Stars are the flowers of our skies: The Wildflower

Stars are the flowers of our skies: The Wildflower

Stars are the flowers of our skies: The Wildflower


in conversation with Becky Forsythe and Penelope Smart


In The Wildflower, we’re transported into a disorienting horizon full of flowers, non-flowers, stones, glass and jelly. Bringing together artists and writers from Canada and Iceland, the exhibition questions, uncovers, and challenges various problems and possibilities surrounding nature, land, landscape, and what it means to those who dwell on it. 

As I sink into thoughts about my personal relationship to both the Canadian and Icelandic landscapes, the initial parallels are clear. They both carry postcard-like perceptions of vibrancy. Large, open space, fresh air, and curiosity – from fjords and hot springs in Iceland, to great lakes and tall trees in Canada. They share northern geographies and similar flora. Contemplating the propositions that the show offered brought forward many questions. What is considered an Icelandic landscape, and what is considered a Canadian one? Whose perspectives are given space and whose voices are missing? Where do these stories intersect, and where do they part? 

This conversation with curators Becky Forsythe and Penelope Smart, much like The Wildflower itself, spanned countries, viewpoints, and time(zones). Generously offering a glimpse into their collective vision of the show and beyond, we spoke about traditional craft in contemporary spaces, what inclusion means, notions of past, present and future in landscape, as well as the added labour of distance.

Juliane Foronda: Your shared connection to nature is quite evident. What other interests or curiosities informed this show? 

Becky Forsythe: Themes circulating nature are so vast and varied — and saying The Wildflower is solely grounded in nature only scratches the surface. Our intention was a layered exhibition, and first and foremost one about artists whose works are exciting, re-envision natural material, personal history, or land in new ways. This was sparked by an interest in reimagined craft-based practices as a way to narrow in on familiar, foreign, future landscapes and unfold the layers in those concepts. It is also quite natural for us to work with female artists spanning generations and most definitely emerging into their practices.

Penelope Smart: I think craft based practices have a lot to say to traditional visual art practices in a gallery. They are often connected to domestic skills or “women’s work”, and are now seen as something extremely alive in a contemporary art space. 

BF: Arna weaves, but none are present in the show. She does however weave together preserved flowers in Untitled (2014). Her practice is very conceptual, and I am not sure that she would consider her practice craft-based. But her work stems from a long history of weaving and conceptual fiber sculpture in Iceland with people like Ásgerður Búadóttir (1920-2014), Hildur Hákonardóttir and G.Erla (Guðrún Erla Geirsdóttir), who have opened up the reading of “women’s work” in contemporary art since the fifties, sixties or seventies.

PS: As a curator who loves craft, there’s a powerful point in the idea of permission, responsibility and ownership. Craft can immediately connect you to a community that may or may not be your own, and you may or may not have permission into it. Where I am in northern Ontario, I think there are really generative experiences of how craft is connected to Indigenous communities, traditions, and other histories that you may not be trusted into just because you think it’s interesting. We were thinking about representations of nature in the future, and there is a paradox presenting works that connect to craft practices and traditions. That tension is consciously at play in this show.

BF: This tension in the exhibition plays with work elements that would be identified as craft-based, and how they appear in the artists’ work through other means. For example, Nína’s work, where she embroidered the tablecloth with local flora. This is a skill she acquired as a young woman, and she utilizes her skills, as any artist would, in conceptualizing an installation which is in some ways about the traditional practice of stitching, but reaches beyond that and into an atmosphere of cultural awareness. 

JF: What was your motivation behind fostering this conversation between the Canadian and Icelandic landscapes, and why was this important to you? 

PS: The idea of Iceland and Canada sharing latitudes and plant histories because of their geographies is something we were interested in. The work that was coming out of the studios in each of these places were often related to each other, especially between Newfoundland and Iceland. There’s so much more research that can be done, we’ve just skimmed the surface.

JF: Both Iceland and Canada have strong and specific overarching narratives around what it means to belong to, represent and live on these lands. Many of these narratives surround notions of home, heritage, legacy and access. Are varying perspectives and experiences, such those from the many refugees and immigrants who also inhabit these lands represented in The Wildflower?

PS: I don’t know if all those views are represented. The artists included in the show from Canada and the North are Indigenous, mixed ancestry, or white and/or of European descent, and are drawing from their own experience. I’m okay with someone pointing out that there are people and stories missing from the show, because that’s definitely true and for me, isn’t a reason to feel like the show fails in terms of a show that’s thinking about landscape. If The Wildflower does play a part in bringing up conversations about what’s lacking, where stories are missing about the experience of landscape, or what it means, if anything, to talk about flowers in a northern landscape, that’s great. These conversations are hard, but they’re important.

BF: The view we present is not a universal vision of land or landscape, but an act to deconstruct or counter or address imbalance in contemporary conversations on the topic. The exhibition itself wasn’t so much about transporting the experience of Canada here, or matching it to the experience of Iceland, but about creating a dialogue where questions would arise. Break up out-dated representations, I would say, and present a new potential for landscape. There are experiences that are missing, and that is okay, this is just one open possibility gathered from many voices.


Installation view with Jón Gunnar Árnason, Blómið, 1967, The Wildflower, Hafnarborg 2020. Photo: Kristín Pétursdóttir

Asinnajaq, Where you go, I follow, 2020, digital photograph on polysheer. Photo: Kristín Pétursdóttir

Katrina Jane, Tools of Being, 2020, Portuguese marble. Photo Kristín Pétursdóttir

Leisure, Narrative no. 9 (cotton grass, berry hand, summer 1943 on Bonavista Bay and women picking berries on the barrens 1912-15/2016), Narrative no.13, 2017, photo montage and Invisibility Cloaks, 2020, haskap, blueberries and cranberries on canvas. Photo: Vigfús Birgisson

JF: Is nature and/or land(scape) inclusive? 

BF: The way that nature’s been handled is not inclusive. I guess it depends on who is telling the story? Whose nature is it? And who has access? But if you think about this in the environmental or cultural context, then nature has been misused in a way that’s not inclusive at all and has kept certain cultures, genders and races repressed. 

