Of Nature and Recollection: The Sonic Convergences in Unheard Of

Of Nature and Recollection: The Sonic Convergences in Unheard Of

Of Nature and Recollection: The Sonic Convergences in Unheard Of

“{R]emembrance and the gift of recollection, from which all desire for imperishability springs, need tangible things to remind them, lest they perish themselves.“

– Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

Within the first room, a distorted voice permeates the space. A flat-screen monitor displays a video demarcated into four distinct squares. The top right and bottom two segments of the screen project a rapid, unremitting succession of images: migratory applications submitted by Jews seeking refuge in Iceland during the Holocaust, juxtaposed alongside the Icelandic Ministry of Justice’s processing of said applications. The disembodied voice, emanating from the top left portion, narrates appeals and responses selected from the outpouring of documents, all obtained from the National Archive of Iceland. At the conclusion of nearly every narration, the unvarying, static-laden voice accentuates a single word, resonating sharply throughout the space: “Denied.” Digital Archive Prototype: The Surveillance of Foreigners in Iceland (1935-1941).

Stenciled upon the right wall is a large triangular emblem: Triangle Symbol on Ministry of Justice Draft Form. Inscribed upon the adjacent wall is a three-stanza poem entitled Heimatrecht (Home by Right) by Melitta Urbancic, one of the few Jews granted asylum in Iceland during the Holocaust:

“Why must I make belief,
that home I’m to be
here – after so many deaf
days without sense, meaning – ?”

Clustered throughout the space are elongated wooden boxes housing lyme grass, symbolizing collective atonement, rejuvenation, and renewal. Such constitutes Erik DeLuca’s installation Homeland, a template for revealing and navigating the innumerable complexities of the Holocaust in relation to modern Icelandic history, as well as a rumination upon the political dimension of archiving.

Separated by only a curtain, Þóranna Björnsdóttir´s multi-channel video and sound installation (í)ver(ð)andi (Breathing Water) envelops the second room, submersed in darkness. Reverberating through the installation’s resounding ocean and wind are metal plates, pipes, tuning forks, and bells; the resonant conduits through which Björnsdóttir engages with the natural phenomena of Heiðmörk and Reykjanes Peninsula. To Björnsdóttir, her performative and sonic engagement with the Icelandic environment nurtures sensations of affinity, empathy, and belonging:

I acted towards these places and their phenomena according to the connections I made there and then. I listened and scrutinized the external and internal spectra and reacted to what was happening in that context; with my dwelling, movement, gestures and sounds; an experience based on the direct perception of the senses. The work wants to transfer these experiences into a different kind of weaving; expand it into a new continuum of time and space; explore ways to view, watch, experience, and recreate.

Within the third room, Björnsdóttir’s The Land Becomes Me – a travelogue. The multi-faceted installation, constituted by field research in the Mmabolela Nature Reserve in Limpopo, South Africa and Vatnajökull National Park, probes contrasting environmental conditions through the act of listening. In the room’s center, a mobile sculpture is suspended from the ceiling, which to Björnsdóttir embodies “the effects that the sounds played on me physically, the sensations of internal movements.” Both Breathing Water and The Land Becomes Me are two interrelated facets of Björnsdóttir’s sonic exploration of humanity’s interconnectivity with nature. This notion is articulated further by environmentalist Þorvarður Árnason in the exhibition notes: “Landscape is both ‘something out there’ and ‘something inside me’ – in landscape man and nature meet, the inner and outer environment; the phenomenon of landscape can not be conceived except in the light of these two realities.”

Exhibited in Kling & Bang from August 21st- October 3rd, 2021, curators Ana Victoria Bruno and Becky Forsythe initially conceived Unheard Of as a curatorial experiment, an exploration of the spatial fluidity of sound. Being their first effort in sound-oriented curation, organizing such an exhibition within a highly articulated space like Kling & Bang proffered the possibility for compelling and unpredictable sonic convergences. Intertwined with this exploration of sound´s spatiality, Bruno and Forsythe sought to assemble artists who sonically engage with the world through differing perspectives and methodologies, yet who ultimately employ sound (and silence) as platforms for individualized expression.

Bruno and Forsythe invited DeLuca and Björnsdóttir to participate, as the curators aspired to both promote broader recognition of the artists, and grant them a platform for conceptualizing and generating new work embodying the distinct particularities of their practices. As both curators noted, DeLuca utilized sound to foster and engage in socio-cultural and historical critique, while Björnsdóttir explored the interrelations between one’s body and emotionality, in tandem with their surrounding environment. The financial and logistical instability prompted by COVID-19 necessitated Bruno and Forsythe to further refine their initial sonic-based conception. As articulated in the finalized exhibition notes, “sound, and expanded silence, perform not as stand-ins for other sensations, but rather a way into opening our ears to things we do not notice, or cannot see.” Through this conceptual framework, the artists and curators of Unheard Of investigated the phenomenological dimensions of sound, a sensory opening through which one not only perceives the apparent world, but unearths that which lies hidden within it:

Sound is a medium that questions and seeks knowledge through a collective action: a concatenation of vibrating bodies that carry information throughout space and time…The artists extend from their sonic-based practices and into process-based conversations by performing, through touch, and in the presence, absence or thought of beings moving through different locations. Unheard Of takes these actions as its starting point and drives them forward through exploratory research, poetry, field recordings, archival analysis, plant cultivation, and immersive sound installation.

Whether due to seemingly dissimilar subject matter, or the various circumstantial strains imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Unheard Of was characterized by some of the public as disjointed, appearing as two solo exhibitions rather than a single unified showing. Arguably, any thematic or sonic divergences emerging between DeLuca and Björnsdóttir’s installations produced not discontinuity, but rather an unexpected continuity that encapsulated Unheard Of ‘s core tenet of “opening our ears to things we do not notice, or cannot see.”

Due to the structured layout of Kling & Bang, the rooms containing Homeland and Breathing Water could only be divided by a curtain, enabling sound to periodically drift uninhibited between installations. While experiencing Björnsdóttir’s Breathing Water, one could intermittently perceive the austere voice of DeLuca’s installation reverberating outside the curtain, its abrasive timbre slipping into the space. Each occurrence, however faint or periodic, subtly pierced the experiential immersion into Breathing Water, its oceanic roar and metallic resonances momentarily punctured by desperate pleas and apathetic bureaucracy. With each utterance of “Denied,” one encountered the weight of history pressed upon them, making painstakingly evident the voices which have been silenced.

