Connected in the same room between concrete and linden trees

Out of the spring haze, the mistletoe emerges. On a sound walk with the final Garden Caretaker in Herlev, Denmark.

Author Hanne Kokkegård, DTU - Desire, published March 22, 2024

We walk down the road along the construction site. Looking at the raw concrete walls, the empty frames for windows, and the transitions between grey concrete and red bricks. Slowly, day by day, bricks will cover more and more until finally transforming the facade from grey to red. And a little later, several hundred families will move into this building.

The construction site lies still, for the craftsmen have gone for the weekend. We walk in a row and observe the construction site from the outside. But we are also inside – and together – in a room.

With headphones on our ears, we listen to music, soundscapes and speech created by the artistic project Daily Fiction with Tora Balslev and Felia Gram-Hanssen, who, dressed in batik-coloured orange-red boiler suits, create a warm contrast to the Danish grey spring weather.

We are at Bakkekæret in Herlev, Denmark, where the Desire partner NXT has inhabited a droplet-shaped greenhouse close to a construction site since the spring of 2023. With the greenhouse as the focal point, the character the Garden Caretaker - in the guise of changing artists - has worked in five periods with different forms of artistic work and approaches to strengthen the connection between nature and the city. NXT has developed the method Being of Place [Stedets Væsen], where we “in the cross-field between art, biodiversity, circularity and storytelling listen to the place with a sensitivity towards and an ambition to awaken the life-giving factors that every place contains.”

Today the calendar switched to March, which in Denmark is called the first day of spring. The day is also a (preliminary) ending to the Garden Caretaker project.

While several of the previous artists have worked with physical works, Daily Fiction works as performance artists. The sound walk will have us sense the place. Later, the duo’s video recorded on the construction site itself will have us sense the raw walls and the silence that a busy construction site also contains. In our sound room, the pace is lowered, while people rush past outside on their way to the weekend.

Behind the construction site lies a small green area, which is fenced in by a linden avenue. They stand crowded, and the trees stretch towards the sky, as trees do. And the roots break the asphalt next to it, as roots do. And we sit down and feel the roots, while Tora lies down and listens.

The trees need attention. We start looking for linden fruits that can be sown in pots, sprout and later be planted out in the area. To strengthen the role of the area.

High up in the otherwise bare tree crowns large green clusters of mistletoe are hanging from the branches. When families move in, the place can be Bakkekæret as an address, but also as a ritual. If families go down and stand together under the mistletoe, they can connect to each other and the place, ponders Daily Fiction with references to the mythical mistletoe, which one should kiss one’s dearest under. A ritual that makes even more sense right here under the linden trees, for in Nordic mythology the tree with heart-shaped leaves was associated with love.

We gather linden fruits and impressions. Feel a sense of belonging - being part of something bigger.

On the way back to the greenhouse, we pass the artwork that the Garden Caretaker Davide Ronco created back in November. A temporary artwork from bricks moulded using local soil, challenging the permanence of human architecture. As the structure crumbles over time, it symbolizes nature’s reclamation of land. A fleeting art project that questions our relationship with the Earth.

We stop and look at the piece. Stamp on it. The surface is rock hard. But the structure with the individual bricks is dissolving. Nature is reclaiming the quadrant. While the transformation of the area continues at the construction site next door.

For 50 years, an asphalt factory covered the area. Previously, farmers cultivated the soil. Before that, it was nature. An earth for all, but how?

NXT and the builder NCC are working on Garden Caretaker continuing in some form when families move into Bakkekæret.

The Garden Caretaker - March 1, 2024. Photos: Hanne Kokkegård, DTU - Desire. Click on the photos to enlarge.