Copenhagen Photo Festival - Festival Center Refshaleøen

 

For the Copenhagen Photo Festival, the centre is over on Reshaleøen at the north end of the harbour - out beyond Christianshavn and Holmen - on the site of former shipyards.

Many of the workshops, office buildings and dry docks of the yards survive in various states but the area has seen a rapid transformation over the last couple of years with new restaurants, the food market of Reffen - now here for its second summer - a bakery and flea market along with a major new gallery of modern art - Copenhagen Contemporary - now also in it's second season.

The photo festival is spread over three main venues and each with a very different character as exhibition space.

At the north end is a group of stacked shipping containers with open ends where the works of Franziska Gill and Marco Marzocchi are shown and outside, on scrub land with the footings of demolished buildings, are the photographs of White Rage by Espen Rasmussen and the large images for Living Room by Jana Sophia Nolle.

All these works are essentially photo journalism and all gain from the temporary and therefore immediate feel of the spaces where a more traditional and polite modern gallery could make the images appear detached from the subjects. In particular, the images of White Rage seem even more of a challenge when seen outside against trees and rough grass as if they are in a post-conflict site of destruction.

To the south, close to the food market, the Machine Workshop is a huge space that provides the venue for Censored - the main open show for fine art photography - the exhibition Hail by Garrett O Hansen; a video installation - KOMA RETREAT - by Mathias Løvgreen and the installation Behind the Year by the independent publisher Blankt Papir Press.

The space above Copenhagen Contemporary with photographs by Mary Frey could not be more of a contrast. It's a vast and light space with an amazing roof and all recently restored. These enormous halls will be used by Copenhagen Contemporary for work with schools and for additional exhibitions beyond or rather above the space of the vast galleries below. For the Photo Festival access was by a relatively narrow metal staircase with a straight single flight that seemed to go on and on climbing for ever - almost surreal.

Copenhagen Photo Festival continues until 16 June 2019

 

Refshaleøen as a venue for the Copenhagen Photo Festival

Although there are exhibitions all over the city, Refshaleøen is the centre for the Copenhagen Photo Festival.

The area - with huge but abandoned buildings from the shipyards here until the 1990s - has an incredible atmosphere - part dereliction and decay and part alive with energy as the area is being transformed.

It's definitely photogenic with amazing materials, colours and texture and with strong contrasts between areas of decay hard against buildings and areas being given a new life.

But there is an odd disjunction ….

The area has become a playground for the city. Of course that's not in itself a bad thing because Copenhagen needs somewhere where people can make a noise - the heavy metal festival Copenhell is out here at the end of the month - or make a mess and it's somewhere artists and makers and young start-up companies can find work space with low or relatively low rents for now in this interim period before developers and money men move in and they are driven out. The area feels consciously edgy but maybe slightly hyper because everyone knows the clock is ticking.

There are actually expensive places here to eat and drink alongside a huge variety of foods from the food market … and I'm not knocking any of that … I'm as middle class as you can get and come out here to Lille Bakery to buy some of the best bread in the city … but ……

And this is where my inner puritan kicks in …Refshaleøen was a huge and, for the post-war Danish economy, a crucial industrial site where thousands of men worked and worked hard and the memory of that is fading and disappearing. Machinery, hoists, cranes have all gone with little remaining to tell you what was done and where.

I'm not romanticising work that must, for many, have been hard and grim. It's just that it is now 30 years since ships were made here so there must be fewer and fewer people alive who actually worked in the yards. Should people now still try to understand all that and remember? Do we need to understand how we got here to make sense of where we are going?

If you stopped any of the foreign students arriving in droves on their bikes or any of the tourists off the ferry and asked them then very few would even know that this part of the city had been a shipyard. Does that matter?

My first trips to Copenhagen were after the ship yards closed, so I have no first-hand idea of what this area was like through the 1950s and 1960s, except from looking at old photos and maps  and maybe that is the other odd thing that few visitors will understand … this land was claimed from the sea, became a major industrial area and failed and dismantled and abandoned in just three decades. In an age when we are more and more concerned about our impact on our planet, is Refshaleøen a stark example of man moving in, transforming a landscape and moving on leaving the mess … so a monument to hubris … or a lesson in pragmatism … our ability to salvage and make something new once the old is no longer of use?

