Post-Digital World(s) of Icelandic Art

Post-Digital World(s) of Icelandic Art

Post-Digital World(s) of Icelandic Art

Writing about contemporary digital culture in mid-2020 has a different context than it did at the beginning of the year. In the midst of a global pandemic in which the Merry-Go-Round of the art world has been brought to a standstill brings a new consideration of the digital world as it has suddenly become the safest, available, and dynamic tool for continuing with life amongst new social distancing measures and limited travel possibilities. Like most sectors of daily life, the art world has been pushed to go digital. With the closure and alteration of how we experience some artworks in museums and galleries because of control measures, digital artists have been able to carry on as usual. Galleries and museums have offered virtual renderings and video walk-throughs of exhibitions, resurfaced 3-D tours, and more video content from the archives. One meme from the anonymous Instagram account @JerryGogosian captured the nuances of inhabiting a viewer’s perspective in the worlds of an online platform of contemporary art with a few chosen grammar decisions. (See featured image)

There is no doubt that the pandemic will influence the kind of art made during this time and in the years to come – especially in using the ever-present digital medium that has become even more a tool for carrying messages and presenting art on a digital platform. Digital artists already enmeshed in the medium are then at a certain forefront of these times ahead. Within Icelandic art history, the introduction of the digital came relatively later than other mainland art scenes. However, this has led to a particular relationship between the digital and more traditional art forms, especially traditions that are rooted in Icelandic culture, such as the landscape painting, which offers a tactile sense of the way people connect to landscapes both under the feet and in the mind.

A new publication titled Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art focuses on the manner in which contemporary art is changing in the era of the digital. Margrét Elísabet Ólafsdóttir, author of one of the book’s chapters, “Divisions and Divides in Icelandic Contemporary Art,” offers a timeline of the digital and new media arts in Iceland – one can see how global art movements diffused in Iceland tend to take on a characteristic of being intensified and clearly traceable, just as smaller models are easier to trace. In Iceland, there are certain instances, for example, when in the 1960’s the discrepancy between Iceland and the US in terms of access to technological equipment was vastly different – the militarized US was leading research in the field, while Iceland had limited access. This discrepancy in hindsight can be seen to have allowed the Icelandic art scene to develop in unique pathways that did not so readily grasp onto the digital, but considered it from a distance for a few more decades, cultivating a sensibility towards the divisions and divides between the digital and more ‘traditional’ mediums and create an aesthetic bridge between them. In a panel discussion in conjunction with the book launch, artist Auður Lóa Guðnadóttir, for example, describes the way in which she brings the imagery from the digital into a physical space by making 3d objects of subjects and motifs of digital culture such as funny animals, cucumbers, and fruit emojis as a way to work within the barrier between those two worlds.

When in the mid-1980s, video became part of the curriculum at the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts in the New Media department, there was one camera and no postproduction studio. Steina Vasulka’s exhibition in 1983 was shown in Iceland on limited monitors because of a lack of equipment. Compared with the rest of the contemporary art scene around the Western world, it allowed more time to reflect on actual and virtual worlds. In 1999, when Iceland Academy of the Arts replaced the College of Art and Crafts and opened specialized workshop departments, it was the first time art students had access to fully equipped video studios, post-production software, and digital cameras. As mentioned by Margrét, this resonates with questions asked by Egill Saebjornsson on equating the difference between actual and virtual worlds, with that of the different between nature and technology. At the Venice Biennale in 2017, Out of Control (2017), based on the characters of two trolls named   Ūgh & Bõögâr, offered reflection on the ways that for more than a century, Icelandic art has been described as being grounded in nature: “The fusion of virtual and actual worlds, reality and fiction, encountered in Egill Saebjornsson’s work, also makes us question the distinction, not only between art worlds but just ‘worlds’. Today, the divide between contemporary art and media art, which characterized the past decades, has collapsed.” (329)

Coinciding with the publication of the book Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art, edited by Tanya Toft Ag and published by Intellect Books, Margrét curated the online exhibition Arts New Representations which was launched on Saturday, June 13th on the platform of the Icelandic online magazine Artzine.is. The five works shown in the exhibition cultivate a sense of where Icelandic media art has been and where it is going with the current generation and with the impact of current global events. Alongside the exhibition was a panel discussion with Icelandic artists that offered further analysis of the direction and sensibilities of contemporary Icelandic digital art.

