Did you fly in on the wings of love and crash-land in Herlev?

Museum of Copenhagen invites expats to contribute to and learn from a new exhibition about Søren Kierkegaard’s writings on love

It’s not the answer to life, the universe and everything, but Søren Kierkegaard, Denmark’s most important philosopher who would have turned 200 this year, still came up with an answer to a pretty important question: how can you keep love flowing through a relationship after the initial infatuation has faded? 

Kierkegaard’s answer is not uncomplicated, but you can find it in a stately room on the second floor of the Museum of Copenhagen. Quotes from the writer’s massive work are lined up alongside artefacts from his own love life, but the museum has taken a new approach in order to also examine how Kierkegaard’s thoughts can be applied to our modern world. The exhibition displays objects that tell personal stories about love, donated by ordinary Copenhageners. And at a special event on June 22, the Museum of Copenhagen invites the city’s expats to contribute their own stories and artefacts of love.

Love is an often-used theme at museums, explains Museum of Copenhagen historian Jakob Parby, the curator of the exhibition, because everyone can relate to the concept.

“But exhibitions about love can end up being banal, if you are not careful,” he warned. “The great thing about Kierkegaard’s ideas of love is that they are so nuanced.”

Kierkegaard distinguishes between concepts like parental love, infatuation, love of the other and friendship, and the donated objects and stories are also sorted into these categories.  

“In a normal exhibition we would show objects that are representative or have a special connection to the general history of Copenhagen,” Parby continued. “But with these objects we are allowed insight into very personal stories and that makes Kierkegaard’s thoughts more contemporary and tangible.”

The idea also solves a very simple problem. “We have relatively few artefacts from Kierkegaard’s life,” Parby explained. “And this was a chance to revitalise our collection.”

Returning to the initial question: how does Søren Kierkegaard propose that we can keep our relationships alive, long after the butterflies have disappeared? For the answer, we turn to Jakob Skov, who has contributed to the exhibition. His donation consists of a James Bond-style tuxedo, worn at his best friend’s wedding, along with the Kierkegaard-inspired speech he gave. The speech revolves around Kierkegaard’s thoughts about the distinction between infatuation − falling in love − and charity.

“When relationships break down, it is often because of the idea that love should be storming feelings and infatuation,” contended Skov. “We hunt for the rush, and when that’s gone and all the existential angst returns we think: maybe she isn’t right for me after all. If we want a relationship to last, we have to understand that love is not just a sensation or a feeling − it’s also a duty.”

Skov has contributed to the exhibition because he believes the philosopher’s thoughts are easily applicable to the age we live in. Kierkegaard’s ideas about how to maintain a marriage are as relevant today as they were 160 years ago, he says.

“Kierkegaard’s solution is to let charity − what some call love for the other − be the foundation for the relationship,” Skov wrote in his speech.

“In that way, the relationship is no longer based on fleeting emotions. Is she smart enough, funny enough, or is she complaining too much − all those questions become obsolete. You love the other person because she is a human being, just like you.”

And love is set free. You are free from judging each other’s emotions, and the love is liberated from the constraints and stresses of everyday life. Passion comes and goes, but charity and love for the other will keep you together.

The tuxedo and the speech will be on display alongside a number of other objects. There’s the bracelet the donor got from her husband just before they split up, representing a loss of love. A hairdresser has donated a pair of scissors that she used to give haircuts to her ex-boyfriend for years, representing how love can linger. The exhibition also includes objects like a list of hook-ups, silverware and a pair of blue shorts with polka dots, each with their own story and connection to Kierkegaard’s ideas. 

Parby is looking forward to seeing how Copenhagen’s expats will contribute to the exhibition.

“There is something special about this event for expats, because often it is love that has brought them here,” he said.

Find out more on Saturday June 22, between 2 and 4pm, at the Museum of Copenhagen, where expats and their Danish loved ones are especially invited to ‘Love knows no borders’, an event being held in association with The Copenhagen Post. Bring an item that symbolises your love to be displayed, either permanently or temporarily, in the ‘Søren Kierkegaard: works of love, objects of love’ exhibition. Admission is free. 

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