Something is Eerie in the State of Denmark: Elmgreen & Dragset Plan Unsettling "Little Merman" for Elsinore

Something is Eerie in the State of Denmark: Elmgreen & Dragset Plan Unsettling "Little Merman" for Elsinore
Elmgreen & Dragset's "Han," 2012
(Courtesy the Artists)

Copenhagen's melancholic statue "The Little Mermaid," the most famous public artwork in Denmark — so famous, in fact, that it was transported to China to be displayed in the Danish pavilion at Expo 2010 — won't be lonely much longer. This summer, Puckish European art duo Elmgreen & Dragset will install a new permanent public sculpture on the Elsinore waterfront of a similarly posed boy, "Han," made of shiny stainless steel, who will blink creepily once every hour.

Like its sister sculpture 28 miles to the south, the duo's new work will be seated on a rock at the water's edge. Unlike its iconic predecessor — which was commissioned by Calsberg founder Carl Jacobsen in 1909 and is based on Hans Christian Andersen's short story "The Little Mermaid" — Elmgreen & Dragset's sculpture won't be made of bronze, but rather of polished stainless steel, as will the rock on which it will be seated, so that the entire installation will be highly reflective.

 

This choice of material is certain to make an uncanny spectacle already, but the eeriest effect will surely be the sculpture's once-an-hour blink — which will last for a mere split second — an effect accomplished via a hydraulic system inside the work. The statue of the blinking boy by the sea, which was commissioned by the city of Elsinore and funded by the Danish National Arts Council, will gaze out over the harbor from the foot of the Castle of Kronborg (which happens to be a UNESCO world heritage site).

Though intended as a response to Copenhagen's Andersen-inspired sculpture, Elmgreen & Dragset's new statue can't help but evoke another famously self-reflexive and melancholy young man who lived in Elsinore, Shakespeare's Hamlet. "O that this too too solid flesh would melt" indeed.

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