TCG Nordica Stimulating reflection on human worth as expressed in various Art Forms. Sun, 28 Jun 2020 08:53:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Buxtehude: Splendour in the Pipes Sun, 28 Jun 2020 08:53:40 +0000 This is the seventeenth essay in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Nordic artist’s life and work.

The only surviving painting of Buxtehude is Johannes Voorhout’s cheerful “Musical Company”, where we find Buxtehude in the lower left corner playing a viol.

Readers of this series will perhaps have noticed that even though we have by now introduced artists of all kinds and from almost all parts of northern Europe, they are all relatively recent. The oldest one was born in 1822 less than 200 years ago – a relatively short period seen in the larger picture of the history of civilization in Northern Europe. There are several reasons that explain why it is so, even if there are few or no good reasons why it should be so. 

One reason is simply that the art of earlier times is often less accessible. Language can be a barrier, and artworks gets destroyed or become lost to a variety of reasons. Descriptions of performing artists such as actors, dancers and musicians are plenty, but only relatively recently have technology found ways of capturing sound and moving pictures, making these artists available to people across time and space.

Another, and perhaps more important reason is that as art gets older it can seem to have little relevance for us. The world of 350 years ago is simply a lot stranger to us than the much more recognizable world of 150 years ago. As social, political and religious contexts change so does art. It is often more difficult to fit early artists in to the histories of modern states taught in schools, exactly because those states (and their art) have changed dramatically since.

The house where Buxtehude lived in Helsingør, Denmark.

The life and career of Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) is an excellent example of this complexity. He born either in Holstein in northern Germany where the Danish king ruled as duke at the time, or, more probably, in Helsingborg, a part of Denmark until 1658 when it became a part of Sweden. Buxtehude followed in his father’s footsteps as an organist, first in Helsingborg in the years 1657-1658 and then in the Danish city of Helsingør 1660-1668. In 1668 he became organist in Marienkirche in Lübeck, Northern Germany, one of the most prestigious positions an organist could obtain at the time, and he stayed there until his death in 1707. While the texts of his vocal music are all in Latin and German, there are some indications that he spoke Danish with his family. Also, in his obituary a Latin Lübeck newspaper wrote that he “recognized Denmark as his fatherland”, though by now it should be clear that the Denmark mentioned in the newspaper was quite different than the Denmark today.

The organ in Skt. Mariæ Kirke in Helsingør, Denmark, where Buxtehude worked in the years 1660-1668. The façade of the organ looks as it did in Buxtehude’s time, but the instrument went through several internal changes through the centuries. In 1997 it was restored to sound as it did in Buxtehude’s time.

How Buxtehude identified himself is in many ways quite unimportant to us. His music, in any case, had nothing especially Danish about it. While it is filled with a radiant light, this is not the light of the Nordic summer nights we find in Nordic composers 200 years later, but rather the heavenly light of German high baroque: A special Nordic style in classical music simply hadn’t been invented yet. Buxtehude’s instead played and wrote in “Stylus Fantasticus” or the Fantastic Style, an Italo-Germanic style of music in vogue at the time, characterized by short contrasting episodes in the music, elaborate ornamentations and virtuoso improvisation-like passages. Most famous of all Buxtehude’s music is his majestic prelude in C major, but he composed a whole treasure chamber both organ and other music of which a few highlights are recommended in the bottom of this essay. His music is regarded as one of the finest examples of this style, and he as one of the greatest organ composers of all time. 

The last page of the manuscript to Buxtehude’s great oratorio “Membra Jesu Nostri”. The music is written down using tablature notation indicating fingering instead of pitch. In the lower right corner Buxtehude added a dedication of the work: “Soli Deo Gloria” (“God’s glory only). Other great baroque composers such as Bach and Händel followed a similar practise.

In 1703 the ageing Buxtehude was considering retiring from his busy position in Marienkirche. Two of the late baroque giants, Georg Friederich Händel and the now largely forgotten Johann Mattheson, both of them still young at the time, went to Lübeck to see if they could get the job. In accordance with the custom, one condition to get the job was to marry Buxtehude’s oldest surviving daughter (just as Buxtehude had married his predecessor’s daughter). Upon seeing the daughter both of them declined the job and left the day after their arrival!

Another story showing the respect and influence Buxtehude commanded among musicians at his time, tells us of how a 20 year old Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest western composer of all time, in 1705 walked roughly 400 kilometres from Arnstadt to Lübeck, where he stayed for three months to hear Buxtehude play the organ, and in Bach’s own words, “to comprehend one thing and another about his art”. Bach’s own compositions shows clear influences from Buxtehude.

The great Marienkirche in Lübeck where Buxtehude was organist more than half his life. In 1942 the church (including, sadly, the organs) was completely destroyed during an allied bombing raid on the city. After the war the church was rebuild.

If societies of earlier times can seem foreign to us, then the art they produced is surely one of the best ways of bridging that gap. Listen to Buxtehude’s music and step into a world full of splendour. 

