– Ulla Monrad Nielsen, head of department at Fenrishus
Focus on parents and siblings creates a sense of security for everyone
The residential and respite care institution Fenrishus accommodates children and young people with complicated functional impairments, who require specialised help and care, virtually 24 hours a day. Hoisting systems, measuring devices, wheelchairs, ramps, waterbeds and other assistive tools fill the common rooms and corridors, and allow for making everyday life as easy and as manageable as possible. Fenrishus has predominantly been designed for the children and young people who live there, but they aren’t the only ones who make use of the institution’s facilities. Siblings and other family members spend a considerable amount of time at Fenrishus every single week, and the place is not ‘just’ an institution for them, it’s a home for their children and siblings.
As a curator, Fenrishus is a special place to work, for a host of reasons, as there are a lot of practical and emotional considerations to be taken into account. It’s no parents’ dream to have to send their child to a residential and relief institution, and it is not a decision that has been taken lightly. This is particularly relevant for Fenrishus, where the children and young people have congenital brain damage, which means that their mobility is reduced considerably, their speech is limited and they often have weak eyesight or no sight at all. Therefore the primary aim in introducing artworks to Fenrishus was to invite parents, siblings and staff to experience the institution, as a beautiful and inspiring space, thereby creating a safe and comfortable atmosphere for both children and adults, despite the challenging circumstances.
– Lotte, Alberte’s mother
The interplay between nature and art softens institutional spaces
The result of the collaboration with the parent group was a thematic curation, focusing on nature and its phenomena. Nature has a wonderfully calming effect on humankind. The rustle of the wind in the trees, the view from a mountaintop, the smell of the earth after a rain shower, and the sun setting over the ocean are all natural experiences that are, for most people filled with symbolism, meaning and calm. In a user survey conducted at Rigshospitalet’s, new children’s hospital Mary Elizabeths Hospital, a total of 92% of all participants expressed that they “miss nature and natural experiences during their hospital stay”, which emphasises nature’s impact on our general wellbeing.
At Fenrishus, the residents are able to make use of the institution’s sensory garden and experience nature, despite their weak, or non-existent eyesight. Just like at the children’s hospital, there can be shorter or longer periods, where the children have to unfortunately give up their visits to the garden due to their health or general circumstances. As a result, the residents, their parents, siblings and staff spend a lot of time indoors.
Nature and its phenomena was therefore a perfect theme for the artwork at Fenrishus. When artists and artworks deal with nature as a subject, both as motif and material, a unique synergy emerges, where the calm of nature goes hand in hand with art’s ability to raise questions and create wonderment. By coming up with new focus points in the institutional space, where art and nature interact, we aim to soften up the divide between the institution and the outside world and thereby support the abundance of emotions, often difficult ones that parents and siblings have to deal with.
– Lotte, Alberte’s mother
Art, craft and materials
With a focus on the interaction between art and nature, it was an obvious choice to collaborate with craftspeople and designers, as there is often an inherent quality in craft that reveals a special love for materials and their natural origins, whilst the design work pays special attention to the synergy between work and context. With this in mind, we invited the glass artist and photographer Mette Colberg, design duo Hvass&Hannibal, and designer/artist Anne Nowak to each develop a site-specific work that integrates with both the architecture of the building, and the context of the institution.
An embrace of soft, warm colours
As you step inside Fenrishus you are met with Mette Colberg’s installation, comprising transparent foil that covers the glass panes in the entrance area. The work is expressed so subtly that it may escape many visitors’ attention as an artwork, however the effect is unmistakable. The coloured windows create a magic and calm room that is transformed according to the time of the day, the season and the weather. For example, the sharp spring sun is translated into soft, warm and all-embracing colours, the short days of winter present a show of long shadows, and on a grey day the sky is given a fresh burst of colour.
