The Drumming Beat: Daníel Magnússon at Hverfisgallerí

The Drumming Beat: Daníel Magnússon at Hverfisgallerí

The Drumming Beat: Daníel Magnússon at Hverfisgallerí

Daníel Magnússons´s exhibition TRANSIT at Hverfisgallerí explores a rhythm of detail, depicting images of close up angles and geometrical forms created out of seemingly everyday moments and objects. In this way Magnússon´s photographs examine how construction and composition can inform the unfolding narrative an image creates, focusing in on the minutiae of a meaningful moment.  The relevance of the frame, the subtlety of a directed narrative, and the power of an image seemingly “empty” of meaning: I interviewed Daníel to delve deeper into these thematics of his Hverfisgallerí exhibition. 

I was curious how photography informs his practice, an artist that works in many mediums and is trained as a sculptor. What does the medium of photography allow him? 

DM: I am not sure that I can answer this question, actually it is not a possibility so to speak. I have worked with photographs for a long time and I have spent a long time as well discussing this media with other artists and professional photographers. Much of the work I did before educating as a sculptor in the eighties was in portrait and landscape. I tried out different media and built a small darkroom everywhere I lived. I did a lot of darkroom work in those years and extensive work in experiments with different media and different equipment. But none of this made it convenient to choose this line of work. When I look at some of the photographs I shot in the eighties I am actually surprised. I did work in sculpture for over a decade or so and it was fascinating, it had all the convenience that I needed. But still it was not enough. The voice today is different from what it sounded three decades ago. This voice knows a lot and it has tried different things. It has lost various battles and won some others. I think that what everybody has to focus on is waiting. 

If I would have an answer for you regarding this question it would be the art of waiting. I guess I was lucky that I never intentionally decided to work in this field, it kind of happened after a period of a long waiting.

Daníel tells me that the works in this exhibition are contextualized by a main idea he calls: 

“… the closure of the frame and the field it spans. It is what I have described as a sufficiently meaningful or true frame. That is all the entities that are necessary for the frame to be true …”

Cleverly angled shadows on concrete, the appealing corner of a teal swimming pool, a humble wooden piano,  a vibrantly curved kiddy slide, a satisfying ceiling curve and suggestive red curtain. These tightly composed shapes have a satisfying body and movement, curvature and liveliness to them. They are pleasing in their invocations, containing elements of playfulness in color, connotations of the domestic, everydayness, childhood, and a simplicity of experience. 

Sadsong, 2015, inkjet print on 320 gr Sihl Masterclass cotton paper, 92 x 92 cm.

In terms of his artistic influence, Daníel explains that in his practice he doesn’t necessarily draw inspiration from specific favorites or names, searching rather from what he calls his “silent drumbeat”: 

“… I do work in separate fields. Street and elsewhere, which would be street-life. It is a fraction of my collection and portraits as well. I have a different approach to those brands. I tend to search for what I call the ‘silent drumbeat´ in forms and patterns. Maybe it sounds awkward to describe it this way but it really is the fact.

I have never been able to create or bring forward anything of artistic value by deciding to do so. It usually takes a good walking distance. For me it is partly being superstitious and eccentric.

What seems to be a normal day is usually not, when you take into consideration all the arbitrary variables that can change. I do a lot of walking and not necessarily to ‘find´ something. If I have a camera with me, much of the time and effort is carrying it.

I admit that some of the walks do not bring any fruit so to speak. My interest, for the last few years is mostly under two feet from the ground and patterns in the human-nature ambiance. My work is in following and searching. What I am interested in must be equivalent to what you see in the most precious tapestry. It has to be valued and treated as a cherished truth. There is a quotation from a well known scientist who said that you will only understand nature through admiration. Maybe the thing is that I was brought up on farms, and I used to work on farms as a young boy and through my teenage years. I had the whole picture and it was narrated with smell from soil, grass, blood and rotting flesh. The colors and smell of the tundra, it’s a whole unified kingdom with a low pitch voice, a drumbeat…”

His images appear seemingly “neutral”,  in their lack of specific reference, and yet this absence does inform a specific direction or motive in the work. These small moments all contain some sort of connection, emotional response, ingrained in us and our unique experiences. Like Daníel describes there is this certain tempo to his photographs, this drumbeat as he terms it, that informs our continued interest and curiosity. 

DA: Why this focus on the aesthetic of seemingly background, irrelevant, uncertain landscapes?

DM: Aesthetic is an ambitious word. I try to avoid circumstances where I can be tempted by the atmosphere of aesthetics. Probably one can not escape the weight or gravity of that term – yesterday’s aesthetics are today’s cosmetics, a postmodern cliche. I probably do tend to build my work from an apocalyptic approach to classical aesthetics, my education was. We made statues and pictures and we travelled in Vineland. This attention to photographing something in which there is no event, no momentum, no specific purpose.

