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Traumatic Artistic Expressions

How do people respond to catastrophes and traumatic events through art? That is the questions in this month’s research group. 

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Forskningsgruppen Trauma Fictions in Contemporary Culture

The research group Trauma Fictions in Contemporary Culture. From the left: Bjarne Markussen, Siemke Böhnisch, Unni Langås, and Charles Armstrong.

Professor Unni Langås ved Universitetet i Agder

Unni Langås is the leader of the research group.

The research group’s full name is Trauma Fictions in Contemporary Culture and consists of seven members – five from UiA and two external. The group belongs to the Faculty of Humanities and Education, and was created in 2010.

“We are a multidisciplinary group, where most of us are literary researchers, but we also have a few media researchers and theatre theorists,” says Unni Langås, group leader and professor. 

How did we react after 22 July?

In order to understand what this group is researching, we can use an example that is very close to home for us.

“In our research, we have for example looked at the artistic expressions in the wake of the terrorist attack on 22 July. Here we found several layers of responses,” tells Langås.

“There were quickly many references to World War 2, and people used poetry such as Nordahl Grieg’s For the Youth (Surrounded by Enemies), and Ole Paus’ Mitt lille land (My little country) following the tragedy – poetry that was not originally written for catastrophes, but that concerned Norway and a joint experience of trauma,” she continues.

In later years, there have been many novels using components from the trauma, and the memorials are a hot topic.

Art as an archive for emotions and impressions

While some research the political and health related consequences to these kinds of traumas, the researchers in this group focus on how art responds to the catastrophes.

“It’s important to focus on this, because art, and particularly literature, is a kind of reflection of how we process different impressions. Through art, we get an archive of emotions and impressions following traumatic events,” says the professor.

By comparing these impressions by different points in time or geographical area, researchers can also comment on how the traumas are handled and how to describe viciousness in different ways.

A national and international network 

While five of the researchers are employed at UiA, Ingrid Nielsen represents the University of Stavanger, and Olaf Haagensen is a PhD-student.

The group also collaborates with the University of California in Berkeley. The method of working is one workshop each semester, where the master’s and PhD-students are also involved. The goal of this across-the-pond collaboration is to create a book made up by a collection of articles

The group was recently allotted a new PhD position.

“We are about to advertise the position, and the candidate will be working with the theme The terror in pictures,” says Langås.

Read more about the research group and see the member overview on their website.

Text and photo: Øivind Eskedal

Forskningsgruppen Trauma Fictions på plass i Berkeley

Forskningsgruppen på besøk til Berkeley. Fra venstre: Mark Sandberg, Ingrid Nielsen, Siemke Böhnisch, Donna McCormack, Olaf Haagensen, Irene Garnes Hareide, Unni Langås.