Alexander Tovborg’s Glass Mosaic Shows Copenhagen Airport in a New Light
By: Harriet Lloyd-Smith
A vast commission by the Danish artist injects a healthy dose of colour into Terminal 2’s newly revealed extension
Airports: a retail playground for some, and a labyrinth of terminal fury for others. The anxiety of a red-faced sprint to a nearly missed flight; lost passports, lost baggage and lost hours. Aggravation may well peak at passport control, but Danish artist Alexander Tovborg is offering visual relief with a new commission for Copenhagen Airport.
Tovborg’s work is a hybrid of fantasy and raw abstraction, tapping into the psychology of dreamlike states, with subplots of European folk traditions and Western religion tempered by biomorphic forms. His work has the gestural edge of a Kandinsky, Klimt, or Richter, with the ethereality of a Gregorian chant. Tovborg was sitting in the rain outside his favourite café when he got the call from Creator Projects, with a commission to put his stamp on Terminal 2’s brand new Pier E extension designed by Danish architecture firms Vilhelm Lauritzen, and Zeso.
The installation is created in stained glass, but its aesthetic is a far cry from the austere Gothic churches and divine proverbs usually associated with the material. At first glance, there’s no obvious vantage point or narrative to the work. One could just as easily be looking at a landmass, a landscape, or having a hallucination. But this isn’t just a tangle of geometric abstraction, and the title, Sfinks og Nature (Sphinx and Nature) provides a few clues. Squint firmly – as you might with a Matisse cut-out – and forms begin to materialise. ‘I remember asking myself, what animal could I most relate to an airport?’ Tovborg settled on the Sphinx.
The mythical creature rests on what could either be a cliff or a primitive vehicle, cast against a saturated yellow sky, scattered with ambiguous blocks of flaring hues. Otherworldly plants sprout in a garden of unearthly delights, all overlooked by a pastel pink sun that could be rising, setting, or in permanent suspension.
To transform Tobvorg’s vision into reality, he enlisted master glassmaker Per Steen Hebsgaard, who has just been honoured with a knighthood from the Queen of Denmark. Known as ‘Doctor Glass’, Hebsgaard has worked with the likes of Per Kirkeby, Bjørn Nørgaard and Peter Brandes over his five-decade career. His Præstø-based factory worked 24/7 on the mammoth task, a process Tovborg describes as ‘a trip to the Vatican State: complicated, but if you believe, everything is possible.’
At 22m by 6m, the windowpane is Denmark’s largest glass mosaic. It’s rich with the raw spirituality for which Tobvorg is known, while bearing a universal narrative. Sfinks og Nature has more certainty in mood than subject matter, but for the artist, the desired response is simple enough: ‘I honestly hope that the artwork will make everyone walking past it a better person.’ As Tobvorg’s translucent mural bleeds its splintered vista onto the Pier E floor, passport control at Copenhagen Airport could be cast in an altogether more optimistic light.