From Iceland — On and In Perpetual Motion: The 59th Venice Biennial International Art Exhibition

On and In Perpetual Motion: The 59th Venice Biennial International Art Exhibition

Published May 23, 2022

On and In Perpetual Motion: The 59th Venice Biennial International Art Exhibition
Photo by
Joanna X
Ugo Carmeni

Two winters ago Sigurður Guðjónsson was doing his food shopping in Bónus when he got a call in which he was invited to represent Iceland at the 59th Venice Biennale. Which is how this particular journey began for Sigurður, who has just returned to Iceland after the Biennale’s opening week – a certain harvest.

The 59th Venice Biennial International Art Exhibition

Visiting the Venice Biennale is like entering a snapshot of time- an amalgam of what a large handful of artists all over the world are addressing- and a lens on who and what artists receive the platforms to do so. As it opens the hums begin among the guests of what is absolutely not to be missed in the curated sea of contemporary art. Siguður’s multi-sensory installation Perpetual Motion was quickly picked up in the conversation – in fact the Financial Times wrote a critique where it was mentioned as one of the top 5 National Pavilions in Venice.

Still taking everything in Sigurður begins, “To be exhibiting in this context is nothing short of fantastical. It’s an incredible opportunity” continuing, “The Monday before the opening there were definitely some nerves. Then the doors opened on Tuesday and I could feel it- like okay the undercurrents are flowing.”

With Perpetual Motion Sigurður offers a focused, sculptural and meditative landscape of a world which lies just beyond what the human-eye can see. A split-screen installation shows a constant drift of magical metal dust, and the electronic soundscape gives us a glimpse into this hidden world Sigurður has captured.

Time, time, time

The biennale was prolonged by one year due to Covid-19. Sigurður shares, “I had been working on the show full speed until the big slam.” He elaborates, “When it became clear the biennale would be postponed I put that work on hold a bit and started working on other things- it ended up being a really experimental time, in which I played and explored a lot in my studio.”

Continuing on, “By the time I arrived in Venice I had about 20 different ideas of what the work might become in my head, but it wasn’t until I saw the space that I could decide in which direction the work would go.” Sigurður’s installations are in conversation to their environment in their all-encompassing nature. He adds, “I try to make a connection to the spaces I work in, and when I finally saw the space there came sparks. The Arsenale is an old shipyard, a raw space with huge ceilings – those kinds of details get me going.”

Going Deeper

Mónica Bello, the curator of the Icelandic Pavillion, and Sigurður worked closely together on this show. When they first met years ago Sigurður’s work was inching closer to the micro-world that he presents with Perpetual Motion and is addressing in his current practice. “I have been moving deeper and deeper into materiality in my work.” He says, “In 2016 I’m thinking about the inside of machines and mechanisms, and the poetry in that.” Continuing on, “In Venice I presented a space where we have entered into the machine and we’re looking at the dust and particles inside of it.”

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At Mónica and Sigurður’s first meeting they traveled 100 meters into the ground to take a tour of the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest, highest-energy particle collider and the starting location of their collaboration. Sigurður notes, “It’s exactly in this largest machine that man has ever made that we can see into the smallest molecules of the world. It was a very powerful place to start.”

Sound as Bodily Experience

Music plays a large role in Sigurður’s work. In the 90’s Sigurður was in a death metal band called Cranium (note: keep your eyes out for the upcoming remastered version of their album Abduction). On that he shares, “Then I went to art school in Copenhagen and the arts grabbed a hold of me- I haven’t been able to get away from them since.” continuing, “But music will always be in my roots and it most always appears in my work whether as music or sound.” He adds, “Music and sound are atmospheric, they make for a bodily experience of the work.”

The soundscape cuts through the center of the video-work, using a vertical stereo system, which shifts depending on where you are in the room. On that Sigurður shares, “I created the soundscape after the video material was ready with Valgeir Sigurðsson, who is an incredible artist. We tossed the material between each other, layered and filtered electronic sound. We were really going inside the material.”

For those who won’t see Perpetual Motion in Venice the work will be shown this fall in a new video exhibition space which has been built in Berg Contemporary in Reykjavík. Sigurður shares, “Alongside that I am working on an exhibition in the Reykjavík Art Museum where a mix of my older works will be curated in conversation to the Venice piece.”

Info: The 59th Venice Biennale which is open until November this fall, consists of a stunning curated group exhibition called “The Milk of Dreams” and 80 National Participants who represent their nations in their individual pavilions. Iceland’s pavilion which hosts Sigurður Guðjónssons work is located this time around for the first time ever in Arsenale- one of the two main exhibition sites.

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