DA: What did you want people to experience in this exhibition, the lasting emotion or thought?

DM: There is a purpose and there is an underlying narrative. The silent drumbeat is the decoy, and when you understand that it is not separable from the narrative you surrender to the grace of that particular frame. That’s my personal belief. It is not like it happens all the time, but when it happens, it is perfect and you don’t know why. I do want viewers of my work to experience my beliefs. That they can see or submit to my vision, which is quite arrogant.

 

Daria Sól Andrews

Daníel Magnússon´s exhibition “TRANSIT” is on view at Hverfisgallerí until May 16th, 2020.

https://hverfisgalleri.is/exhibition/transit/ 

Photos courtesy of Hverfisgallerí and the artist.

Museums in the time of CoronaVirus – A Conversation Around Digital Efforts

Museums in the time of CoronaVirus – A Conversation Around Digital Efforts

Museums in the time of CoronaVirus – A Conversation Around Digital Efforts

The rise of Covid19 and the government imposed social gathering ban has taken its toll across all cultural platforms of consumption in Iceland, not least of all on the arts. Many museums like Hafnarborg, Gerðarsafn, Listasafn Árnesinga, and Nýlistasafnið, to name a few, have had to temporarily close their doors while our country comes to grips with this health crisis. The Icelandic art scene is a small but flourishing one, but one of course, like all others across the globe, which is dependent on social interaction.

How have art institutions been dealing with these imposed regulations and closures? Hafnarborg was forced to cancel or postpone all concerts and guided tours, and have rescheduled their DesignMarch exhibition until June. Gerðarsafn has postponed two exhibitions until the summer as well. Thankfully, having to temporarily close their doors won’t have massive repercussions on most museum programming, as Kristín Scheving at Listasafn Árnesinga explains: “as all museums in Iceland we needed to close the doors to the public but that didn’t really stop our programming, we just had to postpone some events and move some to the internet. As this situation will come to an end, it won’t change anything for us in the long-run.” This alienating time has then opened up possibilities for museums to take on important projects that have been on the back burner. At LÁ Kristín tells me they have been using the time for renovations, “We have been using this time usefully, with fixing interior issues for example: building walls, painting walls, installing a new major AC system with a dehumidification system which would have been hard during open times.” Nýló, Listasafn Árnessinga, and Gerðarsafn have all increased their use of social media and are thinking of ways to be more digitally visible. In this way museums have been making the most out of an unideal situation and creating something positive out of uncertainty.

Hafnarborg has used the extra time to create digital material that can be experienced online, for example sharing a concert recording of Jennifer Torrence performing Tom Johnson’s Nine Bells. Ágústa Kristófersdóttir, the museum’s director, explains that they signed a contract with Myndstef “which has been in preparation for some time now and allows the museum to share images of the collection through the online database Sarpur (www.sarpur.is). Then we are also producing short videos with guided tours of the exhibitions, as well as music performances – since our music program is a very important part of our work.”

At Gerðarsafn, director Jóna Hlíf Halldórsdóttir and her team have created an exciting live streaming project with the Culture Houses of Kópavogur (Menningarhúsin) and the newspaper Stundin called Culture at 13/Kúltur klukkan 13. “We have asked Einar Falur Ingólfsson and Halla Oddny Magnúsdóttir to discuss the exhibition ‘Afrit’ (e. Imprint), and then we got three artists to talk about creative projects for families, which we call Gerðarstundin (e. ‘Gerður’s Workshop’). The artists introduce fun and interesting ideas that children and grownups can create from simple and easily accessible materials at home. All the events can be seen through the Facebook pages of the Culture Houses and Gerðarsafn.”

Courtesy of Hafnarborg.

Gerðarstundin (e. ‘Gerður’s Workshop’). Courtesy of Gerðarsafn.

Courtesy of Hafnarborg.

In considering potential economic repercussions, for Hafnarborg at least Ágústa explains that the museum is run by the municipality of Hafnarfjörður and only a small percentage of resources come from other sources of income: “aside from our more apparent activities, collection and preservation are an important part of our roles, which we have chosen to focus on during this crisis – a part that quite often gets put aside due to the hectic schedule around events and exhibitions.” Similarly at Gerðarsafn, crowd control measures will not have major impacts on the museum in the long run, as Jóna Hlíf tells me: “Of course this unsettles our exhibition program and affects our artists and technicians. I think this is a challenge, but we are in a favourable position as we are not all-dependent on income from tickets or visitors.”

