Ekkisens is an art space that stands set back from Bergstaðastræti, in the heart of downtown Reykjavík. Past a short path of overgrown paving stones, the entrance lies down a few ramshackle steps, tucked away like an unassuming side door. I arrive just after nightfall, on a cold November evening, and touch the handle—the door swings open, unlocked.
Inside is a dimly lit, tumbledown hallway, with dusty broken bricks jutting from the walls and open wiring strung across the ceiling. Beyond that lies an old, well-worn kitchen, with boarded up appliance spaces, and a floor that creaks and sags as I walk in.
I find the artist Síta Valrún in the former living room, moving around the space quietly, switching on the projector and firing up her installation for the evening’s viewing. As the various black and white videos flicker into motion, a discordant, tentatively played piano loop starts from one side of the room, and a disembodied voice repeats a phrase in French from the other. Birdsong and nature sounds emanate from the kitchen, and occasionally an unidentified hissing sound comes from somewhere else yet.
The six videos on show are all loops, four presented on televisions, and two projected onto the raw walls of the space. In one, a darkly bearded man clutches at his chest, and slowly bows his head, seeming to perhaps calmly pull his heart from his body. On another, we’re at ground level watching a woman’s feet as she walks along in high heels, and on others still, plus and minus symbols flash up repeatedly. All of the imagery flickers with tape distortion, blurry monochrome shapes playing across the screens and projected surfaces. It feels like the gallery is receiving a transmission, the origin of which is unclear.
Taken together, the films comprise Síta’s first solo installation since graduating Iceland’s Art Academy earlier this year, entitled ‘Episodes +-’.
Out of sync
Síta made these episodes over a period of years, between 2013-15. “All of them have been beautiful journeys in themselves,” she says, sitting in a side room of the space and tugging absent-mindedly at a strand of her hair as she speaks. “Maybe I’d taken some film somewhere a year before, and then I’d find a sound that was a perfect fit. They all come together gradually in this way. There’s some vision about one element or another in the beginning, and the rest just happens.”
The work is about ‘love relationships’, according to the exhibition’s poetic accompanying text. But the flickering video and discordant sound loops create an overwhelming feeling of disharmony—like something is terribly amiss. “Which it is,” says Síta. “That’s definitely how I feel about it. The videos aren’t synced—I just hit play, and then they loop at different lengths. So sometimes maybe there’s a moment where there’s some harmony—but it’s only for a split second, and then it falls away and it’s chaotic again. And that’s very much a part of what I feel.”
The eerie piano part that loops in the exhibition is Síta attempting to play a traditional Swedish love song. “It was a song written in 1948,” she explains. “It’s a super-beautiful love poem, very traditional, played at weddings and such in Sweden. This is me trying to play it from memory. And I almost get it right—almost. But then I always fuck it up, somehow. It might sound like it’s going to perfect, but I’ll fail on the next note.”
The least boring things
Despite initially appearing somewhat mysterious and opaque, Síta’s work is firmly autobiographical. The cycle of ‘video poems’ on show refers to raw, emotional moments and states that many, even most, will relate to.
“The girl who is speaking in French is saying: “I will cut off all my arms and have five of your babies”,” Síta explains. “Those are words that I actually said, in desperation, to another person. I heard myself say that sentence out loud. And it’s just madness—of course, I wouldn’t say that again. You move on, and you learn.”
“I feel like this work is a little behind me now,” she continues. “It’s from a period of time when I was feeling things very intensely–when I was thinking about love relationships a lot, and analysing them. I was realising I’m really bad at it—all of it. Now, six months later, I’m out of that time. Looking at this work is like standing a little bit away from it, and looking at myself.”
I wonder out loud about whether people are most driven to express themselves when they’re heartbroken, or cast into other extreme states. “Well, some of this work is from really happy times as well,” says Síta. “The video shot in the graveyard is a beautiful memory that I have with another person. But yes, in a lot of my work, there’s some kind of intensity. Something happens that shakes you—then later, during the creative process, maybe you feel balanced again. So it comes out as a mixture of both.”
She pauses, before continuing: “If you continued to be so shaken up, you’d probably never finish anything. I’ve been keeping away from being like that—but at the same time, it makes you feel very alive. Those are the least boring things in life—the irrational, romantic and impractical. I wouldn’t want to skip it. I’d rather be in that than something practical.”
It doesn’t appear easy for Síta to talk about her work—not because of the subject matter, but because the visual language she has created speaks for itself. Talking about something as complex and abstract as love requires artists to build a new vocabulary—it’s a translation of emotional states into the audio-visual. Re-translating the results into written or verbal statements is ever harder.
Also, Síta seems like quite a private person in many respects, both artistic and personal. At her degree show, the work was tucked away in ‘between spaces’ instead of occupying a big spotlit floor space. “I know a lot of people passed the work and maybe didn’t see it,” smiles Síta. “But that really doesn’t matter to me. Some people see it, and perhaps there’s some kind of exchange; some people don’t see it—and that’s also interesting, and fine.”
I suggest that Síta’s social media presences on Facebook and Instagram actually seem as aesthetic and intriguing as the work she has created—and that perhaps the way she constructs her work and her online self are similar.
“Well, it’s true that I don’t feel that comfortable sharing,” she says, “making big statements, taking part in social media campaigns, and commenting on everything. When I’ve done that in the past, I’ve felt like it was unnecessary, and silly to be so quick with my opinions. I feel like people talk too much. I could make a big statement, sure—but maybe I’d change my mind tomorrow. Because there’s no black and white, only grey space. I prefer to discuss things face to face, to change our minds and turn the subject around and massacre it and see what happens.”
“It’s good to accept uncertainty,” she finishes, with a smile, “to embrace uncertainty, and get comfortable with it.”