17 September 2023

Han – The Little Merman

The medieval town of Elsinore, in Denmark has recently found it has a new addition to its waterfront. As you will see, it was designed to complement Edvard Eriksen's statue of the Little Mermaid which commemorates the character created by Hans Christian Anderson in Copenhagen (left).

London and Berlin based artists Elmgreen and Dragset have installed Han, the Little Merman (my subtitle), a thoroughly modern and controversially male interpretation of the Danish national icon and occasional Disney wannabee.

Han (which also means Him in Danish) is almost a mirror image, with a few notable exceptions to his older sibling – notwithstanding his gender. Although he sits in exactly the same position as her, he is made from stainless steel. Plus, due to a hydraulic system hidden inside his frame his eyes shut for a single second every thirty minutes. Blink and you miss it.

Commissioned by Elsinore City and the Arts Council of Denmark, Han represents the culmination of three years planning and work. Unwittingly, the artists have provoked a heated discussion in Denmark about masculinity and how it should be embodied in public.

Just like his sister, Han sits at the waterfront of the city. Behind him lies the historic castle of Kronborg where Shakespeare’s play Hamlet was set. Michael Elmgreen (one of the duo responsible for Han) has said of this most recent work: Visitors who enter a museum have already prepared themselves for a visual experience; whereas an audience outside a museum hasn’t actually asked to have an artistic experience - that is important to bear in mind when you, as an artist, are commissioned to do a public sculpture. The sculpture must communicate on all kinds of levels.

For me, the sculpture is less of a statement about gender politics and more one about the nature of loneliness in the twenty first century, something which is exacerbated for me by the distance of almost thirty kilometers of Han from his sister in Copenhagen. She has been variously stolen, daubed and vandalized during her tenure. One can only hope that Han remains intact.

All photographs by Flickr User José Luiz Brandão unless otherwise stated. 
Little Mermaid - Flickr User Allwork