While many Icelandic artists are quick to cite nature as their inspiration, Haraldur is fascinated by the built environment. “Building is a state of mind,” he says. “Architecture affects the way we think.” When BERG Contemporary called Haraldur Jónsson to commission an exhibit, he thought of it as a pregnancy. “I was invited into a space that didn’t exist,” he explains. “I was very inspired by that. It was like a pregnancy. It shaped the whole exhibition.”
Along the widest wall in the gallery are seven colourfully constructed ‘floorplans;’ on the floor of the gallery is a pond of black maps. Projected across the back of the gallery is a video from the opening of the exhibit itself. At the opening, before the video had been developed, Haraldur says that the light beams from the projector cast skin-coloured shadows against the wall. “That was completely unexpected, these naked shadows.”
In the video he asks for five volunteers and then narrows them down using an Icelandic “eenie-meenie-miney-moe” strategy. The final volunteer is the covered by a blanket and led by Haraldur around the exhibit and then outside the gallery. The camera trails them around the block; the volunteer stops to process curbs, feels her way around fences, and is finally led back into the gallery. Haraldur sets her where the journey began, and the blanket is withdrawn suddenly. At that same moment someone snaps a polaroid photo, which now hangs framed, opposite the ‘floorplans’ wall.
“I wanted that moment, the landscape of her face,” Haraldur says of the polaroid, “We can see the way the perception and experience is developed on the human face. It’s a way of getting into the ‘core,’ a ‘moment of truth.’”
It would be hard to find a more stimulating streetscape than Reykjavík’s right now. With pits of potential hotels hollowing out the blocks and construction work spilling into sidewalks, Haraldur has a lot to look at. A lot to take in. A lot to become. “Iceland is being produced,” he says, referring to the construction of its tourist industry. “Everything has become set design. The cafés, the hostels…” he says, with a glimmer of humour in his face.
“The 66° North campaign ‘On Location’ is brilliant! Tourists walk around looking at these ads, while they are here, ‘on location’ in Iceland,” he exclaims. “You’re neither inside nor outside,” he says as he widens his stance and starts jumping across an invisible border of inside and outside, “just vibrating between existential domains.” He is laughing and continues jumping between the domains.
“Art is always an opening,” Haraldur says, “into different dimensions. It’s a gateway.” He swings his arms open and welcomes in his environment, in all its intensity, in all its subtlety. Haraldur doesn’t just open the doors, he builds them.
Haraldur Jónsson’s exhibition is open to the public at BERG Contemporary until 10 December, and can be viewed by appointment thereafter. BERG is open 11-17 Tuesday-Friday and 13-17 Saturdays.
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