Internationally, Swedish artist Lars Vilks may be most known for his controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad as a dog in 2007, which has made him the target of a string of assassination plots, forcing him to live in a secret location and national security service police to guard him round the clock.
But in Sweden, he is also closely associated with Nimis, a maze-like wooden rebel land art installation culminating in huge statues erected on the north-west peninsula Kullaberg of southern region Skåne.
Around a fourth of the construction was completely destroyed in the Thursday blaze.
“The tower closest to the water has burned down completely. But around 75 percent of the artwork is still there,” Mattias Johansson of the Fire and Rescue Services, who were called to the scene shortly before 7pm, told the TT news agency.
The fire at Nimis, with some of the towers still standing. Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT
Vilks himself said that the destruction of the sculpture was all part of the art.
“I have my motto 'everything is an advantage'. You always have to find something optimistic and art that's subjected to violence always benefits from it, you have to comfort yourself with that,” he said.
“It gets interesting when things are happening. When you attack artworks it gets interesting. A work of art that nobody cares about, it disappears. This is tough action and a rather brutal form of art critique.”
Nimis has been destroyed before – burned down in other attacks or blown down in harsh storms – and Vilks has kept maintaining it for the past three decades. However, he has lived under police protection since a shooting at a Copenhagen cultural centre last year, and now gets help from volunteers.
“I can't get out the way I have done before. I live under protection and Nimis is a risk target, and after this fire I assume it's considered and even greater risk, so I have to rely on my assistants,” he told TT.
Vilks said he believed the fire was started by either those opposed to Nimis itself or those opposed to his cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. Police have not commented on this, but are treating it as suspected arson.
“There were times when they were at it constantly, there were constant attacks. But it has established itself as a fairly quiet tourist attraction, so things seemed pretty cool,” he said.
Lars Vilks in front of Nimis in 1999. Photo: Stefan Lindblom/TT
Vilks first started building Nimis in the 1980s – the only land art installation of its kind in Sweden – using drive wood from the sea. When authorities discovered the sculptures in 1982, a long-winded judicial process was launched to get it taken down.
Instead, it grew, both in size and in popularity – the towers measure around 25 metres tall, around 160,000 nails are believed to have gone into the project, and more than 30,000 people visit the spot every year.