From Iceland — Fiction Conflicting With Reality

Fiction Conflicting With Reality

Published May 27, 2009

Fiction Conflicting With Reality

I spent the day at the Kópavogur Museum of Natural History with artist Sigurrós Svava Ólafsdóttir as she explained the ideas and concepts behind the recent Artifacts exhibition, curated by Ingunn Fjóla Ingþórsdóttir and Þórdís Jóhannesdóttir.  
    The Museum is situated at the bottom of the Kópavogur library. Although small in size, it compacts in this space a substantial amount of native wild birds and sea life specimens. The participants of this group exhibition were an interesting mix between upcoming and more renowned artists concerned with humans’ effect on the environment. There was an exciting contrast between young artists such as Harpa Dögg Kjartansdóttir, whose Milli Heima installation revamped the algae tank and mimicked the plant life growing through an intricate collage of glossy magazine clippings. Close-up, the exotic looking collage was comprised of clocks, fruit, jewelry etc., giving the tank a new vibrancy and the artwork fanciful dimensions.
    This contrast was complimented by hosting more established artists, such as Hildur Bjarnadóttir, renowned for her textile art and contributions to the environmental art scene. Her Endurgjöf work, made specifically for the exhibition, consisted of dyed wool samples produced from the trees and plants around her mother’s home, which were then knitted into a pair of gloves engraved with her mother’s favourite native pattern. Each dyed wool sample reflected the colour of the leaves or bark that had been growing on her families’ land for years, capturing aspects of their memories and surrounding landscape.
The walk through
As we wandered around the collection, artworks could be seen hidden behind, in front of and around the artifacts.  The art was intertwined with the collection, blurring facts and fiction. The exhibit seemed to question the museum’s role of categorising and conserving history, suggesting whether society doesn’t emphasise enough on preserving natural artifacts outside historical institutions. Peter Thomsen demonstrated this well with his work Sandkassi. Consisting of sand he dug from the Hálslón dam site in Kárahnjúkar, just before it was built, he creates a miniature square sculpture that looks perfectly natural but is in fact unnaturally constructed. The piece was displayed alongside crystals that are found in land across Iceland, emphasising the importance of keeping natural heritage. Peter’s work was one of the first we saw before entering the collection of taxidermal birds and emerging artist Unnar Örn’s work Wardian-Garth – a small hut made from glass and wood panels illuminated by neon pink lights. The little shed was filled with postcards Unnar has been sending himself whilst on his travels. What’s fascinating about the piece is the contrast between the migrating birds that he displays next to, suggesting himself as one of these birds in flight.
Seeing Sea creatures
 Artist Harpa Árnadóttir’s collection of limestone and coral were appropriately placed in the shellfish section with practically no interference to their appearance apart from the arrangement. These particular lime algae are exported from Iceland to be produced into food supplement pills or to aid in the preparation of mortar and cement, but what effect will their overproduction have on their habitat? As artist Sigurrós Svava Ólafsdóttir said whilst explaining the work: “ It’s amazing, the amount of things that are happening to our environment that we just don’t know anything about.”
    Sigurrós was situated directly next to Harpa and for the exhibition had created a series of detailed drawings, juxtaposing the man-made and the natural. Although appearing random at first, most of the drawings were intended to have some narrative. For instance, the popcorn bag filled with dyed sheep’s wool was an anecdotal reference to her childhood growing up as a farmer’s daughter. The drawing conveyed the conjured scents of salty popcorn and freshly bound wool reminiscent of her youth.    
Nearing the exit
Anna Líndal is known for her practice of collecting and displaying household objects. Her installation evoked a conflicting parallel between the shells we collect and display for studying and the abundance of decorative ways we encounter these shells in our everyday lives. Part of the intrigue of the work is the relationship we have with the seashell and how we have formed an admiration for its beauty. Interestingly Anna is collaborating with two other contributors of the exhibition, Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir and Bjarki Bragason, on an ongoing project since 2007 named “The Branch Collective” in close co-operation with Safnasafn, the museum for outsider art in Svalbarðsströnd, northern Iceland.

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