Stars are the flowers of our skies: The Wildflower

Stars are the flowers of our skies: The Wildflower

Stars are the flowers of our skies: The Wildflower


in conversation with Becky Forsythe and Penelope Smart


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Curated by Becky Forsythe and Penelope Smart

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

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

Writer’s note of Land Acknowledgement: 

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

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

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



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

…and what then? at Nýlistasafnið

…and what then? at Nýlistasafnið

…and what then? at Nýlistasafnið

Entering Nýló I see a large clock, colorful drawings for musical scores, crumbling plastic containers, meticulously crafted bodies and utopian visions that explore what’s ahead by touching upon our modern and possible not-so-distant future positions, identities and situations. I sit down with curator Sunna Ástþórsdóttir and artist Rebecca Erin Moran for a talk which took the theme of innovation as its starting point to speak about the more personal anxieties of contemporary artists and the agencies that the arts have in our current political landscape. …and what then? Is Sunna’s curatorial debut with Nýlistasafnið, she has been studying and practicing art theory and curation in Denmark for the last eight years. Rebecca Erin Moran is an American/Icelandic artist currently living in Berlin.

The exhibition gathers a handsome roster of artists: Andreas Brunner, Eva Ísleifs, Freyja Eilíf, Fritz Hendrik IV, Huginn Þór Arason, Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson, Rebecca Erin Moran, Rúna Þorkelsdóttir, Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir, Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson and Þórður Ben Sveinsson. 

B: The first thing I noticed when I walked in to Nýlistasafnið was a peculiar atmosphere. I somehow  felt an immediate connection to science fiction. Was this intentional?

S: The exhibition looks to the future and I think it’s a natural step to move into science fiction when it comes to speculating  things to come. The overall theme is glancing at things approaching us, how to approach them and exploring areas which are unknown to us at this date. We’re dealing with concepts of innovation, foretelling and poetically exploring what may or may not happen in our not so distant future.

B:  To me, the large painting by Þórður Ben seems to have the strongest or most literal connection to sci-fi. It depicts a temple-like architecture surrounded by dreamy meadows and a utopic landscape bathed in Icelandic summer light. Here we are proposed with an escape from reality in favour of something greater. Could you tell me little bit about how this work came to the show?

S: Þórður’s painting has that approach for sure. It imagines a place which could very well be derived from a science fiction novel. With all of these artists, dealing with the future has to do with each of their intentions. This painting, for example, is from 1983, and I believe that looking towards utopian futures seemed like a brighter vision at the time. Today it seems like a far out dream, because the end of earth is becoming increasingly more feasible to us. Those who understand it do everything in their power to protect while for many, the future is too dark or hopeless to see these utopian, alternative realities. On the other hand, the utopian vision seems to feed into younger generations of artists. Fritz Hendrik IV brought two paintings to the show which depict similar scenarios, but imply more of a dune-like, outer-space scenario. The human is still present in his portrayals, and like Þórður, there is a craving to escape the instability through the making-of a possible world.

R: I think innovation links to sci-fi, and it ultimately connects to creating the spaces where something new can happen. It reminds me a bit of the Dialogues between David Bohm and Krishnamurti, where the reader witnesses epiphanies happening in real time. He released a whole series of transcriptual writings where he spoke with scientists, theorists and spiritualists discussing time and existence. It’s an exploration into the space where something new is being created. Sunna and I had long talks about the role of arts within the political sphere through that lens of being-in-creation, a speculative fiction/reality which can only happen in media res, its process coming into the world… 

S: … and the show turned into a series of works which are glancing in to the unknown. I see each artist contributing richly to this as some works are in the midst of a decomposing process while others are proposing alternative, heterotopian and even utopian future scenarios. It opens up many discursive trajectories into means of poetically looking forward to what agency artists have today. The term sci-fi never came up in the process, but I saw it turning into a very sculptural, material speculation. We are interested in technology, robotics and ecosystems, but perhaps the role of the arts is to look into the thinking behind it. What the works in the show have in common is this speculative nature that image-making and representation have towards the question of and what then? We are all anxious about it and there is increasing worry and trouble arising in each of us as to how to solve current world problems. I found interesting to look into what contemporary artists could add to that dialog in their own way, without being guided towards making an exhibition strictly about the climate crisis, let’s say. This I feel made a poetic turn within my personal curatorial approach and I felt an increasing sense of trust in the fact that the works would evoke justful contemplations into these themes.

