I talked to the artist group Temporal Stays and Moves (TSM) as we sat on part of their artwork. There are no ‘don’t touch the artwork’ signs here…!

As part of their work, TSM have installed around 20 public benches in a public square in Frederiksbjerg Torv in Aarhus. Frederiksbjerg Torv is a quiet and somewhat neglected town square in a working class district of Aarhus, just to the west  of the city centre. At one time, Frederiksbjerg Torv would have been full of life and commercial activity. Surrounded by blocks of flats, it would have been a meeting point for locals. Nowadays, however, it is almost empty, although a new hot dog stand does offer the chance to stop, eat and sit for a while.  Before TSM got to work, there were only two public benches, which were set at the back of the square, up against a wall and almost hidden by shrubbery. They were not inviting places to sit and were often occupied only by those who wanted to drink alone.

TSM have used the materials of the city – benches  – to make their installation. Their benches are characteristic of the type found in public places in Aarhus. They are simple, made of steel and wooden slats; they are handsome and minimal to look at. Usually, they are found in ones and twos, placed at the edges of public spaces and gardens. Here, however, they appear as a gang, a gaggle…

Three benches face the street, neatly in line, as if queueing for a bus. Another two face each other intimately, as if deep in conversation.  Three other benches make up three sides of a square – together, but more formal; as if acquainted, but not close friends. Two other benches are arranged at right angles, but do not face each other. Perhaps they have quarrelled but cannot quite bear to leave each other’s company, yet.

The overall sense is of multiple conversations, of simultaneous moments, or at least  their possibility. The benches seem to say ‘what if…?’ They are invitations to meet, to meditate and to reflect. To simply sit and take in the world passing by.

A neon light installation forms the second part of TSM’s work for Frederiksbjerg Torv. The light piece is a delicate and ethereal addition to the Torv. It encourages visitors to look up and connect with the buildings surrounding the square, with the city’s own lights –  traffic lights and street signs which often go unnoticed – as well as the urban night sky.

TSM’s neon light also seems to be a playful and respectful homage to Eliasson’s Panorama which is so visible and dominant in the city centre.  While Eliasson’s work invites sightseers to look down on the city from above and at a distance, TSM’s installation encourages passers-by to look up and, intimately, into the city, to look again at features which they might already know well and to celebrate its ordinary extraordinariness.

Signe Klejs and Godsbanen’s installation, Hesitation of Light, also makes use of the material of the city and its light. A large road bridge which carries the city’s ring road straddles the wide network of train track west from Aarhus rail station. The arches of the bridge have been lit using sunlight gathered during the day’s sunset. The light is processed into separate colours and then it is projected back onto the structure of the bridge using over 200 lights which are attached to it.

Like TSM’s installation, Hesitation of Light makes us look at fabric of the city and draws attention to aspects of urban activity which are overlooked. Looping through the west of the city, in darkness, Hesitation of Light is a lyrical response to an unlit, unloved part of the city, one which most people would choose to stay away from at night. Because of its location, over railway tracks and in a slight valley, it is difficult to visit close up. But, I think that this is a good thing. To me, the piece is best viewed at a distance from another bridge, which carries cars and pedestrians on Frederiks Allé over the railway lines further east.  In the dark, from this distance, the heavy concrete and metal structure of the road bridge is a dazzle of fairy lights. The fabric of the city in darkness is transformed by another urban material – its light. Aarhus’ earthbound fabric dissolves and floats off into the night.


One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Aarhus 2017 was to see a project called UP!  UP! is an exhibition of site-specific works which are being installed in Aarhus between July and September 2017.  It is co-ordinated by ProKK: Foreningen for Professionelle Kunstnere og Kunsthåndværkere, which is a professional development organisation for artists and contemporary craft workers throughout Denmark, but whose membership is drawn mainly from central Jutland.

Unlike much of the visual arts programme for the festival, which draws together an international set of artists from the global art circuit, UP! showcases the work of contemporary artists who live and work in and around Aarhus. Each work has been made in response to a specific location in the city, with each location chosen by the artist.

The artists have been invited to interpret the exhibition’s theme UP!, working in whatever way they feel most appropriate to their site and theme. Many have chosen to encourage viewers to engage with parts of the city that might otherwise go unnoticed.  The view of the city from the ground is a key concern in my own work at the moment, so UP! seemed an ideal opportunity to see work that explores similar concerns and, perhaps, to meet some of the artists involved.

