I am so glad to have had the chance to visit Aarhus during this year’s City of Culture Festival. It was such a good opportunity to see a great deal of site-specific artwork in a short space of time within a relatively small city.

The ambition of the work was impressive:  in terms of the physical scale and spectacle of pieces like ‘Hesitation of Light’; the audacity of placing so much art outdoors along the coast – a difficult place for art because the seaside and coast are already replete with their own set of meanings; and in terms of using spaces like ‘O’ Space, which infused the immersive work shown there with the melancholy air of the old, redundant building in which it was housed. The way in which the artists involved in the Prokk project UP! realised their work also impressed me greatly: their thoughtful and subtle interventions shed new light on their city and enabled me, and I hope many others, to see Aarhus differently, and to know it better.

I am taking back much from my visit. As well as knowledge of many artists making site-specific work that I hadn’t come across before, I’ve come back with ideas for work that I might make and greater confidence that I might make more ambitious work. I’ve also come back with new friendships and acquaintances with artists working with concerns similar to my own – I hope we’ll be able to share thoughts and ideas.

I have already used material gathered from my visit in the city-based contemporary art practice course that I taught at Edinburgh University over the summer and I expect to bring more of this material into some teaching that I will be doing on a Edinburgh College of Art undergraduate elective in the autumn.  I’m also hoping to go back to Aarhus in the early autumn to see UP! installed fully and to follow up some of the professional connections that I made in the summer.

Thanks A-N for your support. It has been really important to me.


The third part of ARoS’ triennial exhibition is The Garden: Future. This group of works is sited along the coast just south of Aarhus, from Tangkroen, a spit of land just south of the docks, to Ballehage Strand – a distance of around 4km. The Strandvej, the coastal road south of Aarhus, runs close to the sea. Between the road and the sea is a long and narrow strip of grass – often now more than 8-10 metres wide. It acts as a grassy showcase for 14 substantial pieces of work.

The works are arranged in clusters and, as you walk along the Strandvej, there are at least two or three artworks in your eyeline at any time. This helps draw viewers along the route of the exhibition – there is always something intriguing just in view, but I wondered if each piece of work needed more space of its own. Many of the works had been made to look deliberately odd, out-of-place, or sinister, such as Anssi Pulkkinen and Taneli Rautiainen’s  Constrained View (Gap), (Fountain) – a car being hoisted from the water’s edge, dripping with sea water, in front of a screen print of a section of broken bridge – and Superflex’s Investment Bank Flowerpots – large vertical ceramic containers in the shape of corporate headquarter buildings, planted with poisonous plants.  Although they were undoubtedly effective pieces, they could have had even more impact if the viewer had come across each one individually within the landscape.

Alicja Kwade’s piece, Be-hide, also looked pleasingly out of place. Consisting of two rocks and a double-sided mirror, it sits uneasily on the verge, close to the water. Each rock appears to squat on the grass and seems to look intensely at its own reflection. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that one boulder is the mirror image of the other – an exact copy made by 3D printing. So, on one one side of the mirror, there is a rock and its image in the mirror. On the other side of the mirror, there is its simulacrum and its image in the mirror.  Viewed at an oblique angle (as shown in the photo above) part of the mirror image of the rock joins with the visible part of the fake rock to create a complete image of a rock. From the other side of the mirror, the same thing happens – part of the mirror image of the simulacrum joins with the visible part of the real rock to create complete image.

It was enjoyable watching people work out if they could find a viewing spot at which the mirror image and visible rock part did not join perfectly…but was an impossible task.

I enjoyed the introspective air of this piece. The real rock, which was a natural, if obviously inert, form seemed to be intensely aware of its own reflection and its copy and seemed to be oblivious to the natural environment, of which it was really part.  The apparent self-absorption of the rock and its copy, the blurring of the boundary between the real and the simulacrum and the dependence of each upon the other for their own completion seemed poignant and very contemporary themes.

Tomás Saraceno’s NGC/IC/M+M (working title) introduced onto the Strandvej some unnatural, but familiar, forms.  Saraceno’s hollow structure is open with polished metal facets which catch the light and reflect fragments of the sea, sky and grass outwards and back into the structure. Drawn from geometric, biological and architectural forms, Saraceno appears to be seeking a new structural language which  appeals across political borders and societal cultures. His installation remind me of playground structures, of insect nests, of blastomas, of pomegranate seeds…and at the same time, it looked as if it had landed from space and might take off there again, within anyone who might have ventured inside.

