New Denmark 2007 - PROPOSAL

Democratic storytelling

In January 2007 Denmark went through a structural reform, which had a substantial consequence for the municipal composition. Inspired by our own East England Landmark project and the public frustrations and alienation towards the plans, we created a space for democratic storytelling about old and new municipal borders and events.

The idea was to create a memory archive, that at the same time – in order not to become nothing but nostalgia – could look ahead and become memories of the future.

Territory, information space and affinity

Many countries are confronting challenges of moving internal borders as well as borders of tolerance. Territories and borders are like many aspects of life affected by change and rationalism in a globalised world 1). The New Denmark, which is about restructuring municipals, is very much concerned with local considerations but can at the same time point out more general themes on territorial dislocations.

Our intend is to use different layers of information to investigate and map specific patterns and use them as a tools for designing possible solutions to problems related to the loss of identity and need to hold on to common understandings of a given territory.

Our project aims at critical view upon political rationalisation of administrative and economic resources. The functionalistic argumentations favouring such attitudes might be covering up for an ideological agenda echoing on a larger scale the discourse of the “necessity of globalisation”.

At the same time, and as a result of transforming our living environment into a spatial matrix for production purpose, we assist to the emergence of an identity crises connected to the lack of meaningful connection with our physical surrounding – a lack of affinity.

Introduction – global and local affinity

Globalisation has changed the world we live in. Economies have become more interrelated with capital movements that do not respect national boundaries. The merging of cultures makes us diasporic in our own homeland and worldwide media has expanded exponentially and opened up new horizons and collapsed the distance between people of different nationalities. People increasingly move around the globe, and many countries seem to be confronting the challenge of moving internal borders as well as borders of tolerance. But though the ideology of globalisation accentuates mobility and fluidity, the consequences displays both persistent attachments to the area of belonging and conflicts over territorial divisions. Many political conflicts both internal and external have territorial dimensions. The popular and positive view of globalisation as an ability for economy, culture and population to detach from territory, increase mobility and thereby reduce the importance of borders is in practice challenged every day by a persistence of territory and attachment to the local.

Globalisation may have brought many changes along and eliminated several practical functions of borders but it has not eliminated territorial belongings and border-conflicts. We do not live in a borderless world or one that has been deterritorialised. Conflicts over territory continue in an increasingly integrated world and the solution continues to be an important political, social and cultural task.

In Denmark it has been decided by the government, that over two hundred municipals has to merge together and transform into 99 larger ones. This change has a lot of consequences of which only a few is predictable, but we have decided to define a project that meets the question of affinity and what happens when the surrounding ‘them’ with their not-belonging defining ‘us’ as a specific community, is forced to become part of ‘us’.

More specific we base our project on the new politically decided map of Denmark, where a practical and rational matrix is layered on top of former municipal borders, infrastructures and demarcation lines. We want to make the matrix operational in three dimensions and visible from different perspectives through a flexible system of invisible cairns. With the project we want to provide affinity to some extend to the population by giving them a change to transform and thereby reconstruct the matrix of Denmark, and maintain a local construction site of identity and belonging.

The main purpose of the project is not to show a final artwork but to give insight into a networked impact of political decisions for communities who share a common concern with the new forms of consolidation of power shifts in the global labour. Globalisation characterised as fluid modernity is, in the words of the polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, an arena where the construction of identity is individualised. Social constructions, territorial communities, professional networks and class collectives are all dissolved as long-term preservatives of identity and individuals have to look elsewhere in order to connect with other struggling individuals. Bauman argues that we create peg- communities to provide security in a short-term identification with co-members – a short-time community on where you can hang your identity like you hang your coat on a peg 2).

This liquid and flexible construction of identity is opposed by ethical communities, which go beyond the mere illusion of mutual responsibility by requiring long-term commitments. Following Bauman’s ideas of fluid modernity and globalisation, the congregation of people linked together by territory could also be viewed as a peg-community, especially as a large part of a population lives in a different area than where they were raised. Traditionally a community connected to territory would be linked to ethnic communities, but as Bauman furthermore argues community means shared understanding of a natural kind and a community with self-consciousness fails to be a community. A spoken-of-community is a contradiction in terms 3).

In the case of Denmark’s new composition it is the map and the political decisions that engenders the territory and therefore one could argue, territory becomes a peg. Belonging to this specific territory becomes one among changing identities used in suitable situations. Peg-communities have many similarities with ethic communities – they offer the experience of belonging and solidarity. They lack, however, what define ‘real’ community, which is durability and expectancy of life longer than that of any of its members.

Since today’s ‘real’ community is prominent mostly by its absence or disintegration, peg- communities seems to be the second best choice, and the ones connected to territory might be the best of the second best. Many things have to be taken into consideration with the The New Denmark project.

