Events elsewhere (2): ArchiFringe

Updates: unimpressed review of this year’s Art FestivalA wall is a screen, combined walking tour and themed film night, in Leith…talking of the festival, we have artwashing and over-tourism (it was ever thus), plus the council’s call for a tourist tax

Second post (first: EdFoc) in my series of posts on events #not_here, looking at ArchiFringe (@archifringe), taking place for the third time in Edinburgh and across Scotland.

Edinburgh is, of course, The Festival City – it used to (at least) announce itself thus on a signpost on the A90, not far from my family home. It being 2018, such analogue delights have been replaced by a wide-ranging website, listing ten or so annual festivals including The Fringe, the original ‘alternative’ festival. The Fringe has begat further fringes, including Book Fringe and Architecture Fringe, the latter a response to Visit Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design.

This year’s ArchiFringe took place in June, with the obvious point of comparison of CAFxWalking Heads hails a “bold and creatively challenging menu, with unexpected happenings in both likely and unlikely locations” including “an echoing Cumbernauld underpass” (celebrating the new town) and “forgotten parts of Kelty” (street art).

Having grown up in Edinburgh, the place names resonate across the North Sea, even as the places change. Many a time I have hopped on the Kelty bus, enjoying its non-stop surge down the Queensferry Road before hopping off at the Barnton Roundabout. Now when I go back it’s a process of revisiting half-remembered places and finding new ones; the Dick Vet as Summerhall, Lauriston Place Fire Station as event location, hosting a Pecha Kucha Night.

There are commonalities to be found too, with a different take, a different lens. Copenhagen’s brokvartererne have their parallels in Edinburgh’s tenements, once torn down and now gentrifying, creating a need for affordable housing.

The festival’s theme/provocation of COMMON/SENSES invited that British favourite, the play on words, and some diverse responses:

Ironically, fewer commonalities here, given the local ‘one size fits all’ approach and lack of delight in the edgy.

Other provocations included Univer-City (@EdiSolidarity; see Crumble article, LFA’s Knowledge territories), addressing “the historical and ongoing domination of our city’s built and aesthetic form” and Frankentypes, for lovers of typology, “seeking to pluralise expected architectural representation and building types by creating new hybrid structures” (one | two | three).

Creative kudos to Shore 2 Shore (poetry, in Dunoon!), to Sarah Calmus for the Uber Dérive, and to Jenny Knotts for Architext, memories of Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre as a play script in the form of an architectural plan:

Finally, the irresistible Baby Pianodrome (own site), an amphitheatre made from 50 upcycled pianos, to be found in the Botanics in August:

Where I feel less at home is with bothies and ‘hutting’ (paging David Cameron). Like Gaelic on road signs, the bothy-as-lifestyle trend seems to have emerged since I flitted to Denmark. ArchiFringe featured The Shieling Project, which doesn’t exactly capture the remoteness anticipated, resembling rather an idealised edit of hygge combined with an update of the ‘wilderness’ hut more likely to be found in Scandi proper (ie the other side of The Bridge) or Finland, yet one more tie-in with general Nordic envy.

You want more? See Antiuniversity Now’s Solus and the city, a small ‘solitude shed’ based on a bothy, in err…East Dulwich, and the Bermondsey Bothy. The Royal Scottish Academy has a forthcoming Bothy Night, celebrating Shelter Stone, a bothy book “made from 70 per cent recycled midge trap waste” (that’s surely a joke). We are now heading into full commodification, not least with Shed of the Year.

More gratifyingly, Alec (son of Iain Hamilton, creator of Adorno’s hut) Finlay has picked up the hutting ball and run with it, “responding to rewilding, ecology or the renewable avant-garde” with Hutopianism, part of Machines à penser at the Prada Foundation, a fringe event at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Where I find a sad lack of melancholy in the prevailing Danish discourse, here a brace of events (Chez Etym & moreRepurpose idea) celebrated the role of memory in constructing the present, and the future, of place. And where I sense a smoothing out and flattening of complexity here I find ‘comfortable chaos’ (Urbanistas), dissent (Pecha Kucha GLA) and disruption (Salon des Refuses), heralding new styles of living rather than a cradle to grave comfort blanket, ghettoised by age, with life starting and ending in an institution.

Next up: the light nights of summer 2018.

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Events elsewhere (1): EdFoC

My Twitter bubble keeps serving up interesting events elsewhere offering food for thought to compare with the local summer festival scene. Some common themes keep coming up as well – it’s all quite inspirational. So, here’s the first in a series of posts on events #not_here, looking at the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling (@edfoc).

