The arctic chills light up Washington

One of Finland's leading artists, Kaarina Kaikkonen uses a thousand dress shirts donated by people from the DC area to construct a large-scale, site-specific hanging installation that takes the shape of a boat.

One of Finland’s leading artists, Kaarina Kaikkonen uses a thousand dress shirts donated by people from the DC area to construct a large-scale, site-specific hanging installation that takes the shape of a boat.

The Tenley Times’ very own Norwegian, Ingvild Grendstad, proudly reports on this year’s Nordic Cool Festival.

Linken Nyman Berryman has a glow in her eyes when she enthusiastically holds up the February 15th issue of The Washington Post Weekend. The front page is covered with a picture of a star full sky with bright green and blue lights, the northern lights. The northern beauty, Aurora Borealis, is brought to Washington to represent a Nordic phenomenon at Nordic Cool 2013. It is one magical event out of many that are here to represent the northern countries.

“You have seen the paper today, right?” asks Linken Nymann Berryman, the 43-year-old Culture and Press Attaché at the Norwegian Embassy, while she starts flipping thru the Weekend issue. Her southern, Norwegian accent is easily recognizable. She points it out; “We got five pages about it, and look; this is Norwegian, and this picture is from Norway. This is a unique opportunity, it’s usually very hard to get the attention towards Norway.”

Author Ingvild Grendstad

Author Ingvild Grendstad

Nordic Cool 2013 is a Nordic culture festival here in Washington. It is held at the Kennedy Center and includes music, theatre, literature, art, exhibitions and almost everything you can imagine, and not imagine. The non-imaginable, or rather very creative, is for example the Norwegian artist who plays on instruments made out of ice. Everything represented is from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland as well as the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Áland Islands. With this many countries to pick performances from, the program is packed all the way to March 17th. All the countries cooperate in the process, and Berryman believes this is essential; “the Nordic teamwork is pretty unique. We couldn’t have done this alone.”

Impressive shows and exhibitions with creative, inspiring Nordic artists; it is all part of the next chilly and cultural weeks at The Kennedy Center.  The first exhibition to fall on your eyes when you enter is the creation of a ship, made out of shirts tied together, and it represents the creative vibe presented at the festival. There is no chance anyone will be able to pass this center of culture without noticing it. The northern lights that cover the walls outside will draw you to it and it is an amazing sight on a cold February night. And like mentioned, the performances are many.

Iceland has brought the designer Steinunn Sigurd, who will hold a knitting workshop. “She was the head of knitwear at Calvin Klein for several years and this three hour long workshop is going to have some unique method of knitting,” explains Xerxes Unvala, Assistant Festival Manager at the Kennedy Center. The knitting workshop will also feature hip-hop music to create the right atmosphere and Unvala hopes that this will attract the young audience.

Denmark can, among other things, give you the play August, a silent comedy focusing on mundane problems. It will bring out laughter and vulnerability at the same time. The experienced and talented Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra are performing tunes that will make every soul in the room forget where they are and feel perfected. In one of Norway’s performances you should on the other hand not close your eyes. They are very proud to bring Terje Isunget’s performance Icemusic, where he plays on ice instruments. For the Norwegian Embassy, this is a highlight of the festival; “There are some things we can see that are really popular and this concert was sold out a long time ago, there is no way you can get a ticket”, Berryman says with a smile on her face.

It’s the first time The Kennedy Center is hosting a festival for the Nordic countries. Earlier there have been similar international festivals, but with different themes and a focus to another part of the world.  India, China and the Arab countries have been headlines in the past and The Kennedy Center decided it was time to explore the arctic and the mysteries of the northern countries. “The whole planning starts about four years prior,” says the Assistant Festival Manager. As busy as these times are for The Kennedy Center, Unvala is on the phone, but still he manages to make his energetic and proudness towards Nordic Cool 2013 affect everyone listening. He also emphasizes that they need to establish contact with the embassies. The process from there will be that they send a reporter, or a correspondent, who travels around the countries to find the best and most representable performances. One might think that the embassies or the cultural departments are engage in picking out the entertainment, but the reason why they send someone to the countries is because they want to capture the culture as it is. Thru a reporters eye, from America, there might be obvious cultural signs that the natives overlook or don’t consider.

On the question of whether the Nordic countries are involved in the process of picking out artists, the Norwegian Minister of Culture, Hadia Tajik, can verify The Kennedy Centers statement through an e-mail; “No, it’s the Kennedy Center who planned and arranged the program.”  Even though they don’t have a say in the presentation of their county, Norway does however contribute with funding, which they are more than happy to do. “First and foremost, it’s The Kennedy Center that have added resources through funding and technical expertise, so the Norwegian contribution is modest in comparison. But we have warmly welcomed this initiative because it gives the Nordic countries a fantastic opportunity to show the new Nordic art to a wider audience.”

The balance between young and old, modern and traditional and entertaining, but yet representative is something the Kennedy Center strives to achieve; “Our people needs to find a balance between the contemporary and the traditional,” says Unvala.  The essential it comes down to is to get a feeling and an understanding of the culture.

Because this event is happening in the Capital of US, the embassies of these countries are represented and would like to contribute. For the embassies and the Nordic citizens in the area, this festival has been a big cooperation with the each other. Being a foreigner, like the Nordic are here in Washington, brings them closer and Berryman can confirm this; “All the Norwegians have been really interested in participating in this, listening and being there at the festival,” says Berryman with a proud voice. She believes it is important to come together as Norwegians during these weeks. “And of course, this creates a unity between the Nordic.” Unity is important and at Nordic Cool 2013 it will shine thru everything, from buying Norwegian chocolate in the kiosk or speaking Swedish with a Danish person walking by. The promise and the important factor is that the viewer and listener will get an impression of what Nordic art and culture is. “I am convinced that the attention Nordic art gets through Nordic Cool 2013 is helping the American audience be aware of the diversity our artists represent,” says the Norwegian Minister of Culture.  She knows the Norwegian classics like Munch and Ibsen are well known, but through this festival they also get to show modern expressions.

Back in the office of the Norwegian Culture Attaché Berryman can conclude with the same opinion as the Minister of Culture did. She reassures that the audience will get a broad impression; “Some things we can see is very popular,” and here she especially hints to the ice instrument performance of Terje Isunget. “But for us it’s really just to see that we got a all the areas covered.”