In Margrét’s discussion of the early years of LORNA, an association for electronic arts that she founded in 2002, she observed a certain skepticism towards digital technology and media art within the mainstream contemporary art scene. In recent years she has observed a change in attitude to a certain extent – the artists on the panel make it clear that this early skepticism is no longer valid when such erudite discussion concerning digital art and individual artistic practices. The artists on the panel, Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar, Freyja Eilíf, Auður Lóa Guðnadóttir, and Fritz Hendrik Berndsen aka Fritz Hendrik IV, are part of the younger generation of artists obsessed with the split between the digital and non-digital in what could be referred to as a post-digital era. The discussion offered many valuable insights into the online exhibition from artists familiar with the concerns of the digital medium, for example, the overwhelming nature of the digital in our everyday life and how it becomes a tool both for fabrication and as a medium itself.

(Screenshot) Saemundur Thor Helgason’s Solar Plexus Pressure Belt Trailer, ‘Working Dead’

Saemundur Thor Helgason’s Solar Plexus Pressure Belt Trailer, ‘Working Dead,’ introduced the prototype of an anxiety-reducing device engineered and designed by the artist in collaboration with fashion designer Agata Mickiewicz. The work is a continuation of a larger project called ‘Félag Borgara’, (eng. Fellowship of Citizens) an interest group founded by the artist in Reykjavik in October 2017 with the aim of lobbying for basic income in Iceland through apolitical means. Solar Plexus Pressure Belt™, inspired by Saemundur Thor‘s own experiences as a creative practitioner suffering from anxiety and panic attacks in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, uses the digital medium as a platform for content as well as representation of its material embodiment. The Solar Plexus Pressure Belt™ combines elements of design and social activism in carrying out one of the earliest uses of the internet, that of using it as space where a truly democratic zone can transform certain elements of society. The design of the belt simulates a finger pressing into the solar plexus area, a motion and coping mechanism Saemundur Thor discovered would reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, offers a palliative solution to late capitalism.

Where Saemundur Thor investigates the body’s internalized reaction to feelings of stress and anxiety, Anna  Fríða Jónsdóttir’s ‘Thought Interpreter’ is the artists’ abstracted example of the mirroring of systems that every person assimilates on scales ranging from smaller bodily systems to massive societal systems and beyond. It is a representation of the way we are all connected through our biological engineering, mostly made of water. The artist asks: “Since water is the world’s best solvent, could something very personal from every living resident be residing underneath the city in the sewer system? Are we creating a sub-city of thoughts and emotions mirroring reality, a reflection of the overall emotional state of a city?” ‘Thought Interpreter’ is akin to walking in on a conversation through a medium whose language is nonverbal, subliminal. In light of the current global pandemic, the reality of an invisible, molecular disease that is carried between individuals and has changed the structure of many ways in which we carry out everyday life, it seems even more plausible to imagine the ‘Thought Interpreter’ as representing the conversation happening between our body and the world around us on a personal and global level.

(Screenshot) Anna Fríða Jónsdóttir’s ‘Thought Interpreter’ ( 2012). Jars, bathroom tiles, spoons, 9 servo motors, arduino.

In this way, the digital medium allows both Anna Fríða and Saemundur Thor the possibility to explore reality in an impossible way by creating a scenario for a possible world, implementing it as a digital reality, and entering it for effect. It is for this reason that the term ‘cyberspace’ was first coined by a Science fiction author, William Gibson, as it is literally the realm where possible futures begin to be implemented.

In the panel discussion, Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar mentioned the post digital’s relationship to the post-apocalyptic as a historical manner and political scheme in which the ideas, programs and grand schemes come into play in an ideological sensibility that is becoming more and more pessimistic:

“We have abandoned this sense of progress and we are just living this dystopic unfolding of futuristic stuff but none of it seems to have any meaning so this dystopian sensibility has become so strong… the most relevant post-digital is the post-apocalyptic. It seems like we thought there would be an event but instead, it’s just a steady decline that leads to nowhere. That’s the idea of post-apocalypse, if we don’t have a vision of a future collectively, that’s what’s on offer, nothing apocalyptic, because that would be an event, but it’s just that things don’t happen.”

(Screenshot) Ágústa Ýr Guðmundsdóttir aka Ice Ice Baby Spice

Digital artist, Ágústa Ýr Guðmundsdóttir aka Ice Ice Baby Spice, readily embraces the digital realm as a studio, and as such, accepts the limitations of it as a zone of possibility for self-expression of her own anima through social media as well in her work digitizing fashion for casting directors and labels. The process of photographing, scanning, and editing brings many opportunities to investigate the aesthetics of the realm between the digital and the physical. When making videos, she uses a camera within a 3D world that she has made, and is using the same settings as a normal camera, moving it digitally instead of holding it physically.