I grew up Edinburgh, for me the archetypal walking city. I biked as a student, in Bristol and Frankfurt, and ever since have chosen not to, not really a radical lifestyle choice even in (or just outside) Copenhagen. In the same way as hygge and those happy Danes, the picture painted of cycling in CPH is seen through a rather rosy lens, obscuring any number of cultural (and geographic) differences. EdFoC portrays some of these differences, even if it is suffering from a dose of Scandimania.

Unsurprisingly, there was nary a mention of walking on the programme (shared space issues! entitlement!!) – OTOH it’s a relief not to have it conflated as a sort of second best. As it happens the council does a pretty good job IRT walking, vs its near-invisibility in CPH. (The comparatively low number of pedestrian journeys in CPH is generally waved away as why would you, if you can cycle? The high cost of public transport, paticularly for impromptu short trips, surely also plays a role.)

The festival is aimed at ‘all types’ of cyclist, but a lot of events involved challenge style riding/touring, some for charity but others aimed more at self-empowerment – maybe this sort of thing goes on in CPH, but if it does it’s passed me by (although grim-faced lycra-clad MAMIL groups do plague both paths and countryside roads at weekends).

A couple of these events did however capture my imagination – the Ride to the Sun (@RidetotheSun) from Carlisle to Cramond for the summer solstice (over 1000 participated) and the Night Ride the week before. Cycling can be more than a convenient means of transport after all…

Guided ride offerings were mainly on the pricey side and in tourist corner (an Outlander location tour, anyone?), so I was happy to note the free event exploring Edinburgh’s 20th century buildings, with accompanying fab pic. A shout-out too to the UNESCO Chair Refugee Cycle, held as part of Refugee Week and a Summer Fun Day in Glasgow. (Noted also that good works are clearly done by Bike for Good and Bikes for Refugees.)

Danish envy aplenty however behind the cry to Copenhagenize Scotland, cancelled on this occasion due to high priest Morten Kabell falling ill; the grass isn’t always greener, folks. Some Celticization of Denmark wouldn’t go amiss, if only Scots (and Brits) could drop the habit of constantly running themselves doon in the name of self-irony.

Meanwhile pressure group Spokes (@SpokesLothian), celebrating its 40th anniversary, seems to at least equal @copenhagenizers in their zeal to transform the city, here’s hoping they don’t go the full Gehl. A tram is a better place to start, even if it stops just after tackling its first hill.

Literature got a look-in with the on-point Women’s Read and Ride tour (event), and EdFoc even runs a writing competition – for me one of the 2017 winners gets a special prize just for the multi-layered title of her story, Freedom of movement. Bless her.

Are events similar to EdFoC held in DK? I tend to avert my eyes from the self-congratulatory cycling discourse hereabouts, but I can’t help noticing that in Scotland it’s all rather different, and definitely made from girders – see Conquer Kaimes, cycling up this 9% gradient demon…

my breathless pic from Nov 2017, after walking (almost) to the top of Kaimes Road

So, a festival embracing diversity, with events featuring both lycra and cake (probably not together), people doing things for themselves, and lots of different ways of answering the question. Edinburgh has all the Copenhagen it needs.

Next up, and staying in Edinburgh, ArchiFringe.

#CAFx2018: Denmark does urbanism

Has the Copenhagen Architecture Festival (Twitter | Facebook) come of age? This year’s eclectic programme drew Politiken‘s critic to call for a refocus on architecture rather than all the other bits and bobs (eg this). And a new name is perhaps called for, with events spreading as far as Odense; how about Denmark does urbanism?

A renewed spatial turn saw the festival coinciding with the opening of BLOX (sic) on 6 May, of which more below, and the launch of Politiken Byrum, an excellent news service on all things urban, but with most of the content paywalled. Both seem ready to embrace a wider range of interests than the strictly architectural. There have also been sightings of a more nuanced approach in the media generally over the past year, less focused on the lovely and recognising the increasing growth of issues long encountered elsewhere, such as gentrification — time to discard some of the mantle of exceptionalism? Perhaps encounters with BLOX will lead to more self-analysis and a broader focus in future.

According to Politiken Byrum around 220 events were scheduled over the fortnight, with the over-arching theme of At huse hjem/Housing homes. New forms of living beyond the nuclear family, no longer the most widespread form of household in the land, were examined at major conferences on housing needs and post-war housing in Scandinavia. Subthemes included increasing migration to the city, increasing house prices and increasing segregation…times are certainly changing. and Copenhagen feels very different from when I moved here over a decade ago.

