Last Chance to See 'Nordic Cool' at the Kennedy Center
“Nordic Cool,”, the vast, exciting, diverse, and indeed cool international festival of theater, dance, music, visual arts, literature, design, cuisine and film with participation of more than 750 artists celebrating the arts of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Aland Islands will finish its dazzling run on Sunday night, March 17.
The festival was held at the Kennedy Center which was itself transformed by the festival from Feb. 19 onward. The visuals and art which arrived with the festival literally changed the look of the Kennedy Center day and night, what with a blue northern lights show at night, to begin with.
But I’m going to miss the ship of shirts.
I will miss Trondur Pattursson’s painted glass birds which gave of the romance, the sadness, the danger, the freedom of flight all over the center. The birds—seagulls, the widespread, sometimes orange, blue and red wingspreads of what might have the albatrosses and teals that accompanied sailors to the sea—have flown away again.
I will miss the elks roaming the grass outside the Kennedy Center—not real elk, but wooden sculptures called “Elk Towers”, assayed by Juha Pykalainen from the Aland Island, the elk fitting in nicely with the triumphant outdoor sculpture of “Don Quixote.” The elk will be gone along with the sound of rushing water.
That would be the paneling that accompanies a photographic exhibition centered on waterfalls and the disappearance and shrinking of water resources in the world by the internationally famous artist-environmental activist Ruri from Iceland. “The world’s water supply is shrinking at an alarming rate,” she told us. “It’s not just in my country but everywhere.” She then took us to a series of panels which, when you pulled them out, allowed you to hear the roar of waterfalls and rivers and stream, each with a distinctly different sound, which will be more different still, say, five years from now, and not as loud, until decades from now, the sound might be that of a rivulet.
All over the Kennedy Center, upstairs and downstairs, exhibitions hallmarked the state of contemporary Nordic design—especially the furniture, including a chair with a bears head prominently featured, but also a chair one would take great care to sit on. This is the land of Ikea, after all, as well as Ibsen and Bergman.
Upstairs, a large section was roped off for the use of children, who create anything they wanted with an abundance of Legos. Houses of the future—environmentally cool and practical, it appeared, if sometimes strange to navigate—were on display, near where a wintry fashion show was.
In the Hall of Nations, an installation called “Are We Still Afloat” was immediately dubbed the ship of shirts in that it was created entirely by the use of thousands of donated shirts from the locals—including Kennedy Center staffers—by Kaarina Kaikkonen, a Finnish artist who’s known for her use of found material in her sculptures and installations. The sculpture—which filled the Hall of Nations and created a stir as visitors stopped and searched the decks, so to speak, or had their pictures taken. “The ship is broken,” Kaikkonen told us. “Parts of it are lost.” She then asked me where I might put my shirts, front and outside, or inside. It was an interesting question—there’s no really satisfying answer.
We happened upon Trondur Patursson, the Faroe Islands painter and sculptor who with a large and quite kinetic beard looked like a relative of the ancient mariner—and he turned out to be a veteran seafarer. “They remind me of the seas and my travels and my homeland,” Patursson said of his stained glass birds, many of which seemed, in certain lights and times, to be flying, looking perhaps for him.
Go to the Kennedy Center this weekend—last chance to hear the flapping of colored birds, the rush of water, the billowing of sails made of shirts, elks trudging on grass in a blue light. Last chance to see “Nordic Cool,” which is way cool.