Mark Dion’s Sleeping Bear Installation Hibernates in the Norwegian Wilderness

Driving along the National Tourist Routes in Norway, you will see plenty of gorgeous vistas with mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and fjords, but nestled alongside are several permanent installations embedded in the landscape for visitors to discover, including one slumbering brown bear atop a heap of trash.

Mark Dion‘s “Den,” which was unveiled this September, is the most recent art project to be completed along the routes, and features a bear sleeping above a mound of the refuse of human civilization, from Viking artifacts to modern obsolesent technology and household items that Dion found at thrift stores. With architecture by Lars J. Berge, the installation is hidden in a mountain and accessed from a tunnel, while a small window cut out of the ground offers a shaft of light down through the installed stalactites that hang above the (synthetic) taxidermy animal.

The project evolved from one Dion’s personal investigations, in which he often follows the paths (either through research or actual travel) of scientists and explorers for his art, like botanist William Bartram for “Bartram’s Travels – Reconsidered” and Sterling Clark for “Phantoms of the Clark Expedition” this year at the Explorers Club. For “Den,” he retraced the steps of Johan Christian Dahl, an artist who went to Norway in 1825 in search of brown bears. Dion likewise examined the current status of brown bears in Norway.

As Dion’s project is on the aptly called “Snow Route,” it is only open a few months between May and mid-November, depending on conditions. When the roads are clear, the public is welcome to wander through the tunnel to find the sleeping animal and its mound of civilization.

Other projects along the National Tourist Routes include “Steilneset” by the late artist Louise Bourgeois and Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor, which was built as a memorial to those victims of the witch persecutions of the 16th century in the tiny village of Vardø. It features a chair that is constantly consumed with flames. “Rock on Top of Another Rock” by Fischli and Weiss (the collaborative arts duo of Peter Fischli and the late David Weiss), an interpretation of the traditional route marker, takes on such a monumental scale to stretch the scope of belief.

Svein Rønning, curator and head of the Arts Council for the National Tourist Routes, told ARTINFO that he is planning for three more projects to open in 2014 and 2015 with “more to come” for a total of 15 projects.

Allison Meier