The festival will spill outside the center, as even 1.5 million square feet can’t encapsulate an entire culture. And just as the art moves outdoors, elements of nature will seep inside in unexpected ways: A musician will play instruments made out of ice from a Norwegian glacier, and visitors in the South Atrium foyer will feel like they’re standing in front of an Icelandic waterfall.
The blurred line between the outside and inside worlds makes sense. The Nordic region, with a population of 25 million, may not have a single dominating cultural theme, but its reverence for nature is widespread.
Beyond flora and fauna, the festival includes a Lego exhibit, music from the next-big-thing launching pad Iceland Airwaves festival, a cinematic Norwegian thriller, a panel on the region’s ever-popular crime novels and a taste of New Nordic cuisine.
“Nordic Cool will be a way of showing that the Nordic countries are more than Ikea and ‘The Scream,’ which perhaps are two things that many people would associate with us,” says Hadia Tajik, Norway’s minister of culture. “It’s hard to put words on what is specifically Nordic.”
So don’t bother trying. Instead, read on for a sampling of the festival’s sights and sounds, and stop by the Kennedy Center for a new kind of nature walk.
It will be nearly impossible to escape the art of Nordic Cool. One creation in particular will be visible from any number of D.C. bridges and streets every evening of the festival, which runs through March 17. “Northern Lights,” by Danish lighting designer Jesper Kongshaug, will re-create the Aurora Borealis on all four sides of the big box on the Potomac River.
The light show may sound supremely splashy, but exhibitions inside will rival it. Over 10 days, Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen will have built a 180-foot boat inside the Hall of States entirely out of shirts; she’s expected to use more about 1,200. “Are We Still Afloat?” reflects Nordic culture in a number of ways, from the use of recycled materials and the historical significance of Viking ships to the water theme. (“We have many lakes in Finland; everybody goes by boat,” the artist says.) But there’s also something simultaneously sweet and haunting about the massive work, given that each article of clothing once belonged to someone. In one case, a woman donated her late father’s shirt.