecture and design—making the world whiter, brighter and cleaner looking.

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White through the microscope. Photography found in Peder Farup’s notebooks from September 1910. Farup’s Archive, The Norwegian Mining Museum. Photo: Marte Johnslien.

The chemical compound titanium dioxide (TiO2) circulates extensively through our material, biological, and economic systems, most of the time completely unnoticeable: in the food we eat, the paper we print on, the paint on the wall, and our iPhone chargers. The substance was originally discovered and patented as a white pigment by Norwegian chemists Peder Farup and Gustav Jebsen, and production for the global market began in the mine Titania AS in Sokndal, Norway, and in the factory Kronos Titan AS in Fredrikstad, Norway, in 1916. Revolutionizing the colour industry, the TiO2 patent brought into the market a pure white paint that resisted miscolouring due to dirt and rust; TiO2 has been called “the whitest white” and its material properties are inextricably related to invisibility, durability, and homogenization. 

Throughout the 20th Century, the material was increasingly used in combination with other colours (as coating for concrete, glazing for ceramics, and additive in plastic) thereby changing the aesthetics of surfaces in art, architecture, and design—its extreme covering ability made surfaces smoother, brighter, and more opaque. After a hundred years of mining, the extraction of TiO2 has left an irreversible change in the local landscape: The environmental trace of mining modernism consists of a vast cut through the surface of the earth and a grey artificial desert of mining waste. Do we need our world to be more white?

In this talk, Marte Johnslien and Ingrid Halland will 1) introduce their new research project by giving a brief introduction to the history of TiO2, and 2) share experiences about their research collaboration (artistic research and research in the humanities). 


About the presenters

Marte Johnslien is a visual artist and Associate Professor at The Oslo National Academy of the Arts. She works with sculpture, installation art and artist’s books, and she defended her PhD thesis in 2020. Johnslien’s work is included in the collections of the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter and Lillehammer Art Museum. 

Ingrid Halland is an architectural historian and art critic. She is Associate Professor at The University of Bergen and Associate Professor II at The Oslo School of Architecture and Design where she teaches at the PhD Programme. The book Ung Uro: Unsettling Climates in Nordic Art, Architecture & Design (Cappelen Damm Akademisk) was published in Spring 2021.

About the event series

The OSEH Environmental Lunchtime Discussion series consists of short, 15 minute presentations by invited guests, followed by a discussion. We invite speakers from a wide variety of fields, both academic and beyond. The presentations are accessible and are aimed at anyone with an interest in environmental issues. All are welcome.

Tags: OSEH, HF, Environmental Humanities, Fashion History
Published Oct. 13, 2021 2:19 PM - Last modified Oct. 13, 2021 2:19 PM