And if I missed the shipyards, I do remember the area before gentrification began … exploring and taking odd photographs of scrap yards and wire fences and vicious guard dogs and feeling uneasy, knowing I was intruding, and waiting to be challenged or seen off at any moment.

Again I'm not romanticising that in any way but maybe cities need scruffy land on the edge of regulations and outside planning and controls although, I guess, that is not on the agenda of the politicians and developers.

Copenhagen Contemporary

Copenhagen Contemporary is an independent institution for modern art.

From June 2016 they ran a pilot project in the warehouses on Papirøen - Paper Island - in the centre of the harbour just south of the opera house - where CC took over four of the halls and were there until the end of 2017 when the buildings were returned to the developers for demolition and for work to start on new apartment buildings on the site.

Now, with funding from the city and from private organisations, Copenhagen Contemporary have reopened in a larger space - some 7,000 m2 - in what was the welding hall of the shipyard of Burmeister & Wain.

The ship yards were closed back in the 1990s and for the last two decades the area has been taken over by small workshops and boat repair yards. A yacht repair company, the restaurant Amass and La Banchina - a popular cafe and bar - established new businesses out here and this summer they have been joined by the new food market - many of the stalls also relocating from Papirøen - and there will be more artists' studios and craft workshops opening as more of the buildings are adapted.

Copenhagen Contemporary has a lease here for 10 years and they have ambitious plans to establish a new space for the display of modern art in the city and particularly for large-scale installation and performance art. 

The city is gaining a major new venue on the lines of the galleries in Gateshead and the Turbine Hall at the Tate in London or the galleries at MoMA in New York and the programme here should compliment exhibitions of modern art at the established galleries in Copenhagen with Den Frie, GLStrand, the space of the Kunsthal in the former church of Sankt Nicolaj and the galleries of the Royal Academy at Charlottenborg - all in the centre of the city or close to the centre - and the gallery down the coast at Arken and, of course, Louisiana - north of the city with its amazing location on the shore of the Sound.

Work on the building for the gallery on Refshaleøen has kept many of the features from its industrial use with huge sliding doors, high exposed roof structures and high-set windows that flood the space with light and give views out to nearby workshops.

In the next phase of development, space on the upper level will be opened for CC Studio for their proposed education programme.

 

previous posts on danish design review

Copenhagen Contemporary

Copenhagen Contemporary
Refshalevej 173a
1432 København K

 
 
 

Refshaleøen - what's where + what's on

 

There are good sign boards at Refshaleøen - one with a map showing the location of the main food stalls and the main buildings - including the new gallery space for Copenhagen Contemporary - and the other with the dates of main events here through the coming summer

maybe click / download / save / zoom ?

or information on line at REFFEN

 

if you like to eat your food straight out of the container .....

 

Popular food stalls that were in the warehouse on Papirøen - Paper Island - are back but on a new site further north - out on Refshaleøen - the island that until the 1990s was the yards of the ship builder Burmeister & Wain.

Called Reffen, the first phase is an open area with the kitchens and food stalls in shipping containers grouped around a new square and running down a short street towards the water of the harbour. The next phase will be more food stalls but inside in a hall in a former workshop.

There is open space that will be used for events and the newly reopened gallery of Copenhagen Contemporary is in massive former workshops just to the east.

Get here by taking the harbour ferry or a 9A bus that runs out here frequently from the central train station - this is the last stop where it turns round and heads back so you can't get lost - or you could always come out to Refshaleøen by bike.

There is a short description of each of the food stalls online on the Reffen site along with information about opening times and details about events.

Reffen

 

select any image to open the photos as a slide show

 

the buildings out on Refshaleøen through a rose-tinted lens?

select any image to open the photos as a slide show

 

 

It's difficult. 

How do you preserve somewhere like this? Or at least keep some of the buildings and some of the features that make the place so interesting.

How can you keep the colours and textures of somewhere that only looks like this because it was abandoned and for twenty years has - for the most part - been left or had a series of people working out here without the money or the security of tenure to do much beyond patching and repairing. 

