Explorer Erling Kagge muses on the subject of silence

Erling Kagge, one of the worlds greatest explorers, muses on the subject of silence

It didn’t come as much of a surprise that Erling Kagge  – the Danish explorer, book publisher, author and art collector  – was the honoree of this year’s Visionaries Series at the New Museum in New York. Manhattan’s only dedicated contemporary art museum has been running the series since 2009, which every year selects a cultural innovator who is invited to speak to the public on their work.


Erling Kagge story by New Museum (pic 1)Erling Kagge. Photograph: the New Museum

Kagge’s initial accolades were the result of his pioneering expeditions in the early 1990s: he is the first person to have completed the Three Poles – the North Pole, the South Pole and the summit of Mount Everest  – by foot. To complete the first unsupported journey to the South Pole, Kagge traversed 814 miles in 50 days. Most recently, in 2010, the explorer, along with urban historian Steve Duncan, spent five days hiking through the underground tunnels and sewers of New York, starting at the Bronx and travelling through Manhattan to reach the Atlantic Ocean.


Erling Kagge Story by New Museum (Pic 3)Erling Kagge. Photograph: the New Museum

Literature and philosophy are counterparts to Kagge’s physical journeys. His recent book, Silence: In the Age of Noise, follows the contemplative nature of his six previous books, which have detailed his personal experiences and wider intellectual observations, whether as an adventurer or collector of art. This time, he spends a little over 100 pages meditating on the subject of silence. His thesis depends upon three main questions: What is silence? Where is it? and Why is it more important now than ever?

Kagge began his late November lecture at the New Museum with a recitation of the prelude in Silence, in which he describes his attempts during a family dinner to speak with his three teenage daughters about the notion of silence. Though initially met with disinterest, Kagge gets their attention when he tells them about two explorer friends who did not survive their ascent up Mount Everest. “For once,” Kagge writes, “there was silence around the table.”


Erling Kagge story by Lars Petterson (pic 1)Erling Kagge. Photograph: Lars Petterson

Using this incident as a starting point – commenting on the non-stop business of millennial lives – conveys the nature of this age of noise in which we now live, with our constantly pinging phones, our addiction to social media, and our inability to wonder thanks to search engines. While not offering any revelations as such, Kagge uses the book to argue for the importance and fundamental necessity of silence in our lives.

Interspersed between Kagge’s musings are images of artworks (the book design is truly gorgeous) that offer visual reflections on what Kagge is trying to unpick. These include Sunrise and Sunset prints by Cathering Opie, and paintings by Ed Ruscha that spell out the words “noise” and ”space”.


Erling Kagge story by New Museum (pic 2)Erling Kagge by the New Museum

If anyone knows about the rewards that silence can bring, it is Kagge, and he makes a convincing case about the sanity and pleasure that noiselessness will continue to offer us.

Erling Kagge story by Lars Petterson (pic 2)Erling Kagge by Lars Petterson

by Derby Jones

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