In preparation for my trip, I contacted Jeanett Tagara and Adria Florea who are curating ProKK’s contribution to Aarhus 2017. They put me in touch with several artists and I met up with Marianne Tønnesen, Mette Skriver and the artist group Temporal Stays and Moves, who are Anja Christensen, Sanne Grauengaard, Katrine Hvid, Dorte Kyhn, Birgitte Munk and Bodil Porse. This article discusses Marianne Tønnesen and Mette Skriver’s work; work by Temporal Stays and Moves is the subject of my next article, entitled City of Light.

Marianne Tønnesen’s work is called The Ritual Tree and she has made the work in collaboration with two other artists: Inger Bruun and Karen Ette. It was installed in the city’s Botanic Gardens on 29 July and will be in place until the end of September 2017. It consists of around 400 sticks gathered from locations around Aarhus, which have been painted by Marianne and her colleagues with abstract patterns inspired by the paintings of indigenous tribes from across the world.  The sticks are hung from the branches of a Maimute tree, which is one of the oldest trees in the Botanic Garden.

The Ritual Tree is concerned with paying respect to nature and acknowledging the importance of trees and botanical life to human civilisation. The sticks are delicately and precisely painted; they have been made with great care and it is clear that Marianne and her colleagues have taken considerable time over their work. Marianne explained that she and her fellow artists had decided to use colours that would appear natural in their environment – earth colours, ochres and dusky blues are painted on off-white grounds and, also, directly onto bare wood.

Marianne, Karen and Inger’s assemblage of painted, hanging sticks evoke pre-historic offerings and ancient, mystical decoration, ways in which humans have historically sought to revere and pay respect to nature.  The  work has an anthropological quality but it has a very affectionate feel too. It seems like a loving act to pay attention to a tree and create its own coat of sticks. The work evokes a sense of belonging to another time and place, but is also very familiar and contemporary…at Christmas, we still like to dress trees and pay attention to them. This work connects us to other places and cultures, but it also reflects back at us the rituals and practices of our own culture that we take for granted and no longer notice.

Mette Skriver’s work takes as its starting point a public sculpture which currently sits in the Town Hall square in the centre of Aarhus. The bronze sculpture is of a sow with her brood of piglets. The plinth on which the family of pigs rest resembles a flat table; below the table is a shallow, rectangular pool of water, like a trough. Mette has decided to add a creature to the family of pigs; the creature will be half pig and half fish. Pigs are important to Denmark – bacon and pork products form a significant part of the agricultural economy and trade. In this sculpture, the pigs seem to convey the importance of the soil to Denmark, but also the importance of community and of looking after each other.

Havfruegrisen draws attention to Aarhus’ connection to the sea – the city sits on the eastern coast of Jutland and, historically, has been strongly connected to the sea. The city has a large industrial dock area and a commercial ferry port. But Havfruegrisen also makes reference to Danish attitudes towards those who seek to join Danish society or those who may, in some way, be seen to differ from mainstream social norms, perhaps through immigration and re-settlement or through choice.

The piglet-fish will sit in the trough of water, where it is comfortable as a fish, looking up at the family of pigs. Perhaps it is wistful, hoping to be invited to join, but unable to because, with only two trotters and a tail, the piglet-fish is not fully equipped to make the leap onto land. Havfruegrisen will be installed on Saturday 9th September and I am really looking forward to seeing the installation shots of it in place.

Mette’s work will be placed on one side of Aarhus’ Rådhus, its city hall. On the other side of the city hall is a piece of work by Scottish artist Nathan Coley, The Same For Everyone.Coley’s work is an illuminated text installation based on a phrase that Coley came across when he travelled across Denmark. To Coley, The Same for Everyone embodied an expectation and a hope within Danish society that people should be treated equally regardless of income, occupation or social or geographical origin. Nathan Coley’s work acts as a reminder, a yardstick and a test of this ambition.  Mette Skriver’s work explores and questions Danish social attitudes in a very similar way, with tenderness and poignancy.


