Review of Fire From the North, Vardø, Norway

A group of six artists have collaborated to create a unique site-specific exhibition and performance piece on the island of Vardø at the extreme north-eastern part of Norway. Taking place in such a secluded location, only a few knew about the project and made a pilgrimage North from Oslo to experience the work on Vardø – also the site of Norway’s most sever witch trials that saw 91 individuals executed in trials spanning 92 years.

A memorial stands on the island commemorating those who were executed, which was created by Louise Bourgeois and Peter Zumthor. Three years on from the memorial’s opening, the group of six artists have contributed a series of artworks giving new meaning to the island and its history.

The performance started with a reading by Daniel Lynau who recited the trial of Nils Rastesen accused of witchcraft in 1638. He presented each member of the group with two pebbles small enough to hold together in one hand, which were cracked against one another with the rhythm of each person’s strides. A multi-sensory experience of seeing, hearing and touching was encouraged through an interactive appreciation of the natural land. Through the use of the pebbles, the group was also connected with the trial of Rastesen, who was accused of being able to make stones talk using Sami magic and was convicted and later executed.

The next part of the tour took the audience from the coast line in-land under the instruction of Eirik Slyngstad who asked each individual to find their own route to the site and to notice every person they passed. For some, this simple action was full and an abundance of faces were caught in their vision, but for others the tiny island has so few people there was a void of any other person to rest their gaze upon.

Arriving at the site a small green figure was sat gently on the edge of an abandoned reel looking silently down the tunnel that connects the island to the main-land – the point of contact to the rest of the world. The romantic idea of a border between two places, a transition between two states, is eased onto the spectator as softly sung words begin to be carried to the onlookers through the wind.

The silence of the tour continued as artist Helena Lund Ek led the audience one behind another, across the hill side following a driven mark created on the land by her implement that directed the group to a patch of earth overlooking the sea. Here her sculptural painting settles into the landscape, blowing with the wind. A tall rusting metal frame supported simple fabric and was marked by a cross, an x-marks-the-spot reference.

Loaded with symbolism, this gesture connects the present with the past; the place to its history. The white on white of paint on fabric created a silhouette by blocking the transition of light through the textile, imitating the natural elements surrounding the object which had become at home in the barren landscape. Lund Ek’s work often comments on male history and its impact: here her work only a distance from that of Louise Bourgeois stands tall within the history, both dominating a view point.

Istvan Virag led the group towards stakes in the sea five metres high. Within hours its height would be reduced to three or four metres beneath sea-level, slowly disappearing from the landscape, evoking the ephemeral aspect of land art. Virag, inspired by the intensity of the weather and the many trials that reflected it’s power has made an ever-changing piece to watch as the weather takes control.

As the small group make their return journey to Vardø Museum conversations flutter and sink as memories of the day over take their thoughts and linger in the air, their intentions left to stand within the landscape as long as the terrain will permit. Participating artists included: Daniel Lynau, Eirik Slyngstad, Helena Lund Ek, Istvan Virag, Silje Johannessen, Amelia Beavis-Harrison.

Amelia Beavis-Harrison

Fire From the North, presented by Amelia Beavis-Harrison and Kunstakademiet i Oslo supported by Vardø Museum. The exhibition and performance took place on 16 May and a symposium was held on 24 May at Kunstakademiet i Oslo. For more information visit

1. Amelia Beavis-Harrison, Photo credit: Eirik Slyngstad.

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