Riverbed

Yesterday afternoon I skived off the last session of the workshop I’m attending and took the train to the small town of Humlebæk, which is about 35 north of Copenhagen and is the site of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The purpose of my visit was to attend an invitation-only preview of a new installation by Olafur Eliasson called Riverbed. The invitation to this came relatively recently and it was only the coincidence of my being here at this workshop that made it possible for me to attend.

As it turned out, I arrived quite early and the weather was fine, so I took the chance to wander around the sculpture park before the main event. There are many fine works there. This, for example, is by Henry Moore:

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This one is by Henri Laurens

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And so to Riverbed. This is a large work featuring boulders and gravel, brought all the way from Iceland, which have been used to recreate a section of the landscape of Olafur’s native land. The distinctive colouring and granularity of the raw material produces terrain of a texture that must look very alien to anyone who has never been to Iceland. The installation is contained within a space which is contained within and divided by stark white-painted walls, with rectangular gaps where necessary to let the water through from room to room. These boundaries, with their geometrically precise edges, affect the experience of the naturalistic landscape in a very interesting way. The Riverbed itself may look “natural” but the structures surrounding it constantly remind you that it isn’t. Viewers are permitted to wander through the piece wherever they like and interact however they please, sitting down on a boulder, paddling in the stream or even just watching the other people (which is mainly what I did). I don’t know what’s more interesting, the work itself or the way people behave when inside it!

Here are some pictures I took, just to give you a flavour:

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Anyway, after that we adjourned for a drinks reception and a splendid dinner in the Boat House, which part of the Louisiana complex. Being neither an artist nor an art critic I felt a bit of an outsider, but I did get the chance to chat to quite a few interesting people including, by sheer coincidence, a recent graduate of the University of Sussex. The Boat House looks out towards the island of Hven, home of the observatory of Tycho Brahe, so naturally I took the opportunity to drink a toast to his memory:

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After that I had to return to Copenhagen to write my talk, as I was on first this morning at 9.30. This afternoon we have a bit of a break before the conference excursion and dinner this evening. The excursion happens to be to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (although we’re all going by bus this time); dinner is in the cafeteria rather than the Boat House, though..

10 Responses to “Riverbed”

  1. “Yesterday afternoon I skived off the last session”

    Intentionally using a Viking word here?

    In Danish, “skive” is literally a slice; in English it has taken on the meaning of slicing off part of one’s agenda, avoiding something etc. The related word “skiva” (pronounced, at least in some dialects, like the Hindu god Shiva, but nowhere like it would be in English) in Swedish is also a slice, e.g. a slice of bread. But it can also be a gramophone record or a CD.

    I have a friend who is really good at languages, perhaps better than anyone else I know personally. He once transcribed an interview with a Swedish musician, even though he had never learned Swedish (but had learned some other Scandinavian languages). He asked me to have a listen (I don’t have a gift for languages, but have learned some via time and effort) because he couldn’t make sense of one word. It turned out it was “skivaffär”, from “skiva” mentioned above and “affär” from the French “affaire” (foreign words in Swedish are written as if they were Swedish, so pronouncing them according to Swedish rules gives an approximation to the original pronunciation, thus one has “restaurang”, “poäng” and “fåtölj” from French*) in the sense of “shop” or “store” (one of several meanings in French).

    Swedish has more than the usual amount of French words due to Bernadotte becoming king of Sweden. (He was originally far from being a royalist and there is a legend that he had “kill the king” tattooed somewhere on his body.) Speaking Swedish with a hot potato in one’s mouth gives a fair approximation to Danish. 🙂

    Southern Sweden belonged to Denmark at various times, including Tycho’s. Tycho is normally regarded as a Dane, but his island Hven is now part of Sweden. (There were two main branches of the Brahe family, one much more rooted in Sweden, not just the south, and one in the south and in Denmark.) The local dialect is the most extreme dialect in Sweden (which, compared to most countries, doesn’t have that much variation in pronunciation), and includes extremely diphthonged vowels, especially “o”, which is quite similar to a certain type of upper-class English pronunciation (which Queen Elizabeth has to some extent). I’ve often wondered if this goes back to Canute (or Knut as he is known in Sweden) the Great, who was king of England and Denmark. (The wonderful Swedish town of Lund, with an old university, was named after London.)

    *Extra points to those who can guess the French forms of these words without looking them up.

    • telescoper Says:

      I could have mentioned that Humlebæk was actually the site of a Swedish invasion of Denmark in 1700, which resulted in a heavy defeat for the Danes who had to retreat south to Copenhagen, but total conquest was avoided by negotiations that ended in a peace treaty.

      • It’s probably fair to say that Denmark has invaded Sweden more often than vice versa. These days, however, fortunately debate is restricted to comparatively less important subjects such as whether prostitution should be legal and, even less important, whether one should remove one’s shoes before entering a building (common practice in Sweden, including in many schools) and whether one should have an extra knife in the butter and an extra spoon in the jam rather than everyone using his own cutlery (again, marks of Swedish civilization). When the bridge from Sweden to Denmark (or vice versa) was built, many pundits predicted that Sweden would move closer to the Continent, but if anything the reverse has happened.

        Vikings in Britain were mostly from Sweden and Denmark (indeed, they are generically called Danes in the chronicles) while Swedish vikings generally went east, even as far as Constantinople.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Surely the Vikings who raided and then invaded Britain were Danes and Norwegians rather than Danes and Swedes?

        “When the bridge from Sweden to Denmark (or vice versa) was built, many pundits predicted that Sweden would move closer to the Continent, but if anything the reverse has happened.”

        That’s a pretty extreme example of continental drift!

      • “Danes and Norwegians rather than Danes and Swedes”

        Yes, typo on my part!

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    That’s art? Your pic of your toast to Tycho is better!

    I had the best holiday of my life in Iceland, in summer 1983, driving round it in a Land Rover with 5 friends. It is like the ‘Flow Country’ north of the Scottish highlands, only wilder.

    • telescoper Says:

      What is art? I don’t know how to answer that question, but I think it’s unfair to dismiss something without experiencing it properly. The whole point about an installation is that you experience it by moving about and interacting with it, not just by looking at a few pictures of it.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        It’s just a bit of outdoor Iceland in a room. You can get lots more of it by going to Iceland. Where’s the creativity or the technique in that?

      • telescoper Says:

        You can get outdoor Iceland in outdoor Iceland, but putting outdoor Iceland in indoor Denmark is quite a different thing!

      • The art lies in convincing others that it is art. 🙂

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