Digital Dynamics – Arts New Representations

Digital Dynamics – Arts New Representations

Digital Dynamics – Arts New Representations

The exhibition Arts New Representations opens on Saturday June 13th at 14:00 on the website of the online magazine Artzine (https://www.artzine.is). The exhibition is part of the presentation and publication of Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art, edited by Tanya Toft Ag and published by Intellect Books. Margrét Elísabet Ólafsdóttir, the author of the chapter “Visions and Divides in Icelandic Contemporary Art”, is the curator of the exhibition. The exhibition and a panel on the same subject will follow up on the discussion of the book.

In recent decades computers, software, digital cameras for still and moving images and the Internet have transformed the way artists create and represent their work. More recently social media have offered platforms for representation, and a wide dissemination of art that early pioneers of net art could only dream of. Generations of artists that grew up with computer keyboards and game consoles on their fingertips, perceive the cyberspace as a natural extension of their physical spaces.

They see computer games, visual communication platforms, instant messengers’ platforms and personal web sites as an open space for instant self-publishing and promotion. On the other hand, the Internet has made art history immediately accessible through images of art works from across the ages’ that blurs historical timelines and hierarchies between amateurs and professionals. In its early days, the Internet was a utopic space soon to be transformed into a dystopic melting pot of meaningless information, narcist self-promotion, political propaganda, general surveillance, and economic chaos.

However, as an anarchic network the Internet dystopia has kept a space for individual emancipation, political activism and counter-cultural protests. As a digital superhighway the Internet is a network facilitating the flow of coded information and objects. As a code it is a tool and a language, among other digital technological tools which have become part of the artists’ toolbox. As a vast bank of subject material, the Internet has inspired the imaginary of contemporary artists and arts’ content in recent years.

The artists represented in the online exhibition Arts New Representations have all been inspired by the Internet and its broad contents in some way or other. They are not like the early net artists eager to weave their work into the net itself, but work with video, found images, sound, scientific data, software tools, 3D animation and scanning that can be woven into online platforms. Content wise their work touches on subjects such as body image, social status, insecurity, anxiety, human-nature connections, scientific data and abstract imaginary. Their works are poetic, political, humorous and deeply thought provoking as they transgress boundaries and propose new artistic representations.

The artists participating in the exhibition Arts New Representations are Sæmundur Þór Helgason, Anna Fríða Jónsdóttir, Hákon Bragason, Ágústa Ýr Guðmundsdóttir og Haraldur Karlsson.

Parallel to the exhibition a panel of young artists will discuss their position on digital technology and the impact of the digital and post-digital on their own art practice and on Icelandic contemporary art. The participants in the panel are Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar, Auður Lóa Guðnadóttir, Fritz Hendrik Berndsen og Freyja Eilíf.

This program is supported by Nordic Culture Fund and the Nordic Council of Ministers as part of Digital Dynamics: New Ways of Art. It is organized in collaboration with Artzine and Tanya Toft Ag.

See further information: digitaldynamics.art

The Participating Artists

Sæmundur Thor Helgason (f. 1986) Website: saemundurthorhelgason.com/

WORKING DEAD (2020) official trailer from Saemundur Thor Helgason on Vimeo.


 

Anna Fríða Jónsdóttir (f. 1984) Website: annafrida.com


 

Ágústa Ýr Guðmundsdóttir (f. 1994) Website: : agustayr.com


 

Hákon Bragason (f. 1993) Website: : raskcollective.com/artists/hakon.html


 

Haraldur Karlsson (f. 1967) Website: haraldur.net

Streaming starts at 9 PM 13. June 2020.


Digital Dynamics – Arts New Representations from Margret E. Olafsdottir on Vimeo.


 

Panel Discussion

Participants:

Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar (f. 1977)

Freyja Eilíf (f. 1986)

Auður Lóa Guðnadóttir (f. 1993)

Fritz Hendrik Berndsen / Fritz Hendrik IV

Margrét Elísabet Ólafsdóttir Curator


Featured Image/video: By Ágústa Ýr Guðmundsdóttir

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 listasafnislands.is, 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.

www.sindrileifsson.com

 

 

[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, https://francisalys.com/when-faith-moves-mountains/.

 

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.

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.

A short note on post-COVID-19: The Terms of Art in Iceland

A short note on post-COVID-19: The Terms of Art in Iceland

A short note on post-COVID-19: The Terms of Art in Iceland

All of a sudden, things are moving quickly. 600 months have been added to the artist’s salaries starting this year, seemingly available for the foreseeable future. An emergency fund of 500 million krónur has also been created for artists dealing with this coming year. Of those 500 million krónur, 57 million are for visual art specifically. These are improvements on our current situation and should be encouraged. But as we are seeing all over the world these emergency measures do not address the long-term, fundamental issues that art faces today.