PS: This is such a good question. I do think this comes up in the sense of nature as a resource. And who has access to it. In the exhibit, there’s the idea of nature as a resource related to different histories and in terms of the materials themselves, the view of nature as something that gives or has given, and gives innately, and how we take.

JF: While this collaboration was always planned to have an element of long distance to some capacity, you came across many unexpected challenges due to COVID-19. Can you talk a bit about the obstacles, joys, added labour and findings that came from this?

BF: The long distance nature of our collaboration meant the transition into the reality of COVID-19 just happened. We had worked in a lot of research and preparation that would take place onsite in Iceland, that was affected quite early on and became impossible. We pivoted in this new vulnerability, like colleagues, exhibitions, museums and galleries everywhere are currently doing, and found new approaches. This transformed our selection of work, but also pushed us, in a good way, to reconsider the place of our work in the field.

PS: It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to go to Iceland. At times it felt like constantly asking do we cancel this? became the work. But this was happening for everyone. I often felt like I couldn’t do my fair share because I wasn’t physically there. It didn’t change how the show went for me in the end, as it looked exactly how it would have if I had been able to be there. It makes me excited for the next thing we get to do together.

BF: We were lucky that we walked into this with a consistent working practice, weekly meetings and reliable communication. Onsite/online, we weren’t only doing this long distance, but between time zones too. I really see the labour that went into this exhibition as balanced— whether conceptual, physical or intellectual. It was heartbreaking that Penelope couldn’t be here, because we had organized to a certain extent, but also left room to respond together in the space once we were in it, and we really didn’t get to experience that. That’s an exciting part for me to really feel works in the space, get in there and respond. 

JF: (How) will this collaboration exist after this exhibition is over?

BF:  I think we did walk into it with the idea that this project, and at least the beginnings of this research extend into something beyond. Our list of artists, contributors and writers was so huge. We definitely couldn’t include everyone that we wanted to in The Wildflower, and that leaves us with exciting research to continue. The fact that we’ve survived this massive exhibition at this time, long distance – across countries and with COVID, it’s left me really excited to attempt something new. Whether that’s realised as an exhibition or another format, it’s still up in the air. There’s still a lot that we haven’t unpacked and it’s about finding the right time for those things to happen.

PS: The ways that we experience and engage with art are shifting. It’s no longer about getting on a plane to do research and studio visits, and a lot more art is now happening outside of traditional gallery settings. This means that we have to think about how our work as curators can continue to be of value to audiences moving forward. I’m interested and learning how to talk about land, how to belong to it and where I belong, what does belonging actually translate to, how does history play out in a landscape, how do you claim it or not, and how do you revisit yourself in land. I want to be able to work with artists who are looking at these questions.


Following my question about if nature and landscape was inclusive, Penelope posed a series of questions back at me. She asked how inclusivity feels, where it lives in the body, and what emotions are present when we talk about if nature is inclusive. These questions in relation to my personal relationship with land and nature have been circulating in my headspace since being asked, and I will likely continue to sit in the reality of these thoughts for some time.

I immediately thought of my family’s first winter in Canada, and the small toboggan (sled) my parents got us so we could all play in the snow. I thought of the first time I realised I didn’t know how to ice skate or ski like most of the kids at my primary school could, who were predominantly of white settler-colonial descent. I also remembered my first trip to a friend’s cottage in my teens, and how they taught me how to canoe at sunset. My thoughts also fall back to listening to my father tell me stories throughout my childhood about his rural village in the northern region of the Philippines – stories of mango trees, being showered by the warm tropical rain, playing with spiders, stones and banana leaves, and about how bright the stars were at night. This landscape is completely opposite to the one I grew up in and is one that I barely know myself, but I feel inherently connected to it from these stories that have been told and retold to me over the years. I also thought about when I moved to Iceland, and how my body surrendered to the slow pace of the dark winter. I remembered the first time I saw the northern lights, and I can still hear the sound of the strong winter wind whistling through my window. I also often think of that soft pink light that peeks out around February, which breaks the darkness and makes the whole landscape seem to glow in silence for a few moments.

These thoughts and memories led me to realise that experiences with/in nature and landscape often carry multiple markers or milestones that reveal how much you conventionally belong or fit in. This is particularly true for lands where nature and landscape are deeply interwoven into culture and cultural norms, such as in Iceland and Canada. It’s a curious place, where nature mixes with culture and its conventions, making clear that nature often exists as a refuge or pleasure for the systemically privileged, while it is a border or boundary for many others. The very specific narratives placed around land and landscape affects people’s psyche and their sense of belonging. It also brings up the notion of nature as legacy – what you pass down and leave behind. I often wondered why my father’s village feels so emotionally familiar to me, and I’ve come to realise that knowledge and histories can transcend time and physical space through the radical care of sharing one’s skills, experience and stories with others.

In an attempt to answer Penelope’s questions, inclusion and exclusion, for me, lives in the space(s) between my tear ducts and my chest. My lived experiences and the feelings they come with trigger a quickened pulse from my heavy heart, a tickle in my throat, a runny nose, and misty eyes. Nature exists in multitudes, and for me, can bring up feelings of wonder while often being laced with a mix of gratitude, guilt, clarity and confusion. I like to think of my relationship with nature as a private one in a public space; it’s complex, changing and challenging, and it’s the only one of its kind that I’ll ever know. 

This conversation exists in two parts, with the other being on Femme Art Review.


The WildflowerVilliblómið, was exhibited at Hafnarborg – Centre of Culture and Fine Art (Hafnarfjörður, IS) between August 29 – November 8 2020.

Artists included: Arna Óttarsdóttir, Asinnajaq, Eggert Pétursson, Emily Critch, Jón Gunnar Árnason, Justine McGrath, Katrina Jane, Nína Óskarsdóttir, Leisure, Thomas Pausz, Rúna Thorkelsdóttir

Curated by Becky Forsythe and Penelope Smart

Becky Forsythe and Penelope Smart met at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity in 2017. Their shared work is based in new and meaningful conversations about nature, materials and the feminine. The Wildflower is their first collaborative project.