B: Rúna Thorkelsdóttir’s sculpture made of garden cress hangs gently and touches the floor of the gallery. It’s growing and contained at the same time, reflecting our relationship with nature and our longing to control it. The work has a life of its own, stripped from its natural setting and ultimately decomposes during the exhibition period. Can you tell me how our impact on the earth is effecting these artists’ thoughts?

S: Rúna’s work in particular makes the process of life and death visible. You can see the roots on the backside of the piece. The exhibition has only been going on for a week, and runs for six weeks! The cress will develop according to their circumstances, which are not ideal in this case. They’re supposed to be dying, but as with organic substances, it decomposes rather than rots. There is an element of chance here which allows things to take their natural course. 

B: Uncertainty is in the air, for sure. Our times are dominated by instabilities and ambiguities, as is visible in f.ex. Huginn Þór Arason’s work. His sculptures from 2002 display plastic containers with colorful play-doh sculpted around them, perhaps hiding the reality of plastic waste with ornamental and colorful gestures?

S: Huginn’s work came from the archive of the Living Art Museum and I saw it bring the discourse around the conservation of an art work. The sculptures were much fresher when first made. When unboxing them, the crafted clay had turned soggy, crumbling and collapsing on top of their supports. It’s interesting to place together these different processes, between the natural and plastic, man made material. In both of these cases, we can wonder how time treats art works, and how we experience works from the past today if they are intentionally or non-intentionally supposed to change over time?

B: Would you say it’s a bit like unfreezing something?

S: In a way! As someone from the cultural sector you find yourself constantly dealing with this maintenance in art works such as these. You unfreeze them, blow the dust off and constantly check if something needs repairing. Often the works need re-adjusting or re-making the work all together! However, for Huginn’s piece it became necessary to show them as they came out of the box, as a slightly altered version of the works that were made a few years ago. With both of these artists, I see them creating a space for the viewer to contemplate this change in relation to their own body.

Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson’s video is another great example. His Most real death (2000) shows people taking turns staging their own death in front of a camera when shot at by a finger-gun. It exhibits this type of anticipation we live with, this knowledge we all have. In a very bodily way, you are confronted with your own reaction of the work. You might laugh at the first three enactments during this simple game of pretending, but then the violence kicks in. It’s a total of 37 people staging their death in front of the camera. I feel this work describes very well the overall approach that the artists took to the show’s themes. There is a lot of color and humour before the terror reveals itself to you. The viewer realizes that experiencing art changes over time, just like the artworks are evolving, decomposing and taking new shapes as the exhibition continues. 

R: I feel it’s also interesting to look at the impact of humour that Thorvaldur’s work has. It’s meant to questions our ethics, but through this very specific style that he shares with his generation. It has this slap-stick like quality and a visual poetry. It reminds me a bit of Bas Jan Ader and how he staged emotions like sorrow or grievance. This particular body humour and gestural action had a lot to do with these artists. It is a very different type of humour if you compare it to the younger artists in the show. I feel that contemporary artists are faced with a totally different type of anticipation. Maybe one which places the body in relation to its environment, or attempts at contemplating, in a physical manner what is to become of this relationship. The younger generations seems to have a much darker or dystopic view of things.

S: Definitely. I see your work, Rebecca, along with Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir’s and Andreas Brunners as contributing to another conceptual thread of the show. I think that artists today are faced with the contemporary worries brought about by the human’s imprint on nature and other people. We seem to be haunted by guilt, on top of our anxieties, and we perform these socio- and political acts of undoing what we’ve done wrong. Perhaps even to see at what point in these complex relationships we actually belong?

B: Here we can transition from the utopian to the more contemporary idea of gender and the body, which I see resonating in Rebecca’s works. Would you like to tell me about the somatic onesie?

R: I just have this small anecdote before we go into that. I have a good friend in Berlin, who is 25, and getting her PhD in astrophysics. She is working with potential future environments for planets, and other complexities beyond my comprehension. One day, I mentioned that I was envious of her generation, as everything seems to be so possible in terms of creating new living conditions,  gender fluidity, open communities. She turned to me and said bluntly: “but you will die a natural death, and our generation will witness the earth die first”. She is busy exploring the nuts and bolts of how to survive the earth’s destruction and what consequences it has for its inhabitants. When she said this, I was just like “woah…” She is in the science world and she’s confronted with these really real problems. The time is running out and figuring out an alternative before the 2050 deadline is just a very high, practical priority for her and the contemporary science world. 

S: And here the anxiety kicks in again…

R: For sure! I had just never, thought that far!

