Noetic Norden

Stuart Burch
Nottingham Trent University, UK

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Ingår i: Kultur~Natur

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 40:29, s. 333-338

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Publicerad: 2009-10-26


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


The following paper begins to explore the concept of ‘the north’ (or ‘Norden’) as an organising principle in the fine arts. This supposedly geographically delineable and stylistically identifiable category has been established through a lengthy and ongoing sequence of temporary; travelling exhibitions. The informal series began in 1982 with Brooklyn Museum’s ‘Northern light: realism and symbolism in Scandinavian painting; 1880–1910’. Variations on this regional theme have continued ever since; with the most recent manifestation being ‘A mirror of nature: Nordic landscape painting; 1840–1910’. That these titles feature two similar; but not identical terms to characterise ‘the north’ – Scandinavian; Nordic – is reveal-ing. So too is the fact that; whilst the earlier of the two included portraits and domestic interiors; the latter focused entirely on landscapes. And it is this genre more than any other that is said to be synonymous with the art of ‘the north’. But whilst this might arguably be true of works produced at the end of the nineteenthcentury; is there such a thing as ‘Nordic art’ today? And; if so; what is its style; subject and medium?

Such questions were raised; but not answered; by the contemporary art exhibition; ‘Five Nordic women artists’ held in Liverpool in the autumn of 2008. Whilst a discernable ‘Nordic dimension’ was aesthetically absent; ‘the north’ as an organising principle was not. For this is a category wholly constructed by institutions and organisations that operate under the guise of ‘the north’. Using a range of examples I will seek to argue that ‘the north’ is; in cultural terms at least; a noetic phenomenon: an abstract or intellectual concept made powerfully real by being objectified in museums; depicted in galleries and named in catalogues; many of which carry the logos of such funders as the Nordic Council; the Norden Association or; last but not least; ‘Nordic Spaces’ – the consortium that fittingly provided the grant for this paper.


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