In the panel talk, Geirþrúður, an artist from an earlier generation, also discussed how she has come to accept the digital world as her studio, however, she notes that the awe of what is possible that first overcame her in the first days of digital art affects how she looks at the materiality of the digital. Becoming recently interested in 3D modeling (which can be seen to great effect in her work featuring renderings of Real Estate advertisements), Geirþrúður said that the relief from physical law is a huge inspiration as she can decide to which degree what she creates in the digital space becomes material: “This also brings me to a sense of what is the materiality of the digital, so the more I get drawn into its immateriality, the more I also get interested in the materiality of the digital but also the materiality of real life, so it has this pretty intense dialectical relationship.”

This dialectical relationship between the two mediums is an eloquent conversation that is what makes the world(s) of digital art such a fascinating receptacle of processing how we live in the contemporary moment. Freyja Eilíf’s commentary in the panel discussion on what has intrigued her with the digital also relates to the processing of how we live in and of the digital in our everyday lives – she sees it as a hybrid reality that we are collaboratively creating with the digital realm: “I think of it as an alien, really, and something otherworldly. That’s what intrigues me about the internet. I also think about where it was before it became the internet. Was it just lying dormant?”

(Screenshot) Hákon Bragason, On a Branch, (2020)

In a similar thread of questioning the space of communication within the digital, as well as the longevity of digital spaces and their mechanism as a component of time is digital artist, Hákon Bragason´s 3D interactive work. In ‚On a Branch,‘ viewers become visitors in a virtual realm with its own illuminating sun that gives the sensation of experiencing the sun from another planet. The transportive world´s hazy pink glow features a lone tree, sketched with branches reaching towards the sun. Here the artist is able to examine the presence of people within a 3D internet space where it is not possible to have normal communication and people only are made aware of the presence of others through the number of leaves that appear on the tree. The non-verbal realm literally goes out on a branch to examine how we communicate presence as well as the mode in which history is recorded in the digital.

(Screenshot) Haraldur Karlsson´s ´Snæfellsnes Broadcast Station´

In ´Snæfellsness Broadcast Station, Haraldur Karlsson reports live from Snæfellsnes, the artist playfully presents the surrounding landscape in which he has created a simple set up of a wooden chair. A child occasionally shares the screen, waving to observers. Interspersed with the landscape scenes and the overlay of different video warping effects are weather maps of the Snæfellsnes peninsula with dramatic overlays of fire-spitting and tornadoes swirling. The work is seemingly a commentary on the role of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in local lore: it is the place where French author Jules Verne begins his 1871 Science Fiction classic,  Journey to the Center of the Earth, with entering a dormant volcano. The peninsula is also known for its heavy mythology of elven lore or ´Hidden People´. The lore attached to this geographic location in Iceland is now part of every marketing campaign introducing tourists to the area.

In the panel talk, Fritz Hendrik Berndsen discusses the way in which Icelandic art history is full of landscape paintings created before the digital marketing of Iceland to tourists began, but it´s also where it began because Icelandic painters did not appreciate the value of the landscape before Danish poets began writing about their majesty. In ´Snæfellsnes Broadcast Station,´ Haraldur portrays a landscape being consumed by the digital, however, it is not only happening on a consumer level, but as part of surveillance culture. “The Icelandic landscape has a completely different meaning after Google Earth appears because now, you’re not alone in nature,” added Geirþrúður in the panel discussion, “there’s always a satellite above you.”

In the context of Haraldur´s previous work with themes of expressing a holistic philosophy of science and art in which art reflects reality in its relation to man, the artist is the anti-hero, using the medium to be more human. There‘s always a Google Earth satellite even in the most isolated landscapes, making the world more known, and giving with it a „human angle“ permeated with the factors of being human, which also means seeing it, as Haraldur does with video editing software, through the historical prism of science and philosophy.

Erin Honeycutt


Photos: courtesy of the artists.


Acknowledgement: This text is commissioned by the project Digital Dynamics: New Ways of Art based on the book Digital Dynamics in Nordic Contemporary Art

(Intellect, 2019) and supported by the Nordic Culture Fund and Nordic Council of Ministries. www.digitaldynamics.art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Juliane Foronda

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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.

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