Elia: The World’s Most Frustrating Work of Art


I reckon that this dome, here on a windswept
field in Denmark, is the world’s most frustrating work of art. I know that’s a bold claim, so let me explain: this is Elia, designed by an artist called
Ingvar Cronhammar. He’s famous for dark, industrial art, art
that looks like machinery, art that looks alienating and remote. Elia certainly qualifies as all that: it’s been here near the town of Herning, in
Denmark, since 2001. 32 metres high, if you include those chimneys. The steps up to the viewing gallery are uncomfortably
large, it feels like it wasn’t designed for humans. Comparisons to an alien spaceship that’s landed
in the middle of rural Denmark… well, they’re cliché, but standing here,
they feel about right. Something feels wrong about this sculpture. Which is all very impressive, but that’s not
the frustrating part. In the middle, just between those four pillars,
there is a gas burner, and it shoots a massive flame eight metres
in the air, a huge blast of fire. It’s one more ominous, unsettling thing about
this sculpture: it might burst into flame at any moment. But it probably won’t. Because it does that, on average, for just 25 seconds about once every two or
three weeks. At random, decided by a computer. It might be months between eruptions. It might just be a few days. And according to an article in the local news, it won’t go off if the wind is too high, which
is probably is today, or if there are any people too close. Elia’s web site doesn’t tell you when the
flames are going to be, it just archives the time and date of all
the ones that you’ve missed. They keep that up to date just to taunt you,
I guess, I don’t know. And sure, there are a couple of photos or
videos from people online who’ve been lucky. You can go online and see that. But you can also go online and see the Mona
Lisa in much higher resolution than you ever could
in person, in incredible detail. That doesn’t stop people crowding into the
Louvre in Paris to fight with selfie sticks. There is something about being there. So if Elia calls to you, if you want to see
the fire in person, you’re going to have to camp out and watch
it, 24 hours a day, maybe for months. As for me, I’ve got about an hour left until I have to leave to catch my flight. So here’s hoping.

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