As It Happens

Artist crafts metal flowers for each person who died of COVID-19 in Sweden

The rows upon rows of flowers in Geert van der Vossen's garden aren't made of anything green. Instead, they're carefully wrought from scrap metal. Each one represents a single Swedish victim of COVID-19. 

Geert van der Vossen says he embarked on the project because people 'don't understand what a number means'

Each metal flower in Geert van der Vossen's garden represents a person in Sweden who died from COVID-19. (Torbjorn Skogedal )

Early on in the pandemic, artist Geert van der Vossen was driving home in Sweden and listening to the news on the radio and worrying about the horrors to come. 

There weren't many Swedish cases of COVID-19 yet, but he knew it was only a matter of time. His brother in Holland had already lost his father-in-law to the disease.

"I heard on the news that billions needed to be pumped into the economy and Sweden would need millions of face masks. And there was also the death number that was on the news every day — and then all of a sudden I thought, it means nothing to me, all those numbers," van der Vossen told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"Meanwhile, I wanted to do something with that anxiety or fear, or a feeling that something was on its way."

Van der Vossen is an artist who works primarily with scrap metal discarded by industry. So he started welding some of his materials into flowers — one for each Swede who had died from COVID-19.

He hoped he'd have enough metal on hand to keep pace of the growing death count.

"And also, it would be good to not know if it was possible to keep pace. That was part of the project for me. Same as in the health-care system. Nobody knew if we could deal with the pandemic," he said. 

"So it was just sort of diving in and see what happens."

Geert van der Vossen is an artist in Sweden who works with discarded scrap metal from industrial projects. (Torbjörn Skogedal)

He erected the flowers in a field on his property in Broddetorp, in a 40-by-40-metre pattern, two metres apart. The idea, he said, was to emulate the look of graveyards he'd seen in France and Germany and Belgium.

"But in my case, not crosses, because there's nobody buried there," he said.

Each flower is a monument not only to the dead, he said, but to those who fought for them. 

"I just wanted to honour those who died, but also to give support to those who work in healthcare and fought for all those patients, but were unable to do enough or didn't get the time."

The metal flowers have started to rust. (Torbjorn Skogedal )

As the pandemic went on, the artist had to move his flowers closer and closer together to accommodate the ballooning death count.

Soon, the flowers were a half-metre apart. On Nov. 26, he ran out of room.  By then, he'd crafted and planted 6,561.

"That was becoming too much for me," he said. 

As of Friday, Sweden has lost 9,262 people to COVID-19, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University.

'That many?'

"I have cars coming every day to just stop and look. And all of them are impressed. But also they're like, 'Is it that many?' So it seems like we don't understand what a number means," van der Vossen said. 

"Everybody thinks they know what 6,000 is. But if you see 6,000 in flowers and you know they represent one person, then all of a sudden everybody [can see]."

The flowers have started to rust in the field. Van der Vossen says they will soon be moved to Gothenburg for public display, though he's still working out the details.

"Somehow it would feel correct if it would sort of die away or rust away after a while, but not on my field, because I think it should have a more central place or a place that a lot of people can visit," he said.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 

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