When considering Unheard Of as a unified exhibition, the socio-historical interrogation of Homeland does not invalidate the stark poeticism of Breathing Water. Moreover, Björnsdóttir’s exploration of the individual’s interrelationality with nature is not divorced from the collective milieu in which Homeland is embedded. The chance sonic convergences between Homeland and Breathing Water ultimately disrupt and complexify the trope of nature and universalism in Icelandic art. Through confrontation with a buried facet of Icelandic history, the viewer is compelled to recognize the political and even colonialist dimensions of such tropes. The hegemonic assumption of nature’s universality, a notion oftentimes dissociated from a broader socio-political contextualization, is challenged once positioned alongside the overwhelming evidence of those denied refuge amidst the Icelandic landscape. The sonic fabric of Unheard Of demonstrates the vital significance of intangible reminders of what is not seen, as well as perhaps, what we choose not to see. Through the artists and curators’ collaborative exploration, Unheard Of examines the innumerable dimensions of interiority and exteriority, of nature and recollection.

Adam Buffington

Photo credit: Courtesy of Kling & bang

D44 Claire Paugam: Attempting the Embrace n°31 – processing the unknown

D44 Claire Paugam: Attempting the Embrace n°31 – processing the unknown

D44 Claire Paugam: Attempting the Embrace n°31 – processing the unknown

Claire Paugam is the 44’th artist to exhibit in Reykjavík Art Museum’s series, happening in the D-gallery. An ongoing program that has been going on since 2007, it holds the focus of inviting emerging artists, who are considered to be an important impact on the Icelandic art scene, to develop a project within the walls of room D.

Claire Paugam is a multidisciplinary French artist (b. 1991) based in Reykjavík. After graduating from the Iceland University of the Arts’ MFA program in 2016, Claire has exhibited in various art institutions in Iceland and abroad such as the 5th Biennale for Young Art (Moscow, 2016) and the Icelandic Photography Festival at Gerðarsafn Art Museum (2018). While primarily focusing on her own art practice, she forms an artist duo with new media artist Raphaël Alexandre, together they create installations and stage designs. The artist is also involved in curatorial projects such as Vestur í bláinn (2020) with Julius Pollux Rothlaender. She is the recipient of the Motivational Art Prize 2020 delivered by the Icelandic Art Prize and board member of The Living Art Museum.

Photo: Claire Paugam

The following interview is taken in Claire’s studio on Seljavegur, by her working desk, facing the ocean.

A: Where does the sound come from, that plays in the background of the installation?

C:The sound is not fixed with the light, it is independent. A natural sound that is recorded and then distorted. I do not wish to reveal what it is, rather I choose to play with the idea that the sound is unidentified. So I keep it a secret, even the curator doesn’t know where the recording comes from. This is one of the elements I work with, to let the viewer free to interpret many things. I let specific elements be hidden to hold on to this possibility of having everything open for the viewer to interpret. There’s a tendency now in the art world that the viewer is provided with so much information, scientific backup and various texts by philosophers that are interwoven within the exhibitions. In this installation, I choose to play with the unknown within it instead of letting the exhibition be loaded with too much content. The senses are what is utilized at its utmost rather than to have the purpose of an intellectual approach.

A: What was the build up towards this piece and how has it developed?

C: I applied to the open call with sketches, the core idea in Attempting the Embrace n°31 remained throughout the process. The application was about being in tune with the world and what that means, are
we as humans meant to dominate the landscape? Or are we meant to just be a part of it, to be absorbed by it almost? The thing is that our world is constantly changing, activated by scattered forces all around. Life is based on uncertainty and entropy. With this installation, I wanted to question our position within the landscape as humans, but also express that everything is ever-changing in many unpredictable ways.

The title is similar to many art pieces of mine, it is kind of a series of works and they are all called Attempting the embrace, with a number following. This is the 31st, in the latest outcome of the series. First, it was a lot about connecting the outside and the inside of the body. Then about visual analogy, to think of minerals and organics being alike. Visual analogy is connecting images with meaning. Asking questions like, what is alive and what is not alive? Are stones dead? What about minerals? Are they alive? In this project, I am researching the landscape as a whole and our relationship with it.

In this context, it’s interesting to think about a specific painting by Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818. It’s so majestic and beautiful. There are different interpretations of this painting. To me it’s a man who went very far to see this beautiful landscape which is yet dangerous, he’s on a rock and he could fall. He’s high up, it’s windy and the sea is violent and sublime, but yet this feeling is portrayed within the work that the man is dominating the landscape and that he is above it. This is quite a common point of view in our western culture. That we dominate our environment and that it has to be tamed and utilized almost to please us. In Iceland and some other volcanic territories, we know very well that the landscape is stronger than us. The earth is living and expanding in various ways, some that we don’t have any control over.

The viewer is positioned in front of a great landscape, which could be anywhere. The viewer is then free to project themselves into the landscape. The bench is an invitation to sit and contemplate. I chose this specific photograph because it could be anywhere in the world, apart from Iceland. Within the installation you are faced with the grand landscape, the image leaning on the wall, so it is obvious it’s not real. Rather it is an object. Then the substance surrounds it, an undefined substance, which expresses this feeling that we don’t know how the landscape will evolve. This slimy looking texture is on the floor. It looks very much like the inside of a body. 

Photo: Claire Paugam

The unknown substance surrounding the image is crawling towards the viewer, when you bend over it, it becomes a little landscape. Here, body and landscape become very close beings to me. The sculpture is coming from behind the photograph, it is in my opinion the force that pushes the photograph off the wall and tilts it. When I look at the sculpture, I don’t see a specific object. I wanted it to be completely shapeless, to escape any direct reference. It had to look slimy, as if touching it you would change its shape. It is the disruptive element of the installation.

The light is constantly changing in the room. When the light changes, it indicates that time passes by; you could also imagine that a cloud is hiding the sun. The colours change and this movement gives life to the piece.

The cloud passes and you get the sun again, I wanted to create all these little changes to create this organic feeling within the installation. Sometimes the lights start to flicker fast which is not something that happens with the sun. It is to let the viewer know that it’s an artificial surrounding. To create this question within the experience if it’s a malfunction or not, to play with the natural and the odd. The lights and the sculpture are some kind of a disturbance, something that maybe wasn’t supposed to be there.

Perhaps that’s why in the miniature, the sculpture takes over most of the space, to the point of overflowing. Because it has this strong urge to exist. Maybe to show how the landscape does take over and that it actually is the one that is dominating us.

Photo: Vigfús Birgisson

A: What were you hoping for the viewers to experience within the installation?

C: The bench is there to invite the viewers to sit on it, to resemble the experience of going to a park or a specific viewpoint. To create this impression of being at a scenery. It’s an invitation to stop and enjoy what’s in front of you in a contemplative state. Also, to hopefully help the viewers to be visually immersed in the image. When you sit you don’t have the same relationship with what you are looking at, it’s a different experience from standing in a museum – of course, you can still stay and contemplate but you somehow are reminded that you are a visitor.

When you are sitting in front of this massive image, I am hoping you forget that you are in a museum. My wish is that you can feel fully immersed in the art piece. In this state, as the viewer, you are probably more open to noticing how the light changes, to experience the various effects within the installation as you slow down. Maybe the lights will change, and the sound will come on – in that position you are most likely in a better state to experience what was meant to be experienced. I think a lot about how the viewer approaches
the installation. In this installation, the viewer is free to sit on the floor, stand still, walk around and/or sit on the bench.

