I see the automatic sensors in galleries separating me from an artwork as a dare. Last time I visited Stonehenge I had an urge to slip under the rope barrier to stand in the shadows of the prehistoric earthwork. I suspect I am not alone. Three friends have brought me to the Wanås sculpture park in Southern Sweden where appreciating art can be a full contact sport.
We arrive by car, get out and gaze past the parking lot to the fields, forest, stable and barn. The scene looks like a typical landscape painting until we notice a pair of denim trousers worn upside down by a tree in front of us. The legs are fitted snugly over two hefty branches, zippered and buttoned neatly at the trunk. These are artist Peter Coffin's Tree Pants made in collaboration with Levi Strauss & Co. It is a metaphor of Adam and Eve's shame of being naked in the Garden of Eden. In an interview with Art Cal Coffin describes the work as, "…how we relate to nature and understand ourselves within it."
Wanås provides more chances for us to relate nature. It is autumn and layering the park grounds are leaves with a deep-fried tone and texture. We walk pass brown-beamed 15th century farmhouses into the woods. Greeting us is another decorated tree strung wildly with adult-sized swings hanging just out of reach. We lunge successfully for the swings and, once seated, pump our legs. My friend Neil looks diminutive on the oversized swing as he giddily slices through the air. The installation stretches my innate generalist tendencies – to enjoy the swings I must jump high, swing far and trust the immutable strength of this oak.
Slipping off we find a moss-covered Viking wall jutting off along the tree line. All four of us hunker down in the damp ground to look closely at a subtly-placed series of rocks laser-etched by Jenny Holzer. There are dozens of stones planted randomly in the Wanås Wall advertising Holzer's pithy observations. We recite some while hopping in toe-balanced spring-positions to find the next one. "Alienation produces eccentrics or revolutionaries." Hop hop. "Private property created crime." Hop hop. "Categorizing fear is calming." We spread out attempting to locate and read each comment along the 1800 metre wall until our thighs are stiff.
I am distracted by another series; Allan McCollum has placed meticulously cast elm tree stumps the size of coffee tables sporadically under rhododendron bushes and living elms throughout the park. It is difficult to determine whether they are fakes, yet, each newly spotted one confirms its identity by being an exact copy of the last one. As I am rooting around the bushes for fake tree stumps I eye the figure of a women with her pants down. It is Fidiecommissum a bronze sculpture by Ann-Sofi Sidén. The figure is crouched, furtively peeing near a bush – her smooth bronze bum forever lifted as she is doomed to be caught in this familiar pose.
The park does provide public washrooms and enroute Neil and I are mesmerized by the working organic farm. He and I are so removed from where our giant slabs of Swedish cheese wedges come from that these 100 cows housed in a spotlessly clean, odourless automated milking factory seem like a surreal artwork. Through the window we see the cows crowd onto a raised conveyer belt. They have metal suckers attached to their teets. The cows meet our gaze at eye-level as the conveyor belt moves them slowly across the breath-stained window. Five meters to our left black megaphones positioned on poles cry out an otherworldly Swedish folk song. The kunig was a common tune during medieval times in this part of Sweden. Artist, Andrea Ray, arranged the song, sung by Susanne Rosenberg, to play for the cows everyday at 3:30pm for three minutes. The music eventually tugs us away from the curious dose of reality and back into the sculpture rich grounds.
I tuck myself into a life-sized human-shaped mold by Monika Larsen Dennis. Nearby our two companions lounge on chairs in a wooden dining room, created by Melissa Martin. There are tenacious beech trees growing haphazardly through the furniture. We peer at them through empty window frames surrounding the scene.
Hiking around the five-hectare park we discover more artworks. Highlights include human cocoon statues by Antony Gormley, a concrete pyramid split into four by Gunilla Bandolin and a brick building skeleton by Per Kirkeby. Bernard Kirschenbaum's Cable Arc stretched over the pond consciously incorporates the natural water feature. Close by, we find an installation by Kari Cavén fashioned out of a cow feeding troughs, an acknowledgement of our recent distraction.
The day is getting darker and so is the tone of the art. We find a small, white cabin built by Robert Wilson. A house for Edwin Denby has a window through which we see a warmly lit room with a table and chair. It looks habited but there is no door; nothing opens. Denby was a poet that committed suicide. A soundtrack with a male voice reciting the events of Denby's death projects from eight hidden speakers. When we walk away the light in the house and speakers immediately flick off.
At the far end of the park we hit a dense clump of towering pine trees. In front of me a disembodied child's voice calls out "mamma". My skin pricks with goose bumps. The voice calls out again but this time behind me. The voice becomes louder on my right. The creepy audio is part of I am thinking about myself by Marianne Lindberg De Geer. The four of us jog away, forgoing Stefan Wewerka’s petite cubist bridge to leap across the leaf-clogged creek towards the lake.
Our last stop in the Wanås sculpture park is a futuristic two-way reflection pavilion that Dan Graham conceived after visiting the park in 1996. Two Different Anamorphic Surfaces is a set of wide arched walls with its concave sides facing each other to form an open-roofed space the size of a large closet. The walls are translucent simultaneously bouncing our reflections off the surface. Our bodies are transformed into skinny and chubby versions that overlap with each other in the playful mirrors.
In the distance the Wanås castle reflects off the surface of the lake. The dignified manor is a private home to the park's director Marika Wachtmeister and her husband Charles who operates the organic dairy farm. The Wachmeister family have noble lineage throughout Southern Sweden. Judging from this experimental playground for contemporary art lovers they have established, the Wachmeister’s aren't living in the past.
After a few hours we haven't seen it all. We've missed a sound walk by Janet Cardiff, a backwards waterfall by Olafur Eliasson, and several more cool Scandinavian artists. A full list of the current artists are online. Many of the site-specific pieces are temporary - 30 are permanent pieces of the 155 pieces erected in the last 21 years since opening.
I would like to return to Wanås. Maybe it was the thrill of tramping around on an art treasure hunt that employed all five senses (if you stop in the cafe for fika), or the uncanny feeling that the place doubles as a laboratory for testing how humans relate to nature. Either way it's a corporeal experience unlike the average white cube gallery show that is hard to resist. I highly recommend it.