Becky Forsythe is a curator, writer, and organizer in Reykjavík, Iceland. Penelope Smart is curator at Thunder Bay Art Gallery and writer based in Ontario, Canada. 

Writer’s note of Land Acknowledgement: 

For thousands of years, Tkaronto (Toronto) has been the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat, and it is still home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis from across Turtle Island (North America). Tkaronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit. I have lived on this land for the majority of my life, and it continues to significantly shape and impact my trajectory. I acknowledge and recognize the many privileges that I have because of immigrating to and having grown up on stolen land. I conducted this interview from Glasgow, Scotland, where I am currently based. 

Penelope spoke to me from Thunder Bay, Ontario, located on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, which is covered by the Robinson-Superior Treaty. She is grateful to live and work on the traditional territory of Fort William First Nation. Becky spoke to me from Reykjavík, Iceland. She acknowledges traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabeg, specifically Ojibway/Chippewa, the Odawa and Wahta Mohawk peoples whose presence on the land continues to this day, and where her time and experiences lived on this land continue to influence her person and practice. 

Femme Art Review is based out of the traditional territory of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak, and Attawandaron peoples (London, Ontario). Artzine is based out of Reykjavík, Iceland.



Cover picture: Nína Óskarsdóttir, The Feast (Veislan), 2020, mixed media, table cloth embroidered with Icelandic wildflowers and assorted beer jellies. Photo: Kristín Pétursdóttir

What’s more monumental than buildings? a show and tell with Melanie Ubaldo

What’s more monumental than buildings? a show and tell with Melanie Ubaldo

What’s more monumental than buildings? a show and tell with Melanie Ubaldo

Until we take the time to know any place intimately, our awareness is often limited to our associations with their landmarks and stereotypes. When I visit new places, I pay extra attention as I trace the land with my feet to orient myself until foreign feels familiar. The more I walk, the more I know. I gain my bearings in life through walking, and trusting that my feet will eventually reveal to me something I did not previously know. Paths I walk again and again are imprinted in my memory with each footstep – familiar textures, ways of moving, views and rituals that are, over time, carefully imbedded into the soles of my shoes. I walk to understand, to see more (or all) sides and angles, and to instill considered consciousness.

Reykjavík-based artist Melanie Ubaldo makes work that activates my whole body. I need to walk around it, move closer, step back, smell the thick brushstrokes of paint, and visually take in all the textures and materials, often wishing that I could experience these puzzle-like paintings through the touch of my fingertips. I’m constantly aware of their scale, towering over me, unable to be ignored. Personal phrases are so boldly written across the raw, unstretched, paint-splattered, patched and sewn canvases, which catch my eye immediately.  Her work celebrates her Icelandic-Filipina identity while also confronting the challenges of intersectionality. The core of her work is rooted in her relationship with her mother, with some phrases even coming directly from their past conversations. A chaotic mix of vulnerability and (dis)comfort, Ubaldo’s work acts like a billboard or banner documenting her lived experiences.

Throughout my recent conversation with Melanie, she spoke fondly about her curiosity with architecture, and what makes something (or someone) monumental. Her paintings and their phrases dominate any given space they are placed within, ensuring that we hear her messages loud and clear. There is an undeniable reference to architecture with her paintings as they mimic posts, pillars, buildings and obelisks, along with an unwavering awareness of space, as they tend to be supported by the architecture themselves.

You look Indian so you get Indian price, 2017
Part of the exhibition Málverk – ekki miðill / Painting – Not a Medium at Hafnarborg, Curated by Jóhannes Dagsson.

While it’s easy to correlate scale with dominance and aggression, the core of her work and her person simultaneously brings forward a delicate quality. As much as these paintings draw inspiration from the grandiose of buildings and billboards, I consider them just as much a reference to shelters: tarps, coverings or perhaps even a slight nod to a child’s comfort blanket. There are clear parallels between Melanie’s paintings and Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s sculptures and installations as they both touch on notions of space, home, memory and (dis)placement. Suh’s intimate sculptures replicate and reference various places he’s lived and worked (as well as many of the objects within them) out of delicate steel frames and sheer gauze-like fabrics, almost mimicking tents as they exude a sense of portability. Their material lightness gives them a transitory quality, while being so conceptually present that they concurrently call to be contemplated. Melanie’s work, much like Do Ho Suh’s can only benefit with more time and care spent in their vicinity as the layers slowly unravel to let you in.

I also can’t help but be reminded of the strong women who led the Feminist Art movement as I reflect more on Melanie’s practice. The Guerilla Girls’ The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist (1988), for example, directly confronts the countless injustices and prejudice that women continue to experience in the arts. There also exists some striking similarities in Tracey Emin’s mark making and Melanie’s that firmly places their work in close dialogue with one other. Many phrases and sentiments in these works continue to ring true over 30 years later, and I wonder (and fear) if the words and sentiments in Ubaldo’s paintings will also remain true in decades to come. The works of all these women are vulnerably bold, courageous and unapologetically blunt, laced with an honesty that quivers between comic and devastating. The longer I spend with Melanie’s work, the more I realise how genuine it is, and I never know if I should laugh or cry.

What are you doing in Iceland with your face?, 2017
Initially exhibited in Slæmur Félagskapur in Kling & Bang in 2017 and most recently shown in the Borgarbókasafn in Tryggvagata as part of the project Inclusive Public Spaces.

Alongside her individual painting practice, Melanie works in a collective with Darren Mark and Dýrfinna Benita Basalan. Brought together through their shared memories and experiences of all being Icelandic artists with Filipino origins, their collaborative work as Lucky 3 is rooted in nostalgia and diaspora shown through their common culture(s). Their recent exhibition, Lucky Me? at Kling & Bang affectionately gathered key elements of Filipino life and culture – from karaoke, to playing basketball in the streets, to a colourful sari-sari store[1]. Speaking of this exhibition led us to speaking about her family, and the struggles she’s had with often feeling like she’s disappointing her mother by pursuing her art practice. Melanie divulged that she felt as though this recent project with Lucky 3 was perhaps the first exhibition that her mother was proud of, but that the pride likely stemmed more from seeing that Melanie (and in turn, her Filipino culture) was accepted by the community and her peers rather than pride in the work itself, or of her daughter.

