Art that's been turning heads for almost thirty years
Art that's been turning heads for almost thirty years

Damn Markus Raetz!

You are the direct cause of my always returning from Eggum with sheep shit on my clothes and crushing sand between my back teeth. Because the wonderful rhythms of the sculpture have to be experienced again and again. And it works. You have found the past in me with your art piece, Markus. I am continually overjoyed about my new-found childlikeness! Pål Eikås, Stamsund

If Magellan and I lived in Lofoten in northern Norway, we’d be like Pål, returning over and over to see Hode, the illusory sculpture of a head set in solitary majesty on a wild and barren beach near the old fishing village of Eggum. A head looking out to sea. Or not—Hode ingeniously plays with your perception, revealing sixteen versions of itself—immobile yet filled with movement, rhythm and twists, appearing mounted upside down and then voila! right side up again—depending on your angle of observation. A “multitude of personalities in an incessant state of change gathered into a single expression.” Among the multitude of reasons to visit Lofoten, this visually elusive sculpture on the island of Vestvågøy literally plays with your head.

Hode was sculpted by Markus Raetz, a Swiss artist born in 1941 who produced more than thirty thousand paintings and prints before shifting to sculpture in the 1970s. He created Hode in 1992, one of his many sculptures that appear as a plurality of forms depending on where you stand as you move around the work. As Markus said:

The moment of change is the most fantastic.

Except for six months at the Reitveld Academy in Amsterdam, where he learned etching, Markus had no formal artistic training. While trying to establish himself as an artist, he taught primary school and has been described as having youthful charm himself. I get Pål’s childlikeness response to this playful work of deceptive simplicity—remember when you’d turn your head upside down (or for those of you more acrobatic, stand on your head) to see how differently the world looked? Markus shows us the world is full of surprises. If we free ourselves of our habits, venture into new ways of seeing, pay attention, embrace ambiguity. (Did he I wonder, chose Eggum in jest because Hode is an egg-shaped composition?)

Markus had his first solo show in his home city of Bern in 1966, going on to participate in the 1968, 1972, and 1982 editions of Documenta in Kassel and represent Switzerland at the Venice Biennale in 1988. His many other noteworthy exhibitions occurred at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, New Museum in New York, Serpentine Gallery in London and Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. A retrospective of his drawings was staged at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 2012–13 and a monographic exhibition of more than 150 works was presented at the MASI of Lugano in 2016. A sculptor, painter, drawer, photographer and graphic designer, Markus died last year.

Hode is part of Artscape Nordland, an international collection of 35 works of art placed in the landscape in 33 municipalities. Lofoten has five fascinating and intriguing sculptures; I think we saw them all.

During his first, week-long visit to Vestvågøy in 1991 when a local guide introduced Markus to the area’s geography, culture and history, he decided to place his sculpture on the storm-lashed outer-northern side of the island. When he returned to Vestvågøy in 1992 with the head sculpture under his arm, he set it on a plinth, straight and true against the horizon where it was overpowered by the wild, lonely expanse of sea and sky and stone. Insignificant as our own, small selves in this vast world.

The sculpture is made of iron and granite and measures 178 cm in height. Artists explain Hode as a form of topography turned into topology, continuously right-side up and upside down, what mathematical types like Magellan call functions that do not lose any of their identities.

When there is a horizon, there is always a relationship, a relationship between the observer and the distant, between the spectators who make simultaneous experiments in sculpture, between the spectator and the sculpture that is metamorphosed under his eyes, and between me and myself…In the case of Markus Raetz’s Head, another dimension is added: that of the memory. We see the sculpture “the right way up” although we have just seen it “upside down”, but above all, for a long time, we have seen an object of no determined form, like a solid, dark stain standing on a pedestal. We must move around it to suddenly see the head appear, but, even when this circular movement is completed, the head does not remain identical. Far from standing still on its pedestal, it rocks from top to bottom, forcing us to synthesize different experiences emanating from one same object. The fact that the sculpture looks at the landscape with the head at the bottom or at the top refers to another dimension of the horizon: its function of separation between top and bottom.

Magellan and I went to see Hode on a weekday morning in September. Grazing sheep outnumbered those of us exploring this mind-boggling work. Arctic wind and aerial mist tongued our cold faces in an open amphitheatre of space. Like children, we encircled Hode, joy multiplying: “Come look at it from over here!”


See-ers we were, in agreement with Aaslaug Vaa, another Norwegian who sees Hode often:

As with this work, we are never finished. We are open to the future. We are what we become; perhaps it is now that it is good.


Skulpturlandskap Nordland is an excellent site for explaining this unique sculpture.

“Markus Raetz (1941-1920).Art Forum. April 16, 2020.


5 Responses

  1. Your video really assists with showing what you saw.

    As always beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I rest my case.

    1. Here’s another person’s interpretation (there are many!): “The Head is the Sphinx. The sculpture is a Delphic mystery. Is the Head both blind and wise? Then it would be both Oedipus and the Sphinx. Was the Head the abandoned child of the King of Thebes found by the shepherds of Eggun? Oedipus would meet the oracle: Has the foreign within ourselves found a place to rest? The Sphinx will answer to your gaze. The answer will be in the realm of knowledge.”

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