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Interview with the residents of Selde

by Trine Rytter Andersen.

While conducting the interviews, I stay with Margrethe Møller, a central figure in relation to the ”area rejuvenation” which in 2013 led a group of residents from Selde to contact the Aarhus Academy of Art, in the hope of involving artists in their future plans. Their request led to Birgitte Ejdrup Kristensen and Lene Noer being engaged as project managers, and Birgitte created the art work “Skivevej 13”, which has been locally dubbed ”The Plinth – a platform for the future”.

The following text was written on the basis of conversations with Margrethe Møller, retired teacher and Bjarne Christensen, former bricklayer and foreman for the team of volunteers who built the sculpture “Skivevej 13”.

It doesn’t really make sense to talk about Grasslands without pointing out some of the key prior events: first and foremost, the processes set in train by the availability of funding from Skive Municipality for an “area rejuvenation” led the residents of Selde to focus on artistic solutions rather than just hedges and flowerbeds.

Another important factor has been the Gallery Da Winti’s presence in Selde for many years and Herman and Gunhild’s collaboration with professional artists has meant that people here in Selde have gradually become more acquainted with art and artists. We don’t believe that the village would have been so supportive of inviting Birgitte and Lene to launch the first art project here, and then agree to be a “Sculpture Village” without the influence of Herman, whose art interests and activities in the heart of the village functioned as a catalyst.

Our own initiative
In 2013, therefore, many of the residents of Selde met Birgitte and Lene with an open mind and excited expectations. Of course, there were those who were either indifferent or needed to express their disapproval, when the “art” didn’t exactly fit their own personal perception of art. The whole process around the acquisition and demolition of the house at ‘Skivevej 13’ resulted in a large number of meetings with the two project leaders, of course, but also with students from the Aarhus Academy of Art who were involved in the project, and contributed temporary site-specific works that took the house and its history as a starting point. A protracted, but also intense process involving many smaller and larger negotiations of the practical and conceptual aspects. Getting the residents to support this kind of artistic working method requires a great deal of patience from both sides, just as it is very important to establish a mutual trust-based relationship – good relationships are simply crucial. So there is no rigorous formula for how to set up a successful civic art project, because at the end of the day it is totally dependent on the people who become involved in the process. Those who give out and are negative are also part of the equation and that’s how it should be, inclusiveness is the code word.

Broadening the understanding of art
The actual work ‘Skivevej 13’ or the ‘plinth’, as we call it, has divided the village: some see its minimalist expression as “too little” and “too ugly” and some accept the work’s reduced premise and see the plinth as a sort of foundational rock – a stage – for what we could call the village’s future.

But overall, it has been a positive and mutually educational process that has involved many of the residents in different ways and on different levels. The results have also been “measured”: both the specific and the derivative – by students of the experience economy at Aarhus University. It has been a revelation for us being the subject for this type of analysis along the way in the project. There’s no doubt that art is central to the village and our consciousness now. The understanding of art has expanded, and that’s great, but it does require continued initiatives and engagement to maintain and develop momentum, which we are well aware of.

Watching curiously from the side-lines
The second phase of Grasslands hasn’t involved us to the same extent as the three other villages, as it was always the plan that the art project in this phase would spread to the neighbouring villages, and in that way contribute to strengthening the regional identity we have here in the Fursund region. We have followed Grasslands with great curiosity, of course, and could sense that there have been various different approaches and attitudes in the three neighbouring villages, which have created a number of challenges for Birgitte and Lene along the way – this is reflected in the three very different results, obviously, too.

A new emerging regional history
The participation of residents from all four villages in the Rural Forum helped open up a dialogue between us and contributed to a broader understanding of how art and research can be part of the development of local areas like ours.

In this sense, Grasslands has led to greater openness between he four communities. All these meetings, concerning both the conceptual and practical aspects, have brought us closer together and given us a series of common experiences and challenges, which are gradually forming a history of, and identity for, the region.