Of course there have been exceptions … a yacht yard has extensive workshops and the restaurant Amass is well established in a workshop building that was reconfigured by the architect Dorte Mandrup.

But even the land itself - the island - is hardly a long-term feature of the harbour with a long history. This land was all claimed from the sea in the late 19th century and until the mid 1990s this was the shipyard of Burmeister & Wain with a huge area of workshops and dry docks with buildings that had been added or adapted as necessary and as and when there was new work to be completed. The massive dry dock out the east - such a prominent feature of the works - was only constructed around 1960 so it only had a working life of around 30 years.

Maybe there is also something wrong about romanticising or fetishising the decay of industrial buildings when actually they are all that is left to mark the tough and dangerous working lives of thousands and thousands of men ..... it's sobering to read that the workshops where Amass have their restaurant and garden now was workshops where some of the men who were too old or had been injured at work could find less dangerous jobs in servicing and repairing machinery.

Small boat yards and engineering works colonised the space after the ship yard closed and that large hall has been used for events and for rock and pop concerts but Refshaleøen is now entering its next phase with the opening of new gallery space for Copenhagen Contemporary in workshops across the front of the music venue and in an area towards the harbour there is a new food market and there will be craft workshops and studios in some of the other buildings.

Even this next phase is short term - or relatively short term in the broader context of planning and future 'investment' in long-term development. This is valuable land just across the harbour from the city and much will depend on whether or not there is the motivation to build a new road tunnel to link Nordhavn and Refshaløen. 

If that happens then the whole character of the island will change.

Even now this is hardly what you would describe as marginal land but with or even without the tunnel this will not survive like this for much longer. The gallery has been told that they can stay for 10 years and some of the industrial buildings might survive to be given new uses but what merit will rusty steps and broken windows have then? What is the value of patina? What is the best rate of return on rust?

 

previous posts

Refshaleøen

Industrial buildings on Refshaleøen and Prøvestenen

Reffen / The Reef

 

Reffen / The Reef

 

On Papirøen - Paper Island - immediately south of the Opera House and opposite the national theatre - the popular food hall and the large gallery space of Copenhagen Contemporary closed at the beginning of the year because all the buildings here are about to be demolished for redevelopment of the area with plans for the construction of large new apartment buildings and a swimming pool.

However, a larger and much more ambitious version of the Papirøen food halls are set to open further out at Refshaleøen … an island at the north end of the harbour that was formerly the site of the B&W shipyards and engineering works and perhaps famous recently as being the venue for the Eurovision Song Contest.

The plan for Reffen is to attract here not just the sellers of gourmet food who were so successful on Papirøen but for this to also be a venue for cultural events and to attract crafts people and design people to not just sell out here but to have their workshops here. There will be a strong emphasis to reduce and reuse - to use local produce to reduce transport and of course recycle or reuse … so there will be a strong environmental agenda.

"The hope is thus to create a new place in Copenhagen that with a sustainable point of departure is a melting pot of amazing experiences that attract and inspire both locals and tourists - a place that can be seen, tasted, heard and felt both locally and internationally."

It will cover a large area - around 10,000 square metres - much larger than the Paper Island warehouses - and they are talking about leases for 10 years so this should become a well-established destination for both people from the city and for tourists.

Plans show three areas … a large market place, a covered hall in old machine shops and an open area  for events on the city side of the huge hall where music events and so on are held.

Refshaleøen is at the end of the harbour ferry line and through the summer there will be direct boat links from Nyhavn - the ferry terminal by the Playhouse - and tourists boats will also come out here … and of course you can get here by bike.

industrial buildings on Refshaleøen and Prøvestenen

 
 
 

view of Refshaleøen from the south - presumably from the 1950s before more land was claimed and the huge sheds were constructed to the east

 

Comparing maps of Copenhagen from the 18th century or the 19th century with modern maps, you can see just how much of the city is built on land claimed from the sea. These interventions with extensive engineering works started in the late 16th and the early 17th century as naval dockyards were constructed on either side of Borgen - the royal castle that is now the parliament building but was then an imposing fortified building on an island just off shore from the wharves of the town along Gammel Strand. 

