Resurgence from Underwater

The Merman with Seven Sons, sculptures by Suste Bonnén. Photo by Canan Marasligil. 

It's been eight weeks since I've been back from Copenhagen.

I haven't worked on the materials I have collected during my one month residency at the University of Copenhagen, I haven't written or even put any order into all the media I brought back.

Photos, videos, sound recordings, digital notes, analog notes, flyers and brochures, books... and thoughts.

Many many thoughts.

When I got back, I felt a bit drowned under all these materials and everything I learned. It was an extremely rich residency. The people I met through the University and all that knowledge I collected has been very inspiring and motivating. 

Then I was back in Amsterdam, a place I for now call home. And I decided to leave those thoughts, ideas and all the collected material on the side for a while. And so it took me eight weeks to be able to start - yes, only start - to look back at what I experienced in Copenhagen. 

I kept thinking what I could start with, and I remembered that underwater sculpture, The Merman with Seven Sons in the heart of Copenhagen I took a picture of on a sunny day.

The sculptures were made in 1992 by Danish sculptor, photographer, and author, Suste Bonnen, based on the famous story found in Danish folklore: Agnete and the Merman (Agnete og Havmanden in Danish). The group of bronze sculptures is located underwater in the Slotsholm Canal next to Højbro (High Bridge). They portray a merman and his seven sons with outstretched arms, begging Agnete to return home. 

Mermaids and other mer-people are recurring figures in traditional Danish lore. Hans Christian Andersen's popular story The Little Mermaid inspired the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, a most popular tourist attraction. 

Doing some light research on the subject, I found out different versions of the story, which has the same basis: a merman and a human, Agnete, fall in love, live together underwater, have children. One day, Agnete hears church bells coming from land and desires to go back, promising her husband she will come back. There she finds the family she had abandoned, her mother and sisters, and learns the bells are actually for her father's funeral who killed himself after having searched for Agnete for so long. 

No matter what exactly the story tells, how many children they have, if Agnete speaks to her real mother or a ghost because time passes differently underwater than on land,... the sculpture makes you feel the tragedy. These underwater statues reaching for their mother, the merman reaching for his loved one, in vain. Then there's me, looking from up the bridge, trying to decipher these figures. And now, looking at the photograph, feeling quite overwhelmed but also extremely excited about a new challenge that I will take with me in the coming months, going through all the materials and thoughts I've gathered in Copenhagen. It will be a long journey, and I want to take my time, even if I may now and again feel underwater. I will end up catching my Agnete's hand.