The Round Tower has loomed over Copenhagen since 1642 when it opened to the public as a hybrid structure combining an astronomical observatory, student church and university library. Erected by King Christian IV, the listed building is 34.8 metres high and continues to soar above modern buildings in the city, offering a stunning panorama from a viewing platform at its apex. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by bright white walls setting off the stone brickwork spiral that steadily inclines all the way to the top of the tower – a sublimely unique and leg friendly alternative to stairs! Half way up the tower you reach the Library Hall which functioned as a book lenders until 1861, and now houses temporary exhibitions (currently an archival photographic display entitled ‘Visions and Beliefs’ offering insights into a century of Danish missionaries’ global projects between 1980 -1970). A few steps on from the Hall is a more practical feature within the building; an original toilet complete with nicotine stained arched ceilings following centuries of students’ pipe smoking whilst visiting the privy! As you continue to climb the tower, you reach the Bell Loft which not only houses the bells, but has been utilised widely by Copenhagen’s residents for everything from drying laundry to store tanned hides, dry herbs, paint theatre sets as well as dress-making and millinery. In 1880 the loft was even rented by Leiutenant Bernhard Olsen who created a peasant museum in the space! A final ascent directs you to a reconstruction of the 1700’s Planetarium inspired by Bayer, depicting a three dimensional model of the solar system with the sun in the centre orbited by six planets. A few more steps lead you onto a 360 degree outdoor viewing platform, offering scenic views across the city despite it being cloudy the day of my visit.
Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen is unusual as all of its exhibitions are produced, initiated or chosen by artists, with a focus on collective shows by experimental groups or networks. These principles have been present since its conception in 1891 when a handful of artists challenged the juried exhibition at Charlottenborg, and founded this centre as an alternative. True to its original vision the two exhibitions currently on display feature an artistic duo, and heavily experimental and provocative artworks. The ground floor galleries are dedicated to Hesselholdt & Mejlvang’s ‘Native Exotic, Normal’ exhibition which is highly topical in light of Brexit exploring eurocentrism, the Western perception of ‘the other’, and discrimination within everyday life. The first two galleries look at symbolic and contextual meaning through silk coats of arms in pastel colours devoid of any heraldic content, and Danish iconography (including a Klint Lamp, Arne Jacobson chairs and model ship) placed in an unfamiliar gallery context devaluing them dramatically. Another gallery displays what initially appear to be light hearted totempole balloon sculptures – adversely they have caricatures of ‘Hottentots’ (a derogatory word for ‘wild natives’ used by Europeans) at their apex, removing any light-heartedness. Similarly another space contains chains running across its length and breadth with obvious connotations to the slave trade and colonialization, but also to tripwires as the artists hope their work will force people to take a stand. Downstairs, the basement gallery houses ‘Salon Des Refuses’ by Tina Maria Nielsen where the artist has transformed mundane, everyday items (including mobile phones, a ladder, an umbrella, blinds and ostrich eggs) into beautiful bronze, plaster, paraffin and concrete sculptures. In deciding which items to laboriously sculpt, she questions which objects people feel attached to versus those we reject. Unlike upstairs, there is no natural light and the gallery feels deliberately repressive, much like a cellar where things are stored or hidden. The two shows complement each other well and I’d certainly advise a visit if you’re in Copenhagen over the summer.
A church dating back to the early 1200’s isn’t a typical venue for contemporary arts, but Nikolaj Kunsthal (Copenhagen’s third oldest church) provides the perfect backdrop to a constantly changing exhibition programme in Denmark’s capital. The Great Fire of the city in 1795 put an end to the buildings life as a functioning church, and following incarnations as a fire station, naval museum and public library, it became heavily associated with Copenhagen’s art scene from the late 1950’s and has been a dedicated exhibition space since 1981. ‘Hybrid Matters’ combining art and science, and the work of twelve different artists is currently on display. Visitors enter through the original bethel door and climb a flight of spiral steps into the vaulted level – on this staircase you are greeted by five neon signs created by Hanna Husberg, each powered by ionised argon and neon gas and shaped into a symbol representative of artificial heating or cooling. This is coupled with a video projection of Svalbard (in the Artic achipelagio) and together they comment on fossil fuels’ contribution to global warming. Through an archway you are then met by a wall of rotating miniature Christmas trees by Laura Beloff & Jonas Jorgensen, humorously testing the hypothesis that plant growth can be stimulated by different gravitational conditions than those found on Earth. ‘Cloud Harvest’ by Rosemary Lee & Jens Lee Jorgensen then deconstructs mobile phones and dissolves them into a vapour cloud, whilst also creating a pun on new terminology associated with the network of servers storing and transmitting global information. Around the corner is Hege Tapio’s experiment into human fat as potential fuel for cars, and the artist even underwent liposuction to draw attention to the potential use of peoples’ own bodies as a resource in the future! All of these fascinating displays aside, my favourite was undoubtedly Lawrence Malstaf’s combination of origami and 3D scanning to create a mesmerising interactive sculptural installation which moved and unfolded when sensors noticed you standing nearby. If you’re in Copenhagen before 31st July I’d certainly suggest visiting before the exhibition closes.