To enter the space, you have to go through white curtains, they lead you to a white space, a breathing point. This in-between space is also the way out. It is to enhance the feeling of how this installation is a world of its own, with its own rules and laws, unlike the rest of the museum. That’s why you must go through the in-between space to shift to another reality. It can create the effect of being in a strange dreamlike place.

Photo: Claire Paugam

A: Can you explain the strange and unknown within your practice, to elaborate further on how it is connected to your new installation and threads of thinking?

C: It comes from a fascination for the insides of our bodies, as they are out of reach. Entering our bodies to see how we are inside goes against our primary instinct of self-preservation. A landscape that lives in darkness and lives by its own rules. We don’t decide at what rate our heart is beating, we are living in symbiosis but yet it’s an unattainable force living by its own rules. I love to think about the textures of our bodies as they currently are, trapped in darkness, to wonder how it would be to become a small explorer to go within and enter these worlds. Also I wonder how this resembles the insides of the earth or some other specific kinds of landscapes, which we can relate this to.
For me, this is a part of the unknown, to think and dream about these different realms. Thinking about the inside and the outside of something, how one inside can be the outside of something else. Just depends on how you position yourself within these ideas. It is also interesting to connect these ideas with the possibilities of extraterrestrial life and such potentials. That is often the narration within sci-fi as well, to ponder this question of what is outside of us. There’s a play of proportions as there is always something that is beyond us, no matter how much we study our environment.

This is very much related to my fascination with the landscape of my own body, the landscape of my environment that is so big and huge, and then all this potential landscape that is outside of earth. Again, always thinking about the inside and outside of something. Nothing of what we know is set in stone, it’s all bound to have its own rhythm and change. Also as our definitions are constantly being reformed, like what we define life as. The way we define our environment is a fluctuating concept. There’s a lot of unknown still within what we know.
I also work a lot with the idea of shapelessness, so a shape that has no shape. That’s a very paradoxical word since everything has a shape. But yet there are some concepts and forms that we consider as a society to be shapeless, like a spit, or a cloud, or our intestines. This concept for me is a door to open, to get into the unknown. Some objects are hard for our brains to fully grasp. Like the concept of a balloon is really easy to understand, but others require something a lot different. Because it’s mysterious and unclear the structures of these things. They are certain attempts to express the unknown. I have been so deeply obsessed with these ideas, like how to create certain textures and such. It is quite hard to put these things and feelings into words since it’s so much about visual and sensory experiencing.

Andrea Ágústa Aðalsteinsdóttir

Featured image, photo by: Hildur Inga Björnsdóttir

Björk Hrafnsdóttir went to Sequences opening weekend – here’s what she thought

Björk Hrafnsdóttir went to Sequences opening weekend – here’s what she thought

Björk Hrafnsdóttir went to Sequences opening weekend – here’s what she thought

Sequences real time art festival is an independent artist-run festival held biannually in Reykjavík. This tenth edition also reaches out of Reykjavík with exhibitions in Akureyri, Hveragerði and Ísafjörður.

“Time has come” is the title of Sequences this year curated by Þóranna Björnsdóttir and Þráinn Hjálmarsson. I believe that the title is very fitting to how many of us are feeling right now after 19 months various restrictions and uncertainty. It’s time to get out and experience some real time art!

Skerpla Ensemble performance.

For the Opening event of sequences at Veröld – Hús Vigdísar I took the bus nr.12 at five o’clock on Friday. Thinking I could easily use the same ticket (which is valid for 1h15min) to go back downtown to continue my exhibition hopping, I was wrong. I knew I was going to Elísabet K. Jökulsdóttir’s performance, the festivals honorary artist, called Stories of Creation. We were ushered into a lecture hall and after a speech by the curators the artist came to the podium. In her performance lecture which was accompanied by a sousaphone player who interrupted her at various stages of her speech she tried to define creativity and innovation with a formula she had developed for creation/destruction. At times it felt like I was sitting in a philosophy class I had not prepared for and being an MA student in Curatorial Studies my attention span for lectures is usually gone by Friday afternoons.

Following were stories of creation from different people connected to different cultures, like India, Kurdistan, Japan, Russia and Nordic mythology to name a few. These stories described the creation of the world according to different cultures and places and in some cases the creation of individuals. It was a welcoming revisit of stories most of us were taught in school. It included an impressive reciting of the Dwarf Count from Völuspá and the telling of the Japanese creation story in Japanese told by sounding out old Chinese symbols. Although I did not understand a single word it was still a beautiful mediation of sounds.

Still from the movie Munnhola, obol ombra houp-là by Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir.

At Bío Paradís on Friday evening the artist and poet, Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir, premiered her film Munnhola, obol ombra houp-là. Bíó Paradís was packed with people and Salur 1 filled up quickly. Seeing a video work in a movie theatre is a special experience. There is a commitment you make by sitting down in a theatre that you don’t make when passing a video work on a screen in an exhibition. Although this film had a beginning and an end, I quickly stopped trying to figure out the storyline and just enjoyed the shorter narrative aspects between each scene and the incredible quality of production. This 30min film is a series of performances that takes you on a surrealist journey with divers fascinating characters and different voices. There will be another showing on Sunday 24th at 20:00 and I am tempted to see it again.

Lucky 3 at their opening performance PUTI at Open.

Lucky 3 is an artist collective that consist of Darren Mark, Dýrfinna Benita Basalan and Melanie Ubaldo. The group put on the festivals opening performance PUTI at Open which lasted for 8 hours from 12:00-20:00. I got there around two and walked into the space in my dirty boots due to a mud puddle placed right at the entrance. The white space was impeccable clean aside from the dirty footmarks of the visitors. With this long endurance performance, they were referencing the 8 hour workday and the racial hierarchy in the workplace. The artist, who all share a Filipino heritage, wore white deconstructed janitor workwear made and designed by Darren Mark while mopping the floor which the visitors continuously make dirty with their muddy shoes. While they were mostly silent, they would sometimes say the word “puti”, the Filipino word for “white” while white visitors were in the space. By both being in their way as they mopped the floor around me and making more mess as I moved out of the way I felt a familiar uncomfortable feeling of not knowing the “right” thing to do which can result in unconscious bias. The cleaning cart which had running water placed in the middle of the space had a sculptural quality making me think of a water fountain. This subtle juxtaposing reference of the bourgeoise water fountain and the cleaning cart is just one reason of why I think this work is great. The performance also lives on for the rest of the festival as recordings from the security cameras placed in the space.

Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir’s work Skriða. Borgar Magnason did a sound performance in the middle of the installation at the opening.