Tours included the traditional cycle ride with city architect Tina Saaby to the best new buildings of the year, with the new Publikums Pris won by Axel Towers, an office complex opposite Tivoli boasting a rooftop restaurant and a new perspective on public space from its walkway.

Axel Towers: shiny!

The portfolio of guided walks on offer illustrated some of Copenhagen’s current tussles with its identity, featuring ‘fringe’ areas such as Nordvest (gentrification on Rentemestervej with added street art vs industrial heritage and I ❤ Tagensvej) and Sydhavnen (the growing gulf between old and new).

The inner city’s balcony scourge also got a mention. Perhaps next year there will be space for a dissection of the typehus, bursting to the edge of its plot and surrounded by paving, the suburban equivalent of New Copenhagen Vernacular apartment blocks, so close together that they effectively close off entire areas to non-residents.

In cultural heritage corner, the Jewish Museum offered walks on immigration and diversity in Nørrebro (FB) and Jewish CPH (FB). Storrs Antikvariat looked at changing ideas of house and home with two authors, while Medicinsk Museion had a small (read: minute) exhibition on the use of its 18th century building by the Kgl. Kirurgiske Akademi, not least as flats for academicians and their families. (Famous residents included Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr, who moved in at the age of one in 1886. Bohr had lifelong luck in solving his personal housing needs, spending the last 30 years of his life in residence in what is now Carlsberg Akademi.) Doubtless this is the sort of thing of which Politiken Does Not Approve.

Which brings us back to BLOX

BLOX: the new and extraordinary venue for life in the city

Designed somewhat unexpectedly by Rem Koolhaas’ OMA, who won a competition way back in 2006, this does-what-it-says venue is the new home for the Danish Architecture Centre (DAC), who previously occupied an old warehouse on the wrong side of the waterfront. A multi-functional complex, the building has luxury apartments on the top and automated parking in the basement, with offices/’work desks’, a fitness centre and cafés in the middle.

Koolhaas is known for his “f*** context” provocation, and this is basically what the avalanche of critique of the building comes down to: like DAC’s new branding, it’s just not Danish enough. Even the font looks alien, for goodness sake.

Personally I don’t have a problem with any of it, but then I loved the bold approach taken to the waterfront in Koolhaas’ Rotterdam. BLOX is interesting, extending over Christians Brygge like a heap of Tupperware, with escalators and covered walkways to provide changing levels and protection from the weather. The only disappointment in my customary walk round the building was the children’s play area, which feels exposed and out of place in the heart of a big city.

Realdania, the somewhat shady fund who bankrolled the thing, have backtracked, saying they would not commission the design today, while for once the Gdn’s Olly Wainwright let me down. But six days after the opening a group of architects came with a riposte: cities do not stay static and neither are they museums; if CPH wants to compete as an international city it needs distinctive architecture; the glass facade is open to and reflects the city, etc.

And this part of the city already hosts buildings in a range of styles — BLOX practically rubs shoulders with the Black Diamond aka the Royal Library, which back in the day (1999!) also gave rise to an avalanche of critique. A stroll along the waterfront out of the city centre takes you to a section of PoMo buildings almost universally derided, but which today offer rather more than the apartment blocks shooting up in what remains of the harbour.

Of #CAFx2018, sadly, details of the events vanished from view as they happened, but PDF programmes are to be found hidden under Press. For a look at how the festival has developed over the years, see my posts for 2016 (with nods to 2014 and 2015) and 2017).

Fernando Pessoa: multiplicity in Lisbon

In January we spent a few days in Lisbon. Fabulous place, a million miles from anything even vaguely Nordic. On the lookout for connections, it was no real surprise to discover that global traveller HC Andersen visited in 1866, publishing Et Besøg i Portugal in 1868. Rather more surprising was the link to Denmark’s other 19th century literary titan; like Kierkegaard, poet Fernando Pessoa was a prime exponent of the use of the the heteronym in his writing.

Now feeling like an old friend, prior to our trip to Lisbon I had never heard of Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), Portugal’s modernist poet, writer, translator, philosopher – and anointed flâneur. How can that be? A lifelong Anglophile, Pessoa lived in Durban from the age of seven to 17, attending Durban High School, from which he matriculated with a prize in English. His earliest works were written in English, he translated a number of books from Portuguese into English (and vice versa), and in 1925 he even wrote a guidebook to Lisbon in English (Lisbon: what the tourist should see, unpublished until 1992).