One day while Melanie was sitting the show, she told me that a guest (an older white male artist who was visiting Iceland) felt the need to mention that he had already made an identical or similar work to theirs, but decades earlier. His comments were specifically targeted towards a sculpture that referenced a broken glass concrete block wall. These types of concrete walls with shards of glass scattered atop of them are common in the Philippines as a means of property security and to deter trespassing. Perhaps his comments were meant simply as gallery small-talk, but they came across to her more so as a microagression that unnecessarily asserted inherent power dynamics. Melanie also mentioned that some local guests visited the show as a means of “research” as they were planning to visit the Philippines in the near future. These instances only further instill the fact that the identity and heritage of visible minorities is still overall irreverent or exoticized in the arts, rather than respected as a means of auto-biographical storytelling, self-expression or sociocultural critique.

The Wall, 2019
Installation shot from Lucky 3 presents Lucky Me? at Kling & Bang.

Sari-Sari Store, 2019
Installation shot from Lucky 3 presents Lucky Me? at Kling & Bang.

In Roxane Gay’s essay, When Less is More, she poignantly states that “this is the famine for which we must imagine feast[2],” as she unpacks the many racial tropes in Orange is the New Black in spite of it being globally praised for its diverse cast. Gay is essentially saying that there remains so little diversity in pop culture, that the presence of minorities is praised even if they’re present as a means of feeding into cultural stereotypes. Roxane Gay’s statement is in line with of how Audre Lorde eloquently explains that it is not our differences that divides us, but that it’s rather our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate our collective differences[3] that in turn leaves us divided. This reality still exists in most (if not all) aspects of our world to this day, and the arts is far from neutral in regards to this. I couldn’t help but notice that an overwhelming majority of the shows and projects that Melanie has been curated into were about race, sometimes under the guise of “inclusivity”. I find this problematic as it then suggests that work aside from hers (or other work like hers) is “exclusive,” meaning that her voice is in turn excluded from those other dialogues. It’s deeply personal work, and while Melanie willingly confronts the conversation of race through her work, to place her practice solely under the umbrella of being about race feeds into a deeply systemic problem in and of itself. Her work is autobiographical, so it naturally draws connections to her identity and heritage, but there are so many other streams and subtleties that her practice flows in and out that are seldom acknowledged. When I contemplate Melanie’s work, I see the angst of parent-child dynamics, strong references to architecture and building, relatable and satisfyingly self-deprecating humour, commentaries on our collective (mis)use of language, a visceral relationship to her materials and tactility, and nods to various art movements – all through the complex lens of her personal lived experiences, heritage and culture. Frieze London’s Artistic Director Eva Langret, in a recent interview with Aindrea Emelife, explains that to mostly (or only) work with BIPOC[4] artists within the context of race and identity results in a lack of nuance when it comes to integrating their voices within wider artistic discourses[5]. What may often be done with genuine interest and good intentions can further be read as an uncomfortable mix of voyeurism, othering and performative solidarity. Art can foster diversity and practice proper inclusion if we let it, so to continue this pattern deeply dilutes the power of art, making it to fall stagnant and complicit to the dangerous narrative that marginalized artists can not take up the same or as much space without the additional emotional labour of tokenism.

At the time of our conversation, Melanie mentioned that she was immersed in various fiction novels as a means to escape and rest her mind. She said that she’s taken by how they’re written, and they act as her way to pause on the weight of reality. That statement hit me immediately, as it made it all the more clear how real and raw her practice is. She can’t escape reality through her work, as she’s given no space for the division of who she is and what she does the way that many other artists (perhaps unknowingly) have the privilege of doing, but she rather needs to confront her world head on. To know Melanie’s work wholeheartedly is to spend time with it, letting the words really sink in, acknowledging their scale, and walking around them in order to see and know more. As the intensity, aesthetics and boldness of her work alone can be seen as monumental, the energy and courage that fuels it undoubtedly takes precedence.


Juliane Foronda


[1] A sari-sari store is a neighbourhood convenience or variety store in the Philippines.

[2] Roxane Gay, When Less is More in Bad Feminist: Essays, 2014., p.253.

[3] Audre Lorde in Berlin, Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984-1992, 2012.

[4] BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People/Person of Colour

[5] Aindrea Emelife, ‘“There Is a Lot of Hard Work to Be Done”: How the Art World Can Step up for Black Lives Matter | The Independent’, 2020.


Melanie Ubaldo (b. 1992, Philippines) is an Icelandic artist based in Reykjavik. In Melanie’s work, image and text are inextricably linked, where deconstructionist paintings incorporate text with graffiti like vandalism, oftentimes of her own crude experiences of others preconceptions, thus exposing the power of immediate unreflected judgment. She received her BA in Fine Arts from Listaháskóli Íslands in 2016.


Cover picture: Thanks Mom, 2016. This work’s phrase is from a conversation that Melanie had with her mother about going to art school. This was her BA graduation piece from LHÍ.

Fermenting process: a show and tell with Sindri Leifsson

Fermenting process: a show and tell with Sindri Leifsson

Fermenting process: a show and tell with Sindri Leifsson

With Bold Knife and Fork opens with M.F.K. Fisher poignantly stating that gradual changes in a basic recipe are intrinsically tangled with man’s history and assumed progress.[1] This statement continues to resonate with me months after initially reading it, as it still strikes me with a massive pang of guilt. I think about food more often than I’d like to admit and it’s definitely one of my deepest passions, but I never follow a recipe and I rarely get past the title before beginning to cook. Partly due to laziness, I will admit, but it’s primarily due to trust. For better or for worse, I trust my instincts as well as the food to help me navigate somewhat close to the intended dish, or at the very least, towards a weird but welcomed gastronomical surprise. I’m unsure if I’d equate instinct with progress though, because if anything, my instincts have led me to be deeply set in my ways.

