Enter the Realm of Witchcraft

While leading a recent Muench Photography Workshop in northeastern Norway, I took some time to wander around town with my clients and our guide.  One of the sites we visited was the Steilneset Memorial, located in Vardo, Norway.

One hundred and thirty-five witchcraft cases were tried before the courts in Finnmark between 1600 and 1692 and in ninety-one of them the death penalty was administered.  On St. John’s Eve in 2011, a memorial was inaugurated by the Queen of Norway, at Steilneset, the place where many of the executions are assumed to have taken place.

The memorial was the work of the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and the French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois. Zumthor designed a memorial hall covered by sailcloth. The form of the hall both resembles hjeller (the wood racks upon which cod is dried) and local boats. Zumthor’s work thus cites the forms and materials of vernacular architecture. International avant-garde art is clearly combined with cultural conventions to express local identity.  Bourgeois contributed to this with an installation placed inside a dark cube; a chair with a perpetual flame surrounded by seven mirrors that reflect the fire and the gaze of the spectator. The spectators see themselves displayed in mirrors illuminated by the “purifying” element that once burnt the convicted to death.  Maybe the empty chair represents the place where the interrogated sat before being burnt?  Could this symbolize the absence of the dead with the eternal present of fire?

Inside the hallway of the memorial lays the history of ninety-one cases against convicted witches depicted on plaques.  Each plaque contains excerpts of the cases based on court records. Each victim is represented with a perpetually burning lamp and a window.  Oddly enough, the location of the vertical location of the window along the structure was determined by the toss of dice.

The message of Steilneset:  In her inaugural speech, the Queen identified the causes behind the persecution. She also underscored that past events should serve as a reminder of present persecutions.  As I walked into the cube and later into the hallway, I carried with me her message of present persecutions, not just a memorial to the past……………………food for thought as you read the daily headlines.

#Vardo #Norway #witchcraft #Muenchworkshops #Steilneset