{Denmark} A Cave within a City

May 26, 2014


As far as unusual exhibition spaces go, Cisternerne – the only dripstone cave in Denmark – underneath Frederiksberg’s Søndermarken Park by Copenhagen has to be the most unusual I’ve ever visited. Once a subterranean reservoir providing the Danish capital with drinking water (it covers a space of 4,320 square metres and at full capacity can hold 16 millions litres of water!), ‘The Cisterns’ was turned in to an exhibition space in the mid 1990s and was home to a museum of modern glass art from 2001 to 2013. Since March this year it has been hosting another special exhibition.

Søndermarken Park

Descending in to The Cisterns was quite an experience in itself. Outside, everyone was enjoying the gorgeous sunshine, at temperatures around 24 C. Above,  you can just see the entrances to The Cisterns in the park, marked by two glass pyramids. As I walked down the candle lit steps into semi-darkness, the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees. In fact, it varies from around 4 C in winter to around 16 C in summer, with an annual mean temperature of 8.8 C. So if you’re someone who easily takes a chill, make sure to bring a coat or sweater even if it’s hot outside.

Cisternerne - The Cisterns - Andante - Candles 001

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to cave like surroundings. Three lit panels at the entrance give some background information to the formation and history of the The Cisterns, but other than that any artifical lighting was kept to a minimum, with more candles flickering dimmly in the distance. The walls of the cave are made of granite blocks, the ceiling is cast in concrete, and the supporting columns are brick. The resulting accoustics add the the whole eeriness of the place.

Cisternerne - The Cisterns - Andante - Candles 003

Cisternerne - The Cisterns - Andante - Candles 002

I slowly made my way down one of the corridors towards the candles in the distance, my plimsole shoes squelching in the puddles on the ground – air humidity is constantly close to 100%, and if you have ever seen the epsiode of the TV series ‘Friends’ where they go to Barbados, trust me, your hair will look like Monica’s after a visit down here! But in all seriousness, if you visit here, please tread carefully so you don’t slip and fall.

Cisternerne - The Cisterns - Andante - Candles 004

Cisternerne - The Cisterns - Andante - Candles 007

I was a little confused at first, as I had obviously read an old description of the museum and was wondering when the glass art was going to appear. It took me a moment to realise, that the elaborate candle sticks dotted around The Cisterns were not there primarly as lighting but were in fact the artworks. D’oh… The exhibition is called ‘Andante’.

Cisternerne - The Cisterns - Andante - Candles 005

Cisternerne - The Cisterns - Andante - Candles 006

Internationally renowned Danish artist Christian Lemmerz conceived his piece specifically for this site. As the candles burn down and melt away – with new ones being added all the time –  the dripping wax emulates the natural stalactite and stalagmite formations of the dripstone cave. The low light levels made it impossible to photograph any of the natural formations themselves, but they are very impressive to see (check out the Cisternerne website for some images). Just be careful not to let any water drip in to your eyes, if find yourselves in the cave staring up at them, as it has a pH-level of about 12 (in comparison, salt water is about pH 8 and bleach around pH 13).

Cisternerne - The Cisterns - Andante - Candles 008

Cisternerne - The Cisterns - Andante - Candles 009

But don’t let yourselves be put off by the temperature, humidity or pH levels. If you exercise a little caution, you will be asbolutely fine (I was). It truly is an amazing and unique space worth checking out. My photographs and descriptions can’t do it justice, it’s the kind of place you have to experience for yourself.  Of course, I don’t know how well the space works for other exhibitions, and can only speak for ‘Andante’, but Lemmerz’s candle lit sculptures, warmly glowing in their chilly surroudings and reflecting in the pools of water, do indeed seem to be a perfect fit – “a monumental living sculpture, like a sea of candles, to illuminate and stage the sheer drama of this dark and cavernous space“.

Cisternerne is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11am to 5pm. Admission is 50 DKK/ 40 DKK for students and seniors, under 18s go free. Located at/ under Søndermarken Park, just opposite Frederiksberg Palace.

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