Next stop was the Marshall house where The Living Art Museum and Kling & Bang host the exhibition /CREATION /DESTRUCTION. The title is a reference to a text by Sigurður Guðmundsson from 1969 which is a part of the exhibition and can be read in the catalogue and on the festival’s webpage. In his text Sigurður tries to describe the phenomenon of time as experienced by people in a society, making connections between time and art. Finally claiming that while time eventually destroys everything, art might have the longest life expectancy. As I walk into The Living Art Museum, I realise I just missed a performance, seeing Borgar Magnason packing his double bass in the middle of Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir’s installation Skriða. It consists of audio work, drawings on the wall and rocks suspended in the air in satin ribbons, forming pendulums. The work references the massive landslide that fell from the mountain above Seyðisfjörður last December which had a big impact on the community and is still very fresh in our minds.

Other works in the space include If starting at the end by Björk Guðnadóttir, an installation with textile works, wall paintings and video, and Pictures at an exhibition by Pétur Magnússon, which is made up of pictures of works from the collection of The Living Art Museum. He references the tradition of painting paintings at the Salon exhibitions at Paris and plays with the proportions and perspective we often have on works in an exhibition space. A few more sculptures were placed around the space. Different textures and various linear forms are the main characteristics of these works by Guðlaug Mía Eyþórsdóttir called Variations. I hear Guðlaug explain that music was her inspiration and that she is materialising musical elements as sculpture. In the front space of the Living Art Museum 6th grade students from Fellaskóli, under the supervision of Gréta S. Guðmundsdóttir, take the role of curator of the museum’s collection. The students selected the works that are on display based on their interest and favour. This project is very inspiring, and I hope that it continues. I would have loved this in 6th grade (and today).

Up in Kling & Bang the phrase “MUNDU TÖFRANA” (REMEMBER THE MAGIC) was being painted on the front wall over and over under the guidance of the honorary artist Elísabet K. Jökulsdóttir. Next, I walk into Ásta Fanney’s work Oasis of endless change. Playful and colourful shapes are on the floor, against the wall and suspended from the ceiling balancing each other. In my second viewing I notice clear individual plastic letters on the floor. This reminded me of a playground but where none of us knew how to play the games. In the catalogue it says the work is a result of a playful research on shapes of letters and musical note symbols creating visual scores that serve as sculpture stations for performance. Soon The Icelandic Sound Poetry Choir or Nýlókórinn, performed a version of the work reinforcing my playground game theory which might also stem from the binging of show Squid Game I did that week. During the performance I was continuously waiting for someone to be out of the game and falling to the floor.

Still from Traverse by Andreas Brunner.

The next space was taken over by Andreas Brunner and his work Traverse. Light plastic sculptures in the shape of smoke held up with black metal stands, lightbulbs in concrete boxes and a 2-channel video following a little turtle with a globe on his back. I had had the pleasure of seeing the video work before and being told about the Cosmic Turtle by Andreas since I somehow either forgot or never learned about this strange and funny mythology. The cosmic turtle or world turtle appears in Hindu mythology, Chinese mythology and the mythologies of the indigenous people of the Americas. This turtle either contains or supports the world and is worth a google search and also pleasantly connects to Elísabet’s performance Stories of Creation. The last work at Kling & Bang was a beautiful multi-channel audio and video installation called Agape by Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir.

I went back down to the Living Art Museum to see the performance with Guðlaug Mía’s sculptures where Skerpla Ensemble performed and interpreted the sculptures with music. The material aspects of the sculptures affected the interpretations so length could be pitch, fragmentation be rhythm and emptiness silence.

After the performance I decided to call it a day and although Sunday had in store some more opening the aftermath of these two days caught up with me and I spent most of my Sunday at home. The festival is up until the 24th so there is still have time to see the rest! Time is precious to us all and there is always something competing to have some our time and attention, school, work, friends, and social media. But I am happy I spent my time this weekend at Sequences.

Takk fyrir mig!

Björk Hrafnsdóttir

Björk is an Ma student in Curatorial Practice at IUA

Photo credits: From the opening, Björk Hrafnstóttir. Still from the movie Munnhola, obol ombra houp-là courtecy of Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir. Still from Traverse courtesy of Andreas Brunner. 

Magic Meeting – A deade on!

Magic Meeting – A deade on!

Magic Meeting – A deade on!

The exhibition “Magic Meeting – A Decade On!” by Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson in Hafnarborg opened on the 20th of March 2021. The exhibition is a continuation of the multivocal music, visual art and activist performance „In Search of Magic – A Proposal for a New Constitution for the Republic of Iceland” that took place on the 3rd of October in the Reykjavik Art Museum, Hafnarhúsið, continued out on the streets, in front of the Prime Minister’s office ending in Austurvöllur public square in front of the parliament. The event was made in collaboration and co-produced with Cycle Music and Art Festival and was part of the program of the Reykjavik Art Festival. The performance is the most memorable art event of the year and was a collective work on a huge scale between the artists Libia & Ólafur, the curators Guðný Guðmundsdóttir and Sunna Ástþórsdóttir, well known composers and musicians, activists in The Constitutional Association, Women for The Constitution and environmentalists, graphic artists, technicians and others. See Cycle.is for a full list of collaborators. The duo was awarded the Icelandic Art Prize 2021 for their collective performance.

The exhibition in Hafnarborg comprises works of the last decade in relation to the constitution of Iceland, and a new multimedia immersive environment with a video installation at its center created with works from the performance made on Oct 3rd and a new video work documenting the entire happening edited to archive images from tv and other film sources of the last decade. Those artworks are not their first to address civic rights or politics or include collaboration with other artists.  Libia and Ólafur live and work in Iceland, Berlin Germany, Rotterdam Holland and Málaga in Spain, and their work has been exhibited internationally among other in Manifesta 7, TENT Rotterdam, 54th Venice Biennial, The National Gallery in Oslo, CAAC Seville and Kunst-Werke, Berlin. The performance „In Search of Magic…” is probably one of the artists’ biggest collective works in its scale, with around 150 participants and brings to life all the 114 articles of Iceland’s new constitutional proposal.

The Reykjavik Art Museum was referred to as a music hall that day but also filled with textiles, action banners and flags. It was set up as an immersive environment shared by performers, activists and the public. Huge disco balls and lighting amplified the atmosphere which was monumental and playful at the same time, as well as filled with solidarity and hope. Each musician, band or music group performed their chapter of music in different spots in the big museum hall in the form of punk rock, classical contemporary compositions, children’s choir, electronics, folk music or other genres. Sung, spoken or rapped chapters of the new constitution, performed in Icelandic, Polish and Filipino for full 4 hours.

Most of the performers had on hoodies or T-shirts with printed images of slogans related to the New Constitution. The audience was led to the balconies in covid restricted groups but people were able to stay there for a certain period of time. After the event inside the museum, the artists and performers with the activists came carrying the huge banners outside where they joined forces with a big group of audience and participants, activists and artists. People started walking with the banners, seen and filmed from within and from the air, with camera operators and with cell phones from the participating crowd. A leading person was using a megaphone and the group´s voices used as responsive protest in choir to present their claim. The parade stopped in front of the Prime Minister’s office and went  from there to Austurvöllur square where speeches were held, articles were musically performed and a huge monumental banner was pulled up with a crane in front of the house of parliament, Alþingi, letting the building frame the work. The message was simple but like a screaming fuchsia-pink sticky-note, stating “ The New Constitution Thanks!”.

