Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois's memorial to the victims of witchcraft

Architect Peter Zumthor and sculptor Louise Bourgeois collaborate for a memorial in Steilneset, Norway
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Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner and Louise Bourgeois, Model of Memorial in Memory of the Victims of the Witch Trials in Steilneset, Norway (2010)
Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner and Louise Bourgeois, Model of Memorial in Memory of the Victims of the Witch Trials in Steilneset, Norway (2010)

Often described as a recluse and a mystery, Peter Zumthor has achieved almost mythic status over the past decade, since he won the 2009 Pritzker Prize. His best known work, the Thermal Baths at Vals, Switzerland, has become a pilgrimage site for architecture professionals and amateurs alike, comparable to Le Corbuiser’s chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France. In his latest project, the enigmatic architect collaborated with the late sculptor Louise Bourgeois to create a memorial for the victims of the Steilneset Witch Trials in Norway.

The monument is part of the National Tourist Routes, launched in 1999 by the Norwegian Public Road Administration to develop 18 routes and roadside amenities navigating through the mountains, waterways and coastlines of Norway. To date, 200 projects have been completed ranging from observation platforms to picnic areas, each connecting to their surroundings and the unique history of the sites.

Zumthor and Bourgeois were invited by Knut Wold, curator of the project, to create a memorial to the 91 women burnt for witchcraft in Finnmark between 1598 and 1692. Of the 135 people originally trialled, many were of indigenous Sami ancestry. The site chosen for the monument is at the place where the burnings originally happened, Steilneset in Vardø. Zumthor described the significance of the project for its importance in marking 'a forgotten history in a forgotten place’. The location fulfils both Zumthor and Bourgeois’s driving sensibilities of memory and meaning, displayed in many of their works.

The memorial consists of a 125 metre-long wooden hall, hung with silk within. The hall contains one sheet of silk and one window for each of the 91 women, representing life and memory. At the end of the hall is a round steel and glass structure symbolising the actual burnings and aggression of the trials. In an interview with Artinfo, Zumthor explained “I had my idea, I sent it to [Bourgeois], she liked it, and she came up with her idea, reacted to my idea, then I offered to abandon my idea and to do only hers, and she said, 'No, please stay.' So, the result is really about two things — there is a line, which is mine, and a dot, which is hers." The project is due to be completed later this month.

 

Follow the link to ArchDaily for a video of the memorial construction.


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