Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen, Flooded Modernity, 2018. Photo courtesy of the VejleMuseerne.

This Artist Sunk Le Corbusier’s Magnum Opus in a Danish Fjord

Have a bone to pick with modernism? Take down the Villa Savoye!

by Annette Lin
Aug 16 2018, 2:34pm

Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen, Flooded Modernity, 2018. Photo courtesy of the VejleMuseerne.

Completed in 1929 and located on the outskirts of Paris, the Villa Savoye is the epitome of modern architect Le Corbusier’s famous declaration that “a house is a machine for living in.” What would it mean to literally drown one of the greatest symbols of modernism, and all its attendant idealism? Danish artist Asmund Havsteen-Mikkelsen attempts to posit an answer to this fantastical question with a new piece, titled Flooded Modernity, for which he created a 1:1 replica of a corner of the villa and submerged it in a local fjord as part of the Floating Art Festival in Vejle, Denmark.

What is behind our love/hate affair with modernism?

As a contemporary artist, I’m fascinated with modernism as a motif. It’s connected to so many things: abstract and existential issues within society, and rationalism. A theme in my practice is to excavate the remnants of modernity. Many people associate modernism with social housing schemes, commissions which came about due to some not very bright city planners trying to solve problems by implementing the principles of modernist architecture.

Are we afraid of modernism’s insistence on rationality?

There’s good reason to be scared of rationality, or what humans might subjectively determine that to be. Le Corbusier, for instance, did not see or care about the inhuman scale or nature of his projects. I think to be afraid of rationality is an interesting fear, and if it doesn't have any regulation it can become a very dehumanizing force.

Do you think art and architecture has the power to provoke, or create new meanings out of established icons?

Well I would say art and architecture need context. In this case, my work needed the added context of the history of architecture in order to become a statement. For about a month, nobody noticed it. Then a lot of people became provoked by it, and I found that a lot of their thoughts about the piece were due to their reaction to the work of Le Corbusier.

How would you describe the genesis of this project?

The Villa Savoye has always been on my radar. In February, I did a small model of it. And then this open call came for the festival and I had an idea I wanted to sink the building as a comment on modernity. My initial idea was much bigger—it was the whole house—but the festival’s committee and the people working in the harbor, where I was going to install the work, said I had to scale it down.

What do you think, or hope, is the legacy of modernism?

It is that we still need to be critical. Making room for criticality in society means to accept that we, through reasoning, have to try and experiment, to somehow reach a better order.

There’s something very important about the timing of this work—I think a lot of people are sensing this crisis with the modern world. There’s a sense that we are being trapped by digital technology, that we are being forced to use it, but it’s our world, and we should decide on what we want.

The Floating Art Festival runs through September 2, 2018, in Vejle, Denmark.

Le Corbusier