In this vein, at a time of such global distress and panic, it is easy to question why we should even be worrying about art and culture when the global perspective requires much more dire attention. Why is art still important, relevant even, in times of global crisis where more urgent matters seem to take the forefront? As Dorothee Kirch at Nýlistasafnið says “art is food for the brain and heart. It will always be important and relevant.” Art has the potential to “release people from the constraints of fear, oppression and prejudice”, as Jóna Hlíf explains: “as a mirror for society, as an influencer and as the critic’s voice. Art is by its own nature indestructible and unbreakable, yet at the same time constructive for the mind and the soul.” Kristín relevantly points to the important healing possibilities within art as well, particularly in a time like this: “It can help you reflect on the situation, it can move you and it can teach you.” Art is perhaps especially important precisely in such a moment of global uncertainty – as Ágústa mentions, “Art can make us see the world and ourselves through a different lens and when, if not now, isn’t that necessary?”

The increased virtual presence of museums in these times does however in a way function as a “band aid” solution for our current situation, as Dorothee comments: “I am happy to wait until the pandemic is over to enjoy an exhibition with all my senses again. For me, the virtual platforms will never replace the real bodily experience of an artwork or exhibition, no matter what medium. It has too much to do with our perception of our surroundings in relation to our body. No virtual platform can create that. I believe that Art is a reflection on how we stand in the world, but to experience it we, well, have literally to stand in the world… not look into a window…” Of course nothing can replace an in person visit to a museum, but like Kristín at LÁ points to, “I think (digital efforts are) a wonderful way to reach those who can’t come here. Not only during these times, I have been talking with artists who are making a project with inmates in Litla Hraun (a prison in the county), which I am very interested in collaborating with them in. A virtual tour of an exhibition for someone who can’t come here could be a really interesting way to reach out. Also to people who are in hospitals and so on, children who live far away from the museum etc.” Jóna Hlíf also comments on the importance of the physical museum space in itself. “Museums are not just places to experience art, but also places to come and meet other people, enjoy and create. Gerðarsafn is a venue for active discussion and powerful collaborations and we seek to connect to our guests in new ways, to deepen the discourse, interest and understanding of art and culture. Museums are places to pause and to be with others, for contemplation and fulfilment and for channelling provocative and/or challenging ideas.”

In this way, although we cannot fundamentally experience art in the same way through a computer screen, some positive implications to our current situation can be gleamed. Ágústa says that the current closures “have really helped us gain confidence in that (digital) matter and take more active steps in that direction. Of course, it will not replace the real thing, but it is a very welcome addition, I believe. Like many others, we have thought about branching out in this way before, increasing our visibility on social media, but such ideas or projects often get put aside in favor of the day-to-day schedule.” Similarly, the Culture at 13 programming at Gerðarsafn is something Jona Hlíf plans on utilising in the future; “It is both a great way to access art by those who do not have a chance to go to museums, or are forced to stay away because of sickness or distance. Also, this can become an important archive for the museum and the artists.” These virtual efforts raise interesting debates for how our society may permanently change after the Coronavirus, with regards to how we experience culture. Perhaps post virus we will see a society that is more and more characterized by virtual art experiences and online platforms. How can we continue to support our favorite producers, exhibitors, creators of art in such uncertain times? Visit Gerðarsafn after the crowd controls are lifted, “and even invest in an ‘árskort’ (e. annual ticket) to the museum. We will have a need for meeting, seeing something new, living, creating and enjoying again.” At Nýlistasafnið, Dorothee suggests becoming members or “Friends of Nýló” through their support program, or buying Christmas and birthday presents in their museum shop. Kristín similarly asks the public to be supportive of Listasafn Árnesinga on social media, “keep on reading and learning about things. Use the internet in a positive way. Learn things!” Ágústa recommends supporting Hafnarborg by watching “the content we are creating, ‘like comment and share’ with family or friends. This is a time when we all must find new ways of establishing connections with each other, both as individuals and institutions.”

 

Daría Sól Andrews

 

Gerðarsafn: https://gerdarsafn.kopavogur.is/

Hafnarborg: https://hafnarborg.is/

Listasafn Árnesinga: http://www.listasafnarnesinga.is/list/

Nýlistasafnið: http://www.nylo.is/en/

The Portal, Illuminated – Styrmir Örn Guðmundsson at Berg Contemporary 

The Portal, Illuminated – Styrmir Örn Guðmundsson at Berg Contemporary 

The Portal, Illuminated – Styrmir Örn Guðmundsson at Berg Contemporary 

 In a comic-book reminiscent and delightfully playful fashion, Styrmir Örn Guðmundsson unveils an intertwining of nature, human, and cosmic energy  in The Thirteenth Month at Berg Contemporary. Styrmir connects the human to our supernatural and earthly elements, performatively questioning prescribed social behaviors. His graphic are grounded in knowledge, placing our existence into the context of the cosmos, alternate realities, and portals to other dimensions. His large scale drawings invoke an endless circling of galaxies and dimensions, that correlates to the endless circling of life and culture. Styrmir illuminated some mysteries behind his work, as he spoke to me about the contexts of his recently opened solo-exhibition at Berg Contemporary.