The word pessoa means person in Portuguese, deriving from the Latin persona, the mask worn by Roman actors; just one of the small details which make the man so intriguing. An outsider’s outsider, for most of his life Pessoa worked as a freelance commercial translator while contributing poetry and essays to journals and newspapers. He was interested in theosophy, spiritualism and the occult, corresponding with Aleister Crowley, and helped him to stage a fake suicide in Lisbon in 1930. A keen amateur astrologist, Pessoa made horoscopes of his clients and friends, as well as of his heteronyms and even of literary journals. All this had a strong influence on his writing; he felt “sometimes suddenly being owned by something else”.

In 1915 as part of a group of artists and poets, including close friends José de Almada Negreiros and Mário de Sá-Carneiro, Pessoa created the literary magazine Orpheu, which introduced modernist literature and art to Portugal, if in only two issues.

From 1905 to 1920 he lived in 15 different locations in Lisbon, while from 1907 until his death he worked in 21 firms in Lisbon’s downtown, sometimes in more than one at the same time. Two favourite haunts were A Brasileira, the preferred café of the Orpheu group, and Martinho da Arcada on Praça do Comércio, his ‘office’ during the 1920s and 1930s. Given all that it’s not surprising that there is a full Pessoa audio tour and map experience.

Pessoa created over 70 heteronyms, imaginary characters allowing him to write in different styles. The best known are:

  • Alberto Caeiro (1889-1915), the ‘master’ of the other heteronyms and even Pessoa himself, a rural, uneducated poet of ideas who wrote in free verse (Complete poems and more | Uncollected poems)
  • Álvaro de Campos (1890- ), a well-travelled naval engineer who returned to Lisbon to stay in the fateful year of 1926; influenced by Futurism (poems inc Lisbon revisited, from visits in 1923 and 1926)
  • Ricardo Reis (1887- ), a doctor who composed Horatian odes; as a Royalist Reis fled to Brazil in 1910
  • Bernardo Soares, bookkeeper and flâneur, a ‘semi-heteronym’ who wrote mainly in prose; pages from his journal were found in a trunk in Pessoa’s apartment and published in English in 1991 as The book of disquiet

De Campos and Reis discussed the work of Caeiro in essays and with each other, rejecting the interpretation of their publisher, Pessoa. Pessoa-himself gradually becomes another heteronym, another mask.

“Fernando Pessoa, strictly speaking, doesn’t exist,” wrote Álvaro de Campos, sparing the author the trouble of living a ‘real’ life.

José Saramago, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1998, paid the ultimate tribute to this dazzling and sustained feat of the imagination in his novel, The year of the death of Ricardo Reis, which sees Reis return to Lisbon on hearing of the death of Pessoa.

It’s difficult to gauge the true significance of all this to Portugal’s cultural life, however the man himself is pretty unavoidable in the cityscape and seems to have attained iconic status, in a similar way to James Joyce in Dublin. We made tracks to the Casa Fernando Pessoa, a house museum-cum-shrine and the city’s premiere literary location, the site of Pessoa’s last home from 1920 until his death.

On the ground floor was an exhibition of some of the numerous representations of Pessoa in art, while the second floor houses a reconstruction of Pessoa’s flat, with memorabilia including his school report in a glass case, his glasses and a rather functional bookcase – if not the trunk/s where he stored his writing. After his death 25,574 items were inventoried.

The museum is also custodian of Pessoa’s personal library of 1200 books (no Kierkegaard).

a Pessoa collage

Top right is a portrait by Almada Negreiros, but the most common image of Pessoa on the street is that seen in the cutout bottom right, taken from a photo of yer man striding (definitely not strolling) through town. A shot of him enjoying a glass of port comes a close second. In a 1931 photo, deep in conversation in the Café Martinho, he looks like a small amiable owl.

There are two Pessoa statues in town. The one in familiar kitschy style outside A Brasileira (not in fact his favourite café), was even in January a prime selfie spot; Pessoa would surely prefer the rather more surrealistic representation round the corner outside the house he was born in.

The 1925 Lisbon guidebook is available in at least three editions (2008 | 2011 | 2015), and I’m pretty sure I spotted a coffee table version in the airport bookshop. There’s even a graphic novel, Another side of Pessoa by João Viegas.

What of his writing? The consensus (Gdn | Geoff Nicholson | Alfred MacAdam) seems to be that The book of disquiet is for sleepless nights, something to dip into at random, something to be reread rather than read…in the same way it feels more in the spirit of the man to take him a poem at a time:

I’m beginning to know myself. I don’t exist. I’m the gap between what I’d like to be and what others have made of me…That’s me. Period.

For more poetry see the Poetry Foundation and Poetry International, or one of the many published collections by Richard Zenith (other translators are available).