Recommended listening:

Buxtehude’s organ music is part of the standard repertoire for organists today and several recordings of his complete organ works has been made. Here are three of the most beloved of Buxtehude’s organ pieces in a recording by Italian Simone Stella:

BuxWV 137: Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C major

BuxWV 149: Prelude in g minor

BuxWV 160: Chaconne in e minor

Apart from his famous organ compositions, Buxtehude also wrote a lot of other music. One gem is the “O fröliche Stunden” (“Oh happy times”), here with the wonderful soprano Emma Kirkby, from an album on which other of Buxtehude’s vocal music also can be found. 

BuxWV 84: O fröliche Stunden, o frohliche Zeit

Text: Skjold Andreas Arendt

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Edvard Munch Sun, 21 Jun 2020 07:48:26 +0000 This is the sixteenth essay in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Scandinavian artist’s life and work.

If we have to name one Norwegian painter, and one only, it will for sure be Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Reference works all over the world have articles about him and even if his name was not recognized, one of his paintings is a best known worldwide. It is “The Scream”.

“The Scream”

Postcards, T-shirts, reproductions, and new artworks use this image.

It has become an icon for expressionism, the new art style at the time of Edvard Munch. Munch painted several versions of it as well as wood cuts. It expresses despair, protest, anxiety.

An Andy Warhol print version of “The Scream”.

On a background of a multi-red sky, a person is leaning on a fence, a line leading endlessly to the background of the picture. The motif of a distorted face in a black silhouette is like a visual sign for a cry. It is a picture of emotions more than of what a man looks like. Typical for Edvard Munch’s pictures, it is painted with long brush strokes and strong colours that does not submit to the rules of painting at the time. It was sensational in its own time and in retrospect, it has become an icon of expressionism as a style. It is not about rendering the subject according to what it looks like, but by how it feels. Proportions, colour reproduction and details in the subject are expressions of moods in the painter. Whoever sees the picture recognizes the feeling. This picture belongs to the new fresh and raw way of painting called expressionism. The pictures say something that words cannot express.

This same style of painting is seen in “Despair”.


This is an edition of The Scream in which a person leans to the same railing, the same sky shows the connection to The Scream. The painting is titled “Despair” and we see the same long, sensitive lines painted with strokes that empty the paint in contiguous coats.

Edvard Munch spent years before he arrived at this expressive art. He painted his way through the current styles of painting where Impressionism was prominent. Impressionism reproduced a subject based on how it was visually perceived. Munch’s search for showing emotions in the picture was expressed early on by his choice of motive. “The Sick Child” is an emotional painting of one of Munch’s loved ones on her death bed, where the mother mourns. The picture shows the mother’s grief, but also the artist’s despair at losing a loved one.

“The Sick Child”

From “The Sick Child” to “The Scream” a new art style was created. Influenced from what Edvard Munch saw of art on his travels, especially in France, he left what he saw as a romantic imagery with emphasis on the impression of colours. From then on, we see an art of expression that changed people’s perception of what a painting can be, from the beautiful to the expressive.

It did not happen without protest. When Edvard Munch first showed this type of paintings in Germany, the exhibition was closed after a few hours. The images were too challenging.

“Evening on Karl Johan Street”

The cultured elite did not want to see themselves portrayed in such a way. The secret emotions: Unhappy love, jealousy, depression, loneliness, despair should not be something the viewer was forced to endure at an art exhibition.


Psychology was a new science in which doctor Sigmund Freud put forward theories about sexuality as a driving force in human behaviour. Edvard Munch painted this force into pictures that were perceived as obscene. “Vampire” as an expression of desire, has colours and lines that emphasize the fierceness in the relationship between woman and man.


Madonna is a returning theme with Munch. Framed with sperm in undulating motion around the image, it leaves us in no doubt about the strong feelings described.

Edvard Munch lived in a small cabin on the seashore of Åsgårdstrand, a town by the Oslo fjord in Norway. His art expresses his own strong emotions. In some portraits he painted of famous people, emotions are revealed, often with a dramatic light, shadows and colours, but without detail.

Munch painted several portraits of fellow artists. Here is one he painted in 1892 of the Swedish polymath playwright August Strindberg.

Edvard Munch’s art has been left as one of Norway’s best-known contributions to world art. His paintings were collected at the Munch Museum in Oslo. His entire collection has now moved to the new national museum, soon ready for opening in central Oslo.

“Self Portrait with Cigarette”

Text: Alfred Vaagsvold
Translation from Norwegian: Grethe Raddum

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Aron of Kangeq | Carver of Legends Sun, 14 Jun 2020 04:16:19 +0000 This is the fifteenth essay in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Nordic artist’s life and work.

When Aron was born in 1822 in the settlement of Kangeq close to Nuuk, few would have guessed that he would grow up to become the father of modern Greenlandic Art (as opposed to traditional decorative and religious art).

