University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Video installation to forge ties between staff and students

Decoration — Icelandic Ragnar Kjartansson is the artist behind the new installation of non-stop video art in Maersk Tower. The investment is considered to be the crown jewel of the prestigious construction.

Two years of work is over for the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson who has just had a video work inaugurated at the Maersk tower at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

“It is, absolutely, the largest and most complicated work, I’ve ever made. I feel very honoured to have been selected to create something that hopefully will be allowed to live and breathe at the university for many years,” Ragnar Kjartansson says to the University Post.

It is, absolutely, the largest and most complicated work, I’ve ever made.

Ragnar Kjartansson, artist

The work of art ‘Figures in Landscape’ has been created specifically for the Maersk Tower and consists of a 168-hour long video that is to be displayed 24 hours a day on a screen in the lobby.

In the video, actors move around in white coats through seven different landscapes. Each day of the week has its own landscape. And each day follows the day’s rhythm.

“The idea is that the work should function as a kind of mirror on those who pass by. If you want to stop and dwell on it, then this is fine. But if you think that you as a viewer will get an action-packed movie, then you will be disappointed.”

Inspired by change of shift

Ragnar Kjartansson spent years developing the idea for the video art work, which is partly inspired by the doctors’ change of shift in the hospital in Reykjavik.

“When there is a change of shift, you can see all the doctors on their way out of the hospital, at the same time as a new team is entering. This is fascinating! I like the daily repetition that this change-of-shift illustrates. This repetition is our anchor in life. If we do not have the repetition to hold on to, we will go insane,” says Ragnar Kjartansson.

At the same time, the work of art is a tribute to nature and to science.

The signature work of the Maersk Tower

The Danish Building and Property Agency had, on the basis of a Danish government art directive for state-owned buildings, allocated funding for art in connection with the construction of the Maersk Tower to the University of Copenhagen.

Ragnar Kjartansson won the property agency’s art commission on behalf of the art committee for the Maersk Tower.

“In many ways, ‘Figures in Landscape’ is a kind of image of the 20th century, where religion has resigned its place to science, and where it is science that is the answer to our belief in the future.”

The epic landscapes, which the white-clad actors move through, is inspired by the screens that most people know from their laptops.

“My idea was to do some landscapes that function as cliché images of the world. Like the white coats, which function as a cliché for science and the future. I like to play on the boundary between irony and non-irony,” says Ragnar Kjartansson.

But the clichés and the stereotypical white-coated doctors also have another function:

“In contrast to many other video installations, it is intended that this work be a part of the Maersk Tower, also in the future. I have therefore tried to make it universal and timeless. This is by not letting the clothes signal that we are in 2019, and by ensuring that there are men and women with different skin colours.”

Happy and relieved

The realisation that his work on the installation was over came to Ragnar Kjartansson when he last week for the first time saw how the video installation interacted with the building and the students and staff that pass by it every day.

If we do not have the repetition to hold on to, we will go insane

Ragnar Kjartansson, artist

In addition to the large video screen in the lobby, the ‘Figures in Landscapes’ will be shown on small screens in the Maersk Tower lifts. And the work of art is made so it can be used elsewhere in the building as a clock or screensaver in lecture halls and at PCs.

“I am very happy and relieved to see the video here in the Maersk Tower. And now it has also become elevator art. This is big,” Ragnar Kjartansson smiles.

All the movements and steps in the 168 hour-long video have been closely aligned with his large team of choreographers. Even though nothing has been left to chance, Ragnar Kjartansson has no expectations that viewers will come to interpret something specific into his art.

“Now it’s here, and people may think whatever they want about the video. If they are bored with it, then this is understandable. There is not a lot happening in it. But hopefully it is not irrelevant to people,” he says, adding:

“Ideally, students and staff will continue to stop and take a moment to look at the video when they walk past it. Like a painting. There are some paintings that you are finished looking at after two minutes. And then there are those that you can continue to explore, and that you still get something out of, through your entire life.”

Video to forge ties

The Faculty’s dean Ulla Wewer welcomes the new work of art.

“I hope the work of art will be a common frame of reference that ties us together in this building.”

She points out that the work is a part of the Faculty’s long tradition of hosting great art, and that they, this time round, wanted a work that could say something new:

“For me, art is a part of how we are inspired, and how we find peace in everyday life. I imagine therefore that it at some point becomes a routine for students and staff to stop and dwell for a moment on the video,” says Ulla Wewer.

We can and should dare to make long-term investments

Henrik Wegener, Rector

Rector Henrik Wegener had a seat on the selection committee. According to him, ‘Figures in Landscapes’ helps emphasise the significance of the Maersk Tower by setting new standards for art:

“The university is a specific element in the public space. And we can and should dare to make long-term investments which define the city’s architecture and art,” says Henrik Wegener.

He is pleased that the choice fell on a digital work of art rather than a classic painting:

“We did discuss what the shelf life would be on a video installation. But I don’t think that there is any doubt that the video is here to stay. A digital work of art can be something that a painting cannot be. It is a parallel universe that you are drawn into, and a story that you, as a viewer, can never see the end of,” says Henrik Wegener.

Access, for those who don’t work in the Maersk Tower, is on all weekdays in the entrance hall at Maersk Tower from 9 am to 5 pm.

Translated by Mike Young