In September a group of artists from around the world came together to explore the relationship between art and nature by creating a light and sound installation set in a forest in Norway. The collaborators, Melissa Larsen of Norway, Joao Pereira of Portugal, and Andy Cross from the UK, each brought their own expertise and experience working with electronics to the table for their installation. Over the course of one day, racing against the waning daylight hours, they interwove as many as 45,000 individual LED diods, plus additional custom-designed light elements, and up to 2000 meters of wires, through the woods. As darkness fell, the lights illuminated the world of trees, resulting in an enchanting multi-layered visual experience for the viewer.
The installation took place in a smallholding called Dølerud, set in a swath of woodlands protected under Norwegian law by what’s known as paragraph 11, which designates it as a “fairytale forest.” It is an area with a rich cultural history dating back to the 17th century and home to a long-standing tradition of Scandinavian folklore about ancient supernatural creatures such as trolls. Forests still play an important role in current Norwegian culture, as people love to hike, run, ski, and camp out in nature. It’s safe to say Norwegians are avid outdoors enthusiasts and their national and cultural identity is intimately linked to the trails, mountains, rivers, and trees that comprise the landscape. In this sense, the setting of the project was a crucial element in inspiring and shaping the way the artists worked as well as the final result. In the end it was a blend of technical electronic elements and the wild natural aspects of the land, which became something wholly unique, something magic.
Not only did the forest inspire the project, but it also presented many challenges. Nature is inherently untamed and difficult to predict, and the instability of the location necessitated an adaptable approach. Each time the artists arrived at the site during the planning phase of the project, they found it changed—plants and trees kept growing, rains transformed and diverted streams, and of course animals were constantly on the move. Another challenge was the fact that there was no electricity at Dølerud, which meant that all the electronics were LED or generator-powered. This wouldn’t have been so difficult, except that no vehicles were permitted on the land either, so all the equipment had to be carried in by hand on a rugged path which was by turns muddy and rocky. All this in addition to the fact that the artists had to contend with weather and mosquitos. They had to learn to see the trees for the forest, so to speak—that is, to be able to structure their project within the apparent chaos of the brambly wilderness. But in the end it was this chaos contributed to determining the artistic process and the constraints were what made the final installation unforgettable.
A trio of artists transforms a Norwegian forest with incredible light displays
While the artists themselves developed a close relationship with the woods as they wrestled with nature to get everything set up, the installation was also designed to bring the viewer closer to nature. The experience began with a walk along a “Path of Light,” 1.5 kilometers long, which led to the main light structure at the end, a sort of radiating display of lights which extended deep into the forest, illuminating the trees all around. There were custom-made light displays along the way as well, including “Glow Shrooms”—as the title suggests, mushrooms lit as if from within—and “The Balls,” which were bright spherical shapes scattered over the ground. Not only did the installation draw people, but it also attracted some of the woodland creatures—in fact, it was reported that on every single light ball there was a large daddy long legs spider!
The overall experience was a successful re-imagination of Norwegians’ most beloved activity of hiking, being out in nature, exploring the wild. The nighttime context heightened viewers’ senses and the beauty and mystery of the forest came alive. The lights and shadows transformed the landscape, revealing and concealing, opening the way for people to access a different side of the forest, and possibly a different side of themselves. At certain points, it even seemed as though the trolls and fairies of ancient folklore were present in the altered space created by the lights. Through the radiance, the darkness was transformed from an element that usually inhibits people from going outside into the very medium through which people could experience the outdoors in an exhilaratingly unfamiliar way.
The installation took place as part of a campaign for a new product, Kvikk Lunsj Mørk, by the Norwegian chocolate company Freia. The classic Kvikk Lunsj chocolate bar has been accompanying hikers and travelers in Norway for decades and this new release is simply its dark chocolate counterpart. The project wouldn’t have been feasible without the team that put it together. Melissa Larsen, Joao Pereira, and Andy Cross had previously come together at Studio Two Performance Academy, run by Andy Cross. They formed a harmonious collaboration, with their common interests in music, visuals, electronics, and design. Joining them were technical assistants Mich Rivera from Spain, Rasmus Stride from Denmark, and Piotr Tuszewicki and Kamil Modrzejewski of Poland.