Kangeq, where Aron was born, around the turn of the 20th century. The settlement was abandoned in the 1960’s.

Aron was, like many other people in Greenland at the time, at first engaged in catching seals. It was tough business and when Aron fell ill with tuberculosis around the age of 30, he had to stay in bed and would only be able to return to seal hunting for shorter periods later in his life. Aron, however, was a member of the Moravian mission, and because of this he could both read and write, a skill that he soon put to good use.

Hunters setting out to sea in their kayaks.

In 1848 the Danish geographer Hinrich Rink came to Greenland (a Danish colony at the time) for the first time and he fell in love with Inuit people. He devoted himself to promotion of self-rule and Inuit culture, and among other things Rink in 1858 invited Inuit to write down and illustrate legends until then old orally and send them to him. 

Aron responded by writing down several legends and richly illustrating them with comic-book like woodcuts bringing the stories to live. Below are eight woodcuts depicting the legend of the hero Aqissiaq. The seventh and eighth depicts Aqissiaq first racing then wrestling, both to a draw, with another famous inuit, an

The legends and illustrations that Rink received was edited and published in both Greenlandic and Danish, in a book in which Aron’s contribution not surprisingly took the seat of honour. Recognizing Aron’s talent, Rink send him paper and colours, that Aron used draw vivid illustrations of Inuit stories, such as the gory one below where a hunter (standing behind a pillar in the second drawing) upon coming home finds his whole family brutally massacred.

In another watercolour drawing we are shown the story of old Kiviok (furthest left) who returns home after a journey of many years. The first person who greets him is his son, who was an infant when Kiviok left, but now a full-grown hunter, standing on a whale (second from the left).

In 1869 Aron finally succumbed to the tuberculosis. After his death, his drawings and woodcuts were mostly forgotten, but in the 1960 they were rediscovered, and has since then exercised great influence upon Greenlandic art.

Some of the woodcuts deals with the encounter and conflicts between the Inuit and the Norsemen, who had colonized parts of Greenland during the Viking age. The Norsemen disappeared from Greenland for unclear reasons at least 300 years (probably more) before Aron made his woodcuttings – a testament to the persistency of oral history. In this cutting we are shown the Inuit Kaisape standing over the body of the Norse chieftain Ungortok.

Text: Skjold Andreas Arendt

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Tools of Expression | Mixed Media Arts Event Tue, 09 Jun 2020 05:37:59 +0000

Tao Fa brandishes his brush in a flowing manner pregnant with freedom, visibly spirited. Space, time, mountains, water, clouds, birds, people, ghosts and gods are all connected and all have expressions.

Tao Fa’s conjures up realms with paint and ink. I want to strike my harp and explore those realms with tunes, I want to search for the place where the tangible and intangible collides and becomes one.

I also have the pleasure to present Tao Fa’s friend Qian Li. His guqin and my guzheng are separate, but through improvisation we will make them sing together. We will also interact with Tao Fa, and with a bit of luck, we will unite our three different “Tools of Expression” to a greater whole, in which we can catch  glimps of the enigmas nature and life itself.

After the performance we invite you to a cup of tea, to enjoy Tao Fa’s paintings and to talk with us about art, life and whatever you feel like.

张羽 Zhang Yu – Guzheng
千里 Qian Li – Guqin
陶发 Tao Fa – Painting and dancing
Selma Lagerlöf | Modernist and Popular Storyteller Sun, 07 Jun 2020 07:32:14 +0000 This is the fourteenth essay in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Scandinavian artist’s life and work.

Lagerlöf portrayed by Swedish painter Carl Larsson (you can read our article about him here).

The Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940) is the first out of four great Nordic female storytellers. She is followed by the Norwegian Sigrid Undset (1882-1949), the Danish Karen Blixen (1885-1962, you can read our previous article about her here) and the Finnish-Swedish Sally Salminen (1906-1976).

These four authors all have in common that their authorships are placed in extension of the Nordic literary movement ‘The Modern Breakthrough’ – which in turn where followed by another literary movement, ‘The Popular Breakthrough’.

All these four women also possess a remarkable ability to tell stories. Apart from that they are very different authors. 

Largerlöf on a 1959 Soviet Union stamp.

The Modern Breakthrough was launched with the lectures by the Danish literature critic Georg Brandes at Copenhagen University in 1871. Brandes did away with the romantic and mythical understanding of nature that had dominated the 19th century, and he criticized the Church. Instead he advocated for a realistic literature and a biological understanding of humans, that opened possibilities to write about topics what had until then been seen as improper topics for serious literature: The sexuality of men and women.

Selma Lagerlöf was born the 20th of November 1858 at the small manor Mårbacka in Värmland in central Sweden. In Stockholm she took an education to become a teacher and then worked as a teacher on a girl school for ten years. This is the period in which she began writing. 

Mårbacka as it looked before a major rebuilding in 1912.