But at this stage when the plans of restructuring are still on paper, though politically decided, we want to focus on people’s anxieties and frustrations given by the fact, that their city hall might transform into an home for elderly or even political refugees and their mayor is someone from the neighbouring city.

Basically we want to make an information device that is able to provide memory of former topological, political and poetic structures of the landscape.

Augmented cairns

Instead of only looking at the dislocated and always-in-transit people of globalisation as Bauman tend to do, it might also be fruitful to look upon the transformative quality of territories at a time when subjects are no longer bound to one particular place. Rather than only focussing on the formation of dislocated subjects due to global migration and participation in worldwide online activities, we want to look at the way places are being constituted through the inhabitants. One of the recurring questions will be how the human trajectories and the traffic of visual information form cultural and social landscapes inscribe themselves materially in the terrain.

Through an understanding of territory as a distinct mode of producing and organising knowledge, regarding the way natural, social and cultural conditions relate to one another, the matrix constructed operates as a theoretical platform from which to think about society in a networked, complex and spatially expanded way that includes concepts of boundaries, connectivity, and transgression. Territoriality examines places, which are constituted not only by people who inhabit them, but also by connections and movements of all sorts that traverse them on a variety of scales, ranging from local, private and intimate processes to public, economic and national ones. The matrix of Denmark is meant as a re-articulation of the relations between social and territorial conditions, and should be viewed as a dynamic grid where connection points have the function of a cairn.

In the days before the infrastructure of asphalted roads and rails cairns worked as focus points and guidelines – guidelines that was maintained and transformed by the people using them. When people passed a cairn they added a stone to the pile, and assured thereby the success of the next person’s way finding. Likewise we want to give people the possibility to add a stone to the pile represented by stories, visuals and statements and thereby investigate the changes, excitements and frustrations in these new constructed communities and propose a solution to provide the public with an understanding of their concerns. The augmentation of the cairns is not in any way replacing the physicality of the cairns but adds an extra layer to the understanding of the territory.

Aiming at a nuanced picture of the implications of the New Denmark we have divided the project in three different layers that like topology is focusing on the invariable of variations. One of the layers investigated is a pragmatic one, dealing with the notions of infrastructure, borderlines and economy to map the different changes with direct measurable impact. On top of that we are placing a historic layer dealing with history, topology and mythology. Topics with partly a common adopted history – the history that have been mythologised for everyone to swallow and partly more personalised histories of good and bad origins. The third layer we have operated with in the project is a poetic layer working with nostalgia, utopia and identity.

Information layers

Through the project we want ideologically to show the participants how they mark and give meaning to the space they traverse. The participants are personally involved in ‘writing’ a many facetted history that contributes to the building of the very space they describe 4). With the participation of the public the specific location will gain meaning, generated through the passage of people and the appearance of temporary meetings and narratives, inscribed over time in space.

The exact position of the augmented cairns do not represent closed positions, they rather open up the networks within which they have been generated and of which they are an operative part. Each one of the cairns gives insight into a system of layers, paths and nodes, which is as much a system of navigation as a system of representation.

Whoever participates in the The New Denmark can follow paths, as well as enhance the system with own tales and experience. Different narratives should be connected for instance by year, area, events or other. The augmented cairns will guide the pedestrian like the ancient system of cairns did. Hopefully this information device will provide affinity for the users and give them back stories, knowledge and transformations of their own area and connection to neighbouring people. Scenarios and rules will be artificially generated by pervasive technology and will generate a complex information space acting as a prosthesis, compensating the loss of any direct sense of spatial belonging and identification.

Pragmatic layer – infrastructure, borderlines, economy

The first layer is connecting the existing infrastructures, borderlines and economic distributions with former structures. Hopefully the politics of space and territory is thereby taken to a higher level of abstraction. The ‘map’ evolved by the different layers of information, each with a dynamic and layered structure, points at an increasingly interconnected network of information systems involving the traffical, energetic and economic sectors as well as the entertainment, cultural inheritance and social welfare systems.

In contrast to the geographic map which is an analogue representation that grounds in a phenomenological reading of space, the dynamic matrix is a digital and structural representation, which seems more adequate in representing the current situation, which can no longer (and maybe never could) be grasped by photography or two dimensional mapping alone. The evolvement of this pragmatic layer is connected very much to old and new photographs of the landscape as well as maps of the country. And it is possible for the public to upload there own photographs, maps and stories about the landscape in order to enhance the knowledge of the area. The Danish economy – national and personal – is likewise shown in the layer. A direct connection to the stock exchange and mortgage marked will exist hand in hand with the framework grants of the municipals and daily economy of kindergartens and supermarkets. All this will not exist at once but develop over time when people and organisations interfere and connect to this information device. It might sound pretentious as if this information device can connect al aspects of Denmark. It is not meant to be covering everything, but to gather information that is already available as abstract information on different web pages and political publications and connect them to territory where they belong.

