“Come with me. To the beginning, to the chaos, where everything is, but also nothing,” proclaims sculptor Elín Hansdóttir, faux-dramatically, her voice bouncing around the Ásmundursafn sculpture museum. She cuts a diminutive, elegant figure in the pristine white space as she reads from the text, by curator Dorothée Kirch. It’s an unusual, lyrical accompaniment for Elín’s new exhibition, ‘Disruption’, which contrasts her work against that of Ásmundur Sveinsson, the sculptor who built and populated the museum in which we stand.
The two artists make for an interesting pairing. Ásmundur was born in 1893, and lived for almost a century, passing away in 1982, when Elín was just two years old. “He grew up on a farm in the countryside in the early 1900s,” says Elín, “and then I’m a contemporary artist. But we found out from reading his interviews that we’re actually dealing with the same problem. Artists nowadays are looking for the same thing they were 100 years ago, if you look at the core. You keep looking for it… but I don’t think there’s even a way of grasping it, even though you know it’s there. It’s a search.”
This search has led Elín’s work through many different shapes, sizes and media. The first piece on show is a 3D animation, showing a small, white domino falling over to knock over a bigger one, which knocks over a bigger one, and so on, until, in the end, a monolith falls, shattering into geometric pieces as it hits the ground.
“This is a 3D rendering,” she says. “The first domino is life size, but in theory, it could collapse another one that’s almost double its size. So they gradually grow until the last three big ones fracture when they drop, into a Voronoi tessellation, named after the Russian mathematician. You can find these everywhere in nature, from the micro scale to the macro scale. It’s when a surface breaks at the weakest point. For example, inside a cluster of bubbles you can find the tessellation. Or the pattern on giraffes, or a mud surface cracking. There are interesting ways to use this algorithm, for example to see how humans might behave. I imposed it onto this utopian, artificial space, in virtual reality. These shapes break in a way which could never happen in reality.”
The rise and fall
The biggest space of the museum contains those same dominoes, brought to life by an application that fed the design into a robot, which then cut them out. “I was interested in making something for a sculpture museum that wasn’t touched by human hands,” says Elín. “But then, after the first step, we spent three weeks plastering them! So, in the end, the human hand was indispensable.”
This work, entitled “COLLAPSE,” is the show’s centrepiece, and seems intentionally plural and open-ended in its meaning—a fact that’s accentuated as Iceland’s current governmental problems cast a decidedly political shadow over the work. “There are many systems now that are collapsing, because they don’t serve society how we thought they would,” says Elín. “It’s an interesting time. A time of reevaluating. It’s a reoccurring theme—it’s not the first time the system has collapsed. It happens again and again throughout history. Maybe capitalism is today’s Roman Empire. And right now, it’s collapsing.”
See ‘Disruption’ at Ásmundarsafn until September 9.