“After building a maquette of the gallery I shrunk myself and travelled into it. I became very small in this big space. So small that I forgot about everything I had done in the past. I went through many ideas for shows. Then I recalled different artworks I had made in the past five years. Images and objects I had been using alongside my performances. I made scale-models of my works and curated several doll house exhibitions inside the maquette. I opened myself up and spoke with other artists about my ideas. Artists such as Gulla and Sæmi and Hrafnhildur and Halli. I looked deep into their eyes while extracting their reflections to ferment a concept for my show. I got to choose a date for the opening. Friday the 13th in September was my choice. Then, sometime in Spring I was hanging out in the gallery searching for inspiration. A friend of the gallery, Halldór Björn, started chatting with me and I proudly invited him to my upcoming exhibition in September – on Friday the thirteenth. He looked spooked and replied: “Oh the Thirteenth Month?” In that instance I ran upstairs and reported to Ingibjörg, the gallerist, “I have a title for the show!””

Three larger scale tunnel drawings take up the main gallery; drawn in detail by hand in pen. A mesmerizing tunnel leading us to an abyss of white, we are drawn inside, pulled into the center, tethered still in the gallery space. Crawling creatures, a sky sparkling with red and green and yellow electricity. A planet with a halo of multicolored human shoes, dates and whisper of lines of movement. Geometric forms surround and tumble out from the tunnels, leading to a mysterious other dimension. There is something ominous about them, and also inspiring, in the intricacies of detail. Styrmir’s landscapes are tethered in reality, and yet open up a portal, but to where? Another galaxy, A parallel alternate reality, perhaps? Styrmir explains to me this fascination with the portal:

“I am a hip hop artist. I used to b-boy. I’ve made a rap album in collaboration with a posse of gorgeous artists. My drawings are marinated by the tons of graffiti I used to do. I still draw with the same tools that I used for graffiti. For many years the vandal in me has been sleeping. Today I am more into the world of comics and storytelling with images. I love patching old thoughts with new and mixing mediums into an artistic omelette. In the Thirteenth Month I have drawings that I first made five years ago in black and white. These are portals that I originally drew via my first impressions of Warsaw, where I used to live. For the show I decided to give the portals a facelift by applying a new dimension of colour. And so I recycled them. The freedom of recycling is true to the hip hop nature.”

These five smaller black and white drawings are placed together, containing motifs based in the human. These graphic drawings are just one element of Styrmir’s multidisciplinary practice, as he describes to me:  

“Different disciplines are like different days of weather. I find it ideal to switch between activities depending on my emotional state. This way I can be an artist at all times. When I’m feeling blue I can sit down and draw or write a poem. When I wanna dance I make a performance. When I need to move my ass a sculpture is a perfect physical exercise. I feel the personality traits of introversion and extroversion within me. In my experience the introvert mixes well with the making of handicraft as well as writing. The extrovert makes for a good storyteller, singer and dancer. There are so many brilliant outputs in contemporary art. We are the luckiest of cultural workers.”

Switching between these different activities, there are also important elements of sculpture, performance, and breaking the fourth wall in Styrmir’s The Thirteenth Month. In one form, green sculptures of flying birds are propped up on a magnetic structure. The sculptures are plastic and abstract, flying in space in static motion. At the opening, viewers were allowed to touch and interact with them, making their shadows echo and shadow further out the boundaries of the gallery’s floors and walls. Here Styrmir critically and comically breaks an inscribed rule within the white cube phenomenon: do not touch. Similarly, an odd sculptural staff with a mirror is propped on the wall; guests can pick it up and see their reflection behind them. It is humorous and performative in a uniquely casual way that makes us question why these modes of behavior within our social art world are inscribed in us to begin with.

“I am used to being a performer in front of people. I love doing that, especially when extroversion levels are high. I feel great without the fourth wall. Things can go beautifully right or wrong without it. But I know it is demanding for the visitor to not have the fourth wall. Without the fourth wall people cannot snooze and eat popcorn. It keeps them on their toes. For The Thirteenth Month I wanted to continue the performance practice without being a performer or director myself. So I planted objects in the show with the hope that guests would meddle with them. I look at them as tools to activate the exhibition guest’s imagination.”