Lagerlöf had her first great breakthrough with her novel Gösta Berling’s Saga from 1891 about the irresist ible and romantic priest Gösta Berling. As the majority of her stories, the novel has its roots in tales from Lagerlöf’s own home country in Värmland – and with real people as inspiration for her colourful characters.

Lagerlöf’s longest novel is loosely based on reality and chronicles the tale of the Swedish farmers from Dalarna who upon a religious awakening emigrates to Jerusalem (1901). Lagerlöf herself journeyed to Palestine in 1900-1901 to collect material for this grand story.

    Her famous children’s book The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1906)is at one and the same time a fantastic tale of a naughty boy who gets turned into a ‘Tomte’ (a kind of mischievous Scandinavian Christmas gnome) and a book about Sweden’s nature and geography. Of all Lagerlöf’s books this one is the most read.

A staging of The Wonderful Adventures of Nils performed during Children’s Day celebrations in Shenzhen 2017.

The Emperor of Portugallia (1914) tells the tale of the poor and disillusioned worker Jan in Skrolycka whose life is changed completely upon the birth of his daughter Klara Fina Gulleborg. It is the most tragic of Lagerlöf’s tales (the daughter ends up as a prostitute) and it is the one closest to reality.

Throughout Lagerlöf’s work are traces that lead us to her own childhood that, if adventurous, not always was happy. For a period of her childhood she was suffering from a paralysis in her legs preventing her from walking. She always had a very close bond to her parents – so much harder then,  must it have been to watch her spirited, yet drunkard father lieutenant Erik Gustaf Lagerlöf loose the family home Mårbacka in 1889. Recreating the ruptured childhood became a driving force through Selma’s life, and in 1910 she bought back Mårbacka, using funds from the Nobel Prize in literature that she received the previous year.

Lagerlöf receiving the Nobel Prize in literature in 1909. Drawing from Svenska Dagbladet (Swedish Daily).

Selma Lagerlöf’s works has many aspects: The struggle for female emancipation, an indignation towards social injustice and not least an irresistible humour and kind and loyal irony towards the in part real characters who roam act in her books. She has written religious tales, ghost stories, family chronicles, and descriptions of places not just in her own home country but also for instance in a novel based in Sicily, with the curious title The Miracles of Antichrist (1897), that tells of a worker rebellion against the petrified Church. 

First and foremost, however, all of Lagerlöf’s works follow an inner logic, where the plot always takes precedence over everything else. That makes Selma Lagerlöf one of the most virtuoso writers in Northern Europe. And with that, she also leaves her clear footprints in later Swedish literature, not least in the children’s books of Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002) in whose stories the plot always takes precedence over any potential message.

An aged Lagerlöf in her study at Mårbacka.

Lagerlöf never married but had a very close and affectionate relationship to two other women, the author Sophie Elkan and the politician and women’s rights activist Valborg Olander.

Selma Lagerlöf died 81 years old the 16th of March 1940. At that time, she was energetically engaged in helping German artists and intellectuals escaping Nazi Germany. Both as a human and as an author Lagerlöf was exceptionally generous.

Lagerlöf in 1881.

All of the works mentioned in this essay has been translated into English.

Text: Peter Andreas Arendt

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Yahya Hassan: Call to Arms Sun, 31 May 2020 01:31:43 +0000 This is the thirteenth article in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Scandinavian artist’s life and work.

Yahya Hassan died the 29th of April 2020, 24 years old. This essay thus also serves as an obituary looking back on Hassan’s life and the brilliance of his poetry.

In 2013 the 18 years old Yahya Hassan published his eponymically titled debut poetry collection. It sold 120.000 volumes – the bestselling debut poetry collection in Denmark ever.

A part of the reason for the popularity of the poems was undoubtedly the circumstances surrounding it. Hassan was born in Denmark in 1995 to Palestinian immigrants. His debut-poems sharply criticized the secluded Muslim immigrant society he grew up in, with its omnipresent criminality (in which Hassan himself took part) and hypocrisy toward the Islamic values professed by its members. As a result, Hassan received death threats when the poems were published and a planned poetry recital was cancelled by the police, who said they couldn’t guarantee Hassan’s safety. Hassan, however, had struck a resonant note on both sides of the political divide, the hard right wing embracing him because of his criticism of Muslim immigrant society, while the liberals hailed him as the long awaited immigrant poet, who eloquently expressed the difficulties of growing up as an immigrant in prejudiced Denmark (in one telling anecdote, Hassan told of how his school teacher once returned an essay he wrote, refusing to believe that it was Hassan who wrote it himself). Politicians stepped in and the recital was finally held with full airport style security, armed police and even a flight ban over the neighbourhood of the venue, something that must be unique in the history of poetry recitals.

Police at the famous poetry recital in 2013.

