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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.