The trunk and the fable, by Emília Nadal

Sources: Exploring Lisbon with Pessoa | Fernando Pessoa: an Englishly Portuguese, endlessly multiple poet (64 min vid with transcript) | Fernando Pessoa and the multiple faces we show on the netFernando Pessoa’s disappearing act | Inside ourselves | An interview with Richard ZenithLooking for Mr Person (Parnassus 24(1) 1999; via Questia) | ‘Oh Lisbon, my home!’

More? MultiPessoa | Pessoa’s trunk | Wuthering Expectations

Updates: more Pessoa spotting (“maybe more cities than I know use once-obscure Modernist writers as their mascot, as their brand”)…the Lisbon edition of Vide Verden, a Danish cultural travel book series, has a chapter on Pessoa by Dan Ringgard, plus one on HCA by Henrik Wivel…Literary Tourist reports on a HCA tour…Pessoa at Eurovision: Portugal’s 2017 winner Salvador Sabral is lead singer in a band named Alexander Search (each member of the band adopts a different character when on stage, obv)…Nicholas Shakespeare on Barry Hatton’s Queen of the sea: a history of Lisbon

On Pessoa, DR inevitably traces the parallels with Kierkegaard and his pseudonyms, his daily walks in a small European capital, his one brief platonic relationship, his writing process standing at a desk and wandering from one manuscript to another, from one pseudonym to another; his idea that we choose who we are, responded to by Pessoa in multiples, ending up as a shadow.

Henrik Wivel retraced HCA’s 1866 journey as part of the 2o0th anniversary celebrations of his birth in 2005, resulting in the travel book Det jordiske Paradis. Wivel visited the O’Neill family, descendants of the family visited by HCA 150 years earlier, an Irish-German family who emigrated to Portugal in the 18th century and exported wares to the rest of Europe, including Denmark. HCA got to know the three O’Neill brothers nearly forty years earlier when they lived in Copenhagen, and diligently paid each one a lengthy visit. The home of the oldest, then Denmark’s general consul, now belongs to the American Embassy and can be visited with prior notice.

#kbhlæser: Copenhagen reads!

Update: Aarhus has just trumped CPH with its LiteratureXchange (FB; JyllandspostenLitteratursiden), an avowedly international festival running from 14-24 June 2018 with an overflødighedshorn of 150 events, some even in foreign languages (sic), NorthLit (a Nordic Arabic subfestival), representatives from all four verdenshjørner; meanwhile KBH Læser has announced a shift in focus to a children’s festival, sheesh…apropos book festivals in general, see Bookfestival-opoly and other bookish games (article | Ullapoolism)…

KBH Læser (FB | Twitter: @kbh_laeser#kbhlæser), is an annual literary festival masterminded by Copenhagen Libraries.

Most of my posts seem to be about events these days, and this one is a rewrite of an old messy post on the festival, updated for 2018. When I first started this blog my focus was primarily the formidling angle, ie how events are presented on the web and how they are amplified (think pictorial broadcasting), shared and archived (or not). Of particular note in this regard is the rise of Instagram and the A3 newspaper.

As I started exploring CPH as place this became an additional focus, and now I’m increasingly exercised by how many festivals feel invisibly labelled “Danish only”, aimed at an audience I’m certainly not a member of, and to be making limited to no efforts to appeal to a more diverse, or, dare I say it, intercultural, audience.

For a public library led event, Kbh Læser is disturbingly highbrow – you’d be hard pressed to find many bestsellers here, and if you aren’t au fait with critical theory you may well be more than a tad turned off. Themes tend to the abstract; 2018 has the somewhat opaque catch-all theme of Manifest (Manifesto; think Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto).

Unusually for these days, there is no English version of the website, although the newspaper (64pp; too much already; selected articles in news) has a couple of English features. Elsewhere, the enthusiastic Ark Books (“For the Danes we’d like to provide the world’s literature, and introduce Danish literature to those who can’t read Danish”) offers its Manifesto Month (2017: Growth Month).

With my name on it, if in a four-way clash with the Beast from the East, were Georges Perec & OuLiPo at Storrs Antikvariat (a new secondhand bookshop in NV), Den Røde Sofa med Mette Dalsgaard (literary translator from Russian) and Flanørens Europa with Fabian Saul (as seen at Flâneur in Copenhagen nearly three years ago) and Mette Kit Jensen (in Kunsten.nu on the city), on what a drift through the streets of Europe can teach us about modern identity. (See also Fabian’s piece in the A3 rag entitled Notes for a pamphlet: walking the Assistens Cemetery of Copenhagen: the city as cemetery and Goethe Institute-supported project Traces of Resistance, now in the UK.)