When I approached Reykjavik-based artist and organiser Sindri Leifsson about engaging in this sharing, his initial response was to send me a photograph of the current loaf of bread he was making. It was a turmeric sesame sourdough, and my mouth immediately watered upon seeing the vibrant yellow boule. Meeting some days later, we spoke as he was making a sourdough pizza in the countryside, and he later sent me a photograph of it all finished with his scenic view in the background. A week later, he shared with me his go-to method for baking sourdough bread that he’s carefully developed and perfected over the last three years. I consider recipes to often act as a linear way of sharing a non-linear process, and I realised that this recipe was in many ways the result of Sindri’s process of learning, discovering and perfecting the method of this bread. Graced with moments of his person, he shared suggestions – like how he uses a showercap instead of cling film to cover his dough as it proves, as well as links to tutorial videos on kneading techniques. It became conceivable to imagine his personal trial and errors over time as he honed this particular process.

80% Manitoba Strong Flour, 20% Öland Flour, 78% Hydration, 2% salt, 4gr Turmeric, 30gr Sesame seeds.

Research through experience is the most honest way to learn. While speaking about bread and beyond, Sindri reiterated the importance of being observant and that though one may carefully follow all the protocols, he stressed that it is far more important to have an awareness of what’s happening. To be observant is one thing, but it’s another to know what to do with your observations. This led me to think about how many times we need to activate our senses in a particular way before the action becomes familiar or instinctive.

Signal (sunshine yellow), 2016.

This methodically consistent way of being seems to seep into all corners of Leifsson’s life, and I found his perception of the interconnection of makers and materials to be a necessary aspect of unpacking his practice. With wood being a recurring theme and material in his work, we spoke a lot about the importance and significance of tools, as some of his works even place an emphasis on the tool itself, approaching it as a material in its own right. He keeps revisiting the hand saw in particular, as his interest in it lies in how it acts as a mediator between his hand and the wood. He also reverently stated his affinity with tools remain in their ability to help him create things that last longer than his lifetime.

Axe, 2017. Installation view from the exhibition Hole at The Factory in Hjalteyri.

Axe, 2017.

As we spoke about his working process, Sindri conceded that he’s a project-driven worker as he’s motivated and inspired by juggling multiple activities at once. This is also perhaps why he’s not only deeply committed to his personal practice, but also prioritises contributing to his local art community through acting on the board of a myriad of organizations (such as The Living Art Museum and Sequences Art Festival), as well as working at the Iceland University of the Arts. Alongside this, Leifsson has also run multiple art spaces out of his home, with the current one being, affectionately named after his discovery of The National Gallery of Iceland’s missed opportunity of having a .is web domain, which he then unhesitatingly purchased himself to run parallel to the physical namesake space. Sindri’s investment in cultivating these initiatives rests in his desire to have a continuous interaction with art and arts practitioners who he’s interested in, and being drawn to experiencing work in new ways as he continues to foster space for art and life to co-exist. It was curious and humbling to listen to why he rejects the notion of a hierarchy or division existing between arts working and working as an artist. As they occupy the same part of his headspace, Sindri explained that he was more so focused on producing something interesting rather than on the illusion that one form of labour is better or more prestigious than the other. It’s commendable his dedication to making time and space for what he cares about, and also for understanding the privilege he has to be able to make these initiatives happen.

Sketch for maintenance.

In speaking about work and labour, he shared some insights about his current project, which places an emphasis on maintenance. Over time, he has observed points where breakdowns were naturally occurring in the public realm, such as a broken bench, fence or sign. Sindri intends to highlight these moments by accurately repairing them and leaving the break precisely fixed but with the repair still evident. Aware that these radical actions may be perceived as presumptuous with consideration to his person and gender, he acknowledged the importance of being critical and considerate of one’s actions as well as the words used in relation to them regardless of the intention. Sindri stressed that excluding communication is selfish to the process, and that for him, the repair is truly as important as the break. Lisa Baraitser eloquently argues that what is hidden is often not just the labour of maintenance, but also the time embedded within the labour itself,[2] and I believe this to be true. Invested in the ethos of the Japanese aesthetics of wabi-sabi, Sindri’s work is rooted in recognising the temporal nature of things while highlighting the labour needed for them to be maintained. In contemplating this particular project, I was immediately reminded of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Handshake Ritual, which was part of her Touch Sanitation Performance (1979-80), where she embarked on the pursuit of meeting and shaking hands with every New York Sanitation Department employee, and thanking them for keeping New York City alive.[3] I also find myself considering the similarities between Leifsson’s current proposition and Francis Alÿs’ When Faith Moves Mountains (2002). This ambitious collaborative action involved 500 volunteers in the outskirts of Lima, Peru taking on the task of moving a sand dune over several inches.[4] I envisage Sindri’s work in line with these as they all generously lend their practice to duration, but more so because they allow for their work to be a means of opening up the conversation on how vulnerability is unraveled through acknowledging the labour involved with maintenance and constant care. These seemingly invisible and momentary gestures continue to resonate far beyond their time.

Entrance, 2019, steel, pine, potatoes.

There’s a curious tension in Sindri’s work which consistently motivates me to question the problems and possibilities of my surroundings. There also exists this refreshing humility in his investment with time passing and time passed that continues to oscillate through my headspace in weird and wonderful ways. Leifsson’s ongoing willingness to learn and experiment regardless of the outcome opens his work to new forms over time as it delicately bleeds between public and private space. It’s evident that his curiosity lies deeply in the labour of process, with considerations to duration coming thereafter, and it’s a privilege to witness Sindri’s methods, recipes, tools, materials, ingredients, photos, sketches, as well as his countless projects on the go, gently unravel into his personal archive of processes as they grow and shift together.


Juliane Foronda


Sindri Leifsson (b. 1988) raises questions about the autarchy of labour and the product it yields as well as pointing towards the process itself. Sindri received a MFA at Malmö Art Academy in 2013 and a BA at Iceland University of the Arts in 2011. He has exhibited actively in Iceland and abroad.



[1] Fisher, M.F.K., With Bold Knife and Fork, London: Vintage, 2001, p.14.

[2] Baraitser, Lisa, Touching Time: Maintenance, Endurance, Care in Psychosocial Imaginaries: Perspectives on Temporality, Subjectivities and Activism, PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2014, p.21.

