The travelling exhibition Possible Greenland has just closed its doors at the Danish Architecture Centre in Copenhagen. Initially the Danish contribution to the Venice Biennale in 2012, it was subsequently showcased in Nuuk before making its way to the Danish capital. The exhibition focused overtly on the possibilities of developing architectural designs in the Arctic against the backdrop of an emerging new economic and climatic reality in Greenland. The compound of economic potentialities combined with the dramatic scale of changes caused by global warming, places Greenland in a paradoxical risk-opportunity location which the exhibition takes as its point of departure. Yet as you walk through the exhibition, or visit its website, risk is very quickly abandoned in favour of optimistic future scenarios. Perhaps this is the inevitable side effect of architecture’s preference for abstract—or more critically dislocated—language.
One paradox between such risk/danger vs optimism emerges in the design for a new airport at Nuuk, which currently has only a small airport (Greenland’s main airport is several hundred kilometres away in Kangerlussuaq). Featured in the exhibition, the design, termed AIR+PORT, clearly imagines Nuuk (and Greenland) as a hub for international traffic with the lower axis designed as a container terminal signalling a future destiny for goods, most likely neither shipped in for use by Greenland’s 56,000 inhabitants nor produced by them, but a transit port for shipping between Europe, the East Coast of North America and East Asia, via the Northwest Passage. Such an image is itself ripe with ironies given the history of such virile masculinity making its way towards an inevitable frozen destiny in search of future glory. It’s an irony that seems somewhat lost in the exhibition—as it did in Arktis, the even larger exhibition at Louisiana which showcased a similar masculine virility in the Arctic.
The other axis of the AIR+PORT design crossing the container terminal is an airstrip ostensibly enabling the traffic of tourists, visiting company directors and other people eagerly seeking out the company of Greenland’s political and administrative elite. Given that the airline ticket price from Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq can take you to as far as Singapore—if not Australia—the airport is hardly built on the expectation of a dramatic rise in the number of Greenlanders travelling in and out of Nuuk—or Greenland. As for who will travel to this new airport, a commentary in the Danish national broadsheet paper, Politiken, by Søren Vestergaard Mikkelsen may throw some light on this. In an imagined conversation he speaks of the dilemma of fitting meetings with visiting Chinese, American and German dignitaries into the busy schedule of the Greenlandic premier. The commentary displays the reality that Greenland is becoming the centre of world attention—or rather the centre of the neoliberal corporate world’s attention, accompanied by major politicians.
Collectively, of course the two axes form a white cross—and how apropos, as Nuuk was also the place that saw the beginning of Danish colonialism when Hans Egede arrived from Norway as ‘Greenland’s Apostle’ in 1721, armed with a bible and bankrolled by eager merchants. In some respects, it would seem that little has changed. But where does ‘you can’t stop progress’ come into the picture? These immortal words were spoken by Muriel’s father in Muriel’s Wedding. In this Australian comedy, Muriel’s father is a corrupt, small-time local councillor in a small community somewhere on the Australian east coast with the incomparable name of Porpoise Spit. Am I poking a stick at the Greenlandic elite here? Is Greenland, or Nuuk, Porpoise Spit? No it is not, but then asking this question is missing the point. We should actually be asking whether the architects behind Possible Greenland would feel at home in Porpoise Spit. As for what the Greenlandic elite is, I leave that to the Greenlanders to decide. Otherwise it could quickly become a case of the Dane protesting too much.