This event, coupled with multiple controversial interviews (where Hassan would often embarrass interviewers unprepared for his quick wit) and Hassan’s idiosyncratic way of reciting his poems inspired by the chanting of the Koran, all resulted in making Yahya Hassan a household name in Denmark, and made the sales of his poems explode.

Still, Hassan’s poetry is the sine qua non of his fame. It is highly original and written with a fiery energy, reflected in his use of uppercase letters. These are percussive poems, to be read out with a loud voice, holding nothing back. Judge for yourself in this heart-breaking poem from his debut collection:


Hassan reciting a poem from his first poetry collection in 2013.

At times it seemed like the whole Danish middle class wanted to own Yahya Hassan’s Poetry, fitting it into simplified political and social narratives, that don’t do justice to the poems. But Hassan refused to let himself be pinned down in preconceived categories. On top of his many eccentric appearances on television, he voluntarily surrendered the police protection he had had since his debut poems were published and became involved in multiple cases of violence. This ended in a jail-sentence and later a stay at a psychic ward. Suddenly literary critics and other public persons in Denmark were queuing up stating that we should separate Hassan’s life and poetry, appreciating the latter in-it-self. To me, this seems a ludicrous (and impossible) exercise: The poems (a second collection named Yahya Hassan 2 appeared in the fall of 2019) do not lose any of their quality for having a direct connection to Hassan’s life, no matter what life that was. On the contrary Hassan’s poetry is autobiographical, and gains strength from reflecting Hassan’s own reality. 

Hassan’s poetry is about the problems of the society he grew up in and its’ relationship to the larger Danish society it is a part of. As such his poems has a specific Western European context, but the themes are universal, and the conflicts are present in some form or another in many societies, both in the West and the East.

Only time will tell how the future will look back on Yahya Hassan’s poetry, but for now it stands as one of the most significant events in the history of 21st century Danish literature.

One thing is sure: The death of Yahya Hassan is a big loss for the Danish art scene and most of all for the people who knew him.

Yahya Hassan poetry has been translated from Danish into several western languages, but as of yet, no Chinese translation have been made.

Text: Skjold Andreas Arendt

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Frida Hansen | A remarkable lady of her time Sun, 24 May 2020 04:06:40 +0000 This is the twelfth article in in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Scandinavian artist’s life and work.

Portrait of Frida Hansen.

Frida Hansen was born into a rich family in Stavanger, Norway, the 8th of March 1855. At a young age she was encouraged to study painting and drawing with well established artists, among them the painter Kitty Kielland who was well-known in Paris as well as in her own country. At 18, Frida went abroad for further studies, but as she was already engaged to a local businessman, she married the year after. The sudden death of her father put her husband in the leading position of the family trading firm: Køhler & Co. At the elegant family villa in Hillevåg outside Stavanger she created a wonderful garden, known for all its roses and exotic plants, peacocks and parrots, and an aquarium with rare fishes and turtles. The garden was open to the public and she and her husband also build a school for the children of their employees. Life was great and she gave birth to two daughters and a son.

In the Rose Garden, 313×375 cm.

Then tragedy struck. As a result of the world economic crisis in the 1870’s (known as “The long depression”) Køhler & Co went bankrupt in 1883 and their properties were lost. Frida’s husband went abroad for work and she moved with her mother, children and sister to a flat in downtown Stavanger. Within the next two years she lost her son and one of her daughters. Left with nearly nothing to support life, she opened an embroidery shop in town, and that should prove to be the start of a new and fantastic career, that would bring her both national and international fame. One day an old traditional tapestry was brought to her shop for reparation. She got exited, and soon she started to collect knowledge from local women in the countryside that practised the old weaving techniques. She learned how to use plants for colouring the wool. In 1890 she opened her first atelier in Stavanger for “Handwoven Norwegian Tapestries” and two years later she established herself in Kristiania (Oslo) with a textile factory. In addition, she gave courses in weaving and worked as a consultant.

Frida Hansen at work in her studio.

In 1895 she went abroad again, first to Germany and then to Paris for further studies. The “New style”, known as Jugend or Art Nouveau, was everywhere and would have a big influence on her works to come. Back in Kristiania, she and Randi Blehr, a known feminist, established in 1897 what would later be called “The Norwegian Tapestry Weaving Mill”, with twenty employees. That same year Frida obtained patent for the technique of transparent weaving, more fit for curtains and portieres than for tapestries.

Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1915. 293×200 cm. An example of the transparent technique.

In 1898 they participated in the big Bergen Exhibition, where Frida showed her great and later well-known work “The Milky Way”: Six women dressed in white, walking diagonally over a dark blue starry sky, holding a veil of stars – our galaxy, the Milky Way. The Hebrew text is from Genesis 1:15: “And let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth. And it was so”.

Detail from The Milky Way, 1898, 260×345 cm.
The Daughter of Pharaoh, 1897, 416×255 cm.

In 1900 the Norwegian Tapestry Weaving Mill won a gold medal at the world Exhibition in Paris, and four years later, Frida built her own villa with a studio in Betsum, Kristiania.

