ØRNEN 1897

George De Decker - Guido De Bruyn - Peter Maschke

Tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose,

qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

Blaise Pascal Pensées (1670)


On 11 July, 1897 a remarkable expedition leaves Spitsbergen for the North Pole. Three men take off in a hydrogen balloon, convinced that this is the only way to overcome the polar ice. They are never seen alive again. From their logbook, which was retrieved later, it appears that the balloon was insufficiently controllable.

After just three days they became stranded at 450 km from the North Pole. Their attempt to return to the civilised world on foot also failed; after three months they died of exhaustion. Their remains were only found in 1930, frozen into the ice.


The leader of this ambitious project was Swedish engineer S. A. Andrée, who named his balloon the Ørnen (the Eagle). His main financial backer was Alfred Nobel, who recognised him as a pioneer. It would take until 1926 before Roald Amundsen - who by then had already discovered the South Pole - would become the first person to fly an airship over the North Pole.


ØRNEN 1897 explores the interface between science and art: that of the imagination.

In an installation that combines visual art, music and film, tribute is paid to the drive and dedication of these explorers, to the dream they envisaged.

Art also exists by virtue of the imagination, it takes the beholder on a mental journey.


The focal point of this installation is a 35 metre long, 4.5 metre in diameter willow-framed zeppelin: the skeleton of an airship, a ‘dream under construction’.

In each case the zeppelin will be built in situ, in large exhibition spaces in Belgium and abroad. The installation is intended for a wide audience.


This project is therefore not about the anecdotal history of the expedition led by engineer Andrée – no matter how tragically that ended – but about charting this pioneer’s utopian dream. In other words, the focus is not on the outcome of this story, but on the run-up to it, on the shaping of a vision.


The explorer who spends years meticulously preparing an expedition (all the baggage for the journey is carefully weighed, a handkerchief, for instance, weighs 27 grams) draws his energy from the vision of the scene he will one day see sliding past below him at the North Pole: a sight previously unseen by human eyes.


Besides being a gigantic wooden installation, the zeppelin‐under-construction is also the bearer of projection surfaces, on which film loops will be screened: a series of black-and-white films, especially shot for this installation, that evoke the passage of time. Travelling in a zeppelin, you apparently feel you are standing still and that the landscape is sliding past below you.


George De Decker composed a new work to accompany the exhibition. While the public wander around the zeppelin, this composition permeates the space like a permanent layer of sound, via 13 autonomous loudspeakers.   

ØRNEN had its world premiere in the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven, on 19 September, 2013.