Then, in the 1620s, Christianshavn was built up in the water between the castle and the island of Amager to the south - closing in almost 2 kilometres of the sea between the old city and the island - and the naval yards were moved to that side of the harbour … to the sea-ward side of Christianshavn. 

At first these naval facilities were little more than sheltered moorings that were enclosed and protected by outer defences but over the subsequent decades and in the next century islands were formed inside the defences and permanent buildings were constructed … many of which survive.

Commercial wharves and large buildings for industry and utilities - the first power stations, railway yards, gas works, pumping stations and sewage works of the city - were nearly all built on land claimed from the sea. The harbour below Langebro is still a wide and impressive channel of water but nowhere near as wide as the original bay before coal yards, a meat market and then a power station were all built on new land out from the natural shore line.

And this process - pushing the shore line outwards or constructing new islands - includes all of what is now Refshaleøen at the top north end of Amager.

Then, inevitably, over years or decades, an industry or the economy changes and even large companies fail or move on and away - in the case of the great concrete sheds for the Burmeister and Wain shipyards at Refshaleøen, they were in full use for only around 30 years - and then buildings fall into disuse or are demolished and the landscape becomes marginal … or what is now described as 'post industrial.' Refshaleøen is post industrial and has been in a sort of limbo for twenty years.

But surely there are good reasons that any city needs this sort of open space … a place for paint balling or go karts and boat yards and scrap yards? ... but, unfortunately, it's politicians who define marginal but developers who identity and define potential.

And Refshaleøen is only two or three kilometres from the centre of the city so it’s too valuable to be left marginal for long but, in terms of future use, the remaining buildings - the vestiges of the industry that was here - are pretty amazing and with a lot of imagination - and a fair bit of investment - they can be given new roles.

Just as long as it is not too sanitised. Scruffy and lively can be good. Surely the worthy citizens of Copenhagen need scruffy sometimes?

 
 

east Amager and Refshaleøen

 

Copenhagen does not have a design quarter or design area so galleries, design stores, studios and workshops are spread over the city and out into the surrounding areas … in fact, with rising rents, few designers or makers can find a studio in the historic centre.

This means, of course, that for visitors, it takes quite a bit of work beforehand to plan a way to get to see as many people and places as possible. 

Public transport in the city is good and it’s always possible to hire a bike but, even so, some areas like the part of the city at the top of Amager - the area south of Christianshavn, around the green open space of Kløvermarken, and out to Refshaleøen - doesn’t look that accessible on maps although, ironically, everyone arriving in the city at the airport and taking the metro comes first to this area that starts just where the trains dive underground. 

But, starting out from the city centre, the harbour ferry and the 9A bus will get you out to the furthest parts. 

Over the last week or so all the posts here have been about buildings and galleries that are well worth visiting and places to eat or have a coffee in this area … scroll on down or use the links below the map.

 

Refshaleøen

Burmeister and Wain was founded in the middle of the 19th century with a foundry and engine works in Christianshavn but they established a new shipyard at Refshaleøen in 1871 and by the 1930s there were 8,000 people employed in these yards.

The company survived the war and seem to have been very successful through the 1950s and 60s but struggled through the economic challenges of the 1980s and finally closed in 1996.

Since then, buildings have been demolished - air photographs of the area from the 1950s show just how many buildings, yards and docks and quays there were - but one prominent building survives - the looming concrete bulk of the Sektionshaller that can be seen as a clear landmark for visitors on the approach into the harbour - if they arrive by ferry or cruise liner - and the halls can be seen from most places on the inner harbour. That's hardly surprising as the main hall is 65 metres high, 165 metres long and about 60 metres wide. 

It was built around 1960 on land claimed from the sea and behind a long line of earlier welding sheds across the west end - the front of the building seen from the harbour - and with a massive dry dock to the east that is about 240 metres long and almost 40 metres wide.

This is now a venue for major concerts and events … the sheds and dock had their moment in a European spotlight when DR (Danish Radio) hosted the Eurovision Song Contest here in 2014 but the music most associated with Refshaleøen is a bit more … well … robust so coming up is Engage on 27th May, Distortion at the beginning of June and Copenhell on the 22nd and 23rd June.

Refshaleøen