Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Wild(ish) grey-white horses, rolling in from Sweden, tussling into shore. That’s what it looks like from the top of the hill, grey into the distance. On a clear day, you can see across Oresund to the Swedish side. Today it’s as though the waves are sent in beating just to punish me for going to the other side to swim. Yesterday I was in Malmo, at Ribersborg, enjoying one of the most civilised practices known to Northern humanity – winter swimming and sauna. Today I am here, off the train at Humlebaek to visit Louisiana, one of the very best small modern art museums in the world, where they mount exceptionally curated exhibitions, usually thought provoking, always something to learn, never dull. But also to swim, on the Danish side of Oresund. The waves appear to have punished more than me – I look for the distinctive slate grey steel bathing platform, jutting out as a work of modernist sculpture / architecture, on the beach at the foot of Louisiana. It has gone. The first mental form of how the day would shape up, has gone. But swim I must, across the peddle/stone/rock beach/floor, tripping and stubbing toes, finally tossed into the water and away, pushed back again by the Swedish wild(ish) grey horses. I felt like I was in a Kandinsky painting, tossed around by the colours, coming in from the right, from the left, from below, swirling from behind. This was a dream I once had – wrestling within a Kandinsky painting, one of those from around 1916, after the expressionist landscapes and before the ‘geometries of the universe’ kinds of paintings. These were blue riders, in my dream, storming in, and I was twisting and wrenching, thrusting and parrying. I woke in a sweat, bed covers wrapped around me, witnesses to the night struggle. Then I needed a cup of tea – I was exhausted from dreaming. Now, I can see the cup of tea in my mind’s eye, in my thermos, on the shore, as the grey riders of Sweden topple in on me. Muscular waters, today.
The absent bathing platform was a mental jolt, but then it should not have been. Bathing platforms are solid things, posted and stumped very firmly in the ocean. as are bathing houses, larger and appointed with changing rooms, saunas and platforms. But they still get worn out or torn apart by storms – on the Swedish side of Oresund, Landskrona bathing house was ripped up by an ocean storm in 2013. This is a natural hazard, and it doesn’t stop the rebuilding of them, but this takes time. Decisions need to be made, people consulted, planners brought in and architects involved sometimes – to build new or old, or somehow something in between? Palsobad in Helsinborg is just that, something in between – on the outside view, as tradition would have had it. On the inside, the best new technologies – glass, steel, top of the range wood burning stove heating, the best seasoned arctic pine for the sauna cabins, a café with a view to Hamlet’s castle. Go out if you like, but if it’s too fierce, gaze to the Danish horizon from a deck chair behind the floor to ceiling plate glass, in the super modern café, supping hot chocolate after swimming. Building a good bath house needs proper planning. As the red-hoodied stove stoker at Helsingborg said to me “sometimes I wonder as I put wood into the stoves, what would it take for the whole thing to just go up in flames?” Ribersborg is almost totally a wooden structure, but this and similarly structured bathing houses never seem to burn down. Yes, it all needs planning. To be able to relax in such conditions, it very is important to have the planning, the rules, done properly, but in the background not in the foreground. I am sure the Louisiana bathing platform will be built back, but I can imagine the debate in the committee, especially where art is concerned – should it reflect on Louisiana’s past? Should it replace what was there? Should it be cutting edge? If so which edge should be cutting? Concerns over the masculinity of the platform, over gender neutrality, would be voiced more than once. Anne Katrine, who lives in Norreport, Copenhagen, once said to me with the look of wisdom “democracy takes time”. And she was not begrudging of time for doing democracy. The Louisiana bathing platform then – the thinking, maybe it should be commissioned to an artist? Would it then be an art work? And if it were an artwork, what about the insurance? Or would it be a public work? I imagined someone on the committee saying “Olafur Elliason would do a great job, but is it the turn for someone emerging, rather than established”. “Or to Pipilotti Rist – she loves water…”
Speaking of which, Louisiana put on the very best Pipilotti Rist exhibition ever, last Spring . I am a huge, huge fan. I have seen her exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery in London, at the Sydney Biennale, and her street architecture / sculpture in St Gallen, Switzerland. At Louisiana, I was floating in and under the Rhine, down streams, in dreams. If I had a Pipilotti Rist dream, I would wake up relaxed – I look forward to that. This time, Louisiana had a video installation that included polar bears swimming (what’s not to like about that?), a video of Marina Abramovic talking about how to drink a glass of water (thoughfully, appreciatively), Yayoi Kusama’s installation of little lights and mirrors (where I took a photo of many-me’s, since for the first time ever I got the room to myself). And another video installation, more than life-sized, of an empty McDonalds steadily flooding. This is art that dares to do what some would hestate to say – it attracted many, and was compulsive viewing. Watching a huge Ronald Macdonald topple and float seemed pleasing, until I thought ‘what if it ends up in the ocean (most things do), and if all the MacDonalds flood, then what if there is a place in the Pacific Ocean that has a swirling whirlpool of big plastic Ronald Macdonalds, weathering, but not degrading. I imagine myself in a Kandinsky-style dream, swimming in the whirlpool of Ro Mc-Do’s. An ugly thought – they are big, and in an angry clown way, could bruise as they swirl. My dreams offer no protection against the forces, in the same way that only in togs do I swim at Louisiana, no gloves, surfie socks of wetsuit. Related to this Ro McDo thought, that evening I read in the New York Times that Burger King has announced that it will stop giving out plastic toys with its children’s meals in the UK. Only in response to strong opposition to single use plastics. McDonalds, too big to fail, is hedging its bets and doesn’t seem to be able to commit. There has been too much to think about - , for one day – I hope I don’t carry this into my dream world tonight. I leave Louisiana mentally stretched, but having seen again some of its ikons – the café overlooking Oresund, the sofa room, also overlooking Oresund but without its diving board sculpture (this is a diving board that is set inside the glass room, whose diving board cuts through the glass into the open air, as though you could get off the sofa get on the board and swallow dive into the ocean). Louisiana is in a perfect setting, so perfectly planned and built into the landscape. The bathing platform at the foot of this great museum will undoubtedly reflect this ethos of doing things well, not merely well enough.