We often focus on the festival’s music programme, but contemporary art has always been an integral part of Roskilde Festival. The art at Roskilde is something very special – and for several good reasons. We have spoken with three of the festival’s curators about what it is that makes the art at the festival special, and what you can experience this year.

What is a curator actually, and what is the curator’s task? Festival curator, Daniel Toke Hansen, explains it in a very simple way: ”Just like there are bookers who book music acts, there are people who book artists and talks.”

However, this explanation is in no way exhaustive for the festival curators’ tasks, which another festival curator, Marie Braad Larsen, elaborates on:

”The curator helps develop the guidelines for the festival’s theme and expression and to select this year’s artists. Because of that, it is often the curators who contact artists with a proposal for future collaboration. Then the dialogue begins and takes the first steps toward a new project. As curator, you also function as a sparring partner for the artists. We are the ones who know the terms of the festival and the festival-goers. We can guide the artists and to some degree help form an idea or an artwork to make it fit the festival - both in terms of theme, weather challenges and the interaction with the audience, which, granted, is different at the festival than in a museum or gallery.”

A unique exhibition space

There is a big difference between creating art for traditional exhibitions and the art that is created for Roskilde. The unique physical environment and the interaction with the audience create special conditions for the art the festival wants to show. Daniel Toke Hansen explains it this way:

”We are the opposite of the white gallery you may know from the big cities, where you go inside and you can only look, not touch, and you are hardly even allowed to ask questions. We are nothing like that. We want active participants and for the work to give rise to questions and reflection. And if you can participate, it is even better.”

Marie Braad Larsen adds that: ”The festival-goers are very curious and want to interact with the art in a very sentient and physical way. The artworks need to be able to accommodate this interaction, because the audience at the festival is in direct contact with the artworks. We want to make the art accessible in a different way, exactly because we are not a museum or art institution, where the works need to be taken care of and preserved for the future.”

Ziggy & the Starfish, video installation by Anne Duk Hee Jordan

Art in motion at Roskilde

he fact that the setting for the art is a little different from what the artists are used to places some unusual demands on the work. Therefore, a big part of the curators’ task is also to prepare the artists for the task and the challenges they will face at the festival.

Festival curator since 2015, Brian Ulbrichsen, puts the challenge to a head: ”I tell the artists, with a twinkle in my eye, that the artworks must be able to withstand getting pissed on and torn into in order to give them an idea of the context they will be part of.”

On the other hand, creating an artwork for Roskilde also opens up for special possibilities, because there is plenty of opportunity to create and think outside the box: ”Projects are often very experimental. Many artists make use of the opportunity to try out things they cannot usually do because the setting is completely different. We are very open-minded when artists bring us strange or crazy ideas. We try to accommodate them and see if it could be possible in any way,” Brian Ulbrichsen says.

Marie Braad Larsen agrees: ”As artist and curator at Roskilde Festival you are allowed to develop artworks in a completely new direction because we have the chance to make other demands to the art – the artworks live during the festival and people often enjoy and experience them to the full, and sometimes until there is nothing left of them.”

A very special experience to contribute to the festival’s art programme

According to Marie Braad Larsen, Brian Ulbrichsen and Daniel Toke Hansen, that is also why it is so exciting to be a curator at Roskilde. There are many challenges, and nothing is ever done the exact same way as last year. But when projects succeed, and it all comes together, it is worth all the trouble and many hours. The curators describe it the following way:

”What is most exiting about being curator at Roskilde Festival is to be able to help create new and surprising artworks in dialogue and collaboration with the artists. You can think big and test ideas – sometimes an idea is successful, and sometimes it isn’t – but there is room for experimenting. It is also fun and exciting when we develop the artworks and something completely new arises in the conversation. The biggest joy is of course when you manage to create something that surprises and touches the audience.” – Marie Braad Larsen

”To me, the most exciting thing is meeting the artists and developing new projects, which you don’t quite know how will turn out. You feel the pay-off in the execution when everything comes together.” – Brian Ulbrichsen

”The most exciting thing is that you get to create projects that you wouldn’t usually be able to. We are all volunteers and some work as curators in their daily lives. I don’t, so this is a space for me to be creative and create some awesome and exciting projects.” – Daniel Toke

Projects at this year’s festival

What are the cool projects you can experience at this year’s festival? You can read more about them on the festival’s website, where arts and activism have their own section in the programme this year. Here, you can get in-depth information about the many exciting artworks, performances, happenings and talks that are part of this year’s programme.