Historic layer – history, topology, mythology

The diasporic identity as a subject with a history is not the central part of the investigation of this layer. It is rather how subjects are giving and gaining identity to territory. How mobility gives quality and actively transforms territory as well as different territories transform identity. The cairns then traces the navigation of people through landscape as well as the data-scape, actively engaged in communicating, networking, labouring, informing, servicing and searching. A possible aesthetic strategy does not seek to intervene in the production of the image, but in the production of knowledge derived from the visual information. This project is not about a simple line but a complex system of forces that strive towards constituting the meaning of an entity called Denmark, with fluxes that cross it and on the identities of the individuals that inhabit it.

While many places in Europe is passing through a period of uncertainty and reformulation of borders, we use Denmark as a solid space that is criss-crossed at different levels and according to different topologies, by movers, tourists, immigrants or refugees holding a different status of interventions in the public sphere. Of this criss-crossing over time and in time histories are unfolded and mythologies are created. Not histories with a single sender because every statement can be contradicted by an opponent. This system is not meant to be an archive of everything that happened to Denmark, because traces of history disappear if they are not maintained. An undermination of the statements is build into the system. Like if the cairn of stone is not maintained it vanishes over time. The ‘memory’ of the system should act similarly to the memory of the subject. As a memory that, as Keath Ansell Pearson argues in his book Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual: “… is not the opposition of forgetting but which is one with it. This is the memory that is endlessly forgotten and reconstituted.” 5)

Poetic layer – nostalgia, utopia, identity

In a time of increasingly changeability nostalgic longings for the past tend to replace hopes for the future and that could easily happen in a project like this. But longing for the past can without reflection become a prosthetic future. “Nostalgia tries to slow down time, to resist progress,” argues Svetlana Boym in her book The Future of Nostalgia 6). The emergence of a coherent global consumer culture has strengthened nostalgic attachment to national, regional, and local ways of life. Desire is turned backwards in time and desire fulfilled becomes an impossible task. Nostalgia from nostos return home, and algia longing is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed. Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy.

But nostalgia, Boym points out, is not really a longing for place; rather, it is a longing for a time: The nostalgic desires to obliterate history and turn it into private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition. The irreversibility of time seems to be the heart of nostalgia, and exactly what the incurable nostalgic person refuses to accept.

Nostalgia is mourning for the impossibility of mythical return; for the loss of an enchanted world with clear borders and values. Boym distinguishes between two types of nostalgia: Reflective nostalgia grounded in longing, contemplating, and remembering, without an attempt to restore the past. The longing is not denied but instead used as something to reflect on. It is a positive force that helps to explore past experiences, and is able to offer an alternative to an uncritical acceptance of the present. Contrasting is a restorative nostalgia, which is about heritage and tradition instead of memory and history. It is a kind of nostalgia blind to the nostalgic aspect, which is mistaken as truth and tradition. Restorative nostalgia is often based on invented tradition or myth that is able to provide a coherent version of the past. Restorative nostalgia can prevent us from living in the present, in the here and now, and the appreciation of what we are and what we have on this once-only day in our lives disappears. Reflective nostalgia is a kinder and maybe necessary version of the disease. It is the kind of nostalgia that most of us experience in our individual lives. Reflective nostalgia has a capacity to awaken multiple planes of consciousness through humour, irony and other self-reflexive strategies. Reflexive nostalgia can be a wonderful and helpful path to empathy. The thought of the irreversibility of time, of all that we have loved and lost, make us through nostalgia feel with our fellow travellers on this dark journey of life.

Through nostalgia we recall our childhoods – good or bad – and most likely we wish to make the world a better place for our children. Creating a community service based on memory seen in a self-reflective mirror contains the danger of becoming pure restorative nostalgia or hollow pastiche. It contains all the right elements; a past that maybe was not there, a claimed history and tradition and a peg for people to hang their identity in an invented community.

But maybe the implementation of humour and real-time action has the ability to go beyond the point of restorative nostalgia. Maybe the insistence on the poetic and a continuously evolvement of the project gives it a reflective and positive possibility for survival. In order to make these layers integrate and interfere we would like to develop scenarios and rules, which poetically and emotionally can preserve vital and nurturing experiences.

We want to re-inform inhabitants about their surrounding space and make them aware about the virtual dimension attached to the physical territory in which they live, and make them conscious about the richness of organic information layering which got embedded into an information rich space by the passage of time. To achieve those goals, we let the different layers of information turn into an “Information Landscape”, where the topological surfaces (or layers) is creating dynamic or vector-based lines. These lines we call information paths, and due to their dynamics they generate points of interference, which we call information nodes.