A video with the „Introductionary words“ song and lyrics: Lay Low.

The exhibition in Hafnarborg is an overview with older and new works from the project on the new constitution and its predecessors. Exhibited among others are textile works/banners from the performance, the monumental banner that was lifted in front of Althingi, sketches and colorful works, entitled Visual Scores, depicting the music fusion. Pots and pans are located at various places reminding us of the social background scenario where the New Constitution was originated. The video work at the center of the installation documents the performance, also edited and juxtaposed to filmed archive material from RUV (The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service) and other sources from the last decade, in relation to the New Constitution, the environmental struggle and representing relevant moments in Icelandic society in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. Guests can also sit down with a remote control in a separate room installed like a living room situation and scroll through the video work for   selective chapters. The groundfloor´s exhibition space of the museum has been used as an open project space in progress lately, where workshops have been held during the exhibition time, talks, presentations and assemblies and at the entrance lobby there is a pop up shop selling T-shirts, bags and printed second hand clothing stating the claims regarding the new constitution. The art will probably be meeting the politics again in sone form like it did in their show in Gerðarsafn in 2017 in an event in the end of the exhibition time.

Artzine interviewed Libia and Ólafur and asked them about the last decade, the conversation between art and activism and how the artistic battle for the new constitution had to overcome covid restrictions again and again and maybe even silencing. And where this joy for collective work and the interest in working with civic rights, sociopolitical critical issues comes from?

Collaboration and influence:

Libia: We have been inspired by various artists throughout our dialogue. We were for example very inspired by South American artistic practices in Chile in the 70’s and 80’s and in Brazil with neo concretism and what was developed after that, also by fluxus as an international interdisciplinary art movement bridging the West and Asia. In Europe the situationists were very, very important for us, having been critical earlier. They were sociopolitically engaged in their practice as well as collaborative in their work. They were poets and architects in a collective with visual artists which I think is what has inspired us the most. If you are working with life and life processes as a collective and with sociopolitical critical issues it is very difficult to focus on your work from a single narrow perspective or the use and research through one medium only. The outcome will not only be visual arts but visual arts in dialogue with music, philosophy, performance art, journalism and so on. Also form and aesthetics will be questioned and re-shaped by the intersection and the experimentation between different disciplines and the content´s research, though in our case conceptual and visual art is the discipline we operate from and expand.

The process and concept:

L: We started on the first work regarding this issue in 2007 the idea was to make the content of the old constitution public through art. To appropriate and decontextualize all the articles of the constitution and give them new life and context through art and music by looking at them estranged from their original juridical context. Also making them accessible to a wide public, unlocking them to new associations through a musical performance. The work had two moments of production. The first one was the musical performance of the constitution in a contemporary classical version in collaboration with the composer Karolina Eiríksdóottir, in march 2008 at the music hall Ketilhúsið in Akureyri. It was part of the exhibition “Bye, Bye Iceland“ in the Akureyri Art museum. In the autumn of 2008 when the financial crash took place we were thinking that we still wanted to make this artwork really public, beyond the context of art and the music world presenting it in mass media – on television.

Ólafur: At that point it was not really possible. We had tried to get the television to broadcast live from the performance but they were not at all interested. They did respond afterwards so they must have been intrigued. They contacted us and called the museum and asked if it had been filmed. Then we sent them a video fragment of 3 minutes and that was broadcasted as a news item. Art has hardly been displayed in the news and for decades it has only appeared in news as the outro at the end of it, with the text running over it and they would play some unrelated music while it scrolled down. The fact that this artwork made the news was news in itself. Then actually the radio was very interested afterwards also and asked if they could play the entire piece on radio. We said no to that, knowing it would reduce the chance of it being broadcasted in television. Also because we are visual artists and we wanted it to be understood that way. We agreed to a long program about it on the radio though. Big part of it was broadcasted and they interviewed us and Karolina. Part of the music became theme music to a program that Ævar Kjartansson and Jón Ormur made later about constitutional matters. 

L: In 2011 we did the second part of the production. After the economic crash and the constitutional council had been elected and appointed and the new constitution was about to be written, Ólöf K. Sigurðardóttir invited us a solo exhibition in Hafnarborg. In that show we could finally produce the music video of the musical performance in collaboration with RUV.  Then of course the issue of the constitution was out there and RUV was interested. It also helped that we were going to exhibit at The Venice Biennial that year.

Then the public meeting and debate in Gerðarsafn 2017 was held on the five years anniversary of the New Constitution as an event in our installation, in the group exhibition Sovereign | Colony organized by Cycle Music and Art Festival. In the show we exhibited original documents of the constitution from 1874, 1920, and 1944 as well as a print of the Danish version from 1849 and multiple copies of the New Constitution implemented in 2011.

It was an important meeting point for us. We were setting on the foundation for the project to grow. We were also inspired by the fact that the new constitution is written in another political and historical heightened context which is the aftermath of the crash in 2008. It is written by this heterogeneous constitutional council, a collective of 25 pre-elected people. We felt that it was so important. We wanted to make the content of the new constitution public again through art and using the art context and see what people felt about it and contribute to the debate so it wouldn’t be forgotten. For us that meeting was very meaningful and important in this process of letting activism and art meet. We will make a symposium / assembly in the end term of the exhibition in Hafnarborg as well so it´s like a cycle now. 

The new project is in tandem with what’s going on in society here in relation to the new constitution, the politics of silencing it and what’s happening within the Constitutional Association and the Women for the New Constitution, the activists that are resisting and caring about it, being active all this time keeping it alive and relevant to the public and within political discussion. The last couple of years the movement for the new constitution has grown exponentially again. We joined that movement in 2017 and at the same time we started to develop the idea of putting music to all the articles of the constitution, making a performance in relation to the first work, but this time as an activist-artist project.

Textile work or protest banners?

Ó: I realised recently that the origin of our textile artwork mania is from the precise moment of the 22nd of September 2017 when we were making the wall painting in Gerðarsafn. The text  was the date of the public election on the New Constitution painted on the wall but later it became a banner to be used as a backdrop on the stage that Hörður Torfa and the Constitutional Association were using in front of the parliament house, where we started gathering again every weekend in meetings and protest. Now we have turned wall paintings into a mobile applicable artifact and it has exploded into a multiplicity of textile works.

