Contemporary art and water sports are not exactly two subjects which immediately spring to mind as being mutually complementary. However, in the wonderful setting of Vejle harbour in Jutland (Denmark), large-scale works of art have been thoughtfully placed out in the fjord… and the only way to appreciate them fully is by kayak or canoe.
This is the second time that Vejle (pronounced something like “Vai-La”) has hosted a “floating art” exhibition – twelve works of art from twelve different artists – and during a 90-minute tour in English we were able to get up close to these sculptures in a unique way. Thanks to our guide, Lars, we learned that these pieces are not only beautiful, but they also explore a wide range of thought-provoking and topical issues.
The tour starts in the shadow of Vejle’s most recent – and most striking – architectural development: five harmonious interconnected apartment buildings collectively known as “The Wave”. To the passing visitor, these not-yet-quite-completed buildings are an utter delight – their eye-pleasing organic curves and glass facades complementing their waterside location perfectly. To the local artists, however, they appear to be the subject of controversy: two of the sculptures refer to these expensive apartments as a symbol of the gap between the haves and have-nots.
And the artists succeed in making their point strongly: whilst the stunning location and architecture of “The Wave” may look pretty in photographs, it undeniably does block the view of the fjord for the residents of the social housing and those enjoying the public park immediately behind; incendiary material for any contemporary artist with strong viewpoints on social equality.
Most of the other sculptures have similarly “serious” themes, all of which have a common thread – these are local issues with global consequences: man’s increasingly fractious relationship with nature, for example, is represented in several of the installations, and the visually striking “Heads up!” demonstrates the very real struggle of many simply to “keep their heads above water” and get on with life as best they can.
The arduous journey of refugees to Denmark was the subject of two more particularly thought-provoking installations, one of which – “Stay Together” – was physically quite distant to the other sculptures: an intentional symbolism of integration issues? However, the art was not all serious. In particular, the utterly absurd “Island” – complete with working traffic lights – was a predictably big hit with the kids:
“But… is this art?” Mia (9) asked me, through a confused smile, “It’s just a traffic island”.
“Well, where’s the traffic then?”
It’s funny: when an otherwise-mundane part of our life – a traffic island for example – is taken away from its natural environment and placed without context elsewhere, our highly-conditioned brains struggle to take it in, struggle to accept it. Approaching such a sculpture slowly in a canoe merely heightens the experience. This was my favourite of all the art in the fjord, which probably says something about my own unserious and highly immature nature.
Despite the heavy skies overhead, the glassy water underneath stayed calm throughout our trip – perfect conditions for a truly unique cultural experience with kids… in an authentically Scandinavian way.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION ON VEJLE’S “FLOATING ART” EXHIBITION
- “Floating Art 2017” opened on 23rd June and will run throughout the summer. The project is likely to reappear – with new art installations – in future years.
- Our 90-minute guided tour was in English and cost DKK225 (€30) for adults and DKK100 (€13.50) for children. There was no price difference between renting a canoe or a kayak. Enquire at email@example.com for further details.
- The exhibition is organised through “VejleMuseerne“, an umbrella organisation for the city’s cultural exhibitions.
- Wondering what else to do in the Vejle region? The local tourist office have a great website and were remarkably friendly and helpful. (p.s. Legoland is only 20 minutes away!)
Daisy the bus visited Vejle, Denmark in July 2017
(c) 2017 Jonathan Orr