B: Is the youngest generations of art students and scholars more inclusive because of this hidden knowledge? Is it because we are running out of time and they realize that it’s best to just join forces?

R: It’s something we can’t understand. In the past, there were generations that went through wars and saw the potential end of the world. But those were all very hypothetical, man made conclusions. We found ways to continue because we still had enough resources to re-build what we destroyed. Now the problem is actually real. The sciences today are actually trying to understand how to slow down this process or find an alternative in a new ecosystem. I found this extremely interesting.

My work, as in the Somatic Transit Onesie, romanticises evolution. I made it in 2015 for a show about the EU in Lichtenstein. It was presented with a sound piece called Stop belonging now. At that time I was idealizing if we could evolve in to a male/female/land-animal/sea-animal type of body. A hybrid of some sort, but seeing this body as already belonging to a past. The onesie piece therefore exists and is presented like a skin someone has already shed. So what comes after is unknown, and does not need to be visually represented.  It aims to create a jumping off point for the imagination, I’m always looking for a state of potential; where a work creates an open ended process that is inclusive to the viewers experience. The onesie is perhaps the last point of materialization, what comes next is open.

S: This work is also about removing external markers through this dialog with the viewer. We have so many borders, there has always been this connection between the “one” and the “other”.

R: Stop belonging now, the sound piece, creates the notion of ending belonging in order to belong everywhere. Without perspective, point of view, in order to perceive all viewpoints. Erasure as a way of empowerment. As soon as you come to one end of the spectrum you’ve gone full circle. Identifying in the middle is where you get stuck. Fixed positioning is just a very strange and dangerous concept to me! Conservatives, who have fixed opinions about the LGBQT communities and then these same communities have fixed ideas about how a conservative thinks… our societal standards are always to reject a notion, or fight against a norm, the position is always fixed against something. I’m looking for a non-binary positioning which is neither on the offense nor defence. A place which is neither/and/or. A non-binary positioning which can’t be polarized.

B: Would you say this is totally neutral ground? What does this new life-form present itself as?

R: I don’t really believe in sameness, I believe in fluidity, process, and continual flux.  But it’s just the level of which one zooms in or out. We talked a lot about non-being, about consciousness, about wholeness. There are many theoretical discourses about parts of a whole, but why do we constantly speak about parts? We’re always dissecting, categorizing, and picking at things on such a zoomed in level. It somehow takes away from just being in my view, takes away from the interconnectedness. 

S: The print that Rebecca presents in the exhibition is a work in progress that might take on another form or become a part of a larger series in the future. I’m pleased to include this work in the show, as it strongly suggests a new kind of animal/human ambiguity and questions notions of intimacy and our preconceived notions of gender or our place in the natural world. On the side that faces the window we see a human holding this dog, but we can’t really see its a dog. You can sense that it’s an animal, by our reading of creatures. There is a beautiful collision that happens.

R: It was a great process working with Sunna. She understood the works before they entered the exhibition because she had this overview of what it could become. I was very happy to hand the choosing to her and where the print ended up being in the space.

S: Each artist added to the discourse of the exhibition, and its ideology was shaped through the unfolding of dialogs and experiencing the works themselves. It became important to me to keep the dialog open towards the end. This photowork is just, really, sensual and materialistic, it fell in to place after having strong dialogs throughout the entire process.

B: So, in the beginning the concept of the show was very open, and it’s theme’s come more through working with the artists?

S: I had specific questions that were related to the landscape of exhibitions happening in Iceland when I started working on the show. I knew it was going to have a socio-political angle to it. The framework shaped itself through having discussions and actually seeing what each artist contributes instead of forcing them in to a specific curatorial agenda. 

R: Our first conversations were about doing a political show. But you were not really interested in overtly tackling contemporary politics, as in, protest, or propaganda let’s say…

S: It is about what we perceive as political art today and what role art can play in the political landscape. If you place something in the world, it always says something and that’s what we wanted to bring attention to. The works reflect on and invite you to re-think our current situations, deal with your anxieties, engage. Not in a didactic way, they propose what political positioning artists may be taking and have an inclusive positioning towards the viewers own time and place.

R: I think it’s overtly political to be against something. That is the easiest positioning, to be against something or with something. As a contrast to this show we can recall an infamous moment that Nýló had in 2011 with Koddu. It was a politically charged exhibition. Much of that work was radically against something. This was important at the time of course, as we were facing financial crisis. Right now, however, I think that political art should be about engagement and discourse; finding ways to form connections, even just being intimate. 