Also with an international flavour we have a Flytningemanifest (and in English), Beirut læser and København læser syrisk litteratur (“Syrian literature as a part of literary Denmark”, hurra). We also have an art writing piece by Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist currently in CPH under the ICORN programme.

More of note:

  • in place related corner, several articles on bookish things in areas of the city: FrederiksbergVesterbro (unpick: “Istedgade…emmer af diversitet og mangfoldighed”) and Østerbro (just Poesiens Hus then), plus profiles of the new Litteraturhuset at Nybrogade 28 (seemingly beset by delay and various teething issues), Arbejdermuseet and KBH Tegner (comics and related)
  • a Litterært Manifest-kort, a map with 12 places; why-oh-why not online, not least when the project has received support from at least three worthy institutions? (this isn’t the first time, either)
  • Læseforeningen guided community reading events in Kulturtårnet, Ørestad Bibliotek and the tower of Vor Frue Kirke
  • Europa.Manifest, the output of visits to CPH central library during the autumn of 2017 by European and Danish philosophers, now available as a book
  • a Mikrofest from 24 small publishers, party and anthology in one (all in all an encouraging amount of wordplay around mani/fest; fest means party på dansk), with an online portal to come later in 2018
  • ENIGMA, the suitable enigmatic newish museum/not for post and telegraphy type things, has MANIFEST NOW, a virtual exhibition and installation at the main library, consisting of cut-ups from 15 manifestos displayed at random and/or put back together
  • and finally, Kbh Læser: the blog

#kbhlæser in previous years:

Event website critique (2015): usual fish in a barrel stuff. With 159 events from 77 organisers, and 58 venues, you need several ways of finding your way around the programme, but as ever there was no way in via theme or audience. A map/app would have been nice, although there was a list of what’s on at each venue. No search…and while the design is contemporary enough, you are diverted to Copenhagen Libraries’ rather creaky site for full details, where when it’s gone, it’s gone.

In archive terms, there is one page on the festival’s history plus brief summaries of the festivals in 2014 (the body in literature) and 2012 (Copenhagen). 2018 update: now replaced by photo selections on the about page (2015-17 only), although the 2017 programme is still advertised.

Project1917: day by day through the Russian Revolution

Sometimes I think I have a Russian soul. Since the age of eight, when I read EM Almedingen’s Little Katia for the first time, I’ve been drawn to all things Slavic. After picking German over French at the age of 11 I disappointed my mother again by going for Russian at 14, not a common choice in the late 1970s. She partly got her way when I decided to take single honours German at university rather than joint with Russian, or Politics for that matter. Sometimes I still regret it.

For English speaking Russophiles the BBC’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution included inter alia a lively dramatised version of John Reed’s 10 Days!, Ten artists who shook the world and the topical Emigranti. And a daily vodka toast is still being raised here to Project1917 (FB), a Russian initiative from Yandex Publishing with English updates from Pushkin House, broadcasting daily since February and due to close on 18 January 2018, 100 years after the Bolsheviks dissolved the Constituent Assembly.

on this day (28 December)

Project1917 is based on first hand accounts from a host of ‘heroes‘ drawn from all walks of life, spread throughout Russia and beyond. Employing every #some trope going (FB style friends lists, ‘is attending’life events), the volume of voices has built into a nuanced portrait of how normality subtly changed by the day.

John Reed is predictably present, while Rosa Luxemburg was in prison for the duration. Lenin gets down to library business pretty quickly (13 Dec):

13 December: Lenin lays down the tasks of the public library

Artists, musicians and writers are well represented, both through their works and commenting on events: 
Yevgeny Zamyatin quote

Anna Akhmatova quote

Some humour is also found in events:

humourous quote

What quickly emerges is how the events of November were just the beginning; no one knew how things would pan out, or the consequences for the course of WW1, in what feels like a forgotten story among a sea of poppies. The now Soviet Russia and the Central Powers, led by the German Empire, signed an armistice on 15 December, kicking off negotiations for what became the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed on 3 March 1918.

armistice quote

Meanwhile it’s Christmas at the British embassy:

embassy quote

and new republics are formed in the chaos, some of which will survive to celebrate their own centenary:

republics quote

More Project1917 features to explore: live reporting during the October Revolution | network map of crowned heads | data for posts about Danish connections to 1917, coming soon.