[3] ‘Interview: Mierle Laderman Ukeles on Maintenance and Sanitation Art’, Coordinated by Tom Finkelpearl, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA., London 2001.

[4] ‘When Faith Moves Mountains’, Francis Alÿs (blog), 23 June 2015,


Cover picture: Entrance, 2019, steel, birch, potatoes. Sculpture in five parts in Breiðholt as a part of The Wheel, an exhibition series initiated by Reykjavík Association of Sculptors in public space.

What rainbows we choose to see, a show and tell with Florence Lam

What rainbows we choose to see, a show and tell with Florence Lam

What rainbows we choose to see, a show and tell with Florence Lam

In what continues to be my favourite work of Hong Kong-based artist Florence Lam, a mirror, a stool and a spray bottle are arranged by a window in a carefully considered way. The Particularities of a Place (2015)  humbly supplies us the tools to make a rainbow (should the sun be strong enough), asking us to have faith and wonder in this proposition. From the first time I’d heard of this work, I believed in its abilities prior to ever seeing it in person. This collection of objects constantly reminds me that sometimes, just knowing of the potential is enough. Often after speaking with Florence, I’m filled with an overwhelming feeling of capability. Her work, much like her person, refuses to believe in the impossible as she is willing to try again and again, adapting as needed, and distancing herself from the notion that there always needs to be a formalised final outcome.

The Particularities of a Place (2015) was the very first piece of artwork Florence made when she arrived in Iceland and has been exhibited at Hafnarborg Art Museum in 2016 and RÝMD in 2017.

Originally from Hong Kong, Florence moved back at the end of 2019 after living nearly 10 years abroad having studied in London and Reykjavík, and was most recently living and working in Germany. For over half of the time that I have been fortunate to know her, we have lived in different countries. Perhaps one of the most nomadic souls I know, time or distance has never seemed to hinder her ability to foster genuine and lasting connections. Spending over two hours together while sitting alone in our respective rooms, over 9000 kilometers and 8 hours apart, we spoke about nature, food, boredom, (be)longing, displacement, the value of community, and many other things.    

Florence continuously described this time in Hong Kong as a special one, and said she is thankful to be back. Apart from having been battling the Coronavirus from the near beginning, Hong Kong residents have been resisting an extremely violent and corrupt government for much longer, prompting protests throughout the nation. Despite the current global health crisis, residents are still resisting the many injustices that are occurring, and these political protests continue to materialise, while taking on new forms with consideration to health and safety. Florence assured me that you could still feel the political energy and tension across Hong Kong, and that it likely only feels quieter and more peaceful to those who are not personally involving themselves in the situation. I asked her if she was scared, and she said no, and that she was rather grateful, explaining that over time she’s learned to cope with fear, and to accept it as reality. Being scared isn’t anything special, she told me, and especially being someone from Hong Kong, it does not make you different. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that such opposing feelings and emotions are able to coexist, but amid the uncertainty and chaos, our conversation also brought forward curiosity, joy and the most refreshing breath of dry humour.

Playground facilities fences off due to Coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong.

The subject of closeness and community was at the forefront of our talk. Currently feeling most connected to Hong Kong geographically and through her values, she’s gaining a new perspective of what it means to be part of a community since moving back. With full faith in the people of Hong Kong, she said that she trusts that they know what to believe in and how to act (as they have been living through various crises over the last 10+ years), and that people need to learn from their own experiences. For instance, she explained that people in Hong Kong are selective on who they’re willing to meet, as going out in public not only puts themselves at risk, but places those they meet in danger as well. There’s a romance, she said, smirking, in deciding who you are willing to die with or die for. 

Acknowledging the difference between the practicalities of where you are currently based versus what it means to contribute to and be a part of a community, Lam is well aware of the labour and sacrifices necessary in order to shape and preserve the culture in Hong Kong, recognising the reality that labour does not necessarily ensure the desired outcome. Her practice has been greatly influenced by each time she has moved or been (dis)placed, with these experiences permeating through her work and headspace over the years. Florence explained that she would be honoured to be considered as a Hong Kong artist one day, as she’s witnessed first-hand the time, work, responsibility and politics associated with being considered an artist there as she slowly navigates through and immerses herself into the society once again. Performance art, she said translates to “action art” in Cantonese, carrying a more negative connotation of “silly” or symbolic actions that could bring forward some socio-political issues, but the gestures inevitably fail to change the reality. Performance art is also often placed under the same umbrella as theatre and dance in Hong Kong which can become complicated, but this has fostered a more underground community of contemporary performance artists that is slowly gaining momentum.


Lift, Stairs and Ribbon (2017), performed at Gerðarsafn Kópavogur Art Museum, Iceland.

Often working site-specifically, Lam has an ongoing interest in how architecture and space influence her actions. The current health and safety practices of self-quarantining and social distancing have prompted her to consider how time veritably shapes more than space does. In considering this notion, I come to think about Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ beloved Untitled (Perfect Lovers) (1991), wherein two identical and synced clocks are hung side-by-side, ticking in unison. In the accompanying drawing and text, he boldly writes that time has been so generous to us, and that we are a product of time, therefore we give back credit where it is due [1]. These words ring particularly resonant these days, as time is currently at an abundance for many while at a deficit for some, thus carrying a much different weight than it used to.

We spoke about the limits of care within the arts, and how the landscape of this notion is steadily changing. The need to feel we have helped often gets in the way [2], but perhaps physical presence and action is no longer at the forefront of necessity. It’s imperative to bring awareness to, and make space for (re)considering what forms of support that are actually needed as a means of care. It’s interesting to witness Florence reevaluate what it means to be a performance artist, as this then became a question of if art transcends proximity (and if so, how?). Working collaboratively has also proven to be an interesting and welcomed challenge for her practice as she reconsiders how to confront questions of technology, accessibility, and documentation. It’s curious to think about how to be careful and considerate within an arts context especially when the resilience of a community is often driven by culture itself. 

