An excursion to an eccentric nation within Sweden
Photographs: Heather Gartside
Text: Heather Gartside
It was 2002, I was returning alone to Denmark with small children. I was THAT parent on the plane, while my babes screamed for most of the flight and my non-empathic fellow passengers tutted and glared at us. In a moment of calm, I recall flicking through a SAS airline magazine with a fretting child and finding an article about a series of driftwood sculptures in southern Sweden. Intrigued and grateful for the escapist thoughts, I slipped the magazine in my bag and later poured over the sculptures constructed of 75 tonnes of smuggled driftwood. The seemingly random constructions were simply banged together by steel nails and set on a wild and isolated beach. I decided to make a journey to visit them - the first of many.
The Swedish artist, Lars Vilks started to build this provocative construction, named ‘Nimis’, in 1980. It became a huge secret project staffed by artists, hippies and free thinkers, but by 1982 it was discovered and consequently became a matter for the Swedish government and the police too. The trials (since 1982, approximately one trial every year) brought the work a lot of publicity. Lars Vilks was successful at standing his ground, and the authorities were not able to have the pieces removed as he sold them - first to the artist Joseph Beuys and, after Beuys’s death, to the conceptual artist, Christo. In the nineties, two other pieces were erected in concrete: Arx and Omfalos. As the area was more or less permanently occupied, the artist proclaimed a new country, Ladonia.
The birth of a micronation
The micronation of Ladonia was founded in June 1996. Ladonia became an area that couldn’t be controlled by Swedish authorities and has effectively got up their nose for more than forty years. As Nimis’s existence is not sanctioned by Sweden, it’s difficult to find – as there are no official sign posts, nor is it marked on maps. (See at the end of the article)
The birth of a micronation
From the 1830s until the 1880s began a period known as the Danish Golden Age. A flourishing of the creative arts and an establishing of Denmark as a force to be reckoned with in literature, design, democracy, music, philosophy, inventions and science. H.C Andersen was at the forefront with his delightful, dark and vivid tales. As the industrial revolution raged with black clouds of toxic smoke throughout Europe, Denmark, with their lack of fossil fuels became renowned as a place to visit for fresh air, dreamy spires and fairytale castles. It still is today, but perhaps now is the time to promote the city in other ways.
Far out man
Nimis means ‘too much‘ in Latin. Yet, to reach this amazing series of wooden sculptures you may find that there are ‘too few‘ signposts. On my first trip to Ladonia, after getting lost and mildly panicky in the forests of Kullaberg Nature Reserve for two hours, I eventually retraced my steps to an ”N” marker tree. After a peaceful hike through undulating beech forests, the heavily forested north face quickly became jagged, unforgiving and extremely steep. Cascades of massive boulders and scree poured down the hillside, violently jettisoned as the great ice sheets retreated northwards. It’s the secret feel of the location, and the decidedly dodgy signage that adds to the mystery of the place and the wonderful sense of discovery when you, sweating profusely, reach the first drawbridge-like structure which challenges and unsettles you immediately in its enormity, artistry and sheer nerve.
Long live Ladonia
Vilks acted as Chancellor of Ladonia until 1997 when the number of registered citizens exceeded one thousand. At this point, elections were held via the Internet. Ladonia became a ’remony,’ a republican monarchy with a president and queen (Queen Carolyn.) The number of registered citizens of Ladonia is now around 22,150. Most are from Sweden, the rest of the population is made up of people from 139 other countries, most notably the USA, Russia, Germany, Great Britain, Denmark, Brazil, and Spain. I too, was impressed by the irreverence and energy of Ladonia and the stunning isolated beauty of Nimis and became a citizen in 2014. Then, a member of the nobility with the title of Countess Erika von Risaulait, in honour of my first book – Rice Pudding in a Duvet.
In 2016 an arson attack burnt a significant part of the sculptures. But as Queen Carolyn put it, ”Nimis will be repaired, and grow to be even larger than before… rising like a Phoenix from the ashes.” Whereas Lars Vilks cleverly put it, ”The fire could be seen from Sweden” and ”the destruction of the sculpture was all part of the art.”
Blog post on my visit to Nimis:
Nimis is just fifty minutes north of Helsingborg in Southwestern Sweden. Here are GPS coordinates for the place to park your car at Himmelstorpvågen, the rest is on foot, and not for the faint-hearted or toddlers! Latitude: 56.27817. Longitude: Longitude: 12.54618 (WGS84: Decimal) Then follow the "N" for Nimis.