Aarhus seems to be a city of circles. From Olafur Eliasson’s installation, Your Rainbow Panorama, on the roof of Aarhus’ contemporary art museum, ARoS, to the iron covers of the drain covers separating sections of pavement, circular forms and motifs were a constant companion as I walked the city.

Eliasson’s circular glass walkway on the roof of ARoS dominates Aarhus’ skyline. It sits high above what is still a relatively low-rise city and is visible from streets and public spaces some distance from the centre. Eliasson’s walkway consists of a platform with coloured glass walls which form a continuous rainbow spectrum. The 150m circular walkway floats above the roof of the art museum and extends beyond the edges of the square building, offering viewers the feeling of walking in the air as well as vertiginous views of the streets below.  Eliasson’s installation has been in place since 2011, and so pre-dates the European City of Culture festival, but it has a strong and striking presence in the city and forms a visual reference point around which the Festival revolves. It is also the backdrop for Fujiko Nakaya’s vapour installation, Untitled. The particles of steam which rise up from the roof space refract the colours of the glass creating a foggy rainbow that seems almost solid within the internal circular space of Your Rainbow Panorama.

Gjode Povlesgaard Arkitekter’s (GPA’s) work at Ballehage Strand also takes the form of a circular walkway which straddles the elements of the earth’s surface; this time land and water.  The walkway, Den Uendelige Bro (Infinity Bridge), skims the tide where it meets the shore. As the tide comes in and out, more or less of the walk will take place over the sea.  I discovered GPA’s work during  a visit to Ballehage Strand, a long stretch of coastal park just outside Aarhus, which is currently the host to the outdoor site-specific section of ARoS’s Triennial exhibition The Garden. Like Your Rainbow Panorama, Infinity Bridge was in place before the 2017 Festival; it was made for Aarhus’ 2015 sculpture exhibition.

While these works offer circular journeys at very different elevations, they have in common a focus on looking outwards and  into the distance, towards the urban landscape of Aarhus, and on looking downwards, into the city in Eliasson’s installation, or in GPA’s case, into the shallows. While both pieces of work encourage a sensory approach to walking, many of the people whom I observed walking on each walkway were looking outwards, noticing and sometimes pointing out something on the horizon to their companions.  By contrast, two other circular artworks that I found had more introspective feel, with a focus on the inside of the circular form.

Aarhus’ Kunsthal, which is located close to its much bigger neighbour ARoS, is host to three contemporary art exhibitions during the 2017 Festival: a large solo show by Swiss Artist Ronan Signer; a large retrospective of Danish collective Solkorset; and a smaller installation of four sitting pieces in the Kunsthal garden by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec entitled OUI. The circular seats are made of broad tubular metal and have been designed to appear to float above the ground.  Two of  the constructions are installed around trees, but the trunk of the tree is offset from the centre of the circle, which gives a pleasingly human feel to structures which are otherwise shiny, slick and very contemporary looking. Because the benches are smooth, hard and metallic, they don’t invite sitting for long periods of time, but their continuous form does encourage people to sit in groups, almost as little communities, and for a number of different groups of people, or individuals, to use the circular benches at the same time.  These circular structures for resting and being still are in sight of Eliasson’s circular structure for continuous walking and movement, which seems a nice parallel.

The circular war monument in Aarhus Mindeparken (Memorial Park) is the site for Marie Højlund and Morten Riis’ sound work 4140 Voices.  The memorial is set into the landscape and sits below ground level forming a circular, walled chamber which is accessed via a single narrow entrance. The walls of the memorial are carved with relief images of soldiers and the names the 4140 men from Aarhus who died during the first world war.  Højlund and Riis have recorded and mixed the voices of current Aarhus residents speaking the names of each of the soldiers who died, thus connecting present Aarhus to its past. As you walk into the memorial space, individual voices and names become prominent; but at other times, combinations of voices seem rhythmic and more abstract – the acoustics of the memorial seem to create waves of sound that echo and circulate almost endlessly. There is nowhere within the memorial to sit; visitors must either stand and listen or walk slowly around the walls reading the names of the dead. I found the effect of reading the lists of names, of walking continuously and endlessly as the waves of sound reach your ears, to be overwhelming. The sense of loss suffered by the city, its families and communities is amplified and is made audible.

So Aarhus is a city of many circles, each one standing for very different and important aspects of its physical, social, cultural and historical lives.