In All About Love, author bell hooks shares her thoughts on community so poignantly, stating that our willingness to make sacrifices reflects our awareness for interdependency [3]. This encapsulates what I believe it means to be part of a community in its entirety – to live with, think about and to consider those around us, understanding that our actions have consequences. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that while a community can be fostered by mere proximity, to truly be part of a community is to be connected by our morals, ethos, and the choices we make. We also spoke about how the performance art community at a large has been a major influence in her practice. Having participated in various international performance art festivals and workshops over the years, as well as working as a performer for Marina Abramović during her retrospective in Bonn in 2018, Florence is tangled into the fabric of this small yet tight-knit global community. Connected more through a synergy in headspace rather than geography, she explained that these short, intense meetings offer her a fluidity in discourse, which has proved imperative to shaping her practice. These workshops which often included improvisation exercises have taught her to observe, be instinctual, and to be more cautious of her impact. As her background and education have shaped her practice much differently than the majority of young artists in Hong Kong, it’s curious to think of how her work will translate in this new environment, and how it will shift and be shaped as she combines her past with her present.

Florence’s colleagues taking a break outside of Alte Oper Frankfurt when she worked as a facilitator for “A Different Way of Hearing: The Abramović Method for Music”, March 2019.

Since moving back to Hong Kong, she’s been finding refuge in nature and the unique landscapes much like she used to in Iceland. She continues to be drawn to nature for its ability to offer her a sense of freedom and independence. Lam explained that independence is a big conversation in Hong Kong, as locals aspire to create and foster a richer agricultural autonomy to be less dependent on China or the rest of the world in order to support their own people. This has led to a growth in the farming and agriculture industry from many out of work arts and culture workers as a means of highlighting and appreciating their own resources and locality. The traditional Canton-style food from her childhood that she is now revisiting is often tailored to accommodate the season, the weather and your health. With more time to prepare and savour home cooked meals, food is offering her an emotional connection to other locals. She’s also been practicing and learning about Chinese medicine, and taking them between her meals. More preventative than traditionally medicinal, this new ritual enables her to sit deeper into her current cultural environment. As we moved through this tangent about what she’s currently growing, cooking and eating, Florence unknowingly redefined what it means to be together. 

Florence’s hand with gloves at the farm that she’s helping out at right now.

We can easily lose sight of the act of looking, as the average experience of being in the world is not one of mindful awareness. Florence’s work challenges this notion in a weird, bold and genuine way by sharing what and how she sees, while leaving enough space for us to choose to navigate through, and decipher her headspace ourselves. I think it takes a lot of courage to know how and when to let go, and Florence is generous in her willingness to share in order for us to experience the wonders that she imagines and conceives in her practice. This prompts me to look more at the ways in which we can collectively choose to see our world. Nearly magical in her ability to ignite wonder out of the everyday, she’s also critical and carefully considers the act of looking in and of itself, reminding me that rainbows will always be there for as long as we’re looking to see them.

Juliane Foronda


[1] ‘Felix Gonzalez-Torres. “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers). 1991 | MoMA’, The Museum of Modern Art,

[2] Siân Robinson Davies, The Massage Teacher in Naked and Practical (tenletters, 2018). p.55.

[3] bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, First Perennial edition (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001). p. 143.


Cover picture:  Concept photo for “Étude” shot in Cattle Depot Artist Village, Hong Kong.

Florence Lam (b.1992, Vancouver, CA) grew up in Hong Kong and is currently based between Hong Kong and Düsseldorf, DE. Lam works with wonder and magical thinking to fuse together current moral issues with child-like world views through performance art, poetry, video and sound. Florence obtained her MA Fine Art from Iceland Academy of the Arts in 2017 and her BA Fine Art from Central Saint Martins in 2014.

Lam has performed around Europe and Asia, including 1a space (Hong Kong 2020); Nanhai Gallery (Taipei, Taiwan 2019); Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art (Japan 2019), MACRO Testattio Mattatoio Art Museum (Rome, Italy 2018), Kling & Bang (Reykjavík, Iceland 2018) and Manifesta 11 (Zürich, Switzerland 2016). She has also participated in various art festivals including A! Performance Festival (Akureyri, Iceland 2019), YUP Festival (Osnabrück, Germany 2019), ZABIH Performance Festival (Lviv, Ukraine 2019), Reykjavík Arts Festival (Reykjavík, Iceland 2019), Performance Platform Lublin (Lublin, Poland 2017), Sequences Art Festival (Reykjavík, Iceland 2017) and Performance Art Bergen Open (Bergen, Norway, 2017), among others.

Iridescence, domesticity, and sweaty cheese: a show and tell with Anna Hrund Másdóttir

Iridescence, domesticity, and sweaty cheese: a show and tell with Anna Hrund Másdóttir

Iridescence, domesticity, and sweaty cheese: a show and tell with Anna Hrund Másdóttir

I remember the first time I had a Pop-Tart. It was Frosted Strawberry flavoured, with a thick, shiny, baby pink glaze and rainbow sprinkles smeared across the top. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I had a feeling it would be sweet, so it drew me in immediately. It was clearly processed, and too artificially seductive and modular to be “real” (yet it was). I remember my six (or so) year old self staring at it for a while, confused and curious as to how to approach it. (Do I break it in half or bite right in?) I bit into a corner and discovered that it was filled with strawberry “jelly”. The pastry crumbled all over my shirt, and I felt an unexpected wave of rebellious satisfaction. It tasted exactly how I imagined: sugary, with lots of layers and textures, and an overbearing essence of artificial strawberry running through it. It was satisfyingly synthetic, and I was hooked.

I revisit a similar joy whenever I encounter Los Angeles-based artist Anna Hrund Másdóttir’s work, as it often prompts me to question and revisit the reality, possibility and integrity of the seemingly mundane. There also exists a similar rebellious satisfaction when visually ingesting the vividly (un)real yet organic nature of her practice. Both highly saturated, odd, clever and appealing from the outside, and only more satiating as you dive in.

