Colonial memories in the Atlantic Area discussed

At this year’s Science Festival of the Humanities (University of Iceland), three colleagues and I contributed with a session about colonial memory narratives.


The age of colonialism and imperialism, which has had a profound influence on the Atlantic area formally belongs to history, but its cultural heritage survives in the form of language policies, ideas about national identity, historical narratives and racism. The aim of our seminar at this year’s Hugvísindathing was to explore the relationship of visual and performing arts with present-day representations of history in the post-colonial era. Which role did artworks play in the formation of colonial logic in previous centuries and how does modern art use colonial archives today? In order to get an insight into aspects of the colonial past of the Atlantic area, the seminar provided lectures on the afterlife of both French and Danish colonial history as it has been mediated through artworks by Ólöf Nordal, Julie Edel Hardenberg, Inuk Silis-Høegh, Molière, Ósk Vilhjálmsdóttir and others.

Artist Ólöf Nordal, art historian Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir, literary scholar Toby E. Wickström,  and I discussed examples that show commonalities and differences in how colonial memory is processed in art from the former French and Danish empires.

We thank all guests for participating in the discussion and look forward to keeping up the dialogue between the art scene and academia.


Emotions and Climate change – call for papers

The discourses about the consequences of industrialization for the climate and the planet in general have left us facing profound questions about our future as a species. Is climate change our doing? Will we be able to turn the development around to avoid massive catastrophes and conflicts? How long will we be here? Should we be here at all? News reports of floods, hurricanes, fires, and droughts spur discourses that are highly emotional and charged with feelings such as fear, nostalgia, guilt, and sadness.

In the fall of 2019 I will edit a special issue of the peer reviewed online journal ArtsThis Special Issue focuses on the way emotional aspects of climate change and the role of humans in this context have been represented in the visual culture in the 20th and 21st centuries. The theories about the time we live in, termed the “Anthropocene”, the “capitalocene”, or the “chthulucene”, have all posed questions about the future of mankind and our position in relation to the rest of planet Earth. Climate change discourses have positioned humans as both victims and perpetrators and have ignited a complex emotional field that is explored and interpreted from numerous angles within the visual culture. Theorists from various fields—such as Ian Hodder (2012), Bruno Latour (2017), and Jane Bennett (2010)—have argued that we need to approach our current situation by looking at it as a complex network and a combination of processes of interdependence—of entanglement between things, animals, other biological beings, biospheres, and economic frameworks of inequality. The question of what a human is and can be is increasingly being explored through non-anthropocentric optics, and simpler notions of subject–object relationality are often rejected in the theory and in the field of visual culture. Hodder has stated that it may be our fundamental entanglement with things and technologies that makes it so difficult to deal with climate change (2012). However, human representations of our place in the world is still an important optic through which we can seek to understand how we make sense of our relations, limitations, and options. The languages of the aesthetic fields of photography, comics, movies, and other visual media leave room for ambivalence and complexities—as well as for the unspeakable—elements that are important aspects of the way we experience our (new) relationship with our surroundings.


Please consult the website of the CFP for further information. The deadline for proposed articles is August 23 2019.


Our book on the role of climate change and nature in Nordic art is out.

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 09.33.26

Artistic Visions of the Anthropocene North: Climate Change and Nature in Art – edited by Gry Hedin and myself – has just been published as a part of the Routledge series Advances in Art and Visual Studies.

The articles featured in this book span centuries of art history and changing theories of the Humanities and the natural sciences. The media used by the artists discussed here are also diverse and include music videos, oil paintings, photography, maps and field notes. They are all concerned with questions of how humans and environment are connected – how such connections are experienced and how they can be understood.


“In 1828, Danish painters were encouraged to attend lectures in geology. Week after week, they were seated in front of Danish geologist Georg Forchhammer as they lis- tened to him lecture on mineral chemistry. We do not know exactly what they were told, but Forchhammer was the rst to write a geohistory of Denmark, and he also wrote on the chemical composition of paint. Thus, it is an alluring possibility that the artists were lectured on both the geohistory of their country and the components of their paints – and what an odd combination!

One wonders how they combined the two subjects in their imagination. When they were told how to paint with materials from nature in the most enduring way, did they envision themselves working in the tradition of ancient artists, inscribing messages for posterity the way we humans in the Anthropocene collectively inscribe messages upon our planet for our remote descendants to come across one day? Or did they see themselves as small-scale scientists listening to good advice from one colleague to another on how to grind chunks of the famously-old chalk cliffs of Møn into primers for their canvases?

