She has been twice beheaded, lost an arm, been blasted off her rock, and covered in various colors of paint. It’s safe to say that Denmark’s iconic Little Mermaid statue has been through a lot. Yet, whether being displayed abroad in an exhibition or viewed from her native home perched atop a boulder in Copenhagen, she remains internationally recognized and beloved. The heroine of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale of the same name, the Little Mermaid’s story of loneliness, unrequited love, and the desire to attain an eternal soul conveys a universal message of longing. And now, love comes her way. Well, sort of.
Han, the Danish word for him, the companion statue to the Little Mermaid, was unveiled recently in Elsinore, Denmark. The statue of a young boy seated on a stone by the shore is almost identical in size and demeanor to the Little Mermaid. Han surveys the harbor of Elsinore across from the Castle of Kronborg, famous as the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and located on the northeastern coast of the island of Zealand, forty-five minutes north by car from Copenhagen. But unlike his maiden, this modern man is cast in polished stainless steel, mirroring the surroundings in the sculpture’s curved surface and creating a psychedelic aesthetic, more reminiscent of the Silver Surfer then a counterpart from a Victorian tale. Lest his stationary position lead you to believe that Han is just a mere statue, watch carefully. Courtesy of a hydraulic mechanism his eyes blink for a split second once every hour.
The work is by Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, a pair of artists who have worked together as a duo since 1995. Describing the public work, Elmgreen explains, “Creating a sculptural artwork that will be installed in a public space is significantly different from showing it in the context of a museum. Visitors who enter a museum have already prepared themselves for a visual experience; whereas an audience outside a museum hasn’t actually asked to have an artistic experience – that is important to bear in mind when you, as an artist, are commissioned to do a public sculpture. The sculpture must communicate on all kinds of levels.”
Though the Little Mermaid doesn’t get a happy ending in the original tale, through the addition of Han, she’s gained a companion. These two forlornly survey their respective harbors, pining away for a love to one day make them human.