Lofoten Islands, Norway, part 2—June 2-7, 2015
Because we had only four days of driving within the islands, we looked for a central place from which to forage for art. The Sandtorgholmen Hotel is a small historic property that sits at the end of a small peninsula on the sound separating the island of Hinnøya from the mainland. Sandtorgholmen has been a storied trading post since the early 1300s, and when we drove up to its lawn and checked in, we found its accommodations spacious and warm, the perfect alternative to the chain hotels that are expanding in the larger towns.
We stayed in a room overlooking the water, ate in the wooden-beamed restaurant—and, much to our surprise, discovered a contemporary sculpture installation on the rocks right at the tideline. Fremskritt (“Progress”) by the glass artist Linn K.M. Klamath and sculptor Håken Lindgren was commissioned by the nearby municipality of Harstad in 2004 for the Festival of Northern Norway. The funding disappeared, and the owners of the hotel, Alice and Rolf Trulsen, purchased the work.
When we walked out to examine the steel and glass figures, we were dive bombed by an oystercatcher nesting atop the grass-roofed earthen cellar built in 1557, which in 1752 was converted into northern Norway’s oldest wine cellar. As in Svalbard, I’m bemused by the emphasis above the Arctic Circle on the entombing and eventual consumption of good wine.
The rusting steel human-sized figures were bolted into the rocks, their matte sand-cast glass faces both visible and not, depending on your vantage point. Seven of the figures were arrayed in a line as if marching down to the water, but there’s a gap where one had seemingly stepped “out of line,” exercising some agency. The lowest two or three figures actually descend into the intertidal zone, and in fact Sara found an upside down sea urchin that had been torn off the rocks and deposited halfway up the sculpture.
During our time in the Lofoten Islands we found, documented, and discussed dozens of public and private sculptures located in plazas, on highways, in front yards, and saw some of the best highway architecture in the world, roads that soared and twisted and curved over rivers and around mountains, engineering that achieved a level of perfection all of its own. But one of the most arresting works we discovered wasn’t on our itinerary—we just happened to drive right to it on the way back to Tromsø on our last day. Immediately after crossing a bridge over the Målselva River on our right stood a 20-foot-high pile of large boulders stacked within a circle of 55-foot-tall dead trees.
We pulled into the small parking area to examine the structure, so massive and deliberately primitive that it looked as if erected by an ancient race of giants. A well-used fire ring was set within a small spiral off to one side, lending a ritual air to the site. The gray slabs and boulders within the trees were cold to the touch, the trees themselves scorched and shorn of branches until above the rocks, where they formed a tall thorny crown.
There was no signage, although from the wear and tear on the grass, it was obvious that the site is a much-visited rest stop. The only other time we’d seen a formal fire pit at a rest stop, however, was atop Furka Pass in Switzerland, where a sculpture of four granite blocks by Max Bill defined a minimalist fire ring.
It takes much internet searching once home, and using Google Earth™, to discover that the work by the river, Målselv Varde (“Cairn”), is by the Sicilian-born sculptor Alfio Bonanno, who was commissioned in 2000 to make a work for the municipality’s site celebrating the turning of the millennium. The enormous cairn, almost 15 feet in diameter, required four years to engineer, and assistance from the Norwegian Army to ferry the bedrock gabbro rocks from a nearby quarry.
Bonanno, who has lived since 1970 in Denmark, is a renowned artist working with natural materials around the world. To find a major work by an artist of such stature by happenstance while traveling is a particular joy. The relatively intimate presence of the steel-and-glass figures of Fremskritt at the hotel, and the monumental presence of Målselv Varde are examples of a likewise diverse yet linked set of motivations for sculpture in the landscape. They establish enduring human relationships with land by creating metaphor, as if to say land is one thing and landscape another. It’s in this constant cognitive give and take between what is natural and what is cultural that public art can create another way to stay alert to the world.