danish artist tackles social issues

Seven meters. That’s how much sea levels will rise if all the ice on Greenland melts. It was also the name of a massive public art project developed by Danish artist Gens Galschiot for COP 15, the climate change conference held in Copenhagen in 2009. His work challenged conference delegates and the ordinary people of Copenhagen to consider how much of the city would be underwater if the oceans did rise, and how those with the least resources around the world would be hit the hardest.

I wasn’t there for the climate change conference, but I was in Denmark several months later for a much smaller meeting on human rights. My conference was in Nyborg, less than two hours east by rail from the capital city.

While the conference was very engaging, the most memorable moment was a late-afternoon group fieldtrip to the studio/gallery/foundry run by Gens Galschiot. I hadn’t heard of him myself, but soon learned that he is well-known in Europe, not only for his small and highly-coveted figurative sculptures, but also for his provocative public art installations – some commissioned, some secretly dropped into public spaces by accomplices working under cover of darkness.

Gens led us on a tour of the whole complex and described to us the process of going from idea and design to finished bronze sculpture. Throughout the studio and foundry, and outside near the entrance, were several of the bronze sculptures brought back from the climate change conference.

Out in front of the gallery was the massive “Survival of the Fattest”, described as a huge, fat Justitia (Lady Justice) figure with a pair of scales in her hand, sitting on the back of a starved African man. Inside the studio were the numerous additional starving figures that went with this bronze sculpture, which during COP 15 was installed in the water near the famous “The Little Mermaid” sculpture.

There were also some of the figures that were part of “The Balancing Act” set, a series of humanoid figures that were perched on high poles in different locations around Copenhagen. The artist described them as symbolizing a sustainable lifestyle that is in balance with nature. Later when I visited the capital, we came across several of the figure still in place, high atop poles in city squares and along the waterfront.

Other notable works on display included My Inner Beast, a one-ton figure in black concrete — twenty of these were installed without permission in public spaces throughout Europe back in 1993 — and Pillar of Shame. There were other large artworks in and around the gallery, and I see from the website the artist has now organized them and set up the grounds as a sculpture park. Admission to the gallery and sculpture park is free. Gallery Galschiot is located in Odense, 30 minutes east of Nyborg.

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At the centre of Nyborg, Denmark

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Danish artist Gens Galschiot

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Small bronze artworks by Gens Galschiot

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Large bronze artwork in process in the foundry.

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My Inner Beast — concrete sculpture

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Pillar of Shame with the inscription: “The old cannot kill the young forever”

Survival of the Fattest

Posing next to the provocative Survival of the Fattest.

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The Balancing Act — public art in Copenhagen

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The Balancing Act — public art in Copenhagen

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The Balancing Act — public art in Copenhagen

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The Balancing Act — public art in Copenhagen

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