In the middle is a metal sculpture – guests were invited to try and take it apart, to solve the puzzle. Just this simple action created an atmosphere of comedy and lightness, breaking the often stiff, sterile, veering towards snobbish  nature of many art openings.

“The puzzle was one of the exhibition tools – a performance. Many gave it a go and tried to solve the riddle. Even philosophers and astrophysicists. They were sweating and blushing from trying to crack the challenge without any luck. Eventually a young cool person, by the name of Uggi, came along and solved the problem in a matter of seconds. He received a standing ovation from the exhibition crowd. Ingibjörg gave him the finest bottle of white wine as an award. Well done Uggi!” 

In these ways The Thirteenth Month is a then questioning of human nature – why do we follow our ascribed societal rules and patterns? In the face of the vastness of the cosmos, portals to other dimensions, alternate universes somewhere beyond, these norms are bleakly arbitrary.  Strymir pushes us to rethink the purpose and functioning of these almost sacralized behaviors of the white cube gallery space. 

“The art world is indeed a high brow place that mostly seduces intellectuals. Many people who are not workers in art feel unsure if everyone is invited to openings and art shows. Of course everyone is invited to art but looking from outside there is this air of exclusivity. People tend to think that contemporary art is something to be understood when it is merely there to tickle your feelings (just like all the other art forms). Art spaces are so sterile and there are some etiquettes such as do not touch. Thank God, otherwise our art history would be covered in mold and finger grease. In my exhibition, though, I have objects that are meant to be touched. But this invitation comes from my longing for live work or for an impromptu performance to happen.”

In the vastness of a cosmic reality, Styrmir questions these ascribed behaviors, high brow nature, exclusivity, etiquette, standing quietly in awe, etc. How can we interact with art in a way that is  more playful? Like Styrmir ponders, “Death. Science. Near-death. Animalia. Life.” – There is a whole cosmos out there, and how banal are our art world interactions, in relation to all of this? Perhaps his exhibition, The Thirteenth Month, is a lesson to be learned; not to take ourselves quite so seriously in the face of art.

Daría Sól Andrews

 

Photos: Courtesy of BERG Contemporary

 

A Violent Absurdity: Valheimur at Hverfisgallerí

A Violent Absurdity: Valheimur at Hverfisgallerí

A Violent Absurdity: Valheimur at Hverfisgallerí

Valheimur – a world is created, one that has semblances to our natural order and the social stories our cultures echo, yet is a product and figment of artistic imagination. In Sigurður Ámundason and Matthías Rúnar Sigurðsson recently opened exhibition at Hverfisgallerí, surreal narratives collide between the boundaries of reality and the imaginary in a combination of color, pencil, and stone. The artists, Sigurður and Matthías, shared their perspectives with me. 

Sigurður: We know each other very well and for a long time we have been following each others work and process. Both of us are very diligent and patient with our practices and have a taste for detail. The day before the opening Matti mentioned it sort of felt like walking inside a hall of a palace of some weird wizard in another dimension. I guess that explained it best for me too. 

Matthías: Me and Sigurður have been friends for a long time… I think they [the works]  have many things in common and some differences as well. Drawing is important for both of us. The subject matter of our work is similar. It comes from the same place.

S: Drawing comes extremely naturally to me, it was a big part of my childhood.  I would draw in class instead of paying attention and much of my spare time I would dream of stories to make into novels or films. When I graduated from the Art Academy in 2012 I got into large renaissance paintings and wanted to capture the epic and romanticism of those works, but I knew I had to do it in a different fashion than them, because now it’s the 21st century and you have to speak about your own time. 

Sigurður´s compositions are fantastical in their perspectives and don’t literally “make sense”, combining often confused narratives. A snapshot of the imagery he throws together in his drawings: machinery, mystical waves, staged home scenes, snapshots of photographs, a beach, skyscrapers, mountainous landscapes, larger than life godly figures, a classroom, a road, distorted cars, skulls, and endlessly reiterating man spurting blood out of his chest, a swimming pool,  graphic flames, a woman with child, a headless man. The list goes on.

S: It’s always hardest for me to start on a drawing, if it doesn’t begin well I get sceptical and will often erase and start over until the figure or landscape I’ll be basing the work on feels right. I usually draw the outline of a head or the eyes and if I don’t like the shape I don’t carry on with it, instead I just search until I draw something I can work with. Because I never do sketches beforehand and every piece is in a way spontaneous I find it important to feel connected to the first stages of each work. Later on when the work is taking shape and starting a life of its own, the process feels kind of like puzzling a work all together, one scene or figure at a time, or playing chess with myself or with the artwork. 

