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Art Praxis—Research and Production: Ven Island

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Ven is a 7.5 km2 island in the Öresund Strait lying between Sweden and Denmark. Ven is today primarily a Swedish summer holiday spot but was formerly the home of revolutionary Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). He built his Uraniborg castle and observatory there, one of the first scientific institutes in Europe. A museum dedicated to his life and research stands on the site of his former castle. The Island and its villages provide a particular mix of questions that extend out of the past into the present and future, all aspects of which were open for investigation by students in the course, "Art Praxis—Research and Production: Ven Island," held at Malmö Art Academy in 2008. Issues concerning the history of science, gender, 16th and 17th  century society, contemporary museology, Skåne politics, Swedish / Danish relations, the decline of the sea trade and tourist economies are particularly present there.

Tycho Brahe came from a line of Danish nobles and worked in self-imposed exile on Ven as an astrologer, alchemist and astronomer. He catalogued the planets and stars without the aid of a telescope, making the most accurate astronomical ob-
servations of his time. In doing this he attempted to reconcile the Copernican and Ptolemaic  systems, developing the Earth-centered "Tychonic System," irrevocably altering the European scientific horizon.

For hundreds of years it was believed that Tycho Brahe died after straining his bladder at a dinner party in Prague where he had remained at the table during a long meal, not wishing to appear rude to his hosts. Recent investigation has indicated that he died of mercury poisoning. Johannes Kepler, who appropriated Brahe’s pain-
staking astronomical data for his own "Laws of Planetary Motion" after Brahe’s death, has come under suspicion.

As a nobleman who personally controlled approximately 1% of Denmark’s wealth, Brahe enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in Ven, building two observatories on the island. He was also well known for his false nose, a clairvoyant dwarf he employed in his court, and a domesticated moose that he loaned out to other courts. (The moose died after it consumed a large amount of beer and fell down a set of stairs at another nobleman’s house in Landskrona.)

Since Tycho Brahe’s time Ven has returned to Swedish control and has more re-
cently developed a summer tourist economy. The tiny villages of Tuna, Kyrkback-
en and Norreborg are home to 18th century buildings, numerous craft industries, an ice cream factory, golf courses, and several corporate retreats. The population is listed at around 370, down from 1,300 in the 1930s.

Students explored and observed the island together on foot or by bicycle and then followed up with readings from social and scientific histories of the island, using this and subsequent visits to the island as a point of departure for their own work.