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Hidden in the bags

Art exhibition — Christina Bruun Olsson currently has an exhibition called ‘mandala anthropology’ on South Campus, where she has arranged the content of student and staff bags into beautiful symmetrical patterns. Can the pictures teach us something about each other?

About the project

Mandala udstilling tasker på Søndre Campus 2017• The pictures for the mandala anthropology exhibition were taken in September 2017 by Ebbe Forup.

• Mandala means ‘circle’ in Sanskrit and has a symmetrical pattern.

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On the ground floor and stairwells of South Campus there are a series of large pictures, each portraying everyday objects such as pens, keys, highlighter pens and coins arranged in neatly symmetrical mandala patterns.

The pictures make up alternative, and very honest, portraits of students and staff from the three faculties in the South Campus building.

“It leads to a visual sense of calm when things are arranged as symmetrical  mandala-patterns. And then they are displayed so that either the colours match, or just become each other’s opposites,” says Christina Bruun Olsson, the artist behind the exhibition.

Visual order leads to peace

For several years now, she has dreamed of being allowed to look down into people’s bags and use the content for something exciting.

Last spring she was given the opportunity to carry out a pilot project for the Byens Hegn adornment of metro buildings at Krauseparken in the Østerbro district where she, together with photographer Ebbe Forup, stopped eight passers-by and was allowed to take a picture of the contents of their bags on a white background.

Prior to the art experiment, Christina Bruun Olsson set out some self-imposed rules for herself: The rules included that mandala construction and photo shooting should take a maximum of 15 minutes and there should be no editing of the photos apart from the removal of names, account and personal identification numbers.


Mandala with helmet
image: Ebbe Forup
Mandala with tablet
image: Ebbe Forup
Mandala with melon
image: Ebbe Forup
Mandala with highlighter pens
image: Ebbe Forup

“It was really exciting to see what people had in their bags. There is an anthropological angle that I like. There were quite a few who said yes to taking part, but it was a pity that we did not get more pictures,” says Christina Bruun Olsson about the Byens Hegn project.

Lawyers, humanists and theologians

She contacted South Campus and asked if she could do a similar project with them after the three faculties had moved under the same roof. And so, during one full day in September, she asked 26 students and staff, who all said yes to having her photograph the contents of their bags.

The results are now displayed in the communal areas and testify to the unusual poetry of everyday life. Each image is organized in its own symmetrical pattern with a large overrepresentation of markers, pens, post-its, keys, loose coins and Fitness World access cards. But each bag also hid minor items like laundromat chips, a pair of nylon stockings, a map of the zoo, a collection of smurf cards, etc.

The only thing that was censored from a picture was a Summerbird chocolate box because the young woman who owned the bag had a bad conscience about taking it with her to work.

Different dreams

Under each picture you can read where the bag’s owner studies and several of them have written about what he or she is dreaming about. The dreams vary as much as the contents of the bags – from being a good lawyer to “buying a big car that you can sleep in and drive around Europe”.

It surprised me that there were no students who had condoms in their bags

Christina Bruun Olsson, artist

Christina Olsson voice gets more excited as she talks about the project. She is impressed by how much the images reveal about the bags’ owners and their everyday lives.

“I like the idea that people can see what the other students have in their bag. When I stopped people, everyone said: I have nothing exciting in the bag, yet each picture has its own poetry of every day life. I noticed, for example, how beautiful the colours turn out to be on several of the pictures. And how many had highlighter pens – some female students even had an entire colour code system in their books.”

Was there anything that surprised you about the contents of the bags?

“Yes, it surprised me that there were no students who had condoms in their bags. And how many young women had pills in their bags. But it was also exciting to see what people had highlighted in their books. A theology student had emphasized the sentence ‘the idea becomes meaningless without what it is that it is an idea of’. This is inspiring,” says Christina Bruun Olsson.

The 26 mandala are on the ground floor and in the stairwells in building 3 on South Campus.