It’s an odd sight… a ‘Viking’ ship which looks like it’s been stranded miles from sea on the edge of a Danish housing estate.
Welcome to the Amager Ark – a modern day Viking ship which sails nowhere from its landlocked site on a Copenhagen island.
This art installation is the creation of Italian environmental artist Alfio Bonanno who creates surprising collisions between man and nature.
Rising up from a nature park next to blocks of futuristic flats and a large shopping centre, the ark is an incongruous sight.
But there’s something fascinating about this 55-metre-long wooden ‘ship’ which sits astride a strip of urban fringe close to marshland and forest.
Amager Ark forms part of Himmelhoj, a series of art installations on a flat, marshy area a few miles south of Copenhagen city centre.
Take a trail through the Vest Amager Nature Park and you’ll happen upon this oddity, surrounded by modern housing developments with the Avenedo energy plant in the distance.
Before you glimpse this surreal ship for the first time, you’ll see a series of smaller art installations by Alfio Bonanno scattered throughout the surrounding nature park. At first they look so natural as to be part of the landscape.
The Insect Forest
The Insect Forest is the most striking of the smaller installations with its circle of charred oak trees, scattered stones and a primitive fireplace.
This labyrinth of 35o trees is a dramatic work which sends a shiver down your spine as you wander through its oppressive spaces.
Apparently, the trees were burned to protect them from rotting, a practice once employed by local farmers to protect wooden fences.
The ‘forest’ stands on top of a small mound, affording panoramic views of the surrounding area.
The landscape is as flat as a pancake but this slightly elevated spot allows visitors to capture their first glimpse of the Ark.
The whole atmosphere is creepy, reinforced by the memory that this is the area of Copenhagen where Nanna Birk Larsen’s fictional body was found in the iconic TV series, The Killing!
Inside the Ark
The nearby Ark is an imposing landmark which reflects the area’s history and the time when it was submerged under water.
There was once a sea here before the land was reclaimed to form the island of Amager. No wonder it’s so boggy under foot!
The ship itself is a hybrid of Noah’s Ark and a Viking longboat with echoes of early trading vessels from the port of Copenhagen.
On board the Ark there are platforms, look-out areas and a spiral mast surrounded by granite boulders in the centre of the vessel.
Run to the stern or bow for some great panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and imagine yourself as Noah or a Viking raider, depending on your preference!
It’s also a great space for kids where they can also let their imaginations run wild.
My mind kept on wandering back to the historic ships I’d seen on our trip to Roskilde’s impressive Viking Museum a few days earlier.
Roskilde has an enviable collection of authentic Viking ships – or at least the fragile remains of them.
The ships were deliberately scuttled and sunk by the Vikings in 1070 AD to block the fjord and prevent the enemy attacking their city.
This was fresh in our minds when we came up the Ark but perhaps it’s too tenuous to link the two? After all, the Danes have a long association with sea travel down the centuries, not just during Viking times.
The modern Amager Ark has holes in its side through which you can enter or exit the ‘ship’, surrounded by rocks and wooden tree stumps.
It’s an attempt by the artist to make connections between the natural environment and the city, the land and the sea, and between man and nature.
The Ark’s natural materials – stone and wood – also demonstrate the artist’s interest in the natural world, but this ship isn’t going anywhere… it’s frozen in time.
No journeys, no voyages of exploration, not even a Noah-style ark journey transporting animals, two by two, awaits.
Strange stone circles
Nearby there are three more art installations which are part of the same group.
The Fire Place is a circular space of 15 metres across. It’s like a picnic art that has been designed by an artist, complete with uprooted pine trees and, yes, more boulders. Mr Bonanno likes his artistically-placed rocks.
Fox Den Shelter and Nest is another surreal space with an atmospheric feel – almost like a stone circle made for worship. I enjoyed the sparceness and simplicity of this space.
The large boulders inside provide seats whilst a woven nest lurks in a nearby tree, looking as if it’s part of nature.
It’s as if some giant, fairytale bird had made this nest-like structure and suspended it from high in the woodland.
As for the meaning of these spaces, that is for the visitor – and the art critic in all of us – to ponder.
For me, they feel like scattered monuments or stone circles from pre-history. It’s as if they’re echoing back in time through the ages.
Perhaps the artist wanted us to think about the continuity in this Danish landscape, from its earliest history through to its reclamation, industrialisation and urbanisation.
One thing’s for sure, this shifting landscape is fascinating despite its strange bleakness and flat terrain. There is something haunting about the place which lingers in the mind.
To add to the weirdness, there are many unusual futuristic buildings in this new neighbourhood.
Perhaps the last words should be left to the artist: “When I am successful I accentuate the feeling of a place. The work needs the site to breathe and function.”
Take a journey to this grounded ship and reflect on 1,000 years of history… and the unsettling sense of place in this unusual landscape.
Tammy’s travel tips
Himmelhoj is located in southern Copenhagen in the Orestad region – it takes about 15 minutes to drive there from the city.
The site is slightly tricky to find because it’s not well sign-posted, but the nearest landmark is the Vest Amager Nature Centre on the island of Amager.
There is car parking at the Vest Amager Nature Centre from where you can walk towards the various art installations and the Amager Ark. There are also nature trails and bike rides through the park if you want to explore further afield.
The site is highly accessible by public transport. Take a Metro from central Copenhagen to Vestamager at the end of the line. From here, walk across the main road, follow the signs to the nature reserve and then take the foot paths to the art works.
Why not combine a visit to Himmelhoj with a trip over the Oresund Bridge if you’re travelling between Copenhagen and Malmo. It provides an interesting detour for an hour or so.
If you enjoy public art, you’ll find more outdoor sculpture at the brilliant Louisiana Museum north of Copenhagen in Humlebaek. That makes for a superb day trip in its own right.