The pencil strokes are wild and intense up close, but appear smooth and refined at a distance, like a painting. Warped perspectives draw you into the center of the work. Vaguely recognizable structures morph into a new scene and different perspective, the objects all connected by a never ending pencil line. 

There is a violence to this work, both in its content and subject, and in its form, from the chaos to the splitting and distortion of recognizability. One form flows into the other, creating, informing, determining, and coexisting with all other elements of the work. Where do these creations stem from? From the inner depth of his thoughts? An alternate reality of endlessly repeating iterations that melt together into a soup of associations. 

S: I hate violence in real life, obviously, but I find it different in art. I think there is a demon or demons inside of us all and we need to speak about them. By talking about them out loud we in a way diminish the power they have on us. I like the idea of normalising or talking about our flaws and weaknesses. I for instance have had a huge anger problem; I am OCD and I often have a minority complex over the most trivial things. I want to speak about these things because that is what is underneath my exterior, what bothers me and prevents me from happiness. And in a sense I think art is here for this, or at least partly. I also think that people can relate to it because they also have their demons and/or witness them in others. The absurd most often represents emotions in my work, possibly because emotions make everything absurd, life is extremely simple but made extremely complicated by our perplexing human nature. I’d like to point out that in all of my works there is always (or mostly) a force of hope as well to balance against the aggressions.

Sigurður´s drawings feel like what dreams would be if they were pulled out of subconscious into reality, into a tangible image, a blurring and melting of one form into a next adventure that you’re not quite sure where ends or begins. These fantastical narratives are almost eeries at times. They contain moments of a distinct structure that disappears into the whole of chaos, a black hole of colors and shapes. Chaos, yet it is all perfectly connected, in its pristinely illogical order. There is beauty in something so illogical, incomprehensible.  

S: I always have my eyes open for anything I find stunning or interesting, sometimes when I hear an intensely beautiful symphony by Beethoven or Arvo Part I feel like I want to be apart of it and that often translates into the epic or majestic in my work. The same goes for anything else that affects me; weather, its urban decay, or a sunset over a mountain. The aggressive notes of my work often stem from my own inner angst. My day to day problems are not huge compared to those who are truly suffering but I do find it extremely important for every human being to deal with their problems if they’re big or small.

What does this exaggerated and extreme nature, the agony in these drawn narratives, say about the human condition? – in that these works are more about our own agony, our own mental turmoils, nightmares, brought out onto paper. 

S: There’s always some sort of commentary about humanity and the human experience, both the hardships and pain that can be found in the mundanity of everyday life and the victory that can arise from choosing the “right path”. Visually I find myself drawn to epic scenes, brutalistic architecture and science fiction as well as disfigured beings that are somehow morphing into their surroundings. Time often seems to play apart in my work and duality especially. I like for instance the duality of the extreme versus the casual and mixing them together, perhaps in order to underline the importance of what we call mundane or “not important”.

Matthías’ sculptures are equally fantastical and brutalistic, in their own sense, and open up for narratives of absurdity as well, albeit a bit more quietly. They reference to gods and mythical stories, tribal, tombstones, totems, places of worship. One lies on the ground, like a ruin, suggesting something archeological in nature. There is a solemness to the sculptures, but there is also a certain humor to them, like the absurdity of Sigurður’s work.

M: First I find a stone to carve. I sketch and draw so that is where I get the ideas for my sculptures most of the time. Sometimes I plan what the next sculpture will look like and then I might get a stone of a specific type cut in specific dimensions. Other times I take a stone that I have found lying around somewhere and see what I can do with that. Since carving is all about removing excess material, the idea must fit inside the stone. Usually I try to memorize the idea I want to carve instead of having a drawing in front of me, unless it’s on the stone itself. I like drawing the sculpture when I’m not carving it, to keep the idea in my mind. I always carve outside and I use every tool that is available to me, such as grinders, hammers and chisels. I use a mask so I don’t inhale the dust. Carving stone is time consuming and it can also be hard work so it’s all about patience.

It is as if these totems speak to generations from another time, but what time? A mythic and epic created from fantasy, from the mind. Each viewer will make their own cultural associations; perhaps some connect them to the grotesqueness of the gothic period, like gargoyle figures. 

I like to combine the characteristics of animals, objects and humans to make anthropomorphised characters. They can resemble those in a folk tale or some mythology or maybe a movie. I have always had an interest in mythology and stories of the supernatural so it wouldn’t surprise me if I draw some influence from that. It can be hard to say where the influence comes from, but it must come from life and my experience of that.

The sculptures have a historical, monumental feel to them, like they are out of some sort of Viking or mythological history. The solid nature of stone contains an ominous presence in the exhibition space. 