In either case, painters’ awareness of geology can enrich artworks with meaning, and both artists and geologists work with materiality as well as visions. In the era of the Anthropocene, this takes on a particular meaning.” (from the introduction)

Abstracts can be viewed at the taylorfrancis website.

The volume falls into three thematic sections:

I) In the first section Interaction between Art and Science Gry Hedin and Eva La Cour look at the ways both 19th century Danish art and contemporary video art is in a dialogue with methods from the natural sciences.

II) In the second section Changing Narratives of the Anthropocene and the North Mark A. Cheetham and Norman Vorano present indigenous and non-indigenous interpretations of Canadian landscapes – and in Cheetham’s case also the concept of “North”.

III) In the book’s third section Media and Blurred Boundaries between Nature and the Human Katarina Wadstein MacLeod, Synnøve Vil and I deal with contemporary art that points at mediation itself as a means to questions the way humans interact with the environment (including other bodies).

In the era of the Anthropocene, artists and scientists are facing a new paradigm in their attempts to represent nature. Seven chapters, which focus on art from 1780 to the present that engages with Nordic landscapes, argue that a number of artists in this period work in the intersection between art, science, and media technologies to examine the human impact on these landscapes and question the blurred boundaries between nature and the human. Canadian artists such as Lawren Harris and Geronimo Inutiq are considered alongside artists from Scandinavia and Iceland such as J.C. Dahl, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Toril Johannessen, and Björk.

Here you can have a sneak peak at the content of the volume:

Introduction: Artistic Visions of the Anthropocene North: Climate Change and Nature in Art, GRY HEDIN & ANN-SOFIE N. GREMAUD

PART I: Interaction between Art and Science

1 Anthropocene Beginnings: Entanglements of Art and Science in Danish Art and Archaeology 1780– 1840, GRY HEDIN

2 A Montage of Notes from Svalbard: Mediating the Arctic through Artistic Research, EVA LA COUR

PART II: Changing Narratives of the Anthropocene and the North

3 Northern Landscape and the Anthropocene: A Long View, MARK A. CHEETHAM

4 “We All Have to Live By What We Know”: Activating Memoryscapes in the North Baffin Inuit Drawing Collection to Understand Arctic Environmental Change, NORMAN VORANO

PART III: Media and Blurred Boundaries between Nature and the Human

5 Conversations between Body, Tree and Camera in the work of Eija-Liisa Ahtila, KATARINA WADSTEIN MACLEOD

6 Toril Johannessen’s In Search of Iceland Spar: Truth and Illusion in the Anthropocene , SYNNØVE MARIE VIK

7 From within the Porous Body: Modes of Engagement in Björk’s Biophilia Album, ANN-SOFIE N. GREMAUD


The volume can be ordered through the Routledge website.

Podcasts: videnskabsformidling



Nyt år – nye historier.

Det Humanistiske Fakultet … et verdensfjernt sted med høje mure til at holde resten af samfundet på afstand eller et elfenbenstårn fyldt med forskere, som er berygtede for at have svært ved at kommunikere, så andre kan forstå dem? Forestillinger om forskningsprojekter og uddannelser, som i bedste fald er elitære og i værste fald er ubrugelige, har gentagende gange ført til budgetnedskæringer og gjort fremtiden mere usikker for studerende og ansatte.

Men hvad er det, de kæmper for at bevare? Hvilken slags viden er det de producerer og hvad er det for nogle historier, de kan fortælle om den måde vi oplever verden og vores historie? Hvordan bidrager deres arbejde til samfundet og hvordan de ser de på fremtiden? Det er nogle af de spørgsmål Historier fra Humaniora stiller.


I podcastserien Historier fra Humaniora jeg taler med en række forskere fra Det Humanistiske Fakultet på Københavns Universitet om deres forskning og de spørgsmål, de søger svar på.

(udsendelserne findes også på Soundcloud)



Podcast: Familiealbum

Den måde vi bruger fotografiet og deler fotografier af vores familie på, har forandret sig drastisk de seneste årtier. Så hvad sker der med det klassiske familiealbum, som de fleste af os har haft stående i vores hjem i generationer, og som mange ville redde som det første hvis huset brændte? Hvad kan familiealbummet fortælle noget om som medieformat og som “objekt” og har det overhovedet en fremtid? Professor i fotografistudier og institutleder ved Institut for Kunst og Kulturvidenskab Mette Sandbye fortæller om det at have familiealbummet som forskningsobjekt.