Thomas Mann quote

CPH 850: city identity at Golden Days

Latest, Feb 2018: CPH has got itself a Light Festival; the website is entirely in Danglish, which led to some comments on FB; with 40 installations it feels a tad OTT, and Politiken’s review agrees, suggesting that they turn it down a bit, what with one of CPH’s qualities being its dimness, a component of hygge…Byvandring.nu offer some pics with refreshingly downbeat commentary…meanwhile Edinburgh Lumen has gone for “three unique installations…transform St Andrew Square, Assembly Rooms Lane and The Mound Precinct into zen-like portals of tranquility”…how old is CPH? latest

This year’s Golden Days festival (case), running from 2-17 September, took the 850th anniversary of Copenhagen’s notional founding by Bishop Absalon as its theme:

Byer skabes af mennesker, og ingen by har værdi uden sine borgere: Vi er alle skabere af byen. Det er kernebudskabet, når Golden Days Festivalen i 2017 fejrer 850-året for grundlæggelsen af København.

[Cities are created by people, and a city without its people has no worth. We all create the city. This is the message at the heart of Golden Days 2017, celebrating the 850th anniversary of the founding of Copenhagen.]

This truism demonstrates that it may be about CPH but really it’s all about Us. What is it with Danes and place? Or perhaps, what is it with Brits and place? Anyway, Copenhagen’s place-myth, the one everyone grew up with, dates back to Saxo Grammaticus, the Danish Geoffrey of Monmouth, who related how King Valdemar handed a small island over to his foster brother Absalon, Bishop of Roskilde. In 1167 Absalon built a castle on the island, today known as Slotsholmen in the heart of modern Copenhagen.

Archaeological finds date CPH as rather older than this, as pointed out by various sections of the press, but they’re sticking with it, needs must, playing with the myth med glimt i øjet and a fake news style eventFup og fusk! But in a country where supermarkets regularly celebrate spurious birthdays, it’s not really important.

Moving on, early publicity portrayed a fiendishly complicated festival, with 10 people to bear witness to the development of CPH’s cultural heritage around whom the whole shebang would revolve in a set of 10 spor (tracks, trails), with events, guided walks, maps, using “modern network theory” to reveal how the 10 individuals were connected with their contemporaries and with each other. Gosh.

The site design did seem to have had a bit of shine-up, greeting you with shots of the 10 and clips of Copenhagen, plus a blocky menu on the right. Events were keyworded with an appropriate individual, somewhat arbitrarily at times, and you could also browse by location (of the venue), category and day. On the added value content side there were short ‘essays’ and maps with spots for each of the 10, also to be found in this year’s free magazine.

Festival director Svante Lindeburg’s explanation of the curational strategy described a metro diagram, enabling you to see, for example, which of the 10 had connections to the Royal Theatre. This sounded fantastic, but in practice was let down by poor execution and a limited dataset.

Below I have overlaid the maps for near contemporaries Carl Jacobsen and Herman Bang, showing disappointingly no connections:

map overlaying spots for two of the 10

For starters, I’m peeved that the map can only be opened via the site, despite being made in Google Maps. I’d like to fiddle with it! Next, what are the connecting lines about – join the dots? Third, it’s not possible to browse by place. The squares/nodes merely present the text from each individual’s map.

Here’s what you get at the Royal Theatre if you overlay all ten maps and zoom in – there’s not a lot of network theory here:

the unnamed Royal Theatre appears on four maps

Who is Copenhagen?

What of the 10 themselves? Perhaps refreshingly, no Kierkegaard and no Hans Christian Andersen. Less happily we have Women: 2, and Immigrants: 0. That’s just lazy. It’s a shame no one was galvanised enough to come up with an alternative 10, although DR has offered up a five women of the 19th century without trying too hard.

the CPH 850 10: pick a person for events and an essay

The first woman of our 10 is hostess Kamma Rahbek (1775-1829), included largely as a peg for hanging salons on. A meta-salon at KU Bibliotek presented the 19th century salon as gammeldags networking and the equivalent of today’s bookshop readings, with åndrig samtale og et let traktement. Of several contemporary wannabees a Tove Ditvelsen salon at was held at Gentofte Hovedbibliotek; Danish sweetheart Tove lived in Gentofte from 1945-50 and would have been 100 this year, so there was cake…with her writing on growing up in Vesterbro before WW2 Tove might have been a better choice as the second woman of our 10, rather than folkelig inter-war entertainer Liva Weel. Sorry Liva.

A couple of events gave a nod to gender or explored the distaff side of the city – a literary evening in the form of Gin&Gender #9 and a walk from KulturenNu taking in the three statues of named women in the city (for the record: Caroline Amalie, queen consort to Christian VIII, in Kongens Have, women’s education advocate Natalie Zahle in Ørstedsparken and scientist Inge Lehmann, a newcomer on Vor Frue Plads (pic).