The Dance of Salome, 1900, 193×682 cm.

In 1905 Frida created her big tapestry “Semper Vadentes”, with a Latin text, in translation: “Always suffering, never resting. Away from the cradle, you in life, into eternity, oh Lord”. It was exhibited in The Saloon in Paris in 1906, and then she was elected as an associated member of Sosiete National des Beaux-Arts.

Semper Vadentes, 1905, 288×360 cm.

Museums all over Europe now lined up for obtaining her works for their collections, but Norway, eager for building a national identity after hundreds of years under the reign of Denmark and then Sweden, did not think her works “Norwegian” enough. Even then, she received the “King’s Order of Merit” in gold in 1915.
Frida Hansen continued her impressive creative process until she died in 1931, the 12th of March.

Detail from St. Olav, 1931, Finished by Frida Hansen’s daughter. Now in Stavanger Cathedral.

When modernism entered the art scene all over Europe, her works went into oblivion and only decades later was she brought into the light again.

Text: Martin Haarr

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Björk | Always Moving Forward Sat, 16 May 2020 23:41:15 +0000 This is the eleventh article in in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Scandinavian artist’s life and work.

The Icelandic artist Björk has many titles: singer, musician, songwriter, composer, DJ, actress, music producer. In the 1980s she even released a fairy tale book with her own illustrations. But more than anything, her unique voice and songs have made her famous throughout the world.

Cover from Björk, 1977.

Björk Guðmundsdóttir was born in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1965, and was only 11 years old when she recorded her first solo studio album, Björk. The album was a mix of covers translated to Icelandic and songs composed for the album by her musician stepfather, Sævar Árnason, and others. Although being the first album Björk recorded, Björk is not a part of her official solo discography and since the album was only released in less than 10.000 copies it was rare to find outside Iceland before the advent of streaming services.

During her teens in the late 1970s and start 1980s, Björk formed and participated in numerous different music groups playing different genres and mixing them: Punk, rock, jazz, funk. It was during this period Björk started developing her unique singing style: a great variety in sounds and colors, sometimes almost childish and sometimes combined with shrieks and howls. 

1986 was an eventful year in Björk’s life. 20 years old she was married to the guitarist, Þór Eldon, whom she had known for some years already, working and playing in bands together. The 8th of June 1986 Björk gave birth to their son, Sindri Eldon Þórsson, the very same day as the band, The Sugarcubes, was formed with Björk as lead singer and Þór Eldon on guitar. However, the life with a newborn baby and the establishment of an ambitious band did not take Björk’s breath away. Soon after the birth (we’re still in 1986), Björk was shooting her first movie as an actress; an Icelandic medieval fantasy film, The Juniper Tree. And the 21st of November 1986 (Björk’s 21st birthday), The Sugarcubes released their first double-sided single Einn mol’á mann containing two songs Ammæli (Birthday) and Köttur (“Cat”). 

The Sugarcubes; Björk third from the right (Paris 1990)

Even though Björk and Þór Eldon were divorced soon after the birth of their son, they kept playing together in The Sugarcubes, and the band had lots of success. The Sugarcubes’ debut studio album, Life’s Too Good, from 1988 sold more than one million copies, and the band became famous internationally. 

In 1992 The Sugarcubes split up, and Björk proceeded with her solo career. She moved to London and in 1993 she released her first adult solo studio album Debut. Though Björk had already recorded many albums with different music groups, Debut, was something new:

“… for me it was very much like the songs I had kept in darkness and locked in my little diary, only to be seen by myself. The first time they were out on their own and had to figure out how to survive their own way.” 

– Björk to ZTV, 1995. 

Debut was generally received positively by many critics and was praised for its musical diversity. The genres electronic, pop, house music and jazz were mixed and explored, giving the album a dance-like appearance. Examples of the alternative and experimenting style of the album are the songs Venus as a Boy featuring an ensemble of Indian instruments, and The Anchor song where Björk’s voice is accompanied by a saxophone ensemble. 

Cover from Homogenic, 1997.

After releasing her second and third album, Post in 1995 (continuing the style from her first album) and Homogenic in 1997 (much more extrovert and experimental than her former albums), Björk was asked to both write and produce the music AND to play the main role for the film Dancer in the Dark (2000) directed by Danish director Lars von Trier. She accepted and received the Cannes Best Actress Award for her role as Selma who suffers from a genetic eye disease that makes her almost blind and is saving up for her young son to get an operation and escape from his mother’s fate.

Three studio albums (Vespertine (2001), Medúlla (2004), Volta (2007)), another film made together with her then-partner and father of her daughter, Matthew Barney (Drawing Restraint 9, 2005), more documentaries, several award nominations later, Björk released her seventh studio album Biophilia (2011). Biophilia is however not only a regular album but also the first ever “app album” giving the user a possibility to explore both music, nature and technology. Also, the project is an educational program for inspiring children to explore their creativity through music and science. The interest in nature does not seem far away for a person who grew up in a place like Iceland with its erupting volcanoes and enormous glaciers. No wonder, Björk is active in the battle to protect Iceland’s landscape.