Podcast: I affekt 

Følelserne klistrer og måske giver det ikke mening at tale om følelser og politik som noget der kan eller bør holdes adskilt. På humaniora er det blevet gængs at undersøge følelser som noget, som slet ikke kommer indefra, men derimod som noget der skabes i sproget, cirkulerer imellem os og er tæt knyttet til magt. Hvad siger litterat og kulturforsker Mons Bissenbakker Frederiksen fra Institut for Nordiske Studier og Sprogvidenskab til det, når jeg beder ham fortælle om affektteori? Her kommer vi Pippi Langstrømpe, Krudttønden og indvandringspolitik.



Podcast: Grønland mellem fortid og fremtid

Var Grønland en dansk koloni? Er forholdet stadig kolonialt? Eller postkolonialt? Og hvilken forskel gør det? Spørgsmålene om Grønlands fortid, nutid og mulige fremtid som en del af det danske kongerige præger ikke kun politiske og videnskabelige debatter, de giver også genlyd i kunsten og litteraturen. Men hvordan kan perspektiverne fra Minoritetsstudier og sprogvidenskab bidrage til at gøre os klogere? Litterat og kulturforsker Kirsten Thisted fra Institut for Tværkulturelle og Regionale Studier har i årtier undersøgt hvordan kunsten kan gøre os klogere på dybderne i den komplekse relation.



København er en by i Nordatlanten

NA kort

(Fra Inuk Silis-Høegh Danmarkskortet, 2004)

Golden Days 2017 forvandler igen i år København til et fantastisk virvar af arrangementer, som denne gang har det overordnede tema: København. Det tema åbner en række helt umiddelbare spørgsmål: hvad, hvem og hvor er København?

Som de fleste ved ligger København i Danmark på Sjælland – men mange af os ved også at København findes på mindre åbentlyse steder som i musikken, i litteraturen og selv i de københavnere, som ikke længere bor i byen. I forbindelse med årets Golden Days vil jeg, sammen med Nordatlantens Brygge, gerne invitere til en samtale om hvordan København også er blevet en by i Nordatlanten. Byen har i århundreder været centrum for administration, handel og uddannelse og derfor også et vigtigt sted i mange islændinge, grønlændere og færingers liv.

Nordatlanten er en del af København og København er en by i Nordatlanten. De to litteratur- og kulturhistorikere Kirsten Thisted og Bergur Rønne Moberg samt filmskaberen Otto Rosing fortæller om forbindelserne før og nu og den kunst som behandler dem ved arrangementet på Nordatlantens Brygge d. 16 september kl 15.



Arrangementet er et baseret på forskningsprojektet Denmark and the New North Atlantic.

Ólöf Nordal and the Archives: the agency of a house and embodiment of research

Skærmbillede 2016-05-17 kl. 10.38.53.png

A number of North Atlantic artists have dealt with the narrative and structuring work that archives do. One of the best known examples is that of Danish-Greenlandic artist Pia Arke who has inspired and challenged viewers and scholars with her sophisticated and deeply engaged investigations of power, emotion, bodies, history and identity in the personal and official archives.


More recently Icelandic artist Ólöf Nordal has opened similar questions in her dealing with archives reflecting the fascination of anthropometrics, ethnographic theories and racial classification in the work Musée Islandique. Plaster casts of body parts, meticulous measurements and hair samples are photographed and shown together with film clips that give the audience an insight into the long and persistent fascination with “the Nordic people” with cases from the 1850s to the second half of the 20th century.

Ólöf Nordal: Museé Islandique


The ideas reflected in these historic cases also offer questions for our own time: what are the inherent narratives of current ideas such as “Nordic exceptionalism”, genetic research, the persistent notions of “race”, self-exoticizing branding campaigns etc.

Furthermore, Nordal’s photographs of Icelandic Anthropologist Dr. Jens Pálsson’s collection of hair, fingerprints, skull measurements etc., also point to the ever-changing and political nature of scientific methodology and theory.