The three curators talk about the projects they are each involved in:

Brian Ulbrichsen:

”I am involved in four of the projects invited by Solvej Helweg Ovesen, one of this year’s external curators. The four projects were at the Riga Biennial last year, and was a collective part of a project called Sensorium. It is best described as a sensory laboratory.
Sensorium includes the project Smeller’s Corner by Sissel Tolaas, who made a scent wall with more than 50 scents from around the world. You can experience it in Gloria’s foyer.
Then there is Ziggy & the Starfish, which is a video installation by Anne Duk Hee Jordan. Here, you lie in a waterbed and look up at a screen showing a film about the mating dance of molluscs in the ocean – which are affected by the climate change."

In the third project, Marisa Benjamim rides around the festival area on a cargo bike with a flower laboratory, where she has created a detox drink, which you can taste. The last project is Ambereum, which is a new area between Art Zone and Arena with performances, soundscapes and DJ’s. In the daytime it is a space where festival-goers can wind down and be spiritual. At night the area changes pace and becomes more club-like.”
The first two projects are presented as they were in Riga, while the latter two have been adjusted to fit the festival, based on the artworks from Riga.”

Daniel Toke Hansen:

”Among other things, I am responsible for the talk with activist Micah White, who helped start the Occupy Wall Street movement. He has incredible and amazing knowledge, but actually, he is also a person who does something for activism. He is responsible for a workshop in which he will try to involve the audience to whatever extent he can. Sometimes you find experts who know how to push actions forward and I think Micah White is one of those people.”

Marie Braad Larsen:

”I have been co-curator on an artwork by the Swiss artist Claudia Comte, who is also currently showing the exhibition I Have Grown Taller from Standing with Trees at Copenhagen Contemporary. Claudia Comte is also presented in collaboration with C.C., and the art gallery is our partner and co-host. Claudia’s artwork for Roskilde Festival is called ME WE, and it is a gigantic installation built of selected tree logs from the Swiss woods. The installation is approximately 6 metres tall and 30 metres long, so it will tower over the festival area and almost act as a gate toward the camping area. You can say that ME WE is the epitome of the festival’s theme of solidarity. The negatively charged and antisocial Us and Them has been replaced with an ”I” and an ”us”, which welcomes new communities instead of tearing them apart. I think the installation ME WE will become this year’s gathering point, where you can take a break in between the festival’s fast-paced and exciting art and music experiences – a place to hang out with your friends and make new acquaintances at the foot of the tall tree logs.”

Ambereum, Viron Erol Vert

The curators' own recommendations

There is a lot to choose from and many temptations. But what are the curators looking forward to experiencing in addition to their own projects:

Brian Ulbrichsen:

”If I am to recommend something, it would be the collaboration between the Royal Danish Ballet dance company Corpus and the band Baby In Vain, which you can experience e.g. on the Gloria stage on Wednesday at 17:30. It is a really exciting project, where heavy rock is combined with modern dance. I also want to encourage people to check out the talk programme, which will feature some of the musical artists.”

Daniel Toke Hansen:

”I am looking forward to Ambereum, which will be really beautiful. It is spacious and exciting and a free space, where you can take a break and experience something different.”

Marie Braad Larsen:

”I am very excited to experience and taste Søren Aagaard’s works, which are served from his post-apocalyptic food truck. Søren Aagaard is a trained chef as well as an artist and he takes a critical look at the over-privileged food and consumer culture; we want to be sustainable, but at the same time, we want everything our hearts desire without compromising.

I will definitely also visit the Niels Bohr Institute and CERN's Science Pavilion at the festival. It is a collaboration between two outstanding research institutions, which I don’t think many of the festival-goers have heard about before. I think their workshops and programme will be exciting and geeky in just the right way! Who doesn’t want to learn about dark matter and the origin of the universe?!”

Brian Ulbrichsen is a Cand.Design graduate from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Design in Copenhagen and works as an exhibition designer and installation artist. He has been a curator at Roskilde since 2015.

Daniel Toke Hansen has a Bachelor in Performance Design and a Master in Digital Design and Communication from The IT University of Copenhagen and has worked with experience design in a digital design agency.

Marie Braad Larsen has a Bachelor in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art and Design and a Master in Visual Culture from the University of Copenhagen and works as a coordinator for Copenhagen Art Hub.