Viewing single post of blog Site and the City: Aarhus 2017

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.