Since Biophilia Björk has released two more albums: Vulnicura (2015) and Utopia (2017) and is working on new projects, experimenting and exploring new ways of music and performance as she always did. 

Recommended listening:

Text: Freja Katrine Arendt

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Confucian Orthodoxy | Exhibition with Tao Fa Sat, 16 May 2020 09:51:48 +0000 The 9th of May Nordica reopened its door after the long hibernation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We opened with a festive exhibition of renowned Yunnan artist Tao Fa. Here you can see pictures of the opening and Tao Fa’s art, read his own reflections on his art – enjoy!

We will make the paintings shed light and glory again. We will reshape our art language, so that we could have dialogue with reality directly through painting. We want to abandon falsehood, let truth and beauty return to life again!

Tao Fa dancing at the opening

Some of the artist friends around me used to tell me that they could not understand what I was painting. They felt like I was making doodles, and not very refined ones either. I didn’t say much about it at the time. Later, after we got along for years, he said he understood, he said that he felt I was drawing something big, and he said that is not something easy!

Many people think that my paintings have an improvisational feeling. I feel that there is no improvisation. I have my own system of painting, and in it everything is interrelated. The development of things is interrelated, for example, after growing for a period of time, a melon tree can bear fruit. It just spontaneously grows a melon right there, but it is still the fruit from the same tree! I don’t want to plan for when it should bear fruit, but when the time is right it will come naturally. This process is decided from the roots, and when the tree has grown to the point where it is time to grow a new melon, it will also come naturally. I don’t think it is impromptu or accidental just because the creation is instantaneous. What people don’t see is the long process of preparations, all the effort of collecting energy and nutrition, that leads up to growing the melon. So, I don’t think there is anything improvised about the melon, but it is a necessity. When there is enough energy it will grow how it will, so we shouldn’t be talking about whether or not I rely upon it, but the natural course and necessity of it after taking root in mother earth.

Since I am not painting objects, I paint space. Without space there is no existence, and without existence there is no sense of freedom within existing! So, what I paint is space, not objects. Here in the east, it is called ”xieyi” (freehand brushwork in traditional Chinese painting), in the west it is just painting space! Space is the most important thing. The space I am talking about is not the natural space you can see with your eyes, but the elasticity of the existence and cognition of life itself. This is what makes us human, and enables us to establish a scale for ourselves and everything else!

Tao Fa in his studio.

The standard comes from the artists certainty and grasp of truth. If you know the truth, you will inevitably know with confidence when to take the brush from the canvas, without the slightest hesitation! The opposite proves that you don’t know it! An artistic language comes from just that confidence, and in contrast if you don’t have an artistic language that proves you haven’t grasped the confidence and power of truth! It also proves that you don’t know how to be yourself! The greatness of the great masters lies in the language, the language is what can bear the weight of the everything of everything! The language proves everything, and at the same time it verifies characteristics and human nature of the artist as a person! Confidence in a unique and strong individual language is proof of having a strong and powerful life and cognition, that is sound and coherent with the truth. Of course, the necessary foundation for these are a natural gift and an enormous passion for art, long term concentration and devotion, and even a spirit of self-sacrifice and not sparing anything in the pursuit of perfecting ones art. Some historic examples of this are Zhang Zhi, Wang Xizhi, Zhang Xu, Picasso, Rothko, to name a few!

Supernatural and super-sensation are my perception of the relationship between reality and eternal existence in the limitation of everyday life! To me, ”super-” means the metaphysical! Sometimes it is both real and unreal. When I get this feeling my paintings often come out abstract or half-abstract! Something completely abstract is trying to express something in existence itself. I personally like Laozi’s saying of ”The Tao that can be told of, is not the absolute Tao”. In my understanding, existence is everywhere, so the style of everything is also my style, and this is what I have been seeking all along! So I observe reality. Mankind has lost its sense of existence, and so it has lost the home of the soul. That is the reason we live scared, busy and miserable lives! The crazy lives of people thinking we are infallible! We lost the ability to master our own lives, and that is the root of all mankind’s suffering and tragedy! When it comes to drinking alcohol, that is something that I can have or be without, it is just a little better if there is alcohol… to me it is the bridge between reality and dream, and before alcohol was the merely a gateway between my reality and the eternal existence… now I don’t need it to pass between the two unhindered, it is just that good wine is really nice! Wine is a good thing, it is the quintessence of the natural and an embodiment of Tao! But wine is absolutely not an excuse for the weak, nor is it a helping force for the strong. My ego and power come from my self-value and self-identification. My passion comes from my respect for the senses, my strong longing and obsession with love, life and human ecstasy, and my love for heaven and earth. I meditate in the sunrise and sunset. I cling to the forest and birds. I am in awe of the powerful and ever repeating four seasons, and I put my faith in deities. All of these things make me ecstatic, they make me cry, they make my heart race and shake my soul! All of these make up the richness, fullness and lustre of my life! This is the real me!