Three time zones and over 4,000 kilometres apart, I find myself in a beautifully strange conversation with Anna Hrund. Meeting across the internet, we covered everything from her favourite authors, to the wonder of Jacaranda trees, to her curiosity with cocktail cherries. Anna has this way of weaving connections between seemingly unrelated objects and things in a way that only seems a given after you see or hear it from her yourself. With a background in mathematics, it’s clear that her approach to life and the objects within it is methodical, but I prefer to think that her unique mindset fundamentally stems from her genuine love of curious things. Working within self-generated systems of categorization and logic, she fuelled my curiosity as she generously talked me through her current cerebral landscape.

As our conversation unfolded, Anna spoke to me about some of the objects and things that are currently occupying her headspace. Most resonant, perhaps, was her enthralment with the writing of M.F.K. Fisher, the iconic American writer from the 1900’s who was un-paralleled in her ambitious writing on food culture and gastronomy from a woman’s perspective. Fisher wrote candidly, intimately and honestly about her experiences and interactions with food, as well as the practice of eating, preparing and enjoying it. Anna Hrund spoke so fondly of Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me, wherein she states that as humans, our three basic needs are for food, security, and love, and how the three are so inherently intertwined[1] and essentially inseparable. This led us into speaking about domesticity, how she’s navigating through her role(s) as a homemaker in her personal life, and how that’s seeping into her art practice. Anna’s work is marked with her frequent use of edible materials in thoughtful ways that lead these often outrageous objects to appear elegant and rather minimal. “Almost-not-food food”, as she affectionately calls them (such as cheese puff balls, candy dots, and Jawbreakers) have always led her curious, admitting that the candy aisles in her local dollar and bargain stores often catch her attention first as she finds their colours and iridescent nature so beautiful. This curiosity extends into her current fascination with cocktail cherries and sweaty cheese, mentioning that she is interested in how these foods change, sweat (and shine) over time.

Untitled pyramid, 40 x 40 x 70 cm, 2015, cheeseballs on pink IKEA crate.

The notion of labour was quite prominent throughout our entire conversation. While labour from an artistic or professional perspective is highly complex in and of itself, the majority of our talk was more so centred around domestic labour. It’s evident that there are various facets to it – whether societal, systematic, biological or self-imposed – that inherently exists more prevalently amongst women, especially when taking on and considering “domestic” responsibilities. They’re woven into our communities and day-to-day lives, carrying their own intrinsic complexities that impact us all regardless of gender. In the American artist Anne Truitt’s journal Daybook, she speaks about the familiar strain of sustaining the various demands of daily life[2] as she unpacks the numerous tasks she undertakes within her role as a mother, and how that can sometimes juxtapose with her role as an artist. Truitt also acknowledges that she feels as though doing her many duties as well as she can is essentially self-serving, as it keeps her from being angry from being away from her studio, stating that efficiently channelling her focus on household routines sets herself free for clear concentration in the studio[3]. Mentioning to Anna my immediate association with her current lifestyle and Truitt’s writing, I asked her about how she balances these roles, and about whether she felt there was or if there needed to be a distinct division between who she fundamentally is and what she does professionally or personally. I often battle with this enigmatic reality myself, so it was refreshing to hear about how Anna welcomes all her roles blending into one another, and that while there are definite challenges, in her case, the opportunities for organic collaboration between the different corners of herself prove to be worth it.

Currently working out of her Los Angeles home that she shares with her family of five, various communal surfaces, such as their kitchen and living room tables, in turn act as her studio all the same. She also spoke about walking, and how the action of walking is fundamental to her practice as a means of research, reflection and material play. From scouring the aisles of any odd store in her vicinity, to walking around the urban L.A. landscape, Anna’s work is deeply influenced by her surroundings. The generally well-tempered climate of Southern California lacks the turning of seasons, so one’s perception of time can often be questioned in these “never changing” environments. As she spoke of the opposing extremities she has experienced between the Icelandic and Southern Californian climates, her connection to nature rang clear, particularly when she spoke about Jacaranda trees. Her fondness for them lies in their ability to reveal the seasons with their blossoming. With their vibrant blossoms acting as place markers of sorts, they also imbue a rebellious quality, refusing to conform to the schedules or temperaments of other flora in their surroundings.

Jacaranda Tree on Eagle Rock Blvd.

A close friend once told me that the key to sustaining art in our lives is to be curious and to always ask questions, and I believe this to be true. That said, I have never been more curious talking about commonplace things as I am when speaking with Anna Hrund. As she generously welcomed me into her headspace, I felt slightly as though I was experiencing déjà vu, getting to revisit things I thought I understood, but from another perspective. Her ways of seeing prompted me to (re)write and (re)categorize their potentials. It’s evident her understanding of these strange objects and things is intimate, which may partially come from consistently living and working so closely with them over time. The pace of her work truly lends to slowness. It was inspiring to speak with an artist with such depth and wit, as it’s apparent that her understandings surpass surface-level knowledge. Anna takes her time to get to know these objects honestly, for who they are rather than what they are, and her practice and person act as refreshing and necessary reminders to consistently make space for looking, asking and learning.

Juliane Foronda

[1] Fisher, M. F. K. The Gastronomical Me. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989, e-book.

[2] Truitt, Anne. Daybook, the Journal of an Artist. First Scribner trade paperback edition. New York: Scribner, 2013, p. 57.

[3] Truitt, Anne. Daybook, the Journal of an Artist. First Scribner trade paperback edition. New York: Scribner, 2013, p. 58.

Anna Hrund Másdóttir (b. 1981 Reykjavík) has lived and worked in Los Angeles since 2014. She holds an MFA in Art from CalArts, BA in Fine Art from the Iceland Academy of the Arts and attended the Mountain School of Art.

For Anna Hrund, making art is a process of discovery. Working with manufactured materials that are sometimes edible, often disposable, she combs through her surroundings while on daily routine, exploring landscapes of shelving displays, scanning a wilderness of linoleum aisles; the nature that surrounds her. What she brings to us are objects that leap out from the ordinary. She loosely assembles them, like wildflowers clenched in her hand, and brings it all as a gift; a display of findings.


Cover picture: Spongecake // Svampkaka, 40 x 40 x 15 cm, 2016. (Pepto-Bismol plaster between blue filter material)


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