From Iceland — Not For The Faint-Hearted

Not For The Faint-Hearted

Published May 29, 2014

Jónborg `Jonna' Sigurðardóttir takes unconventional to another level

Not For The Faint-Hearted
Fred Q. Labelle

Jónborg `Jonna' Sigurðardóttir takes unconventional to another level

While conformity isn’t what typically comes to mind when thinking of contemporary Icelandic designers, Akureyri’s Jónborg Sigurðardóttir took unconventional to another level, once again, with Flóðbylgja (`Tsunami’), her latest art installation that was displayed at Ketilhúsið from March 1 through April 6.

Flóðbylgja is a reflection on over-consumption and our object-glorifying society. Intrigued by the exhibition’s promotional self-portrait (which she entitled `Jonna Crowned With Trash,’ for the sake of this interview), I got in touch with Jónborg and luckily she was passing through Reykjavík and could answer some of my questions.

A Thoughtful Maverick

“Everybody knows who I am in Akureyri and they think she’s an artist and she can be strange,'” she says of her status in the tight community in North Iceland. This reputation follows from the installations and art pieces that she has been crafting for the last 20 years. Not that she would care if it were otherwise. “I do what I want when I want and I use whatever material I feel like using,” she says of her decision to use things like table leftovers, female sanitary products, clay, glass, plastic bags and fresh meat.

She is not trying to be scandalous just for the sake of it, though. “It’s important that artists have a message, so people take a pause to reflect on their lives and break the fast pace of their life, and that’s what I try to do myself. However, not every artist has to be political, some do pretty things that are enjoyable to look at and that is fair, too,” she explains.

Jónborg prefers her installations to be audacious. “Fifteen years ago, I felt like using tampons, so I dipped some in acrylic and went on to picture Akureyrikirkja [the Akureyri church]. The Church is very masculine and I wanted to portray it with women’s menstrual blood. Showing it in a feminine way gives the church purity and peacefulness,” she says. The tampon dots give a pointillism impression of the grand church, though not exactly in a Georges Seurat manner.

Jónborg 'Jonna' Sigurðardóttir's 'Mamma'

Her “Gaga Moment”

“This time around, I worked with food leftovers. For two months, I had put all my household’s table surpluses in the freezer, and the quantity was unbelievable. And I used to throw that away,” she says.

So she decided to test how she could use that food as the prime material of her next project. “I’ve put cheese, meat, vegetables, you name it, in plastic bags and I’ve let it all to rot to see what colour it would turn to, monitoring its evolution through the passing weeks.” The result fashions an amazing sight: a glass frame filled with dozens of food squares packed on top of each other and framed in glass, creating a colourful mosaic that melts and rots as the bacteria takes over and as gravity does its thing.

The message she wanted to convey is clear: “Acquiring all that crap is not important, as we all start naked and we’ll all be dust at the end of it,” she says. “We have a special environment in Iceland and we have to take care of it, to stop what’s going on, the exploitation, or it will all turn bad on us.”

Thus, the crumbling canvas evolves and is getting greener and more sordid, the message getting louder and louder. She also embraces her concern for Iceland’s nature. “I’ve put many big Icelandic company logos on windows and then dirtied them up with clay. I’m giving them shit for taking away our land, which we sold to them stupidly,” she explains.

Plastic surgery has been another question she’s wanted to tackle for some time now. “The emphasis on glamour is silly. It’s ridiculous that doctors get paid and waste time on making bigger boobs or more aesthetic vaginas,” she says of the growing trends. “They should be saving lives and helping people in need.”

Jónborg 'Jonna' Sigurðardóttir's rotting vagina

Thus, she sewed together a 30-40 centimetre (depending on its rotting stage) super realistic female genitalia out of meat in her kitchen with three nurse friends. “It’s rotting in a glass box now, showing how we’ll all end up anyway. People have to realise it,” she says.

The mischievous smile on her face summarises it all: strong imagery is the tip of her wisdom iceberg.

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