Norway’s ‘Grounded’ Yet ‘Ephemeral’ Guest of Honor Pavilion in Frankfurt

In News by Roger Tagholm

Norway, Guest of Honor at the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair, reveals its pavilion design, complete with conceptual sculptures and a scented art installation.

Norway’s Guest of Honor Pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair (Image: Johannes Minkus)

By Roger Tagholm | @RogerTagholm

With its sculptural tables whose sweeps and curves represent the poetry of the Norwegian landscape, its giant photographs of the country’s forests, and its giant mirrored walls, this year’s pavilion from Guest of Honor Norway is a bold and imaginative journey through the country’s literature and land.

There are 23 tables, each with its own sculpture representing a Norwegian poem. One table has a grand arch and is called “the mountain held its breath;” others are like storm-tossed trees from the country’s north.

A competition to find the best pavilion design was held across the country with the winning contract going to Oslo’s Manthey Kula and LCLA Office. Beate Holmebakk from the Kula office said that the idea was to depict literature as “a space and a landscape,” with each table “both abstract and playfully narrative.”

Each table’s design was inspired by poems published over the period of a year by the Guest of Honor site under the heading Poems of the Week. The designers were keen to feature books in the pavilion, but one of the most popular tables was an intriguing art installation by “smell researcher and artist” Sissel Tolaas and the publisher eponymous Norwegian publisher Erling Kagge. This consists of a table of what look like stainless steel pepper-pots, each of which contain an intriguing smell.

Scented art installation in Norway’s Guest of Honor Pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair (Image: Johannes Minkus)

Each pepper-pot sits on a title card, so there is “Cod, newly cooked,” “Summer pigs in a field,” “Mother getting dressed for party, Saturday evening,” and the poetic “The first kiss, she had gloss lips with fruity peach flavour, probably 1975.” What it all means is left to the viewer, but the table is always surrounded by groups of people, smiling, smelling, and wondering.

Speaking about all the tables, Holmebackk said: “We wanted the bottoms of the tables to be solid, like the grounding books give you, but wanted the top to be more ephemeral, like the kind of space we all inhabit when we open a book.”

The pavilion also includes an intriguing sculpture called “Wittengstein’s boat,” which is just that—a damaged wooden hulk behind which is a photograph of the philosopher rowing the boat on which the sculpture is based. There is a typically enigmatic quote from him: “My boat is in the world, but the fact that is my boat is no – it is not anywhere.” Once again, what this all means it left to the observer too.

Interestingly, this year, part of the pavilion is to go on tour. The 23 tables have been donated to German booksellers, which means that these sweeping sculptures may yet find a permanent home in one of the country’s bookshops.

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).