In late 2017, I was selected for research project ‘Traverse’, with New Art West Midlands and Aarhus Billedkunstcenter. This project asked ‘What does it mean to be an artist working outside of your country’s capital region?’, and I was paired up with Aarhus based artist Mette Boel, to discuss our experiences and needs. We spoke at length over Skype and across email, the results of which can be accessed here.
Following this virtual activity, Aarhus Billedkunstcenter (AaBKC) invited me to visit Aarhus, and further develop my relationship with the city and the artists and organisations working there. While in Denmark, I also proposed to visit Copenhagen, as further food for thinking about capital city working and also to maximize the reach of the trip.
My initial plans to spend 3 days in Aarhus turned into a week, and the planned summer 2018 visit turned into April 2019, due to having a baby and taking maternity leave. My partner and baby came too. The week in Aarhus was a mix of visiting its many galleries and museums, meeting with artists in studios and curators, and getting a more general feel for Aarhus life. I was hosted by Aarhus Billedkunstcenter and their International Project Curator, Pamela Grombacher.
Aarhus is Denmark’s second city, like Birmingham, but considerably smaller in size and population. The major art centre there however, is huge. ARoS has 5 floors of galleries and a giant Olafur Eliasson permanent artwork ‘Your Rainbow Panorama’ and feat of engineering that has transparent coloured panels that leak all over the city. Its one of the numerous ways in which Aarhus presents itself as a city that values culture, and this flagship art centre, while I felt it was not particularly loved by artists working in Aarhus, is understood as being a destination for visitors and an advertisement of cultural investment.
I met with Jacob Fabricius, Director at Kunsthal Aarhus, and spoke about the ethos of the organisation and the arts in Denmark more broadly, as well as my own practice and the Traverse research project. I was really excited by the Kunsthal building, which began as a modest space, and has expanded horizontally and vertically at different times. I loved the sculpture garden that surrounds Kunsthal Aarhus, and particularly these fiberglass sculptures by Jillian Mayer.
Godsbanen is a production centre for ‘cultural entrepreneurs’, with wood, print, metal, ceramic (etc.!) workshops, offices for creative industries and music and theatre performance spaces. AaBKC have their office in the building, and Mette is starting up a new subsidized studio group with peers on site soon too. This publicly accessible production facility makes it feasible to make a variety of works in the city without needing to travel 4hrs to Copenhagen.
We took a trip to Moesgaard Museum, 30 minutes out of Aarhus centre, which is a museum of Danish archeology and ethnography. It houses a vast amount of stuff, and the experience of displays and interpretation is highly choreographed: galleries have starry night skies, sound tracks, squashy bog-like floors and more. There were many wonderful artifacts and armatures to look at as research for my work.
The Friday night of my visit was coincidentally a warm evening with an unprecedented number of openings and events. Among others, I visited Charlotte Fogh, one of Aarhus’ commercial spaces with an exhibition by Aarhus based Julie Stavad, and the opening of large group exhibition ‘Tomorrow is the Question’, at ARoS.
Mette and I presented the findings of our Traverse project at AaBKC Social event while I was there. We spoke to a group of artists and public in KH7 studios, which Mette cofounded and where her studio is currently based. It was really useful to revisit the data and our findings from Traverse a year later, to check in about how things have shifted. Invited to the discussion were members of the Aarhus artist community who have recently relocated there from elsewhere, as well as longstanding members. Mette and I are now discussing how to further develop and disseminate this research to have a broader reach and impact.
I did studio visits with artists including Anne-Sophie Overgaard, Tanja Nellemann Poulson and Kamilla Jørgensen, and caught up with Mette about her practice. It was a great opportunity to talk practice, career trajectories and to explore whether works by Danish artists could be included as part of my online project Studio Outlet, which sells things made by artists.
In Copenhagen I visited Kunsthal Charlottenborg, which was presenting Europa Endlos, a group show about current events in European politics. I was struck by such a historic gallery and art school being so close to Copenhagen’s tourist hotspot of Nyhavn.
I visited artists Jason Dungan and Maria Zahle, who moved to Copenhagen from London five years ago. They have a beautiful home with studios attached, and it was a great opportunity to understand how Copenhagen operates for resident artists rather than the surface that’s experienced as visiting tourists.
While it’s simplistic to think about Aarhus and Copenhagen in a comparison of either this one or that one, and having only spent a couple of days in Copenhagen, it was easily Aarhus that stole my heart and suggested that it could be worthwhile to relocate there. Like Birmingham, in Aarhus I can see how it’s possible to work as an artist and live as a human, with other interests and a family, but Aarhus comes with the enviable Danish quality of life that no amount of artist-run spaces being setup in the grass roots of a city can amount to without top-level investment and provision of infrastructure.
The trip was a great marker of the beginning of my return to work post maternity leave, and offered energizing relationships and reminders of being part of a welcoming global community of artists. I’m looking into ways for my family and I to spend a more substantial amount of time in Denmark.