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“This idea that we can fly out and be free.” Meet Danish painter and pilot Simone Aaberg Kærn who in this portrait reflects the question of what art and flying have in common.
Artist Simone Aaberg Kærn always felt that she could fly. However, after the death of her father, she was earthbound. At the time, she was studying at Goldsmith’s College of Fine Arts in London. She researched the ways in which humans fly. “Women were simply left out of aviation history the way that I knew they were left out of art history”.
For her, flying became a metaphor for individual freedom. She was drawn to the secret history of female pilots that flew during the Second World War. While meeting with former US fighter pilot and photographer Anne Noggle, she gave Aaberg Kærn a new outlook on art. She said, “you need to get your hands dirty”. As a result, Simone Aaberg Kærn decided that she should become fully immersed in her work and that “it’s kind of like method acting. I become what I research”.
Simone Aaberg Kærn learned to fly airplanes while creating her Sisters in the Sky exhibition. The exhibition consisted of 45 paintings of female war pilots, texts, and sound installations. The portraits are painted from photographs of Russian, British and American female pilots from World War II. Under each portrait, there is information about the pilot’s name, military rank, nationality, regiment, aircraft, and special missions. The installation portrays the women as proud, strong, and purposeful.
After Denmark announced its involvement in the Afghan War and the growing control of the sky since 9/11, Aaberg Kærn decided to interpolate her previous work of Sisters in the Sky to create Smiling in a War Zone. She set out on a performance flight in her airplane to Afghanistan and created a film detailing her journey. Her film discusses the freedom associated with flying, women’s rights, and Afghanistan’s ongoing conflict.
In 2010, Simone Aaberg Kærn’s work with Afghanistan culminated with a portrait of former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The painting showcases the former prime minister responsible for Denmark’s involvement in the Afghan War, posing in front of a fighter plane.
Simone Aaberg Kærn (b. 1969) was named Artist of the year in Denmark in 1997 and has exhibited her aviation works at the Venice Biennale in 1999. In 1998 she received the Association of Danish Art Critics’ Honorary Award. Smiling in a Warzone won the Grand Prix at the film festival in Odense and the Full Frame Women in Leadership Award in 2006 and was nominated for an international Emmy.
Simone Aaberg Kærn was interviewed by Jeppe Kirkeskov at her studio in December 2021.
Camera: Alexandra Derkach & Niall McDonnel
Edited by: Mathilde Løwe KaspersenProduced by Mathilde Løwe Kaspersen, Alexandra Derkach, Jeppe Kirkeskov, Niall McDonnell (DJMX) and Marc-Christoph Wagner (Louisiana Channel).
Copyright: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2021
Special thank you to Statens Museum for Kunst.
Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet and C.L. Davids Fond og Samling.
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