S: The presences of the works in this show are strong. They can be evocative, questioning and disturbingly confronting. The atmosphere of the show is thought to offer this type of open engagement…

R: … and I really feel like this show escapes all tag line theories, which has a positive impact. It’s liberating to participate in a show that does not associate itself with a specific theoretical model or an -ism.

S: The anthropocene was a topic that came up frequently in my conversations with Andreas Brunner and I think that many people might discover that, while others discover something else in his work. Some people are engaged with choosing -isms and theories attached to exhibitions and I know that the risk of not having such strict tag-lines or themes might result in a chaotic exhibition. 

B: I think that with this positioning, the poetry of the exhibition reveals itself. Coming back to Andreas Brunner, it gestures at our attempts to undo the things we have done to nature by covering up our workings and re-workings in to the earth’s layers. He reflects on this through small marble pieces, which is usually thought to be a very sacred material, something which can’t be manipulated. We’re always dealing with these gestures of undoing, as artists, as people.

S: There is almost no untouched surface on the earth left, and at the same time we’re very unapologetic about it, we seem to constantly be in the process of covering up our own traces. It is as if we were idealizing our own absence and idleness at these places, as if nothing ever happened.

R: There’s also a trend now in idealizing native and indigenous traditions, and it’s usually done by white people. I find this trend not only awkward, but also total cultural appropriation.  This show, on the other hand, is more about looking forward instead of trying to get back to. I do think we need to unlearn industrialization and recognise our animalistic sides and deeper connections to the earth and all living things: but without trying to emulate the past. 

B: There is constant guilt in the air of those who have oppressed and suppressed, for example how the colonisation of Suriname or the Dutch Caribbean in the Netherlands is being undone through the renaming of places or the revisiting of their culture by white people. It does lie on a very sensitive border and has an awkward feel to it. It’s part of the process of becoming guilt-free of the past, of righting wrongs. But honestly, how else to do to it? What comes next?

S: Exactly, why is there this need to become guilt free? We’re in a place where we can’t undo more. We are acting oblivious to what comes next. I had a talk a few days ago and they asked me what if all these terrible things happen and we just survive? 

B: You mean, what happens when we actually inhabit a place we can’t imagine what is like at this time?

S: Precisely, what happens beyond this beyond?

B: I think one of the stronger points in this show is to refuse a single categorical umbrella. It brings forth the personal anxieties in each participant and invites more intimate readings as to look into the role of art within all these contemplations. The universal is explored through the personal. There is more space to think about the possibilities than what should be or what we should have done. I find this very important, to localize these problems and share them.

S: We hear about the artist as being a mirror of society, but we seem to have lost what the mirror shows us. So my question becomes, what is the errand of art in society today? There has never been a reflection which shows you the real, so the creation of personal, alternative heterotopias become a way to actually explore this question. Ultimately, the artists here are exploring their role just as it is important for everyone to attempt a private understanding within our current state of things. The reflection is found in the artworks and I have found great readings in each of the works here. As a curator I’m interested in seeing how an artist can make political art without overtly educating and narrating an audiences experience. How to make an artwork which is not with or against, and actually trusts the experience that the work brings about in itself?

R: We’re not here to tell you how it is. We like things to have a life of their own and trust in the life that the art piece can have. Sometimes the artist sets limitations with their intentions by using text or didactic forms. Sometimes we don’t realize it, but at most times an artwork can have a much bigger identity than the one the artist insists on. Using naming, or words, can be a limitation. It’s time to celebrate the situations that an artwork can set up with any crowd without leading them to a certain conclusion or opinion. Many people come up to me and they say “oh you had that guy on the floor! It looked great!”, and instead of being like “well, actually, it is a… and it means this, and you should interpret it exactly as I do”. I just don’t like to be told when to change my position, my reading, my experience. 

S: The truth is, logic just follows what you experience, directly. You should always trust the viewer to make their own conclusions, based on their experiences. They should not be controlled, and my intention is making a show which is accessible to people who don’t necessarily visit art galleries on a regular basis. It is important for the arts to participate in any contemporary political discourse we are facing, be it a local or a global one. What is even more important is that the arts should be inclusive and welcome to different readings. We are all facing these problems and I find it interesting to see what the arts can show within the current spectrum. With such a diverse group, who all contributed greatly to this journey of speculations and questions, I wish to create a fertile, poetic ground to contemplate what is to come. This is what I hope translates in to the viewer, who always adds something to the dialog just by experiencing. 

Bergur Thomas Anderson


The exhibition …and then what? runs until 4th of August 2019.

Photo credits: Vigfús Birgirsson


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