101 Projects: Silenced - The Reykjavik Grapevine

101 Projects: Silenced

101 Projects: Silenced

Published April 3, 2009

A critical part of Iceland’s society, the arts, is feeling the impact of the economic crisis, as businesses are losing sponsors and funding. One art space that has sadly fallen victim to this crisis is 101 Projects. 101 Projects is tucked away on Hverfisgata and has been presenting challenging and thought provoking art shows, under the recent curatorship of Birta Guðjónsdóttir. It has established a programme which instigates a more critical discourse in the arts here in Iceland, and is unfortunately just in the beginning stages.
A common thread between the artists Guðjónsdóttir has chosen is that most of them are not content with the now and want to change and improve society. Leaning towards the opposite side of the commercial art world and exhibiting international diverse artists, these shows are about art and the world, and how we see the world.
Since the space was turned into a project space from a gallery last year, three of the four shows have featured women artists. Even though it is a rare statistic in the global art world, it is less of an issue in the Icelandic art scene. Icelanders have a history of a feminist lineage: it is a country that allowed women to vote earlier than most nations, as well as having a female president in 1980, a female director of the National Gallery of Iceland in 1988, a female mayor of Reykjavík in 1994, and, now, a female Prime Minister; women artists certainly seem to have fair representation here.
It is noteworthy that this high percentage of strong women voices in an art space is disturbingly unusual outside Iceland, even in big cities like New York. For instance, the Museum of Modern Art in New York still only shows approximately 30% women artists. New York art critic Jerry Saltz has frequently remarked on the under-representation of women artists in museums and galleries in his writing. The high percentage of women artists shown at 101 Projects is an example of how the space is progressive and significant in the context of the art world.
A Closer Look    
In November 2008, 101 Projects exhibited the artist Mathilde ter Heijne. The stark white gallery was bare except for ten postcard stands on the floor. The postcards displayed black and white photographs of random women spanning across time and regional maps. On the back of each postcard there was a brief biography about a specific woman, but not the one photographed. The bio emphasized how this woman contributed to society, whether as a leader, a fighter or a philanthropist. The photograph created this personal connection with the story even though they are not related. Viewers in the gallery were welcome to take postcards with them. The process of looking, reading and taking a woman who was way ahead of her time and shaped our world today, was an empowering experience.
Most recently, 101 Projects has been exhibiting The Last Silent Movie by the monumental artist, Susan Hiller. Upon entering the stripped down space you have a sense that the work is emphasising something missing. The space is cold and quiet, even though there is the sound coming from the speakers above. Voices from another time are intimately talking, whispering and singing to you in their endangered language, which may not exist today. The exhibition focuses on a video and sound piece, which is a projected black screen with English subtitles of the sound that you hear.  There are twenty-four etchings of sound waves around the perimeter of the room with English translations. It is striking how the voices personally communicate with the viewer. Some share stories and some speak of injustice, which demonstrates that these languages are anything but silent. The body of work focuses on languages that are extinct or on the brink of no longer being practiced which is, as Birta sees it, especially relevant for Iceland, since the Icelandic language is such an old language and only spoken by around 320,000 in the world.
Susan Hiller is American born and has been living in the UK for the past 30 years. Even though under-recognised, she is an extremely accomplished artist and writer and has influenced many artists, such as Douglas Gordon and Ann Hamilton. As a studied anthropologist, inspired by death, memory, language, and perception, her work sits in between art and social practice and science. Hiller has demonstrated in The Last Silent Movie, as well as others such as From the Freud Museum 1991–6, that art can be about life and death, and how death can be lived.
As you read this, 101 Projects has been forced to close their doors. It is clear that short-term art spaces are common in Iceland, but it is disappointing and discouraging to witness the true potential of a space get cut short. As Susan Hiller revealed to us: when something is no longer here, that doesn’t mean it is lost. Hopefully new art spaces will emerge to continue what 101 Projects has started and the existing galleries will not suffer the same fate. At times like these, creativity and critical thinking is what this country needs the most.
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