Based on the artwork's foundation in the concept of authenticity in landscapes and nature, the artist, Camilla Berner, invites us to reflect on our relationship with the landscape, nature and history found in Vestegnen.
Vestegnen is associated with urban environments and subdivisions, and has an elevated building and city planning percentage. The landscape and cityscape are dominated by infrastructure and the sounds emanating from it, in the same way that the image is characterised by the subdivisions of open land for housing, industry and public construction. Much of the urban environment has been established throughout the last 70 years or so, which makes the small old villages feel like islands in the midst of modernity. If one can argue that the landscape consists of layers, then the city has established itself as a layer on top of the landscape– and areas that have remained untouched are minimal.
For the landscapes of Vestegnen, the question of authenticity is unfolded through the different ways in which they have been formed. Some are the remains of a defense perimeter, while other landscapes are shaped by excess soil from a building activity yet resemble an “original” landscape. Rainwater reservoirs shaped like lakes that one would never imagine have not always existed there, old overgrown gravel pits, and then Store Vejleådalen, a feature that is actually an original tunnel valley.
The contrast between nature and culture is very visible in Vestegnen, with its intense urbanisation. A large part of the landscape and natural areas of Vestegnen are also man-made, and the difference between nature and culture becomes more fluid. The question "what is nature?" is current for the whole country, because the majority of all the forests and fields in Denmark are cultivated– so how natural is nature as we know it in Denmark? How original does nature have to be, in order to be nature? The relevance of the work can thus be seen as a contribution to the debate about our view of nature.
It is this context of complex landscapes that Camilla Berner delivers her artwork, which raises questions that will potentially make us see our surroundings in a different light.
The glacial erratic rocks, as a motif, are a picture of another time, a different order than the one we see today. A system of nature. In an urban environment, the glacial erratic rocks are a stark contrast to the reasoned systematics of urban planning. At the same time, they provide a sense of continuity and connection with nature's epic story. That there was another time before our own, which also means that there will be another time after ours.
The artwork has taken inspiration from the phenomenon of glacial erratic rocks, which invokes authenticity, in contrast to all urban and landscape planning, perhaps because they were formed so long ago: The discovery of giant rocks, so-called glacial erratic rocks, which were brought to the area by ice from the northeast during the last Ice Age. Giant rocks attract a lot of attention. They are particularly fascinating and are often a subject of proud folklore. They radiate authenticity and remind us that some things are older than the landscape that surrounds us now, and the cities we live in today. The geological time. They put our own time into perspective and highlight the short time that we have actually been here. It took thousands of years for the ice to form Denmark as we know it – in contrast to the effect we have had on it in the short time we have been here.
The artwork's sculptures are created to resemble glacial erratic rocks, but they are shaped by the artist and made from concrete – urbanisation's preferred building material. From up close to the sculpture, it is clear that it is painted, but from a distance the sculpture looks like a piece of rock. Again, the artist plays with our notion of authenticity: to pretend to be authentic, but to be artificially created. In order to shift the narrative and the search for authenticity into a rhetoric of performance and utopia, some of the sculptures are painted with transparent fluorescent paint, which in the darkness of night will make the sculptures glow and make them appear even more alien in their surroundings.
Concrete also plays a role in both the geological and urban narratives. One of the most important components of concrete is gravel, and gravel is just sediments left by the melted ice. Concrete has been a leading building material, not only in Denmark, but all over the world. However, concrete is currently the subject of debate, as it is extremely energy-intensive to produce. At the same time, within a number of years, there will be no more gravel left to extract from the Danish ground. These are factors that will affect the construction industry.
The work itself also plays around with the story of authenticity– and in some ways takes the story further. Because there have never been glacial erratic rocks in the areas where the sculptures are placed. Berner was particularly preoccupied with the idea that the work should be as lifelike as possible. She went to a local gravel quarry, near the town of Hedehusene, to find the rocks that the models were shaped after. They formed the basis for the shape and character, as well as the colouring, of the sculptures. In addition, she familiarised herself with the mapping of the history of the real glacial erratic rocks, as published by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), as well as which rocks came here with the ice, and which areas they came from.
The artistic expression balances the simulation– something we believe is the real deal. The simulation seduces us to believe in something (as real), but which later proves to be fictional and artificial. As a concept, the process of discovering that what you thought was real, but turned out not to be true, can help to open our eyes.
With the simulation– and being true to nature– it has also been important for the artist to give the artwork and the surrounding landscape an equal voice when it comes to experiencing the work. In other words, the artwork itself has almost stepped into the background to create space for the landscape experience.
