A violent storm struck the coast of Vardø, in Finnmark, Norway in 1617, drowning forty men who were out on the sea at the time. The storm was thought by many to be summoned by witches, and a number of women were accused of making a pact with the devil in exchange for magical power over the elements. The Sámi and the Norwegian people lived side by side in Vardø, but the Norwegian women were more commonly suspected of being involved in witchcraft, whereas all of the men killed for sorcery were Sámi. Fear of sorcery led to a series of witch trials and executions, which afflicted the country for decades and over one hundred and fifty people were killed for allegedly being associated with magic between 1621 and 1663.
Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois each produced a memorial structure, which together make up the Steilneset Memorial. Louise Bourgeois designed a glass cage held together by a steel skeleton, which houses a ring of mirrors and a pit containing a steel chair that appears to be on fire, as if the mirrors focused sunlight on the chair in the center, igniting an invisible fuel.
Zumthor’s contribution, a long walkway made of wood contained by a fiberglass canvas coated in teflon and stretched between the wooden members of an elongated wooden structure inspired by the vernacular fish-drying racks. A long, gangplank ramp leads to the single entrance on one side of the processional memorial. Along the interior walkway, ninety-one small rectangular windows protrude from the interior to the outside of the canvas. A single, bare lightbulb hangs behind each window on the inside, swaying gently with the drafts as the whole structure does in the wind.
The memorials are positioned on the cliffside where the witch suspects were thrown into the sea or burned, serving as a collective apology for the four-hundred year old injustice. And the queen of Norway, her majesty Sonja along with Peter Zumthor, historian Liv Helene Willumsen, and a representative from Louise Bourgeois’ studio, attended its opening.
Durisch, Thomas. Peter Zumthor 1985-2013. buildings and projects: 2002-2007. Zürich: Scheidegger Und Spiess, 2014. Print.