M: One thing I like about stone carving is the permanence. The stones themselves are old, some of them have been here for millions of years. The sculptures will also be here for a long time in any case. When looking at stone carvings from the past the sculptor is usually forgotten and it’s as if the sculpture has always been there. I sometimes go to this fantasy of the future, imagining the sculptures in a different time period…

S: Mythology is definitely a factor that joins our work together. Both of us are interested in modern and ancient mythology and creating our own versions of these. Also translating our own personal problems with the use of mythology. We are also both using old techniques and trying to create and understand something new with them.

 

Daría Sól Andrews

 

Valheimur at Hverfisgallerí is open until October 12, 2019. 

Photo credits: Vigfús Birgisson

“Event Horizon” at BERG Contemporary: a conversation with artists Marie Søndergaard Lolk, Sigrid Sandström & Hulda Stefánsdóttir

“Event Horizon” at BERG Contemporary: a conversation with artists Marie Søndergaard Lolk, Sigrid Sandström & Hulda Stefánsdóttir

“Event Horizon” at BERG Contemporary: a conversation with artists Marie Søndergaard Lolk, Sigrid Sandström & Hulda Stefánsdóttir

I spoke with the artists of Berg Contemporary’s recently opened exhibition, Event Horizon. Marie Søndergaard Lolk, Sigrid Sandström & Hulda Stefánsdóttir told me about their practice in non-representational painting, the particularities of working jointly yet separately, and their inspirational references in creation. 

Can you describe for me the context behind your work in this exhibition at Berg Contemporary, ​Event Horizon​?

Hulda Stefánsdóttir: Soon after we started to discuss the possibility of a joint exhibition, we found a common denominator of our works and interests in the art historical notion of negative pictorial space in the context of contemporary painting practices. We were all interested in the processes of image making that deal with a transferal, an inverse of sorts, or a translation, a mirroring, and to a certain degree: a deliberate confusion – the negative that becomes the positive. During this time of correspondence an image of a black hole, constructed from a mega data and the result of decades long science research was published in the media. We were all captured by it. ​This black hole image is a translation of an ineffable phenomena, an image of a world beyond the image, the imagined, set forth as an assemblage of the furthest distance, boundaries referred to as an event horizon. You wonder which is the actual image, the bright orange-yellow halo of the black hole or the black middle dot in the image? In fact, the image is not an image as such and the black dot in the middle is not a black hole but rather the shadow of a black hole. This spoke directly to our approach to painting, provoking thoughts on the limits of visibility.

Are there any recurring themes that you find yourself coming back to in your practice, places you draw influence from?

HS: Representation of time and movement on the surface of a still canvas is an overreaching theme I have approached from various angles before. Paul Klee said that the point about painting was to spatialize perception and make time simultaneous. It has to do with the functions of memory and the impossibility of presenting any given moment without echoes or traces of the past. Deriving from this is my interest in repetitions and ideas of the original and the copy, the foreground and the background, silent and disturbed surfaces. I seek to repeat, dissolve and reduce imagery to ambiguity as to stress the instability of our perception. It also has to do with art history and the history of painting that is a constant source of influence on my practice. Not only the fairly recent history of modern abstract painting and the non-representational, but history of art and image making to the furthers extensions of the past: cave paintings and discoveries of the earliest mark makings and from there on to today. This incredible need we have for visual expression as a source of communication and confirmation of existence are an endless source of inspiration.

Marie Søndergaard Lolk: Lately I’ve worked with translations between different states of images, often using found images as a source. Sometimes I’m treating an image as information or as something textual, that can be broken down into components, and so can have ambiguous readings. Sometimes it’s the other way around, the textual breaking up into bits of matter. I’m also very interested in joining ideas of the personal and impersonal, e.g. through interpretations of found drawings or found handwriting. Another recurring aspect of my work is perhaps the inclusion of glitches and faults, which also relates to this idea of translations I mentioned, it always implies a level of distortion or misrepresentation. In that connection I find I’m often looking at the generalizations and categorizations that things fall into, both visually and language-wise when you’re working with images.

Sigrid Sandström: I have for the past few years been preoccupied with paintings as evidence of past activities and how they nevertheless operate in present tense as they “unfold” in front the viewer. Traces of the painting process become parts of the final image. I think of my paintings as projection surfaces upon which we project our own agendas, and the many possible ways of approaching/viewing a painting is of great interest to me. The reception of a painting will keep shifting over time, suddenly it belongs to history while never the less it still exists as an object in the present, and I keep thinking about how the viewing that takes part in the making of a painting is somewhat different from the kind of viewing that happens once the painting is completed, and free for grabs, if you so will. The fluidity of the thing is of great interest to me.

