Vibeke Glarbo, Hjördis Haack (Denmark)

In art, nature opens her eyes

(Th. Adorno, “Aesthetic Theory”, 1979)


In art debates, you are often asked the following question: Is visual art important for individuals and for society? There are many answers to this question. One is that we often forget that artists describe the world, both the inner realm and the outside domain, in ways that cannot be put into words. If we turn our backs on visual arts, we miss relevant insight and knowledge of the world around us. The language of form is so intense and so physical that it can bring closer both little details and large perspectives and make them relevant. Through the language of art, artists interpret the aspects of the world that we tend to overlook. These can only be revealed through visual art. The work of art is always a visible world full of presence and intensity with a global and open message. And, finally, visual art creates a stimulating environment and gives a poetic atmosphere to a cold world of technology.

These characteristics are found in a very personal way in the artworks of Vibeke Glarbo and Hjördis Haack. They are both prominent artists with multiple solo exhibitions and group shows to their name. A lot of their outputs are site-specific artworks presented in Denmark, Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe. They have also focused on dialogues with artists from faraway countries, especially China, believing in the power of conversation to inspire creators and broaden their artistic horizons.

Finally, their art – each in its own way – is characterised by an understanding that the visual arts can become an alternative to the immaterial society of information and therefore visualise and interpret experiences that cannot be described by digital tools. They have understood how art can help explore new perspectives and create unexpected connections in a world that is often fractured and splintered, like the magic mirror from a fairy tale.

Their sculptures, paintings, drawings, installations and graphic prints give us an experience and interpretation of the world around us, which is much more physical and intense than the images we see on television and in electronic media.

Through their artworks, they open our eyes to the intricacy and beauty of the natural world. They also create a new vision of nature and visualise a harmonious totality that echoes Japanese art and culture through their artistic processes. This could be described as a concept of beauty based on working in and with nature as well as a dream that the human and natural worlds could be interwoven. Vibeke Glarbo and Hjördis Haack have tried to fulfil Henri Matisse’s demand for artists to work with inspiration from nature: “An artist must possess nature. He must identify himself with her rhythm, by efforts that will prepare the mastery which will later enable him to express himself in his own language.”1

Vibeke Glarbo has primarily focused on creating installations and projects in public spaces. For example, she has created outdoor sculptures in bronze and aluminium and indoor plates in aluminium and plaster (Hobro Aldersdomshjem 2007, Tinglysningsretten 2009, Hobro Politistation Nord 2013). Between 2000 and 2009, she has embellished a large part of Avedøre Stationsby, Hvidovre, with sculptures made of bronze, cast iron and granite. She has succeeded in giving a new profile to anonymous places and creating evocative spaces – both in the city and in the countryside – with the power to inspire onlookers on a grey and dreary day. She builds her installations from natural materials, such as cinder, tar, ash, plaster, lava, concrete and wood, using them in multiple surprising ways.

Many of her installations are site-specific works that create a poetic space. For example, Gate to the Universe on Java in 2002 introducing bamboo as a sustainable material. Through this and similar works, she wants to visualise the transitory nature of life – a tightrope between birth and death.

Vibeke Glarbo has also created single sculptures which serve as focal points for our spatial orientation. Finally, she has worked with other media, especially graphic prints. One of them, titled Time Mirror, was exhibited in 2018 in the Nordic Contemporary Art Centre in Xiamen. All her works include the spectator. She wants to create a close visual dialogue between the work of art and the person looking at it.

In her current exhibition at the Mark Rothko Art Centre, Vibeke Glarbo mainly exhibits transitory site-specific projects. These works have been created specifically for the rooms of this museum. Branches, bushes and other organic materials have captured the rooms in various artistic interpretations. Forgotten aspects of the nature around us and the stuff we tend to discard, like ashes, become fascinatingly present. This is a predominant feature of the Metamorphosis project, where a number of delicately composed branches form a circle around a plaster bowl filled with ashes.

However, Vibeke Glarbo also exhibits sculptures that are not transitory, like Breath, where two thin plates cast in aluminium are combined so that there is a hollowness in the middle, like a gash that seems to breathe on the spectators and thus include them.

Hjördis Haack has worked for decades, exploring how her material can catch new aspects of reality and include the spectator in its magic visual world. A central theme in her paintings is repetition, which creates rhythmical structures in the space. Such repetitions are often combined with various kinds of changes to reality, sometimes big, sometimes minimal.

These repetitions are often mirror reflections that evoke some of the Renaissance artists’ use of mirrors, thus creating a connection between tradition and innovation. Both the mirror effect and repetitions as components of our experience of reality become an essential focal point in the projects where several rows of paintings with these themes are placed in the same room. The many images create a unity of surprising interaction between the individual works. Hjördis Haack created such an exhibition for the Academies of Fine Arts of Inner Mongolia, Hohhot, China, where many paintings of a big silver spoon gave us a new experience of this everyday object. This silver spoon is taken out of everyday life where it belongs and placed in a long row of paintings in a particular rhythmical pattern on the walls of the exhibition room. This gives the object a new power of fascination.

In the other part of the installation, you can find several pictures of idyllic scenery reflected in a silver bowl. These reflections question our concept of reality. The spectators can see both themselves and their thoughts reflected in the paintings. You are also encouraged to think about how you adapt what you see. Do we only see reflections of reality – or are we subconsciously discarding the contorted versions? Through these works, the spectator may hone their conception of the relationship between illusion and reality.

In her contribution to this exhibition at Mark Rothko Art Centre, Hjördis Haack has created a series of rather large landscapes. They consist of areas of unpainted canvas, which are placed in the middle of the picture or slightly off centre. These white fields are surrounded by areas with naturalistic depictions of dramatic Faroese scenery, rocks, dangerous crevices and picturesque forms with suggestive light and colour effects. The white empty zones appear in stark contrast to the romantic, sensual mood in the realistic part of the painting. At the same time, the spectator is invited to imagine or “paint” a landscape. In this way, the viewer becomes the finishing touch of the artistic process. Their experience of nature and understanding of its special character are therefore enhanced.


The overall aim of Mark Rothko Art Centre is to present art and culture as potent and visualised examples of transcultural and interdisciplinary collaboration – essential elements of coexistence. Indeed, this is exemplified by Rothko’s light-filled paintings in the famous chapel in Houston, and it is the reason the chapel welcomes thousands of visitors each year; people of every faith and from all parts of the world. Many of these visitors have explained that during their visit, they have attained greater understanding, a better grasp of the world around them and a more tolerant insight into the religions that give our lives meaning and direction and also emphasise respect for man and nature. It is also this message that the paintings of Rothko hanging in the Rothko Centre convey. Rothko’s art has also inspired the basic mood in the work of Vibeke Glarbo and Hjördis Haack.


Else Marie Bukdahl

DPhil, professor at the University of Ålborg and former rector of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art in Copenhagen

1 Else Marie Bukdahl, “Aesthetic Challenges in the Field of Sustainability Art, Architectural Design, and Sustainability in the Projects of Michael Singer” in The Journal of Somaesthetics Volume 6, Number 1, 2020, p. 135

(foto: Didzis Grodzs)