– Lotte, Alberte’s mother
A distinguishing aspect of Mette Colberg’s work is that she works with transparency. She is particularly fascinated by light’s ability to penetrate the materiality of glass, resulting in reflection and contortion. Colberg, who trained as a glass artist, casts and polishes her own colourful camera lenses that are meant for another purpose, through which she instead captures the world anew. The coloured foil, which covers the entranceway windows are a result of this process.
By creating a work that relates to the entrance area and the outdoor space beyond the doors, Colberg brings nature into Fenrishus, and sets the tone for everyone who enters the building through the large glass doors.
Sunset and daybreak
In Hvass&Hannibal’s work nature has been interpreted as abstract and colourful symbols that are able to set curiosity and creativity free. Working with capturing the essence of nature and transforming this into a balance of symbols, colours and compositions are common characteristics in Hvass&Hannibal’s work. With wooden panels at the entrance to the youth care section and the residential part of the institution, the connecting corridor is transformed into a room with character, colour and life, providing children, young people and adults with harmony and respite.
– Lotte, Alberte’s mother
The design duo Hvass&Hannibal, with their characteristic graphic interpretation of the world around us, consists of Nan Na Hvass and Sofie Hannibal. The two designers have been fascinated with nature and its phenomena since they began working together in 2006, and it is this fascination that we see reflected in this work.
The moon playing with the sunlight
A sliver of sunlight drifts lazily across the floor, up the wall and across the ceiling to where Anne Nowak’s ceiling installation Mirage is hanging. From skylights in one of the residence corridors, mirrored, rose-coloured moons rotate calmly, which during the day send sunlight around the corridor.
At night, lit by the corridor’s artificial lighting, they appear as small illuminated planets against the dark night sky in the window. In the residence corridor at the other end of Fenrishus, three corresponding moons in dark blue and purple shades hang down from the ceiling. The moons are placed at varying heights so that the children, siblings and childlike souls can see their reflections in them.
With Mirage, Nowak recognises Fenrishus as a place where the sometimes harsh contrasts of life – between sickness and health, life and death, outside and inside are encompassed by a calm, thoughtful dimension. But, the works, with their mirrors also have a more playful side, which has particularly made an impression on the siblings who visit Fenrishus.
– Lotte, Alberte’s mothers
If art is to create heightened wellbeing it requires empathy and involvement
It’s not just art as a completed work that has the potential to contribute to heightened wellbeing in an institution like Fenrishus. The process itself can also help create heightened wellbeing for the families and staff. According to research, participating in an active interaction with art and culture has a direct health-promoting effect because it deepens our understanding of meaning in life. Therefore, there was a close collaboration with the parent group throughout the process, where they were involved in developing new ideas, choosing potential artists and making the final decisions, which also enhanced the feeling of ownership of the project as a whole, and of the final works.
-Lotte, Alberte’s mother
-Ulla Monrad Nielsen, head of department
Curating an art project in an institution like Fenrishus requires empathy and the ability to listen, because at the end of the day it’s about creating spaces that a very diverse parent and staff group all perceive as meaningful and lasting.
Signe Sylvester is a freelance curator and business advisor for artists. Since 2018, she has helped artists, artisans and creatives to live out their dreams, projects and working life through podcasts, teaching and mentoring as well as as a curator. The project at Fenrishus came about in collaboration with the art agency Artboost.Read more
Autzen, S. og Martin, M. Use art and culture to create well-being (Brug kunst og kultur til at skabe trivsel), Lederne. 2020.
Mary Elizabeths Hospital – Riget for børn, unge og gravide, user survey. 2022
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Thriving means being comfortable in the world. Having a general sense of vigour, drive, agency and enjoyment of life.
This state seems to be under pressure under the impact of Covid and national lockdowns, the war in Ukraine, earthquakes, mass-shootings, economic uncertainty and climate change. New headlines speak of one global calamity after another, and a growing number of people are struggling with loneliness, stress and depression.
To address this state of affairs, Formkraft turns its gaze to the wider world to see how craft and design can help promote thriving and well-being.