An artistic excursion, escaping everyday life

Giving up on several attempts to review my fuzzy memories of May 1968, I turn to my pictures from a recent trip to Jutland. Volumes have been written about the “soixante-huitards” as the French say when referring to my generation, including the causes and consequences of the rebellions in the 1960s in which post-second world war North American and European material wealth contrasted with ferocious de-colonisation struggles in Africa and Asia. I don’t think I have anything significant to add.

Nonetheless, it has been interesting to look at analyses re-visiting the revolution of everyday life, the student demonstrations and the challenges to complacent authorities and repressive norms and values that characterised an era around fifty years ago. In some ways the world was turned upside down. The wide-ranging critiques put forward by a movement of avant-garde artists and social revolutionaries called the “Situationist International” (SI) particularly resonated in my late teenage years in the mid-1970s; when we found out that the personal was political, to coin a phrase…[1]

So it was a surprise to find on the trip to Jutland in April 2018 that Asger Jorn the only Danish member of the SI is honoured at a museum built next to the river in the little town of Silkeborg. After driving through spring forests with beech trees bursting green leaves against a backdrop of rolling hills and beautiful lakes, we spent a couple of hours absorbing the chaotic colours and contortions of Asger Jorn’s ”oeuvre.” Pride of place in the museum is his great howl at the destruction in Stalingrad where Hitler’s and Stalin’s armies slaughtered hundreds of thousands during a winter of combat reducing the city to nothingness: ”no man’s land or the mad laughter of courage.”[2]

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Some Scandinavians like to draw comparisons with Guernica. Asger Jorn (1914-73) was a contemporary of Pablo Picasso and worked briefly with the “brutalist” Swiss architect Le Corbusier in the 1930s. In the museum Jorn there’s a little painting on a ceramic bowl by Picasso, which radiates the master’s charm. It is called: ”hands and fish.”

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From Silkeborg we drove to the North Sea coast in Thy. It is a wild region of sand dunes and windswept beaches. There’s a small-scale fishing trade in the tiny hamlets and I like walking around the boats dragged up on the sand where fishermen sell the catch of the day.

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Returning across Jutland to Aarhus, we spent an enjoyable morning at ARoS the modern art gallery. We started on the top floor, where there’s a spectacular rooftop rainbow designed by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. Walking through the multi-coloured structure and gazing across the buildings below in effect turns the whole city into a work of art.

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Descending from the roof we continued wandering through the galleries. Amongst the exhibitions on the lower floors, I particularly appreciated a series of huge pop art paintings by an American called James Rosenqvist, including an enormous image of a meteorite crashing into Monet’s water lilies! That’s what the artist called the painting, believe it or not…

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To follow up we also went to the hothouses in the botanical gardens. Strangely, the lilies in a pond under bright yellow light recalled the pop art exhibition. And the hothouses were drenched by an unusual, almost tropical, spring thunderstorm rumbling across the city for a couple of hours.

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Back at home it was time to contemplate nature’s artworks in our own garden. For a few days at the beginning of May every year pink blossoms are splashed across the canvas of a giant copper beech in the corner by the hedge. It’s a wonderful spectacle…

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Happily there’s plenty to admire from my caravan and through the windows. As the revolutionaries wrote on the walls in Paris in May 68: Nous ne voulons pas d’un monde où la certitude de ne pas mourir de faim s’échange contre le risque de mourir d’ennui…

[1] A key tract by members of SI that provided the arguments underpinning the uprisings and occupations at Nanterre and the Sorbonne in May 1968 was circulated at the University of Strasbourg one and half years earlier. It was called: ”De la misère en milieu étudiant considérée sous ses aspects économique, politique, psychologique, sexuel et notamment intellectuel et quelques moyens pour y remédier” (Mustapha Khayati, AFGES, 1966). For a comparison between the students’ angry protests and unrest in Paris in May 1968 and the political agenda in Macron’s France in May 2018, see: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/01/paris-student-protesters-raid-1968-uprising-antoine-gerard-guegan

[2] 1968 was also the year of the ”Prague Spring”, when the Czechs and Slovaks tried to develop alternatives to communist party orthodoxy, but were crushed by the Warsaw Pact (Russian) invasion in August. In my old diaries I keep a cartoon from September 1973 showing a wreath sent by Alexander Dubcek to Salvador Allende after Pinochet’s coup d’état in Chile…

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