 

Describe for me your process of production, both mentally and in physical creation.

HS: I often start with a textual reference, but during the process I realize that it is no less a material, a tactile and visual one; various impressions accumulating in a particular visual idea. I never consider new work to begin at a point zero, the works build up and, in a way, I am constantly responding to the previous ones. It would be hard for me to distinct the thoughts of the mind and the physical actions of the creation, sometimes matter comes ahead of a concrete thought and sometimes it takes some time to put my thoughts into actions. It is all about the tacit knowledge of visual thinking and a continuous process.

ML: The works in this show I’ve approached as a kind of bands or sequences, similar to strings of writing or even comic strips. Different elements are repeated and, in that way, become as much structure as image. I wanted to work with the formats as well and make them more like lines or borders in the space, something that could work architecturally. They are made on foamboard with marker pen and watercolour and so share a visual affinity with drawing, although the process doesn’t have the same directness. The seemingly quick lines and gestures of the source image are stenciled and in other ways modulated, partly as a way of deliberately halting the fluidity if the image.

SS: In my case, everything that happens in the studio is interconnected to earlier works, either in direct response to it or as part of a more casual dialogue with previous works. For this exhibition I wanted to work with the positive as a negative and vice versa. For instance, at the moment I use cotton rugs dipped in paint to press to the surface of the canvas, just like printmaking, in order to make the imagery in my paintings. The image is thus the imprint of the absent object, or ghost image of the rug I used as tool. I am interested in the fact that the absence of something simultaneously becomes the image. For this exhibition I chose to, in addition to the “printed” paintings show the actual tools (cotton rugs) as works in and of themselves along with the paintings.

How do you define nonrepresentational painting and its boundaries, as in the absence of an image?

HS:​ I think that one of the things we have in common as artists is to question the definitions and boundaries between the nonrepresentational and the representational. So, our painting practices deal more with the tension, and instability between the two, rather than the compartmentalization​.
I question the image as such and at the same time I see my painting process as akin to printmaking or photographic dark room processes. What are we really seeing? To me it seems like a fragmented whole in a shifting and turning context. And the boundaries are constantly extended, the absence of an image broadening the pictorial surface and pushing the edge of visibility to the unforeseen.

 

How do you each as separate artists experience your three practices coming together in this exhibition?

HS: For me the dialogue and collaboration with Sigrid and Marie has been a challenging and enriching experience. Challenging in the positive way that it has provoked me to consider my work in a more direct broader context and enriching for the same reason, a sense for a wider perspective, shared commonalities and differences, yet a passion for the possibilities of the painting in contemporary art.

ML: I agree, it’s been a really good process and, to me, a stimulating encounter between our three quite different practices. I find the show to have some appealing dissonances as well as obvious common interest points. But it’s not so simple after all, I feel the show as a whole hasn’t quite settled in my mind yet.

SS: The show turned out surprisingly cohesive I find, because our approaches to art diverge from one another quite a bit. I very much enjoyed the collective effort of putting something together that was quite intangible at first. The days of installing the show were very focused as we were trying to get to know, understand and address our intentions and motivations. I thought we were very responsive to each other and our subtle, non-hierarchical collective way of decision making through trial and error was enriching for me. 

Event Horizon​, how do you define this term in relation to your exhibition here at Berg?

HS: As previously described the event horizon presented this viewpoint of imaging the end of visibility that we have all dealt with in one way or another in our works. A certain dishevelment that plays with these borderlines. The work may indicate a landscape, an object or a structure, but the work process always entails a willful distortion of a known reality. You question what you see and present a different way of visual experiencing / reading. The literate connotation of the phenomena is an inspiration in and of itself; event as an action, horizon as an indication of a distance, or a landscape, imagined or real. The Icelandic word Sjónhvörf, literally translates to edge of vision, and has a connation to myndhvörf (metaphor) or hvörf, that marks a turning point, the end of something and beginning of another, perhaps not yet known.

Why abstraction? What are the possibilities for you as artists in this specific approach?

HS: I think the free open space of abstraction is such an interesting way to approach existence and this crisscrossing time space we live in. These marks and dissolving symbols of a language meaning cut up and re-assembled, fragmented impressions that come together yet also feel like they are about to dissolve or burst.

 

Daría Sól Andrews


 

Event Horizon ​at Berg Contemporary runs until September 7, 2019.

Photos courtesy of Berg Contemporary and the artists.

Artists’ websites:

Marie Søndergaard Lolk: http://marielolk.com/

Hulda Stefánsdóttir: http://www.huldastefansdottir.is/

Sigrid Sandström: http://www.sigridsandstrom.com/

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