Understanding landscape through artificiality



Molly Sjögren

A landscape is not something natural or pre-existing, but rather something that is produced to reflect certain beholders, to produce certain values. There are instances when this is made more obvious, and the natural state of landscape is negotiated and questioned. Twice has an artificial island by Djurgården in Stockholm been the object of different activities, that can be interpreted as specifically pointing out this state of agency, as well as the quality of artificiality itself.

In 2008, the Museum of History in Stockholm initiated an archeological dig of the peninsula Framnäs Udde, and the adjacent small artificial island, at Djurgården in Stockholm. The dig lasted for 2 weeks and during that time 4 850 visitors came to the site. During the last week, 400 of the visitors participated in the dig, which could also be followed on a screen from the entrance hall of the museum. The archeological dig is thus framed as a meeting place, in which the museum wants to engage the public with archeology.

​The island was originally constructed for the 1897 Stockholm exhibition – The general art and industrial exhibition – arranged in celebration of King Oscar II’s 25-year anniversary as ruler. The exhibition included an industrial hall, art shows, restaurants and bars, and some 90 temporary pavilions, with altogether 3 722 participating parties from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Russia. The head architect was Ferdinand Boberg, who also designed the industrial hall, the art gallery and the main exhibition hall along with Fredrik Lilljekvist. During the 1897 exhibition, the island replicated Helgeandsholmen in the scenery of “Little Stockholm,” which was a half-scale representation of medieval Stockholm, designed by Lilljekvist (picture above). The miniature town hosted several attractions, such as Sweden’s first cinema and demonstrations of the recently developed x-ray machine. It was a thoroughly constructed life-like scenography that also hosted re-enactments during the exhibition, displaying life in the medieval city.

​The Stockholm Exhibition of 1897 was seen by 1,5 million people, which was almost a third of the whole population of Sweden. That alone makes the content of the exhibition important to study, since it probably had a major impact on the people’s view of the world, the neighbouring countries, and indeed themselves.

​After the 1897 exhibition, the site of Djurgården has changed. The temporary exhibition buildings were demolished and only a few exist today, although some of them have been moved to other locations. Today Djurgården is primarily a place for leisure and culture: home to several museums (both from before and after 1897), an amusement park, restaurants, parks and a few domestic houses. To analyse this place from a critical perspective would not be a difficult task. The traces of power relations, discrimination, imperialism and nationalism are many, even at a quick glance. And in the midst of this Sunday outing paradise is the artificial island, which is not even included in most maps. Today, the island has a slightly different shape than in 1897. It was re-modeled in order to give place to an entrance to Skansen, which was situated there during early 20th century. The island of Djurgården is historically the hunting ground of the King, but started being developed for leisure activities, housing for prominent citizens and other uses in the late 18th century.

​The 1897 exhibition is one important aspect in the investigation of this tiny island, hidden in plain sight. The other activity upon which I have chosen to focus is the archeological dig, not just because it explicitly connects to the exhibition and activates the history of the island, but also because public archeological digs in city centres in Sweden is rare. To render an image of the island, I will use the concept of the heterotopia, developed by Michel Foucault in the lecture “Des espaces autres” in 1967 (published in Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité 1984).