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August 21, Cai and Kelly (Project Manager) landed in Aalborg, three weeks before A Clan of Boats opened on September 6. Aalborg is a city in North Jutland, the peninsula that connects Denmark to continental Europe. Jens Faurschou, co-founder of the Faurschou Foundation (formerly Faurschou Gallery), and Tine Harden, photographer and friend of Jens’s since the two were toddlers (their mothers are life-long best friends), joined Cai and Kelly on the trip to offer a Danish point of view, as Cai explored the land of the north, something still foreign to him with his southeast China upbringing.
The relationship between Cai and Denmark began in 1997, when Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk hosted his first solo exhibition in the Western world, Flying Dragons in Heavens. During the installation period, Cai and his family stayed in the boathouse next to the Museum for over a month. There, he was first exposed to the long and brutal winter of Scandinavia, and developed an interest in the Vikings, their culture and history.
Cai decided to explore North Jutland after reading National Park Thy, a book the foundation sent for Cai’s reference while brainstorming the theme of the exhibition, right after the initial site survey in summer 2011. The lyme grass covered sand dunes under the dramatic clouds photographed in the book intrigued Cai, as they did so many artists before him. The foursome first arrived at Svinkløv, a seaside town 2 hours west of Aalborg, close to Thy. The northwestern coast of Jutland, facing the North Sea, is lined with sandy beaches, where it is so windy, that only plants as close to the ground as the sand-loving lyme grass, and certain subshrubs, could withstand the gust. The athletic Jens led the group up and down the dunes, right next to the Svinkløv Badehotel, a small, simple retreat that dates back to early 20th century. “Many couples come here for a romantic getaway,” Jens explained. “That is why apart from us, you see mostly elderly and young pairs.”
The traditional dinner served at the hotel restaurant was very relaxing, hearty, and delicate. Jens and Tine monitored their watches, as they wanted to make sure Cai gets to see the sun setting into the North Sea. And indeed, though very cloudy, the dusk turned the sky a coral pink. Many of the diners put down their silverware and napkins, and joined Cai to capture the last ray of summer sun. Even though it was mid-August, the temperature during the day was at an average of 18C/65F, and as the sun went down, the mercury would drop to around 11C/51F.
The next morning, the quartet set off early to Thy, after a simple, healthy Danish breakfast.
Denmark is largely a plain, and the flatness of the landscape makes it easy to see faraway. Vast fields of various crops unfolded from either side of the highway, with one-story houses straight out of fairy tale illustrations dotting the greenery, and rows of wind turbines steadily turning in the background. Horses in capes, cattle, and sheep, all grazed quietly in the scenery. Before entering the district of Thy, Jens drove along the Limfjord, and made a stop to show Cai a generic ancient church in Hanstholme. The church appeared a minimalist structure with no tower and bearing no cross, common in the area when Christianity first arrived in Scandinavia and later under Lutheran influence.
Next, Jens told Cai about the history of the region as the four got back into the car. “During the Second World War, the Germans were afraid that the Alliance would attack from Denmark, so the German troops were stationed here, along the shore.” He took a turn, and the road was no longer paved with asphalt. “I am pretty sure this was paved by the Germans,” he pointed ahead.
The foundation scheduled an appointment with Professor Thomas Højrup, an enthnologist at the University of Copenhagen, but resides in Thorup, very close to Thy. There was some time until the meeting, and Jens suggested another quick stop at Vorupør Strand, a beach covered with empty crab shells, making crunch sounds as people walked over. Fishermen took only the claws of large crabs, leaving the body of the crabs to nature, namely flocks of seagulls that had their eyes set on the feast. Tine asked one of the locals, who loaded baskets of claws onto his truck, and found out that only the claws were consumed as a base of stock. In order for Cai to take photos of the birds flying instead of fighting over dead (partial) crabs, Jens, Tine, and Kelly waved their arms as they jumped, mimicking birds flapping their wings, tricking the seagulls to think large predators were close. Unfortunately there was no photo of this silly action!
Professor Højrup can qualify as a Renaissance man. He led the group to the Thorup Strand, a beach only a stone’s throw from his house, and explained in great detail about the tradition of boat building and seafaring. Thorup is an active fishing harbor, but unlike harbors of the rest of the world, here on the west coast of Jutland, they continue the Viking practice of pulling the hulls ashore instead of docking in the sea. This is why the boats are all built with a flat bottom, and the reason the Vikings could very quickly raid and trade along the coastline of Europe.