A sole event was spotted on newcomers to the city, an Historisk morgen hosted by the National Museum in the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilisation Center, looking at the effect of immigration (from Russian Jews, Swedish maids and Turkish guestworkers) on Nørrebro as place and its redevelopment as a diverse area in a multicultural society.

It would have nice to have made a passing attempt at presenting a rather more diverse selection of people to represent 850 years of the city’s history. Coupled with a lack of English or any other language other than the dansk throughout, there’s a clear message of who the festival is viewed as being for, and a clear picture of the city’s people-myth. Even going forward.

Where is Copenhagen?

Now then, when you say Copenhagen where (and what) exactly do you mean? The CPH urban area has a population of nearly 1.3 million and is made up of 18 councils, including Copenhagen itself on 606K. While not quite as extreme as Manchester (541K) and its urban area (over 2.5 million), you don’t have to travel far out of the city centre to hit another kommune, a fact that probably doesn’t feature on many mental maps of the city.

As in previous years a number of events were held to the administrative north (specifically in Gentofte, Gladsaxe, Lyngby-Taarbæk and Rudersdal), dressed up as Flugten fra København (the flight from Copenhagen) and limiting the relationship of city and suburb across place and time to a clutch of royal hunting lodges (C4), salon venues (KR) and post-WW2 housing developments (EW). Just don’t call it Copenhagen.

The Frederiksberg-shaped hole in the middle of the city, created in 1901 when CPH swallowed up Valby, Vigerslev and Brønshøj, was neatly filled by an exploration of the kommune‘s continued independence via walks on its eastern and western borders, noticeboards at strategic points and a podcast series. The difference does go beyond street furniture and parking regulations – it’s Danish scale in action.

Other than that CPH 850 meant the city centre and the inner parts of the ‘bros; few events extended further than your average city-breaker, ignoring the city’s own outer areas never mind its post-war suburbs and sprawlYet as cultural historian Ann-Sofie Gremaud of the Denmark and the new North Atlantic project pointed out, Copenhagen exists in many other places, in music, literature and film, and not least in all the people who have lived there or had a direct connection to its growth. Some of this Copenhagen was celebrated in an event at Nordatlantens Brygge, while KulturenNu led a walk on the city and Dansk Vestindien, now the American Virgin Islands, sold to the USA 100 years ago.

Some CPH 850 takeaways

  • Zoom København – the book version, by the prolific Martin Zerlang (who also did a turn retelling the whole tale in 85 minutes); update, Dec: library copy inspected and lugged back after an unopened month or so, ticking all the usual boxes in terms of materiality and style, feeling more like a coffee table item than something corresponding to 21st century reading habits…there’s a post to be written here; the worthy output of a lifetime’s research, but FWIS a disappointingly conventional chronological presentation, dropping the 10 people and the angle of how they might be connected – maybe they should have taken a leaf out of Niall Ferguson’s latest?
  • Københavnerkanon – they love the canonic in Denmark, and CPH is no exception; a panel came up with a top 20 based on 300-odd Facebook and Instagram submissions, subjected to a vote and whittled down to a top 10 revealed on 2 September
  • Copenhagen on film – series of films and talks marking the publication of a mursten entitled Filmens København (Gyldendal; Politiken)
  • Copenhagen in literature:
    • 10 forfattere. 1o perioder. 10 oplaesninger. – 10 authors gave readings from their own back catalogue and from one of the 10 historical periods
    • Litterær københavnercabaret (FB) – readings and songs in Literaturhaus
    • a literary drunks’ map of CPH (FB), one of three maps on offer _in_ CPH libraries (and which typically haven’t seen the digital light of day)

Any walks of interest? In Brønshøj, Oline Brønd, following in the footsteps of her grandfather Evald who has led more than 180 guided walks in CPH, traced the suburb’s identity from Absalon’s Brønshøj Kirke, founded in the 1180s, via the first school in the area, now Kulturhuset Pilegården, to Ib Lunding’s iconic 1928 water tower, soon to be converted into a venue for cultural events.

As well as the selection of tours from Kulturen.nu two rather unexpected delights looked at the city through a different lens: KLOAK, a sewer tour led by former Golden Days director Ulla Tofte, and a nine stop Science walk from Videnskabernes Selskab.

Overall though CPH 850 felt both of and for the creative class, offering an inward-looking, exclusive and rather one dimensional view of cultural heritage and identity, similar to that currently presented by DR’s Historien om Danmark. While I realise Golden Days is heavily dependent on sponsorship and the involvement of local cultural actors, it would be nice to see the festival taking more risks in terms of events and venues, and a more inclusive look at its potential audience – and perhaps presenting a more complex picture of Copenhagen reflecting all its people in the process.