Artist Ragna Róbertsdóttir remains remarkably calm even though this is not just some regular glass. She inspects the damage to the giant, now broken panel. So far, they have installed four panels, but eventually the glass will cover the entire 24 meters of the wall in the Central Gallery. This is the sixth panel that will break today and amazingly she is not worried about her art. Instead, she feels bad for the people installing it.
She is strength and serenity embodied, not unlike the art she creates. She accepts her work is either fixed or fleeting but never mobile, the way a sculpture or painting is. The installations are either present for the limited duration of a show, never to be seen in the same way again, or they are glued to the wall for infinity. Such is her newest oeuvre, a 27-meter long glass-scape in a cultural center in Sweden, a project that was done in close cooperation with the architects.
Ragna’s work is exceptionally site specific; the retrospective aspect of her show at Kjarvalsstaðir is therefore debatable. Take for example her paintings…well actually you can’t take them anywhere. Inked directly onto the wall of the museum, the shape may be the same as she has used before but never has it been in the same context. And most importantly, when the exhibit is gone, so is the painting.
Some parts of the exhibit are old, such as the rolls of Icelandic turf that have been with her since the mid 1980’s, and they can never be displayed in the same way twice. And yet there is something permanent about this beautiful, well cared for piece of land. As if our only way of preserving land is to roll it up and display it.
Once the onerous glass panels are up they will be filled with tiny pebbles of black lava. Outside, on the other side of the courtyard, a mirroring 24-meter long path of red lava will replace the regular walkway. Lava, usually from the area surrounding Mount Hekla, is one of the key materials of Ragna’s art. She picks the lava herself, making sure that she doesn’t take too much, respecting the environment that both literally and figuratively gives her material.
The work which she is perhaps most famous for is her glued-on art. She draws up large rectangles, fills them with glue and attaches pebbles of lava, glass or fiberglass. The next day she assesses the character of the patterns of chance and works them into patterns of design. All the while she allows herself to be inspired by the light in the room, the quality of the wall and architecture, her personal life, and Iceland. Of course, Icelanders may be her harshest critics. She reveals that a regular comment she gets is: “Lava rocks on the wall? Well, I can do that!” To this she merely shrugs and says “Go ahead”.
The next time I break a glass it might just end up on the wall.
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