Conceptual Cluster 9: Ficto-Criticism

by idasandstrom

Superkilen summer 2012, illustration from ‘The Ugly Duckling’ ( 

‘Being born in a pigeon yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg’ – on the production of territorial identity

This post is part of an on going exploration of Superkilen (see previous blog posts), and my first exploration of ficto-critism.

It was so beautiful out there. At the Black market cherries were in blossom, and in distance the Red square could be seen glowing in the evening sun. A lonely stork minced about on his red legs, clacking away in Egyptian, which was the language his mother had taught him. Round about the open square rose signs and artefacts from all over the world. Yes, it was indeed lovely out there.

In the midst of the sunshine stood a remarkable fountain, covered with tiles and shaped as a seven pointed star. Water was glittering from the bottom of the basin right up to the edge, and there on the outside of the mosaic star, a pigeon sat on her nest. “Piip piip,” said the little ones, as they came to life and poked out their heads. The biggest egg was the last to break, and the poor squab that had been the last out of her egg, was pecked from the moment she was out. “She’s too big and strange, and therefore she needs a good whacking,” said they all. “You do not understand me,” said the squab and off she went.

The wind was so strong that she had to struggle to keep on her feet, but she ran on just the same, crossing 12, if not more, undulated white lines on black asphalt, until she reached a great shiny structure in the shape of an octopus. There in the spongy interior of the many-armed beast she lay, weary and disheartened.

It got late. Just as the sun was setting in splendour, a flock of large, handsome birds appeared from behind the red brick building, graciously navigating between vertical objects and commercial signs. She had never seen birds so beautiful. They were dazzling white, with long graceful necks. They uttered a strange cry as they unfurled their magnificent wings to fly from this cold land, away to warmer countries and to open waters. She did not know what birds they were; yet she loved them more than anything she had ever loved before.

“I shall fly near these royal birds, and they will peck me to bits because I, who am so very ugly, dare to go near them. But I don’t care. Better be killed by them than to be nipped by the pigeons.” So she followed the beautiful birds to the star shaped fountain and into the water and swam towards them. “Kill me!” she said and bowed her head down over the water to wait for death. But what did she see there, mirrored in the clear water? She beheld her own image, and it was no longer the reflection of a clumsy, dirty, grey bird, ugly and offensive. She herself was a swan! Being born in a pigeon yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg.

Epilogue: What understandings of territorial identity do the story of the ugly duckling set at Superkilen open up? Is it perhaps a reminder that being born in a Danish ghetto doesn’t matter, if only you are hatched from a more beautiful (read Moroccan/Thai/Palestinian/Ukrainian/…) territory?  Will the globally collected artefacts at Superkilen – as the water in the story – reveal ‘true identities’ beyond the normative reflection (dirty, ugly and offensive)? And if this is the intention – are we to regard the objects at Superkilen as ‘ethnic-mirrors’ put in public space with a despairing aspiration to render individuals beautiful by re-connecting them to their ‘flock of bird’?

Anna Gibbs, Fictocriticism, Affect, Mimesis: Engendering Differences (2005)

Donna Haraway, Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective (1988)

Stephen Muecke, The Fall: Fictocritical Writing (2002)

Hans Christian Andersen, The Ugly Duckling (1843)