If Donald Trump didn’t have a glow for Svalbard after failing to con Denmark out of Greenland, he almost certainly will now.
A giant neon “Make The North Great Again” sign is now illuminating the long polar night in Longyearbyen at the intersection where the town’s two main roads meet, ensuring it will be seen by virtually every visitor and most locals venturing beyond the cluster of buildings in the center of town for months to come.
Created by Amund Sjølie Sveen (described as “as one of the few Norwegian artists who are able to provoke and create public debate with his works”) the sign is part of a larger effort to bring the slogan to northern Norway via the socio-political group he leads called NORDTING. The electrified motto was lit up during a ceremony Saturday evening featuring hosts and audience members in the unmistakable red-slogan caps, drummers on oil barrels (hey, The Donald loves Arctic oil), cake (but no two scoops) and vodka (Russia collaboration!).
“We all remember Donald Trump’s failed attempt to buy Greenland, a piece of the Arctic,” the motto’s official proclamation notes. “This time it is not a superpower that will be ‘great again,’ it is the North. NORDTING uses the ex-president’s well-known election campaign slogan to turn the balance of power upside down – as he himself reluctantly leaves the corridors of power. The installation evokes associations to the powerful language of politics, the commercial tourism business that Svalbard largely lives off and the North being on the periphery.”
The timing of the sign and a weekend of related activities was to coincide with the 100-year signing of the Svalbard Treaty (which actually happened in February, but it’s in keeping with the still shouting loudly after the actual event spirit of things).
Setting aside the question of when/whether the north stopped being great, an exit poll conducted at the sign’s unveiling shows a sizeable constituency – one might even say a voting majority – have less-than-great feelings about the neon notification.
There is, of course, grousing about the “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” aspect of being constantly reminded of Trump right after he was defeated/cheated out of a second term. Opposition is also being expressed about things like the large amount of electricity the sign will consume from the town’s coal-fueled power plant (one of many things that will warm MAGA-minded hearts if they flee here) and students across the street at The University Centre in Svalbard getting woke by the glow flowing through their dorm windows 24/7.
But Svalbard Church Priest Siv Limstand – who as a participant in past local events such as a gay pride march is probably not a candidate for membership in Trump’s “religious right” disciples – said art often isn’t about making people feel comfortable.
“The first feeling that people may get is an unpleasant one in the stomach,” she said. “But then you have to think about what it means.”
“It’s a turning of the phrase.”
Perhaps ironically, the sign is just a hundred meters or so from a giant Santa’s mailbox that was lit up in a ceremony just before Christmas of 2013 and attracted tons of visitor attention until the city council forced it to be taken down as an unsightly presence in the community.
For those wishing to rally for/peacefully protest the neon declaration and its intent, a discussion between Sveen and Bodil Kjelstrup, acting head of the North Norwegian Art Museum, is scheduled at noon Sunday at Galleri Svalbard.