There’s a sizable chunk of French Modernism sitting at the bottom of a Danish fjord. “Flooded Modernity” is a faithful 1:1 mock-up of a corner of the French architect-idealist Le Corbusier’s 1927 modernist masterpiece, Villa Savoye. Conceived by Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen for the Vejle Art Museum’s Floating Art Festival, Havsteen-Mikkelsen says his work is a commentary on his disillusionment with the current political climate:
When, at Floating Art, I let Villa Savoye “run aground” in Vejle Fjord, it is a comment on the state of modernity today. The geopolitical events of recent years — Brexit, the election of Trump, Putin’s interference in democratic elections, the advancement of right-wing radicals in Europe — are happening with a background in and through the new digital media, which challenge modernity’s classic notions of a critical public. A challenge through the formation of fake news, private information bubbles, and in dissolving the economic foundation of the traditional critical news media. The work Flooded Modernity is a critical commentary on the present, an attempt to draw attention to the importance of modernity and how we will deal with the legacy of modernity.
Weighing just over 5.5 tons, a crane lowered the massive structure into the watery depths. Assisted by several crew members, a small boat then tugged the model deeper into the fjord.
Living from 1887–1965, Le Corbusier’s theories on architectural modernism later became synonymous with midcentury aesthetics and urban planning. It was largely a reaction to the Industrial Age of mass production and the rapid spread of democracy following World War I. Infusing architecture with idealism, Le Corbusier saw building as a social improvement project, quieting the existential chaos of war with designs that he believe were egalitarian, rational, and simplified. (The irony here is that Le Corbusier’s social housing projects would later be imposed on the poor across Europe and America.) A self-proclaimed advocate of democracy, Le Corbusier famously exclaimed “Architecture or Revolution” in response to Paris’ crippling need for urban redevelopment in 1922.
Havsteen-Mikkelsen’s appropriation of the Villa Savoye alights with the sunken dreams of Le Corbusier and — to a broader extent — other symbols of rational and regimented social orders. The artist’s desire to reconstitute our political institutions is itself a projection, a reaction to seeing the French architect’s legacy under attack by way of global disarray.
Even without reference to democracy and architectural idealism, Havsteen-Mikkelsen’s work is symbolic of another general concern: climate change. Images of a half-sunken Villa Savoye evoke the photographs televised after hurricanes, mudslides, and tsunamis. More than political panic, the flooding of Le Corbusier’s masterpiece marshals a broader fear of rationality under attack from all sides.