Katharina Grosse also combined the unnatural with the familiar in her ground pieceUntitled.  Grosse had painted the grass verge and pavement on both sides of the road;  tree trunks to head height; and rocks and sand at the sea edge with white and crimson acrylic spray. The effect was unnerving. From a distance, the crimson paint looked blood-like. It looked like the scene of some sort of accident, an explosion or pollution – at the very least an unintended spillage. It looked highly unnatural and pedestrians walking through the installation stopped to look at the paint marks on bare patches of soil. Grosse had not painted directly onto the road, possibly for public safety rather than aesthetic reasons. In her statement about her work, Grosse talks about her desire to send ‘the fluid perception of painting through the ordered hierarchy of landscape and street dynamics…influencing how we look at ourselves, politics and society’. To the extent that I interpreted her painting as an environmental accident, or an expression of some form of societal violence, then Grosse’s use of painting as a device to explore our attitudes to the man-made landscape and what is or is not appropriate within it, is successful.


Aarhus’ largest contemporary art museum, ARoS, is hosting its first triennial exhibition this year, to coincide with the City of Culture festival. The theme for the triennial is The Garden: The Beginning of Times; The End of Times. The exhibition explores the way in which humans have co-existed with nature and how a range of diverse political, religious, cultural and scientific world views have affected our attitudes and approaches to the man-made natural environment over time. The theme of The Garden is interpreted broadly within the exhibition.

The Triennial has three parts – past, present and future. The exhibition associated with each one of these sub-themes is located in a different part of the city and sited in an exhibition space which suits the theme. For example, The Garden: Past is a gallery based show of historical painting and installation in ARoS’ exhibition spaces, while the site-specific installations of The Garden: Present are exhibited in a variety of internal and external locations across the city. The Garden: Future exhibits a series of large outdoor works along a coastal stretch of land, just south of Aarhus.

This article discusses the work included in The Garden: Present. Work exhibited  in The Garden: Future is described in the next article.

‘O’ Space is an old industrial warehouse space which sits in the heart of Aarhus’ docks. Although the docks are still well used, many of the older buildings are empty and there has been large-scale redevelopment of the dock space to house, for example, the city’s public library at DOKK1.

‘O’ Space provides a rare opportunity in a city for space to make and exhibit very large scale artwork and it has been used to good effect. It houses six  immersive works, including The Blue Room video and plant installation piece by E.B. ITSO, which explores US solitary confinement incarceration regimes, and KOE by Cyprien Gaillard which shows the evening flight patterns of a flock of parakeets which live and fly nightly around the centre of Dusseldorf.

Two installations use the large scale and industrial feel of ‘O’ Space particularly effectively. Finnish artist Pia Sirén has created a sublime landscape, which visitors look at from a viewing platform and which they reach via a path made of scaffolding, construction materials and roadworking ramps. On first look, the landscape appears to be of snow capped mountains, forests and rivers, but it quickly becomes apparent that the landscape is actually constructed from the same construction materials which were used to build the path. The piece is a visual joke with serious intent: we often pay more attention to what we build than we do to nature; and we prefer what we build to nature, often hastening its demise.

Ismar Cirkinagic uses the physical features of the brutalist concrete warehouse to particularly moving effect. Cirkinagic is from Bosnia Herzegovina and has, since 2006, been collecting samples of plants growing on mass graves, drying them and mounting them under glass, accompanied by their Latin botanical names. He shows his large collection of specimens as if they are a botanical or personal collection – the collection is carefully and self-consciously presented, as if the owner is keen to appear learned and tasteful. But the wall on which the framed specimens hang is made of blank concrete and has a vent at the top – which lets in light. The pale shafts of light hitting the frames gives the piece a quiet, elegiac quality.  Originally designed to let out industrial fumes, the vent might also let out the smoke from an oven or gas chamber. Cirkinagic’s piece is chilling and moving and it is completed very effectively by the choice of site.