November-January 2015 the exhibition was shown at the old imperial warehouse in Copenhagen – currently the North Atlantic culture house: Bryggen seminar and exhibition. In collaboration with the culture house I organized a seminar with invited speakers from Denmark and Iceland. Among the speakers were two Icelandic researchers: Gisli Pálsson and Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir, who have worked with and written about Ólöf Nordal’s exhibition when it was shown in Iceland. Pálsson, who is an anthropologist himself, talked about the racial theories that the anthropometric survey projects have been based on. Sigurjónsdóttir addressed the potential of the artistic approaches used by Nordal in her investigation.


Inevitably the old warehouse itself became a participant in the reflections on the relational aspects of collective identity, the embodied experience of being the object (subject) of ethnographic research, emotions that stick to the processes of minoritization and majoritization and to the questions of who write, narrate and organize history? The house continues to be an agent in the continued negotions of identities in the former Danish commonwealth. These questions are dealt with from a number of angles and within various scholarly fields in the joint research project Denmark and the New North Atlantic.


DECLARE INDEPENDENCE! – seminar on present and past relations in the Danish Empire

New aliances and narratives on the former Danish colonies and dependencies in the West Nordic region are taking shape, but how does the shared past influence
the current relations, cultures and policies in Greenland, Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Denmark?


Inspired by David Scott’s theory (2004) on the longing for total revolution that becomes an imperative in post-colonial discourse “Denmark and the New North Atlantic” hosts an international seminar at the University of Copenhagen November 5-6.

Empirialism and modernity, the geo-political momentum, marginal positions, gender stereotypes and nationalist narratives on purity and hybridity have shaped the relations in the former Danish empire. This will be discussed along with themes such as ultra minor literatures, archives in the Arctic, imagined geographies and processes of minoritization and majoritization.


The program is as follows and the seminar is open to the public and free of charge:

DECLARE INDEPENDENCE – narratives and memories in an imagined region 

WHEN: 5-6 November 9-17 and 9-16 
WHERE: University of Copenhagen, Karen Blixens Vej 4, room 15A.0.13

9-10 Welcome and presentation of the project “Denmark and the New North Atlantic”.

Re-directing the post-colonial.

10-11 Keynote Silke Reeploeg: The North Atlantic Rim as Cultural Space

11-11.30 coffee

11.30-12.30 panel 1, The Making of a Region

Kristinn Schram: Arctic Strategies in the West Nordic region

Ketil Zachariassen: Norwegian Arctic Strategy – Where have all the Sami gone?

Discussant: Silke Reeploeg

12.30-13.30 lunch

13.30-14.30 panel 2, Imagined Geographies

Bergur Rønne Moberg: The Blue North Atlantic

Adam Grydehøj: Island Cultures

Discussant: Martyn Bone

14.30-15.30 panel 3, Purity and Hybridity

Ann- Sofie Gremaud: Powered by Nature. Nation and Authenticity.

Birgit Kleist: Ethnicity, purity and hybridity,

Discussant: Marianne Lien

15.30-16.00 coffee

1600-1700 Keynote: Gudmundur Hálfdanarson: The Spectre of Empire. From Commonwealth to Nation States in the North Atlantic.

6. nov.

0900-1000 Keynote 3: Marianne Lien: Performing Nature. Dividing and Uniting the Nation.

1000-1100 Panel 4 Gender and Bodies:

Ólafur Rastrick: Disciplining the National Body,

Kristin Loftsdottir: Gender Stereotypes in National Narratives

Discussant: Malan Marnersdottir

11-11.30 coffee

11.30-12.30 panel 5: Performing and Representing Heritage

Anne Mette Jørgensen: Visualizing Industrialization as Part of Greenlandic Cultural Heritage

Ólafur Rastrick: The allure of Numbers. Eugenic Archives and Collective Identity

Discussant: Mette Sandbye 

12.30-13.30 lunch

13.30-14.30 panel 6, Memory and Archives

Inge Seiding: Networks, Archives, Institutions. Creating the Region.

Sumarlidi Ísleifsson: Encountering the Neighbour. Greenland in Icelandic representations – and vice versa

Discussant: Kirsten Thisted

14.30-15 coffee

15.00-16.00 Round table discussion: Constitutions and reconciliation

Kirsten Thisted, Ketil Zachariassen, Malan Marnersdottir, Sumarlidi Ísleifsson.

Moderator: Ebbe Volqvardsen