“She was a strange child, quiet and thoughtful; and while her sisters would be delighted with the wonderful things which they obtained from the wrecks of vessels, she cared for nothing but her pretty red flowers, like the sun, excepting a beautiful marble statue. It was the representation of a handsome boy, carved out of pure white stone, which had fallen to the bottom of the sea from a wreck. ” Hans Christian Andersen. The Little Mermaid.
Han, a shiny polished steel sculpture of an adolescent male, is to be installed on June 2nd 2012 on the harbour in the city of Elsinore twenty-eight miles north of Copenhagen. Han is a contemporary reference to the bronze statue of The Little Mermaid (Den lille havfrue) Denmark’s national icon, derived from Hans Christian Andersens’s story, about an unnamed young sea maiden who leaves her life in the sea for the love of a Prince on land. Andersen, introduced sculptors and sculptural narratives inThe Little Mermaid and in two other stories, The Psyche, and Beauty of Form and Beauty of Mind. The Little Mermaid sculpture is, in reality, a rather underwhelming tourist destination but is also a public representative of the Danish psyche and has suffered kidnappings and decapitations as a consequence of its presence as a political and nationalist symbol. Elmgreen & Dragset previously made a commentary about the iconic sculpture with a photographic work, When a Country Falls in Love With Itself, 2008, where a mirror creates a reflected double image of the bronze mermaid, as a comment on the sentimental influence of the sculpture – and the emotional power of monuments.
Elmgreen & Dragset are noted for their underwritten references in a subvert, invert, pervert approach to their art. Han, means ‘him’ in Danish, a diminutive of the name John and a glancing reference to H. C. Andersen, shows a young man positioned on a stone by the seaside. The figure and the stone have been cast in polished stainless steel, created a distorting mirroring effect incorporating the surroundings. In contrast to the romanticized mythology of selfless mermaid, Han is a more narcissistic merboy, with visual over and undertones of iconic gay urchin and the myth of Narcissus, in love with his reflection, and allusions to the aesthetic of Derek Jarman’s film Sebastiane, which explores erotic desire between men. The sculpture has a trick element with a hydraulic mechanism, which will make the eyes of the sculpture blink for a split second once every hour in a Galatea moment of life. As a potential object of collective observation and veneration this is reminiscent of the miraculous tears and blood of weeping religious statues.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, based in Berlin and London, have worked together since 1995. Major works include: Memorial for Persecuted Homosexuals during the Nazi period in Berlin, 2008, Tiergarten Park, Berlin; Prada Marfa, 2005, a Prada boutique in the middle of the Texas desert; Short Cut, a car and a caravan emerging through the Ottagono, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milan. Their plays include Happy Days in the Art World; and Drama Queens, which features six iconic remote-controlled fibreglass sculptures. They are currently showing a sculpture, Powerless Structures, Fig.101, on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London.
Han was commissioned by the city of Elsinore and funded by The Danish National Arts Council. Elsinore is a UNESCO world heritage site located on the northeast coast of the island of Zealand in eastern Denmark. The city’s harbour and the Castle of Kronberg, a source for Hamlet, are being developed as an international cultural and heritage centre.
Images: Elmgreen & Dragset, Han, 2012
Elmgreen & Dragset, When a Country Falls in Love With Itself, 2008
Derek Jarman, image from Sebastiane, 1976