The problem is how vulnerable artists are even at the best of times. This crisis has again showed us how serious the effect of economic uncertainty is on our art scene. When we restart art, whenever that will be, we must do so on the right terms. Especially since this crisis will have the most effect on artists themselves. Artists who are working part-time, or even full-time, jobs alongside their practice, paying high rent, trying to pay for a studio while also providing for children or thinking about having children, or any sort of stable future. If these artists lose their “real” job, in the tourism industry or the service sector for example, in addition to the postponement or cancellation of their upcoming exhibitions, what sort of chance do they have? Will they be able to make any art? If this becomes the post-COVID-19 reality – if as some have predicted, the economic consequences of this crisis become worse than the crash in 2008 – how will we deal with that?

We know the answer to these questions. A project-based life has no guarantees, and on average you might expect to receive the artist’s salary once every eight years. Of all the people who applied for the artist salary last time, 14% received them. 1,600 months were available; the added 600 for next time might increase the percentage a little, maybe, hopefully. But there will probably still be more than a thousand applicants that get nothing. With the realities of funding here it is amazing that the art scene is as robust as it is. That is a positive and we will build on that. But we must be careful not to let these fluid, extraordinary, times lead us into making changes that do not work for us.

Because all of a sudden it is possible to make changes. We have a Prime Minister who is sympathetic to the arts, as well as a Minister of Education, Science, and Culture, Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, who has shown an interest in listening to artist as well as expressing a belief that the arts are necessary to a functioning society. When we come out on the other side of COVID-19 we will of course work together with our art institutions and our municipalities and our government to start again. But as historically has been the case, the majority of the art scene here is artist-run. The museums will survive this period – cancelled shows and postponements do not mean a loss of necessary livelihood. And thankfully the few actual jobs in the art sector here seem to, still, be mostly unaffected. Ultimately it will be artists who make the new work, who put up the shows, who try to survive on an artist’s salary in a recession. If artists are the ones hardest hit by this crisis, as it looks like might be the case, then we cannot be sure there will be as many practicing artists here when the restrictions are fully lifted.

There will be no perfect way to respond to this crisis, as can already be seen in various places. Though the response from the German state has gotten more favorable reactions from artists and the media, there will be problems with any emergency approach (see various articles, one here: https://news.artnet.com/market/germany-bailout-issues-1834791.) In these circumstances artists must be heard in order for the right changes to be made. Those changes need to build on the (relatively) good things that have been happening here in recent years. Museums and institutions starting to pay artists for their work, however small an amount it still is. The expansion of The Iceland University of the Arts has made the university more closely resemble the leader in its field that it is supposed to be, although much can still be improved. There are good, driven people heading up many of our most important institutions. There is arguably more support for artist-run initiatives than there has been before, though our artist-run spaces and galleries need more help. Not to mention that artists working in Iceland today are as relevant internationally as they have ever been. In such a privileged country as Iceland there is potential to really make something interesting. But these things do not happen automatically, someone needs to go out and do these things.

In that context it is depressing to think about how changes are more readily made in absolutely extreme circumstances. We can do better, not just when things crash and the big lights come on. But if the government reaction now is to put money into art, then this is already different from the austerity measures implemented after the 2008 crash. And while the sale of artworks is not a viable nor reliable way for an artist in Iceland to make a living, except in unique cases, the relative increase in sales in recent years has maybe set a precedence that can be expanded on post-COVID-19. And if the economic consequences of this virus lead us into a serious recession then, as the government has hinted at, further measures might have to be taken. It would be good if our artists and our art scene have a say in what those measures would be.

The main point here is that if now is a time for change then we make use of it. We should ask ourselves if we were happy with the way things were before the COVID-19 restrictions. Not just on an institutional level, but on a personal, environmental, critical level also. Do we want to build back up the scene we had before? If not, what do we want to change? How do we make those changes? Because one of the main problems artists face in Iceland is that the government does not really understand how artists work. They do not understand the language artists speak, what artists need, what the relationship is between art and society today. We can be better at communicating amongst ourselves. We can be better at communicating with the public. We should be more aware of the bigger picture of art in Iceland. Can we make a more equal, more unified, more interesting framework for making art in Iceland? What would that look like?

Nothing mentioned here is new or revolutionary. We know what would make art better in Iceland. And it is maybe a contradiction to be talking about a positive way forward in the face of a brutal and traumatizing global catastrophe that might turn into a severe international recession. Never waste a crisis, indeed. Hopefully we can deal with the economic fallout, though only time will tell us what post-COVID-19 means. But we should, at least here in our privileged position, try to have an effect on what art looks like on the other side.

 

Starkaður Sigurðarson

 

Cover picture: Auður Lóa Guðnadóttir’s on-the-cheap studio shoot in an alleyway in Dublin.

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/

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, https://www.moma.org/collection/works/81074?artist_id=2233&locale=en&page=1&sov_referrer=artist.

[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.

http://www.florencelamsoyue.com/

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