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Louisiana Museum of Modern Art offers an account of the magical and artistic attraction of the Arctic
Gerhard Richter, Eisberg, 1982. 101 cm x 151 cm. Oil on canvas. Private collection. Photo: Toni Ott.

HUMLEBÆK.- The Arctic has been a great deal in the spotlight in recent years. The great climate changes that are affecting the landscape far to the north have brought increased attention to and interest in the area, ranging across science, geopolitics, art, literature and cultural history. Louisiana’s major autumn exhibition ARCTIC stages an evocative account of a region that has fascinated and appalled us for more than two centuries, and has played a huge role in the collective consciousness of our civilization.

The exhibition is an account of the magical, cultural and artistic attraction exerted by the Arctic areas in general and the North Pole in particular over generations – it is about our images of the Arctic. The history of our fascination with the North Pole is full of highly dramatic and tragic expedition stories, not rarely resulting in the death of those involved. It has inspired poets as well as visual artists to more or less imaginative visions of doom and utopias, and still does to a great extent. Science, sheer political imperialism and powerful commercial interests have all turned their attention to the north.

Cross-over exhibition
It is the big picture of this still-vital voyage of discovery lasting two centuries that is the idea of the exhibition: a multifaceted tale of the North Pole as a topos in the European consciousness and imagination, and of the polar region in all its awe inspiring and fascinating reality.

ARCTIC is a cross-over exhibition about the ways in which people with highly varied backgrounds realize ideas, imaginings, dreams and visions of the unknown, and it incorporates both classic Romantic images and contemporary art, authentic expedition photos and scientific specimens, poetry and sounds. The entertainment industry comments from the sidelines throughout, producing images in the form of
paintings, photographs, films, novels, dioramas etc. in an array of fear-tinged, joyous experiences of the great wastes.

Contemporary art plays an important role in the exhibition. The interest in the Arctic that preoccupied the artists of Romanticism has returned, greater than ever. Whereas Romanticism thematized the unknown, desolate and awe-inspiring landscape, contemporary artists see a strikingly different landscape, fully explored and conquered, in drastic transformation or even meltdown. They see a landscape moulded by humanity’s history and misdeeds. In the exhibition we see among other things examples of despondent photographs and videos of the magnificent landscape, scientific dissections and surveys of the area, doom-laden notions about the end of the world, and a dismantling of the masculine polar hero ideal. In the exhibition contemporary art is thus the mirror in which our past, present and future relations with “the last imaginary place” are reflected.

ARCTIC is science, heroic tales and visual art – reflected in longing, ideals and observation. In one of its many strands the exhibition tells the story of five of the heroes and their historic expeditions which in the course of 100 years has each in its own way written a very different chapter of the great epic of Conquest: the absurd story of Sir John Franklin (1786-1847), who disappeared without a trace; the elegant tale of Fridtjof Nansen (1831-1930); the fatal balloon voyage of Captain Salomon August Andrée (1854-1897); the almost parodic race for the Pole between Frederick Cook (1865-1940) and Robert Peary (1856-1920); and our very own sledge traveller, the beloved son of the landscape and its people, Knud Rasmussen (1879-1933).

Thematic exhibition
The Arctic is ice and snow and water and rocks, human and animal life, light and darkness, frost, thaw, silence and furious storm, a magnetic place with a magnetic attraction for people and nations – a topos that appears again and again in our art and culture.

To offer a sense of what gives the place its attraction and of the forces of nature that are in play, the prelude to the exhibition is the English photographer Darren Almond’s pictures of the magnificent, empty landscape which leads directly into the first theme of the exhibition: The Sublime – a visual presentation of ideas of inconceivable, divine, fearsome forces of nature as convincingly portrayed by some of the artists of the Romantic visual world: Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), Frederic Edwin Church (1861-1900), Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) and Briton Rivière (1840-1920).

The conceptions the artists depicted at the end of the nineteenth century were exclusively products of the imagination, but with the expeditions to the Arctic came observations and specific investigations. Under the heading Observations, the exhibition demonstrates both artistic and specifically scientific fascination with the landscape. The video work “Nummer Acht. Everything is going to be alright” by Guido van der Werve can be seen – and the interactive work “Snow Noise” by Carsten Nicolai, which urges the visitor to observe and appreciate the genesis of the ice crystal and perhaps be astonished by the very neat orderliness of apparently wild nature!

The exploration of the unknown had its costs. In the section Destruction we are showing for the first time together 93 un-retouched photographs salvaged from the polar explorer Andrée’s fateful balloon flight, documenting the forces the undaunted adventurer came up against before he succumbed, lost in Limbo.

The Arctic landscape is an extraordinary mythological space that has demanded extraordinary strength from extraordinary people, and this leads into the next theme of the exhibition, Mythologies. Here the focus is on the figure of the hero and the dismantling of his myth, for example in the work “Skipholt” by John Bock, and Pia Arke’s work “Arctic Hysteria IV”.

The ones who survived the journey were those who imitated the people who were already there: listened to the world, kept their ear to the ground or the ice that sustained them. Under the heading Voices and Faces people are portrayed who either live or long to live in the Arctic. Here the artist Evgenia Arbugaeva tells her story “Tiksi”.

In conclusion the exhibition presents about 14 interviews with writers, scientists, artists and politicians who speak of their personal relationship with the Arctic, including Ian McEwan, Eske Willerslev, Connie Hedegaard, Darren Almond, Monika Kristensen, Minik Rosing and Sara Wheeler.

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