Copenhagen Cathedral on Fire
KØBENHAVN, Denmark, 1-9-2007 to 11-9-2007
Copenhagen Cathedral on Fire
A symbolic monument to the terror of the past. A radical and spectacular art exhibition opens in the Church of Our Lady: The Danish-Argentinean artist duo Thyra Hilden & Pio Diaz will set Copenhagen Cathedral on fire. Or rather: the vaults and the altar section – with Thorvaldsen´s world renowned and moving sculpture of Christ – will serve as projection surfaces for video projections showing a violent fire, that will be ’ignited’ every night between September 1st – 11th.
Copenhagen Cathedral on Fire is part of Thyra Hilden & Pio Diaz´ international, aesthetic manifestation City on Fire. Around the end of the year 2005 the duo exhibited their first installations in Rome at the Danish Institute and the Trevi Fountain respectively. It was not a coincidence that Rome became the first setting for the project, seeing that the city possesses a significant symbolic value, that is closely related to the intentions of City on Fire. The subtitle of the first ‘burnings’ – and later also of the installation ARoS on Fire, which was shown in Aarhus in January 2007 – was ”Burning the Roots of Western Culture”; and even if City on Fire is not meant as a political but rather as an aesthetic manifesto, the work contains at its core a fundamental wish to direct attention to the destruction that is a latent part of Western culture. This is also emphasized by the installation Copenhagen Cathedral on Fire, which marks the bicentennial of the English bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807.
By burning the Church of Our Lady Thyra Hilden & Pio Diaz want to make us reflect on the element of fire and its most destructive form, war. Military actions and terrorist attacks, like the one in New York September 11th, 2001, are not new phenomena, but have taken place for centuries. Merely in other ‘guises’. Copenhagen Cathedral on Fire should remind us of the large number of political, cultural and religious showdowns in history and of terrorism’ s cynically targeted offensive towards pivotal cultural symbols and icons – an offensive that can be seen as part of an effort to hurt the counterpart mentally and identity-wise. At the same time the installation should make us consider whether we actually see the fire in the world around us or if war and violence have been reduced to transient images, that burn away on the retina as soon as we turn off our television sets or computers? Vitalization of the church The church is by no means a neutral or purely spiritual institution: through generations this space has served very particular interests and people of other beliefs have been condemned – and persecuted. A lot of political fights have emanated from this house.
Copenhagen Cathedral on Fire sheds light on the socially and politically charged history of the church and challenges this – in many ways dogmatic and tradition-bound – place from within. By symbolically burning the church the duo at the same time purges the religious space and leaves it in a more unrestrained form. The fire thus proves to be more than a destructive, uncontrollable force; it is also a controllable source of reconstruction and transformation of previous elements. From the ashes something new arises. The earth is, so to speak, fertilized to yet another beginning. This encourages reflection on specific as well as universal topics essential to our culture and cultural understanding. On the tolerance threshold Copenhagen Cathedral on Fire appears as an ambiguous monument to a national community that on one front demonstrates great tolerance, openness and curiosity and on another self-containedness, belligerency and one-track-mindedness.
The invitation of Hilden & Diaz to exhibit in Copenhagen Cathedral testifies to the courage that characterizes the Danish society, but at the same time Denmark’ s current political actions both at home and abroad reveal a general insecurity and even aversion to the unfamiliar and profoundly different. This has been particularly apparent in the deep sarcasm permeating the so-called Muhammed drawings. The burning of Copenhagen Cathedral contains a clear reference to the burning of the Danish flag following in the aftermath of the publication of exactly the Muhammed drawings. It is, however, not the intention of Hilden & Diaz to stage a similar revolt or unleash a confrontation, but rather to initiate a debate about the starting point for the political conflicts of the world – and show, how even little pawns can become central features in the political power struggle. By moving their installation into the public space Hilden & Diaz want to create an art work that will interact with the audience and hopefully, to a greater extend, make us open to the variety and contrasts of the world.
Press photos can be downloaded free of charge at www.cityonfire.org/press/press.html
Historical facts During the Napoleonic Wars, early in the morning on September 5th, 1807, the British fleet attacked Copenhagen with the first civilian bombardment in world history, undertaken from battle ships located at the port entrance using the – at the time – high spire on Copenhagen Cathedral as a sighting point. This attack has been termed the first terror bombardment in history on a major European city*. The Church of Our Lady, the spiritual heart of Copenhagen, was destroyed by fire. It was not the first time the main church of the kingdom fell prey to severe damage, though. In similarity with a large number of churches throughout Europe, the Church of Our Lady has been subject to both vandalism, fires and acts of war and in the past 800 years has had to be rebuilt three times. The foundation stone for the present-day church was laid in 1817 and heading the construction was the leading architect of the day C.F. Hansen. The Greek-Roman inspired classicist church building today standing in Nørregade is his work. * See Ole Feldbæk: History of Denmark – On the Enlightenment, in: Samvirke, June 2007