Musical high-culture and low-culture:

Ó: For the first performance in 2008 we chose to use classical contemporary music for two reasons. One is simply that the format of classical contemporary music is elastic enough you can stretch it out timewise as you want like when you are working with 8 pages of text. Another reason is that classical music would be categorized as “high-culture”. We had only two instruments, contrabass and piano and then voices. There was a deliberate decision to match what is considered high end to the content and experiment with it, partly subvert it. It should be the highest valued music genre as the matter itself was highly valued and at the same time we wanted a popular platform for the video, public television, to reach a wide audience. In the later work we wanted to have another approach, diversity and inclusion. We failed to include all genres of music that exist hahaha, but we had quite a few, working with a multiplicity of composers and musicians and trying to instigate as much collaboration as possible, inclusion and dialogue.

L: We started working with nine composers and we made three groups of three so they were collaborating within as well. We decided not to work on the chapters linearly but to take the articles from 1 to 114 and cut them up and mix them and choose them by chance. By splitting all the articles and taking them by chance there would not only be a collage of different juxtaposed songs together when putting them back again in their linear order, but also threads and fragments connecting throughout the whole collective composition.

The pandemic:

Ó: When we originally started working on the performance in Berlin and when we were trying out some of the first ideas with the composers in Iceland in the autumn of 2019, we had no idea of what would come. Then we were thinking of including 800 people in the work as well as the public. Later we had the issue “will we be able to do it at all because of Covid?”.

L: We can not see the project out of the context of Covid. That has been such a crazy element to work with and around. We had to change quite some because of it. Still we were able to do it and maintain all the fundamental elements we wanted. We did not have any frontal staging, performers, activists, technicians, film, sound and operators. The public would share the whole floor, all balconies and perspectives, be spread and move, occupying the entire space. We did maintain that in the installation and the staging of the performers, technicians and some of the activists, which were also an audience, but the public was separated into one side of the balconies, restricting their position and view to the aerial perspective from one side of the courtyard only. The monumentality and immersion of it and the idea of otherwise shared space and moving perspectives was there. The music and sound was also coming at different times from different places, or synchronously from the different directions. 30 people could enter every 30 minutes, keeping a meter distance from each other. Since it was a durational performance the audience could at least rotate and experience a part of it. Everybody was wearing masks, and guardians and helpers became part of the performance. We had also planned on bringing in other artists from other parts of the country and abroad but Covid hindered us and the performance date was even moved from June to October. In October we almost had to cancel it, but we decided all together to work with the limitations, something that was very important for an art and activist event in a moment of campaigning.

The collective and scale:

L: We had two curators collaborating and co-producing with us; Guðný Guðmundsdóttir based in Berlin, coming from a music background and being the director of Cycle Music and Art festival and Sunna Ástþórsdóttir in Reykjavik, coming from the visual arts, working at The Living Art Museum. The process was both very structured and also very organic, including the wonderful chaos that COVID had brought over all of us. In the beginning we were a small team of 4 people but then we grew exponentially when we started the communication and work with the composers, the activists, the musicians, with the Reykjavik Art Museum, the Reykjavik Art Festival, RUV, the film and sound team so it was crazy multi tasking and overwhelming at times.

There were also gaps in between but it was a process of two and half years, and last year though it was “on“ all the time, at times it was also just “off” because of Covid. The collaboration was widespread with different action and production groups. We were working with a process that is alive and having its own life. It demanded that big scale because the subject is on that kind of scale in society. We are talking about the laws and the juridical foundation of a country, but also about the most groundbreaking and democratic civil process that has taken place in Iceland in decades, which was the rewriting of the new constitution in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2008, the so called Crowdsourced Constitution.

The movement we are a part of which demands its implementation and works against its silencing and forgetfulness, has shrunk at times and then at times it can blow up and become much bigger. That’s how it is with activism and movements. There is a contingency, a trigger and if you are ready all can grow again exponentially and things that have been locked can change and evolve again. Then there are other times where five people are resisting and pushing, keeping the flame going, away from suffocating. We also felt that the work would have to be as public and on this big of a scale as to match its reality and the movement has only been growing these last couple of years. We were anchoring the musical performance in a visual art context that is the museum, being a living artform and a living image, as a ritual in commoning and remembering together, but also becoming a happening as an action and civil protest. First occupying the museum then leaving it with part of the stage, with the art works and the magic, and continuing the dance and chanting out on the streets, acting and intervening in front of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Parliament House on the public square.

Activism or art:

L: It is actually both things together and that is perfectly possible.

Ó: The definition of what is art doesn’t exist as something eternal or rigid the same goes for the ways of activism – , art is always in a construct and exists in a consensus, in relation to culture, ideologies, hierarchies, hegemonies, history -as historic periods- etc… It’s just something we maintain, reinvent, transgress, battle, defy, de-construct, re-define when we go along.

L: Important is not to get disencourage by rigid definitions and the consensus of the time you live in and continue asking or challenging it through the experiments and the art works themselves. It is not different when we ask ourselves and question what defines the status quo, regarding who is holding hegemonic power for example and how is it being perpetuated at different times for example and whether we should change it and how if it is a source of suffering, or injustice. Art is a result of the consensus in place, but it is also a practice and an instrument to reflect on it critically, poetically, to question it and even together with other disciplines and human action contribute to disrupt and imagine it changing, and act upon it.

Silence or censorship:

Ó: It’s reasonable to wonder about various facts when it comes to the media, their responses and even at times non responses.  Perhaps the broadcasting media has to decide if they are going to work with visual artists in general and if so they should have a strategy or a vision regarding that. Perhaps all the cultural institutions should look into their policy and sharpen their role in communicating and strengthening visual art.  Artworks that are critical, a social satire or have a political nuance in some way should not be silenced or circumvented of fear that the institutions themselves are taking a stance.

As long as certain ethical norms are not violated artists have to have freedom in their artistic creation. We do not go so far as to say that our work has been censored by the media, but many people have wondered and felt a suspicious silence around certain parts of these works.

L: Nevertheless the outrage that it caused on social media and specifically the continuation in the media throughout the week after with all the image material we produced from the performance, gave us and the activists a lot of possibilities to continue campaigning. Which resulted in a very big increase of signatures for the public petition list that had been started by the Women for The New Constitution some months before, which was one of our aims and the reason why we all absolutely wanted to go ahead with the performance on the 3rd of October, despite all the covid restrictions we had to deal with. That turned out to be the right decision, since the next day all museums were closed and gatherings reduced to 10 people max.

Artzine congratulates Libia and Ólafur and the collective of people participating in the performance “In search of magic – A proposal for a new Constitution for the Republic of Iceland”, on receiving the Art Prize 2021. The magic of the work was partly the beautiful solidarity and artistic framing of this critical mass movement that stands behind the presentation of the claim acknowledging the new constitution.