There is no boundary between reality and nature. It is only humanity’s self- imprisonment that give rise to this boundary! Otherwise mankind could live naturally in reality. Our education and societal activities do not respect the natural, so we are only living unnatural lives! Unnatural is unhappy, unnatural is unauthentic, it is a tragedy without light or warmth. Binding yourself up can only give rise to feelings of self- inferiority and self-fear, it will bind people! But when the whole world of society is like this, we are living unnatural lives that are pitiful and miserable, it is an insignificant and shameful existence! If this environment doesn’t improve, the coming generations will also live these kinds of realistic lives. We cannot say anything about the future, thenatural is the only future. The natural is civilization. Without the natural, there is no creation, there is no beauty, and there is no genuine human life!

Reality stimulates my impulse and passion for art creation, so creating art is my way of responding to life and ultimately leading life! I will not and do not want to escape from life, this is the proof that I exist! So I will always face the existence of human life and my own existence head on, and continue to create!

– Tao Fa

Below is a little selection of Tao Fa’s works – all to be seen at TCG Nordica until the 9th of July.

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Carl Larsson | one of Sweden’s most well-loved artists through the ages Sun, 10 May 2020 00:43:41 +0000 This is the tenth article in in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Scandinavian artist’s life and work.

Carl Larsson was born in Gamla stan, the old quarter of Stockholm, on 28 May 1853. His family was poor, and Carl grew up in dismal circumstances. The only glimmer of hope was his strong artistic talent, which emerged early on in his life. When he was thirteen years old his teacher at the school for the poor persuaded him to apply for a place at Principskolan, the preparatory department of the Art Academy. 

During the first years at Principskolan Carl found it difficult to settle in. His sense of social inferiority made him feel like an outsider. But that changed when, at the age of sixteen, he was moved up to the lowest department of the Art Academy. He began to feel more confident and it was not long before he became one of the central figures in student circles.

Turning point in Grez-zur-Loing

After the Art Academy Carl worked at illustrating books, magazines and daily newspapers. He also spent several years in Paris where he tried to establish himself as an artist, but in spite of all his hard work he never achieved any success.

The turning point came in 1882 when he moved to the Scandinavian artists’ colony in Grez-zur-Loing outside Paris. It was there he met his future wife Karin Bergöö and underwent an artistic transformation after abandoning his pretentious oil painting in favour of watercolours – a lucky move that would mean a lot for his artistic development. It was in Grez-zur-Loing that he painted some of his most significant pictures.

Family life as a motif and source of inspiration

Carl and Karin were married in 1883 and had eight children. Karin and the children quickly became Carl’s favourite models.

In 1888 Karin’s father, Adolf Bergöö, gave them Lilla Hyttnäs, a small house in Sundborn. Lilla Hyttnäs became Carl and Karin’s mutual art project in which their artistic talents found expression in a very modern and personal architecture, colour scheme and interior design.

Carl’s paintings and books have made Lilla Hyttnäs one of the world’s most familiar homes. But not only that. The quality of the light, Karin’s liberated gift for interior design and the lively family life as it is depicted in Carl’s beloved watercolours, has become almost synonymous with our picture of Sweden.

The house still looks the same as it did when Carl and Karin lived there and today’s visitor to Lilla Hyttnäs can almost hear the animated laughter of the children and catch the scent of the artist’s oil paints.

View of his own artistic calling

It does not always happen that the view of the artist and the view of his public agree. In spite of the huge popular success he achieved with his watercolours Carl nevertheless felt that his monumental work – the frescoes in schools, museums and other public buildings, etc. – was more significant.

He was bitterly disappointed when his last monumental work, ”Midvinterblot”, (Swedish for Midwinter sacrifice) which was to have adorned the east wall of the upper stairway in the National Museum in Stockholm, was refused by the committee.

In his memoirs, ”Jag” (published posthumously), he expressed his bitterness and disappointment over the opposition to the painting that he himself considered to be the pinnacle of his artistic achievement. He writes:

”The fate of Midvinterblot broke me! This I admit with subdued rage. Yet it was for the best – once again my intuition tells me that now – for this painting, with all its weaknesses, will be honoured with a far better place some day after I am gone.”

Carl Larsson died 22 January 1919 and we can only conclude that history proved him right in the end. Following its sale to a Japanese buyer, Midvinterblot was returned to the National Museum for the Carl Larsson-exhibition in 1992. With help from generous private donors the National Museum repurchased the work from its Japanese owner in 1997. Now, at last, it hangs where it was intended to be, and Carl can rest easy in the knowledge that Midvinterblot has finally found its way home.

Published with permission from

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