Many factors influence how we see, understand, and know our landscapes; if we see them in a new light, we may also see our influence on the landscapes with new eyes, and how we continuously “make things up” (reconstruct).
As a prism, the artwork shows a number of themes about the landscape, nature and urbanisation.
Albertslund: Access is from the parking lot at 7C Egelundsvej road, and follow the paved path into Egelundsparken
Høje Taastrup: At the Kulturpark next to Hedehuset, in Hedehusene, access is from Kulturparken or from the path at Hedehus Hallen
Ishøj: 190 Vejlebrovej road, in the forest near the scout cabin
Vallensbæk: In the meadow on the way to Vallensbæk Harbour
Hvidovre: The intersection at Gammel Køge Landevej road and Strandmarksvej road
Camilla Berner graduated from the Chelsea College of Art, London. Working interdisciplinary between art and science, Berner reflects on the relationship between nature and culture, merging her artistic practice with her knowledge and interest in plants, the landscape and nature. A specific location can often be the starting point for Berner’s work, and this is also true for Vestegnen, where she has created her work on the basis of the landscape at the location in question, keeping in mind the meanings associated with that place. In 2020, Berner was recognised for her artistic work and awarded the Eckersberg Medal.
When the Ice Age came to an end, a tunnel valley remained. This gave us Store Vejleådal, which winds through an open meadow landscape with scattered vegetation and grazing cows. The open landscape allows the gaze to wander to the horizon, but the view ends in a faraway motorway, revealed by the subdued, but persistent, sound of the cars. The sculpture itself seems to be lying in the grass, as a fixed point from a geological time, and could appear to have been there since the ice melted away. The river valley was created by meltwater, that flowed in a tunnel under the ice.
Industrial heritage emerges in this place in Hedehusene – a history of exploitation of the resources in the earth, which has resulted from what is called “sediment sorting”. When the ice melted, the materials carried by the ice were deposited by the meltwater. The result of the ice’s work over millennia; stones, gravel and clay. Materials that have since been processed locally for e.g. tiles, concrete and stone wool. Wedged between the overflow reservoir and viaduct, the sculpture of concrete, the glacial erratic rock, depicts by virtue of the symbol, but also through its own material, the raw materials from the ice, which made industry possible in this area.
Ishøj lays soil at Store Vejleå’s mouth at Køge Bay. When the ice disappeared from Denmark, and later the rest of Scandinavia, the sea was 3 metres higher than it is now. This is revealed by shells from saltwater mussels and snails. Later on, the land rose by 3 metres – straightening out when the pressure from the ice was gone – and Ishøj reached its current height. In Kondiskoven forest, the sculpture is hidden between the young trees on the river bank. A small piece of forest with a rich bird and insect life, which offers a sense of nature (naturalness), yet is in stark contrast to the concrete-built sculpture. It plays on the perception that it could always have been there. The passing of time and changing landscapes cover the layers, and we may be in doubt as to what came first.
The little meadow here at Vallensbæk Harbour is an example of the 20th century’s view of nature and the creative forces of man. While suburbs developed, an understanding of the fact that the residents of the cities needed areas for recreation was also growing. Several areas around Copenhagen, including Strandparken in Køge Bay, were made available for recreational purposes. Before Strandparken was built (1975-1980), this area was coastline. The original coastline is now behind the beach and passes through the meadows and shallow lakes– in Vallensbæk, the coastline runs through the small meadow, roughly where the sculpture is now located. The coastline was formed 11,500 years ago by the ice, meltwater and sea. The new coastline is man-made and provides space for homes, a harbour and beach. Few people nowadays will give thought to the fact that, where the sculpture languishes in the grass, the waves in the bay once swirled over the sand. Køge Bay Strandpark has become today's nature.
A dense urban space dominated by infrastructure. It is often a network of roads that delineate the landscapes. At a traffic light controlled intersection, there is a small area with grass, and some trees framed by roads and pathways – an area left over from urban planning, where roads and buildings have grown in between each other. Here, the presence of a glacial erratic rock would be beyond our sense of order. It could have appeared during one of the countless excavations carried out in the urban space. First as a small stone, then as a giant. And would most definitely be in the way. It therefore seems both surprising, but also credible, that a sculpture in the form of a glacial erratic rock would be located here, where it references the infrastructural reality that today’s layers spread across the landscape. Here you can see how the suburb has emerged: an old road expanded over time, newer infrastructure, residential blocks and institutions, which gradually become wedged between the existing buildings, roads and facilities. Here, the sculpture becomes a tranquil axis, around which traffic travels and man-made buildings and facilities are created.