There was a lot on offer at Ordkalotten, the literature festival here in Tromø. On a late Thursday night (October 6th), an audience packed the Café inside Driv to hear Madame Nielsen speak.
Text: Jennifer Britt Lundberg Hansen
In couches, booths and simple chairs, people sat and listened intently to the Danish exchange between interviewer Jon Helt Haarder and interviewee Madame Nielsen. This wonderful and lovely conversation went on for a short hour. A stage constructed within the Café served as the epicenter of this literary excursion. I felt the warm atmosphere of the event in my bones. The place was like a vacuum swallowing the carefully uttered words exchanged by two individuals. If I could read the minds of the attentively listening audience, I would say some had to listen more closely than others (me included). Madame Nielsen shared stories of personal experiences and adventures in meetings with the world.
What is in a name or an identity? Madame Nielsen has gone by other names and identities in the past. Most of her life was lived as a man named Claus Beck-Nielsen, formerly known as the Andy Warhol of Denmark. In 2001, he declared himself dead and took upon himself a new identity. He then became the nameless man traveling and writing about it. The only thing this identity-less person had in common with Claus Beck-Nielsen was that they both dressed and looked alike.
After the self-declared death of Claus Beck-Nielsen, his new identity wrote a biography (not an autobiography) of his former self. Here the author, theatre actor and performance artist exclaimed, “If Claus Beck-Nielsen died in 2001, who is it then that is writing this? I ask myself.” This artist is constantly changing identities and in 2014, they declared that they wanted to live their life in the world as a woman. This brings us back to the present life of Madame Nielsen, the name under which this artist now writes. Madame Nielsen is constantly trying to find herself and believes that she never will. Her struggle with the search for identity is prominent in all her writing and performance artwork.
The evening centered around her current release, Invasjonen (2016). Here she writes about refugees and about being a part of the refugee wave that fled from Greece to Denmark, as Madame Nielsen. She also shared engaging words of her wanderings through Europe, into which she will incorporate Tromsø wanderings. I was pleasantly captivated by the readings of Madame Nielsen. The third person narratives of wanderings were intriguing and at times funny. Her life story is amazingly fascinating, but also a bit confusing the more you read.