Aftermath: The exhibition in Hafnarborg has indisputably been censored, but the Sunday 2nd of  May a textile artwork or banner that the artists had hung on the facade of Hafnarborg, by permission, was removed. The work was an enlarged replica of a ticket used in the 2010 National meeting which contained the following message to the parliament „DO NOT  BULLSHIT YOURSELF FROM THE RESULTS OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL PARLIAMENT”.  The artists got a phone call that morning from the manager of Hafnarborg telling them that the textile artwork should be taken down by the mayor Rosa Guðbjartsdóttir request.  When Libia and Ólafur came shortly after to the museum the artwork had already been taken without any consultation.  They called the police as the artwork was missing and without a trace. Later a town employee of Hafnarfjörður returned the flag to them but the message was clear. The artwork should not be hanging on the facade.

This case is unique, but the artists who have exhibited all over the world, even in Cuba and Turkey, have never experienced a similar incident at the hands of a government. The case went before the town council and town council meetings and after declarations from the Icelandic department of ICOM, BÍL and others, the work was hung up again.

María Pétursdóttir

Photo credit: María Pétursdóttir. Video Libia Castro & The Magic Team.

Removing the Filter: An interview with Auður Lóa Guðnadóttir

Removing the Filter: An interview with Auður Lóa Guðnadóttir

Removing the Filter: An interview with Auður Lóa Guðnadóttir

Auður Lóa’s exhibition Yes/No at the Reykjavík Art Museum reflects the diversity, chaos, and connections between the many corners of the internet. She pulls imagery from pop culture, art history, politics, and personal photographs that she finds by letting herself fall through an online rabbit hole. Curious to see these images out of context, Auður Lóa removes her subjects from the screen into the 3-dimensional world of papier-mâché sculpture. Her exhibition aims to draw new relations, mixing the variety of images one can come across on the world wide web in a single day. In this interview, I caught up with Auður Lóa to discuss this latest exhibition.

Amanda: Starting from the beginning…how did you get your start in artmaking? Do you have any early memories that led you to where you are now?

Auður Lóa: I have been making art since I was really small. I know that it sounds super cheesy, but I think I always wanted to become an artist. I was an introverted kid that just liked drawing. And then I became an artist. It is not a particularly interesting story, but I think it was an obvious choice for me.

Your subjects range from pop culture imagery to references to fine art, is there a connecting theme behind your choices? Where do you find your inspiration?

The imagery is sourced from the internet and books, so all of the images have happened in real life. Many of them are from history, art history, and pop culture. Some of them are actual characters from paintings and some of them are the artworks themselves. Others are just things that exist in the world. For this exhibition, I decided to embrace the chaos and use whichever images sparked my interest. There is a little web of ideas within them. So many of them touch on social justice subjects like feminism and colonialism, but also internet culture, how information travels, and how we make and perceive art. I usually make exhibitions that are narrowed down to one subject. But this time I was interested in branching out and mixing everything together. I was interested to see what would come out of that process. I just wanted to make as many sculptures as humanly possible.

Let’s talk material choices. What drew you toward working with paper-mâché? At first glance, it is easy to assume these are clay figurines, is this your goal?

I initially started working with paper-mâché because it’s really cheap. A lot of the time I have a bad conscience towards working with materials I buy from the store like plaster or clay. I find it hard as an artist to produce new things into this world–especially when the things are just there to just hang around or be kept in storage. I started working with paper-mâché because it took the pressure away from every single item. I wasn’t spending a whole lot of money on each piece and if I was fed up with it, I could just throw it away without thinking about it too much. It is a better environment to create when you have low stakes, to begin with. Because if you buy a shitload of clay you have this pressure of like “yeah, I better do something really nice with this nice clay and special paint and stuff.”

Also, paper-mâché does not constrain me to a specific size and I can work however large or small I want. It is a very hardy material and is nice to work with. I like the feel of it and I like the effect. It is very lumpy and hard to control so the material starts to become present in the work. I get that it looks like clay, but I don’t mind that so much. I draw inspiration from ceramic figurines so the associations to glazed ceramic sculptures is welcome. I would like it to be paper-mâché though, that is my bottom line.

These days, it seems like the mainstream internet aims for flawless, photoshopped images. Your work begins to reject this aesthetic, but at the same time, the final layer of your sculpture is a smooth, shiny coat of glaze–which fits within the ideals of perfection. Is this something that you were thinking about?

No, I don’t think that is very present in my practice. What I like to do with these images from the internet is to take them out of the computer screen. My main focus is what happens when you take these images that are on your computer, or your phone, and make them physical. You experience all your day-to-day imagery on the same screen. So you have the same filter when you read the news, do your social media, watch funny cat videos or porn–if you like that. What I’m interested in is taking all of these images and putting them on the same, equal platform.

The D-hall exhibition series was established for up-and-coming Icelandic artists to hold their first solo exhibition in a public museum. How did you prepare for this exhibition? Did you approach this exhibition differently than your previous ones in artist-run spaces?

Well, for starters it is a great opportunity and a great platform so I was really excited about this big opportunity. This is the biggest exhibition space I’ve had to myself so far. I was really interested and also a bit frightened of that. It’s different working in an established museum because there is staff working at the museum and with you. I was working with a curator and technical assistants. So that is nice and you feel really taken care of. But I also have a real soft spot for the artist-run spaces in Reykjavík. They have a lot to offer in a different way.

Are there any specific pieces in this that have a particularly interesting story? If you can’t decide, tell me about your current favorite.

I have so many favorites! The possum with the babies on her back is one of my favorites. And the big swan vase. And the portrait of Diana Spencer…

I did make some pieces that were from family photographs. My mom and dad are both in the show. And I made my little sister. I used a photograph from an old family photograph when she was just a baby. When we were little, we lived in a former British colony called Malawi in Central Africa. I made some sculptures that pertain to Malawi’s history, and I made a sculpture of my sister where she is being babysat by Janet, a woman who worked in our house. I felt that was an interesting sculpture to make and have this opportunity to have the global phenomenon of colonialism and racism and big subjects, but also staying within a light mood.

I secretly snuck in some sculptures that are really violent, and reference bad parts of history. I have not gotten a lot of comments on it, which is interesting because Icelandic people are not thinking about a lot of this stuff. You can easily go through this exhibition just looking at the cats, so I am guessing that is what most people do. Maybe the political sculptures are a little too hidden, but they are there if somebody wants to delve into them.

Personally, I believe it’s important that they are there. I think the way that you integrate these political sculptures into the show is reflective of how we encounter this kind of information in our lives. Maybe we’re not actively seeking out news about racism, or sexism, or feminism, but it’s there and it’s on the internet. I find it more relatable in that you advertise it as “this is a show about life” instead of “this is an important show about political issues”

Yeah and I also had to think long and hard about my place in talking about these subjects, as a participant in this society. It is important to take a stance or try to talk about this stuff without doing it in a way where people are not receptive to it. Or doing it in a “white savior” way. It is complicated, and I had to think long and hard about how these images should be portrayed and how they should be put in between.

I want to emphasize that I did not want to present the political sculptures in a way that seemed like I was making fun of them, even though they are mixed with humorous imagery. I wanted to do it in a respectful way.

