I didn’t waste any time getting over to the Kennedy Center for Nordic Cool 2013, the month-long festival celebrating the cultures of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Greenland, and nearby islands. Many of the exhibits opened to the public yesterday, and some of the offerings for children — a LEGO play space and mobile games — sounded especially fun, so Sasha and I headed over straight from school to be there for day one.
I knew that there would be many exhibits on display beyond those designed just for kids. (There actually will be 750 performances, exhibits, talks, demos, and more over the next month.) What I didn’t expect was just how cool the exhibits would be, nor just how many of them kids would find interesting, too. What was intended to be an afternoon of LEGO and game play, turned out to be an experience full of art, discovery, and fun — all of it free. Here’s a look at some of it…
The play space is easily a highlight for little kids, with LEGO Duplo tables and bricks especially for children ages 1-5. And there’s more for older kids, too: iPads loaded with games created by Nordic developers are available throughout the area offering guests a chance to try them (including Angry Birds, created by the Finnish company Rovio Entertainment). LEGO murals on the walls and a couple of sculptures are also fun to check out.
The art starts outdoors, where several wooden elk sculptures created by an artist from the Aland Islands have been erected. These lofty structures are used as hunting towers and environmental art to make the landscape fun and alive.
We encountered one of the most breathtaking works as soon as we walked into the Hall of States. A “boat” made of men’s oxford shirts (which we were told came from over 1,000 people in DC) spans much of the space. You have to see it from every angle, including from inside between the two ends, to truly appreciate it in its entirety.
In order to reach the LEGO play space upstairs, you have to walk through a few other interesting exhibits, including a showcase of Nordic design and its relationship to nature, technology, and heritage. Furniture, kayaks, a bike with child bucket in front, and other products are on display in the Northern Atrium Foyer. In the next room, decorated to look like a snowy landscape, mannequins don fashions by Nordic designers.
Beyond that is the “New-Nordic Architecture and Identity” exhibit, where five dwellings built by Nordic architects are on display. You can actually walk into and through a few of them, which was a thrill for Sasha. One even had small meandering hallways, kind of like a little maze. Dioramas by different artists from all over the Nordic region line the perimeters of the exhibit, showcasing cultural personalities from the various countries.
An entire room is dedicated to Iceland’s waterfalls, which are disappearing throughout the country, with an installation that strikes the senses. Large images of cascades slide out from a big steel frame. When you pull one out, the audio recorded as the photograph was taken plays, too, so you can hear the waterfall’s sounds. I have to warn: It’s loud and frightened Sasha, but I found it rather spectacular.
Large plywood sculptures dominate the Hall of Nations. Plywood was apparently invented in Sweden, however, these structures were created by a Norwegian architectural firm.
There are even more exhibits in the Grand Foyer — colorful glass birds dangling in windows and a display about the Nobel Prize. And there’s one you don’t even have to be at the venue to see: Northern Lights. Every night from 5:30-11pm, the facade of the Kennedy Center will be illuminated to recreate the effect of the aurora borelias — wow!
And these are just the exhibits. There are numerous other ways to experience Nordic Cool 2013 — music, theatre, and dance performances; food tastings and demos; forums; workshops; and more. You can view the schedules for all of them and purchase tickets on the website.