Information Paths

The lines generated from the layers of information function as virtual traces built into the landscape – traces that superpose over the actual physical delimitations separating the municipals. Some delimitation will at some point maybe be erased from official documents but will survive as an immaterial path and be experienced by the local inhabitants. The traces are made out of a land covering web of an proximally 10 meter large reactive strip describing regional and even national wandering paths which are disconnected from the physical reality of the circulation network but which are tightly connected – literally and metaphorically – to traditional territories boundaries and therefore acts as an attempt to help maintaining the memory and the history of the place trough a reapropriation by the inhabitants of the original boundaries. When two or more paths meet in the landscape an information node is generated, and the density of information arises.

Stories and soundscapes are merged freely by the path-follower but can only be heard while on the path and the intensity of the stories will diminish when getting further away from the node and proportionally compensated by stories from the next node as well as by the soundscape.

Information Nodes

When there are enough stones to make a pile a cairn appears or in other words when the information density is high enough an augmented layer creates an augmented cairn. The function of the cairn is that it is a place where the participation can evolve from listening and experiencing information to contributing with information. Cairns have the purpose to indicate the way trough the landscape but most importantly to assess the passage of the wanderer and pilgrims giving them the option to leave a trace for the follower to discover and thereby a kind of virtual community trough time and space is created.

Cairns are like silent witnesses, registering in the hearth of its stony matter that a human being passed by and left information and clues. The various input from people arriving trough the Information paths, are recorded and mapped into a meaningful way, conferring to the digital Cairn an always changing visual expression. As opposed to the Path, which by its nature is immaterial, the node is strongly inscribed into the landscape. It acts as a clear articulation point, and even if its content and visual sensory expression varies in time, its general shape signifies immobility and staticity: As the Cairn which represent a moment of eternity, the digital node represents by its weight a frozen moment of a personal experience. 

Tangible interface

Where the sea meets the land, life has blossomed into a myriad of unique forms in the turbulence of water, sand, and wind. At another seashore between the land of atoms and the sea of bits, we are now facing the challenge of reconciling our dual citizenships in the physical and digital worlds. The new Denmark seeks to realise a seamless interfaces between humans, digital information, and the territory by connecting digital information to specific territory and making information directly manipulable and perceptible. The goal is to blur the boundary between traversing bodies and the layer of augmentation and to turn the territorial space into an interface.

Cyberspace seems no longer to be the right metaphor to describe our computing environment. It is the overlay of information over the real that makes the cyberspace metaphor obsolete. 7) Cyberspace, after all, is conceived as a digital reality that exists ‘elsewhere’, and that is being eroded by applications of augmented reality systems. Increasingly, the digital world is mingling with the real world. The metaphor of cyberspace obviously worked best when the computer was represented only with the fixed version with the keyboard and monitor, but with cell phones and geographical applications based on highly developed positioning systems (GPS) we are no longer peeking through a window into cyberspace. The window has been broken, and the computerised space has poured out into the psychical space.

The new Denmark is investigating a tangible user interface instead of a more traditional graphical user interface. By doing that we attempt to make the input-output distinction as seamless as possible and try to open up new possibilities for interaction that blend the physical and digital worlds. Tangible interfaces emphasise touch and physicality in both input and output, and allow for parallel input (e.g., both hands or both voice and vision) improving the expressiveness and the communication capacity. When the interface is removed from hand and mouse and a larger variety of skills is set in motion, it is our conviction that operationability is enhanced and the chances of the users affinity towards whatever they interact with is increased.

Hopefully a tangible interface will add the right feeling to the project so that the users can experience a continuously rearticulation of their environment without the project grows into hollow pastiche and desperate longing for the past.


1) See for instance The New Denmark: or Land Mark East England:

2) Bauman, Zygmunt. 2001. Community. Seeking Safety in an Insecure World. Cambridge: Polity Press

3) Bauman, Zygmunt. 2001, p 11

4) Rogoff, Irit. 2000. Terra Infirma. London: Routledge, p, 74

5) Pearson, Keath Ansell. 2002. Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual – Bergson and the time of life. London: Routledge, p. 168

6) Boym, Svetlana. 2001. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books, p 19

7) Hiroshi Ishii

Bauman, Zygmunt. 2001. Community. Seeking Safety in an Insecure World. Cambridge: Polity Press

Boym, Svetlana. 2001. The Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books

Pearson, Keath Ansell. 2002. Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual – Bergson and the time of life. London: Routledge.

Rogoff, Irit. 2000. Terra Infirma. London: Routledge.

Design and concept: Hanne-Louise Johannesen and Michel Guglielmi (Diffus Design)

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