At lunch time, Professor Højrup welcomed Cai and co to his house to dine with his family of four. The food was simple, fresh, and delicious, and everyone felt satisfied and grateful for the warmth and hospitality. Then, Professor Højrup drove everyone to his boatbuilding workshop at Slettestrand, where he and a small team teach the local young people the trade of traditional boatbuilding by hand. “In the old days, this would be a craft passed down from fathers to sons,” he said. “We want to continue this tradition, as no two boats are built the same – because no two trees are alike. The art of boatbuilding is not something that can be written down into a formula to follow; it is mostly by experience, by touch. Everyone’s method is slightly different.”
The boats the workshop built are not just for display; many of them were on the beach, just a few steps away from the workshop. The workshop also has a showroom, where they explain to the public where they have found the original vessel or wreck, what period they think the boat was from, and how they either repaired or replicated it. What they do is very similar to that of conservators in a museum, especially those in departments that deal with older artifacts; for instance, piecing together an ancient painting that is now in shreds. The shipbuilders (or “skippers”) at Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde often consult Professor Højrup and his students when they have a new project of replicating an existing, historical boat.
Footprints of History: Fireworks Projects for the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
The following excerpt is taken from: Cai Guo-Qiang: Hanging Out in the Museum. Taipei: Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2009, pg 109
Bigfoot’s Footprints: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 6
Cosmos/Universe: 20 Billion Years
Gunpowder: 200 kg
Primer Cord Fuse” 2,200 Meters
Total Length of Project: 2,000 Meters
Number of “Footprints:” 200
Size of Footprints: 2 Meters
Elapsed Time of Explosion: 20 Seconds
Site: The border between two nations
Method: A mold in the shape of Bigfoot’s footprint will be made. Paper footprints will be made by pouring paper pulp into a footprint-shaped mold. Some fireproof material will be put on the bottom of each footprint to prevent overburning. After the exhibition, all the footprints will be collected. Obtaining concurrent visas for the two countries where the project will be carried out will be one of the elements of the piece.
When humankind finally invents the hyper-speed vehicle, it will be able to catch up with the past and understand it. This leap will be more significant than going to the moon by spacecraft and bringing back some stones.
More important than the exploration of unknown space with physical inventions is the fact that humans are originally a part of universe – the human spirit was born at the time of the creation of the universe, and actually contains vivid memories of the event. Human consciousness can recall memories of the past, and therefore, at a deep level, it has insight into future human direction, potential and danger. The past, including memories of the origin of the universe, and the future can’t be received through physical entities or existing time and space. Only super-humanity is capable of traveling beyond light-speed without being limited by time and space.
With a series of gunpowder explorations covering 2,000 meters in 20 seconds, the footfalls of Bigfoot will stomp into the beyond. It will be a moment of a hyper-creature passing through our planet. Is it the Extraterrestrial or ourselves? The moment when the spirit is present, it will leave physical footprints on the border and will vanish beyond time and space.
When did humans start practicing the unfortunate custom of recognizing national borders? Along these lines, artificial creations that never originally existed, humans have most frequently used the gunpowder which is one result of civilization – and will continue to do so in the future. Every time gunpowder explodes on a border, war occurs and the nightmare is replayed.
The extraterrestrials ignore borders, and the will of super-humanity that lives within us sometimes exercises its fundamental power and also ignores boundaries. Everywhere on earth, there is a horizon that is common to all of humanity, but beyond this horizon, however, there is a place to which we must head through the collaboration of all humankind. It is where we swiftly came from and where we will return… the horizon of the universe.
Cai Guo-Qiang, 1990
These project notes and folding screens were created in 1990 and exhibited for the first time in early 1991 at the solo exhibition Primeval Fireball: The Project for Projects at P3 Art and Environment in Tokyo. Since then, it has been exhibited at seven other museums or galleries around the world.
Bigfoot’s Footprints began as a project to be carried out along the border between France and Germany, to be staged later, in 1994 along the Normandy coast as part of ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Allied landings. In 2004, the work was shown in Washington D.C. as part of the Traveler solo exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Finally, in 2008, 29 giant footprints appeared in the sky along the central axis of Beijing when the project was realized as part of the Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Cai and co. have journeyed to the Mediterranean where Cai will follow in El Greco’s footsteps, making stops at all of the Spanish Renaissance master’s old stomping grounds. First stop on the itinerary: Crete, El Greco’s birthplace. If only the flights had not been delayed…