• News
  • Feb 19, 2024

Nordic Pavilion to Construct Giant Dragon Ship

Portrait of LAP-SEE LAM. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia.

On February 9, the Nordic Countries Pavilion released details concerning the artwork it will present at the 60th Venice Biennale in April. Swedish-Chinese artist Lap-See Lam conceptualized the multi-modal installation The Altersea Opera (2024) that will transform the Pavilion into an enormous ship adorned with the Chinese depiction of a dragon for its prow. The ambitious work will imitate a voyage from the arctic archipelago to the Venetian Lagoon. 

The draconic “ship” will occupy Sverre Fehn’s open architecture by book-ending it with a huge and ornate dragon’s head prow and tail. The Altersea Opera is inspired by the 19th-century traveling opera troupe Red Boat Opera Company who popularized Cantonese opera and the Floating Restaurant Sea Palace, a three-story Chinese dining venue in Gothenburg, Sweden. When the Floating Restaurant closed down it was abandoned at the Gröna Lund theme park where Lam discovered it in a state of disrepair. The ship currently resides in a remote boatyard in the Stockholm Archipelago. 

A film shot on board the Sea Palace will also be screened at the center of the Pavilion installation and transport viewers to a bygone era. The story will be told in a libretto, depicting Lam’s re-imagination of the Cantonese mythological fish-man hybrid Lo Ting who longs to return to his former home in Hong Kong (also known locally as Fragrant Harbour). But when Lo finally returns, he finds that the harbor is not as he remembered. Accompanying the presentation will be an experimental, multilingual score composed by Norwegian-Chinese musician Tze Yeung Ho and a sculptural textile installation by Iraqi artist Kholod Hawash, who lives and works in Finland. 

Exterior of the Floating Restaurant Sea Palace in Gothenburg, Sweden. Courtesy Wikimedia. 

Stockholm’s Moderna Museet is helming the 2024 edition of the Nordic Pavilion. Lam collaborated with the museum’s curator of Swedish and Nordic art Asrin Haidari, who helped bring Ho and Hawash on board.  To create the layered audio-visual installation of the Pavilion, Lam and Haidari involved numerous international singers, costume designers, filmmakers, interpreters, and a certified bamboo scaffold engineer.

Lam’s world-building practice has engaged with the ideas of generational loss through a blend of her diasporic experiences with historical narratives, and The Altersea Opera expands her universe further. As stated in a press release, the installation evokes Lam’s investigation into “displacement and belonging which veers between the real and the imaginary to tell a story about the desire to stay and the need to move on.”  

The Nordic Pavilion is constructed by Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn and will display the works of artists from Norway, Finland, and Sweden. Moderna Museet collaborated with Helsinki’s Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and the Office for Contemporary Art Norway to realize the project, which will be on view during the Venice Biennale from April 20 to November 24, 2024. 

Camilla Alvarez-Chow is an editorial assistant at ArtAsiaPacific.

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