artist statement: shapes of bryggen

Shapes of Bryggen (Bergen, Norway)

Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a magical enclave of wooden buildings situated on the waterfront of Bergen, Norway. The present-day buildings are more than 300 years old, but their history reaches back much further. Over the years, the buildings of Bryggen have been destroyed by fire many times, but each time, on the foundations and ashes of the previous incarnation, they have been rebuilt using the original architectural designs and patterns. Thus, the architectural style we see today has been on that same site since the twelfth century.

For centuries Bryggen has been the heart and soul of Bergen.It was originally constructed to support trade between Bergen and other ports on the North and Baltic Seas. Dried codfish (stockfish), brought south to Bergen by fishermen from the Lofoten Islands, formed the foundation of this trade. In return, Bergen received goods that the Norwegians needed, e.g., grain, malt, textiles, glass and pottery. As the quantity of trade grew, Bergen became one of northern Europe's most important trading ports and drew the attention of German businessmen who saw its potential. Stockfish, which could be kept for years without refrigeration and then reconstituted, were much sought after as a food staple for European kitchens and ships sailing throughout the world. Accordingly, these Germans grtadually bought up the wooden buildings of Bryggen and, in 1360, opened an office there. This brought Bergen into the powerful Hanseatic League, opened it up to world trade routes and cemented its status as a dominant European trading centre for centuries.

Today, Bergen's stockfish trade has diminished considerably, but Bryggen remains. In 1962, plans were put into place to rescue the buildings, which had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair, and to restore and preserve them as a monument to Norway's history. Now, instead of storage rooms filled with stockfish, we see workplaces for artists and craftsmen, offices for contemporary businesses, shops, warehouses and restaurants. Bryggen continues to be the heart and soul of Bergen. It is a vibrant and thriving community, proud of its heritage and easily accessible to anyone who wishes to visit and revel in its history.

Whether observing Bryggen from a distance or wandering through the buildings and passageways, its past envelops you and your thoughts. Images of sea-going vessels, cargo being loaded and unloaded and people living and making their living amid the chaos of a busy port flood your consciousness. That wonderful journey into history is the magic of Bryggen.

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