Ship of Cools

Shifting shades of color transform the Kennedy Center to a house of cool.

The Northern Lights are shining above the Potomac this month, thanks to a brilliant festival of Scandinavian culture at the Kennedy Center.

The Nordic Cool exhibition, which runs through March 17th,  showcases music, theatre, dance, film, art, and culture from the countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and more. It’s a stimulating smorgasbord of ideas and talent, and many of the presentations are free.

Perhaps the most dramatic of the many offerings is the nightly spectacle produced by Danish lighting designer Jesper Kongshaug, which recreates the effect of the Northern Lights on all four sides of the Kennedy Center each night from sunset until 11 p.m.. Subtle at times, breathtaking at others, the effect is mesmerizing.

Inside the center, free exhibitions range from stunning stained glass birds to demonstrations of Nordic cuisine and informative displays highlighting the history of the Nobel Prize and plywood. Yes, plywood.

For me, however, the work that really hit home was the remarkable creation of Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen, whose installation titled: “Are We Still Afloat?” evokes a giant ship, broken in two. The nautical illusion is all the more marvelous considering that it is fabricated entirely from a thousand used shirts hung on lines. Laundry never looked so cool.

Ship of Shirts

Visual art involves the magic of translating the human experience into something universal that speaks to us without words. This “ship of shirts” spoke to me, of souls gone, of hearts broken, and of hope still aloft in the wind.