In conclusion, what’s next for you? What are you thinking about these days?

Well, this exhibition was actually postponed twice. It was supposed to be last winter, now it opened in March. I just got all those sculptures out of the studio. The funny thing is I am opening a show at the Leysingar festival in Kompan Alþýðuhúsið at the end of May, so I just went straight into finishing up the works for that show. And then in the summer, I’ll be exhibiting with Staðir in the Westfjords. After that, think I will take a bit of a summer holiday…

Amanda Poorvu

Auður Lóa graduated from the fine arts department of The Iceland Academy of the Arts in 2015. Since then she has worked independently, and in the company of other artists; she has been involved in group exhibitions such as Á Ferð in Harbinger project space, Still life in The Reykjavík Art Museum, and 109 Cats in Sweaters in Ekkisens artspace. In November of 2017 she curated and presented her own work in the exhibition Diana Forever which was held in three locations in Reykjavík, and for which she received the motivational award of the Icelandic Visual Arts Council in 2018.

The show Yes/No takes place at the Reykjavík Art Museum as part of the D-hall exhibition series from 18.03.2021 to 09.05.2021.
Artist website: www.audurloa.com

Photo Credits: Portret of Auður Lóa: Ólöf Kristín Helgadóttir. Photos from exhibition: Artzine

The interview is part of a collaboration between Artzine and a new MA in Curatorial Practice at the Iceland University of the Arts.

Viðtalið er hluti af samstarfsverkefni Artzine og nýrrar meistaranámsleiðar í sýningagerð við myndlistardeild Listaháskóla Íslands á vorönn 2021.

On future and fortune

On future and fortune

On future and fortune

A detailed model of a house in ruins lays on the floor on a pile of black sand, the miniature interior design furniture clashes with the wreckage scattered around the building. The roof, as well as one of the four walls, has collapsed, nonetheless two design metal chairs are placed on the second floor close to a window, a corner where to relax and enjoy the view. A white corridor with a futuristic design resembling that of Star Trek spacecrafts extends outside of the house, goes around it and leads to the inside: a fancy entrance which offers an alternative to stepping through the detritus of the torn down wall and access the house with another perspective. 

The floor of the gallery is demarcated by black lines, a sports field of a game which rules are unknown to us. A chair on the corner, the human-size version of the scaled down design metal chairs in the model of the house, opens up to the possibility of a privileged point of view which is however for no one to enjoy – the gallery is in fact closed and the exhibition can be seen only through the wide window of Harbinger. One of the arms of the chair is replaced by a small metal plinth on which a twelve-faced die lays.

The same die is presented to us in two paintings on the walls of the gallery, but this time is depicted as broken. A painting of a naked person turning their back to us and holding a spear constitutes the only human presence in the exhibition.

Dcethrone (armored luxury), polished steel, sand, dice.

Detail of dice rolling bowl, polished steel, sand, dice.

2020, prospect (20 sided die in 20 pieces), oil on woodboard and 2020, retrospect (20 sided die in 20 pieces), oil on woodboard.

The exhibition Core Temperature by Fritz Hendrik looks at the future of “our house”, planet Earth, it focuses on and brings together two specific perspectives on the fate of the world: that of those who see the future as a sort of Mad Max post-apocalyptic scenery, where extreme global warming and its consequential catastrophic natural events destroy everything humans have built throughout the centuries, bringing the human species to extinction; and that of those who have faith in the humankind technological progress and believe geoengineering will save us.

Global warming and ecology are issues which are taking up more and more space in global discussions about the future of our species, in particular nowadays, since the year 2020 brought us to face the fragility of our humankind. Coronavirus managed to bring the whole world on its knees. We, first world countries citizens and wealthy enough to be able to isolate in our own homes, have found ourselves lost and broken. We renewed and incremented our long lasting relationship with technology, a companion which gives us access to endless entertainment, allowed us to keep working from home and to engage with loved ones when restrictions prohibited us from meeting in person. 

Philosopher Rosi Braidotti in her recent essay We Are In This Together, But We Are Not One and the Same claims that Covid-19 is a man-made disease, it is the result of human interference with the ecological balance. In her opinion it is a paradox that we turned to technology as a result, because that is what caused the problem in the first place. In the same essay she calls for a reconsideration of the binarism between culture and nature, drawing from post/de-colonial and indigenous theories which, in her words, “have a great deal to teach us”. This is for Rosi Braidotti, a time to avoid and fight apocalyptic thinking, it is instead “a time to organize and not agonize”, to reconsider how we live.

Detail of core temperature, mixed media.

Detail of core temperature, mixed media.

Detail of core temperature, mixed media.

The exhibition is strongly inspired by the roleplaying game Dungeon & Dragons, in which players create their own character and embark upon adventures in a fantasy world. The success or failure of actions taken by players are dictated by the rolling of dice. Fortune plays a big role in the game, as well in the exhibition Core Temperature. Dice appear here and there as symbols of the uncertain result of our actions: the future of our world is beyond our control. A die pops up when one scans the QR code on the gallery window with a smartphone, the polyhedric die rolls into our screens and breaks apart. 

Dice are there to feedback on our actions, just like they do in Dungeon & Dragon, to give us a result on which we can adjust our actions for a better future. This does not only concern collective actions taken on a bigger scale by humankind, but also our individual commitment to a more sustainable life-style, small gestures that most of us undertake daily to take care of the environment in the hope to contribute to saving our planet. Despite everything around us collapsing, we still make sure to carefully wash jam jars and beer bottles before putting them in the recycling bin. 

The dice in the exhibition represent the questioning of these actions: Are they even useful in the short or long run? Are we contributing in a tiny, tiny, tiny way to change the course of human destiny?

An intact die lays on the chair of the privilege point of view, the empty chair on the corner to which no viewer has access. Capitalism and social and ecological issues are so strictly connected that it is hard to avoid reading that empty chair as where CEOs of big companies and industrialists sit, as they are the ones who could really make a difference, but the capitalist machine is all about one thing: Profit. 

Installation view of the exhibition Core Temperature.

Detail, Scorelord, digital print, blý.

Donna Haraway, in her book Staying with the Trouble (2016), talks about making-with, which refers to engaging with the present, staying with other planetary organisms which are facing our same fate. The Covid-19 pandemic has proved that no matter how hard humans like to think of themselves as separate from nature, we are as a matter of fact part of the same ecosystem. That single bottle that we decide to recycle might not solve the waste overproduction problem, as well as cycling might not solve the pollution problem, but all the small actions we take represent steps toward a better society, as well as normalise a way of understanding our position in the world and our role in it which leans toward symbiogenesis – becoming by living together.

The dice are broken, but, after all, it doesn’t really matter.

POV (point of view), oil on woodboard.

Core Temperature was on view at Harbinger from November the 13th, 2020 to January the 1st, 2021.

Photographs published with the permission of the artist.
Fritz Hendrik’s website: www.fritzhendrik.com


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