Leah Carless, an artist based in Smethwick with a space at Birmingham’s Studio Capri, reflects on her recent research trip to Aarhus, Denmark, part funded by the New Art West Midlands Engine Micro Bursary scheme.

The Micro Bursary I received from New Art West Midlands enabled me to spend additional time in Aarhus in December 2016 in the lead up to a group exhibition I’m Every Woman. The exhibition ran 8-22 December 2016 at KH7 artspace. During this period I was able to spend time testing ideas, making new work, installing an exhibition and meeting artists and curators based in Aarhus. 

I arrived in Aarhus on Friday 2 December around 3pm. The first thing I noticed was how low the sun hangs in the sky. It’s on the same latitude as Edinburgh but there is a beautiful deep orange glow everywhere and it seems to touch everything around. The airport is tiny considering Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city. Immediately I was struck by how everything seems to move much slower here – the commuters out of the airport, the airport transfer bus to the city. I later find out that there is currently a lot of debate about the airport and how it doesn’t really serve the city as needed. There is a ferry that links the city to Copenhagen and most use this as a means of transport. Aarhus has one of the largest ports in Northern Europe and the industry surrounding the port spreads across most of the city’s coast – one end the container bases and the ferry port at the other in the new development area.

KH7 artspace
KH7 artspace is a former factory building on the industrial side of the port. Most of the factories are in use and in this sense there seems to be a lot in common with Birmingham. The building is huge – three floors in total. The first two floors are studios and the top floor is KH7’s gallery. There is a large communal kitchen area. The studios are very clean. The spaces are so different to my experience of studios. They are more private, as each studio is located off a corridor and has a locking door. Some artists share, some have an entire studio to themselves. I was interested to find out how artists make their work as there seemed to be little equipment in the studio areas. I found that most of the manufacturing of works is done at a place called Godsbanen in the workshops. On the website it is described as a ‘centre of cultural production’ – one of its functions is to provide facilities for artists to make work out of a variety of materials including metal, wood and ceramics.  I was told that this is an affordable way to make work and how most artists produce work in Aarhus.

KH7 is the only artist run space in the city. There was a lot of excitement when I arrived as KH7 had just received their first grant for 2017. The artists hope to use this funding to cover exhibiting artist fees and travel to enable more international artists to exhibit in Aarhus. The gallery space is currently run by the studio artists. Money is generated by studio rent and each artist is given a slot in the gallery for their own use to test ideas, to invite other artists to exhibit and to work with the community or for educational purposes. It will be really interesting to see how the space develops next year with the new funding package.

People
The artists I am exhibited with are Mette Boel (DK), Nat Bloch-Gregersen (DK), Janina Lange (DE) and Matilde Mørk (DK). I got to spend time with all of the artists during my trip.

Nat and I spent a lot of time discussing our individual practices and found there were lots of overlaps in the materials we were using.  Nat has also just completed her MA this year so I found out a little bit about the differences and similarities between the UK and Denmark from that perspective. Nat studied at the Kunstakademi in Aarhus and I was really interested to find out that this is the first year that people have decided to stay on in Aarhus, not make the move to Copenhagen as in previous years.

As a group we had many interesting discussions about the show and all of the decisions that were made in the run up to the exhibition were made collectively.

I also met Matilde, who is a final year student at Kunstakademi. She has a fascinating practice and is very interested in gestural dance as a means of communication beyond speech. We shared some interesting discussions on the role of feminism within the exhibition we were working on, as well as in a wider cultural context.

During the entire week I worked very closely with Mette, who had invited me to be part of the exhibition. We had many conversations about the large scale installation she exhibited, about the curating of the show and the ideas behind it. This relationship continues as we are planning to each write a reflective piece of writing on the exhibition to use for our next group exhibition proposal.

I also met a brilliant artist called Louise Sparr. I got to spend some time in her studio and she came up to visit me in the gallery space whilst I was making test pieces. We chatted about the feminine, skins, membranes and materials. Whilst talking to Louise about my work and showing her images we began to talk about eggshells, a conversation that later informed the work I made for the exhibition.

I also met two of the three women that run the Rendezvous artspace. They have been working as a nomadic curatorial platform, making exhibitions in various locations around Aarhus and archiving these online. They have a large online presence on social media and a website archive. They were also pleased to have recently received funding to open a gallery space in Aarhus.

Work and tests
During the first few days in Aarhus I had time to make some small tests, experimenting mainly with colour in the space. I had planned on making another version of a previous work titled Full to the Brim. I found by making this work in situ, being able to make it using materials and dimensions specific to the gallery space meant that the second time in making this work there was more attention to detail and the work became more refined.

The edges were cleaner in this work, it was more controlled and less amorphous than previous works in this series. I’m not sure whether this was because I am now becoming more adept at my process or that I noticed more attention is paid to detail in Denmark. For example, when preparing for the exhibition, I noticed that AV wires were being fixed to the floor and wall using individual tacks, a much more time consuming but visually pleasing task than using electrical tape.

I was also very happy to bring a new material into my work – eggshells. I had previously used traces of older works, broken works or failed works but after a really interesting discussion with another artist and looking through images, we found similarities to eggshells in the works’ concept and material. I intend to continue using eggshells in future works.

The future
In the short time I spent and the few people I met in Aarhus I felt that I got a really good insight into what it’s like to be an artist living and working there. Aarhus has lots of connections to Copenhagen, as Birmingham to London but there seems to be more young people staying on in Aarhus after completing their education there. There are small pockets of young artists and curators doing lots of different things. Private views are well attended by the regular art crowd but there is also support from larger galleries.

Whilst on my trip I met two small collectives that had just received funding from the Danish Arts Council and with Aarhus being European City of Culture in 2017, this will hopefully continue to develop the artistic activity in the city and I look forward to following how it develops there over the next year.