A loud clanking sound echoes ominously from behind the large metal doors of Iceland’s Sculpture Association building. As I ring the bell, I wonder what could be happening inside. Chains rattle, and tools roar. Eventually the door opens, and the smiling, paint-splattered face of Katrín I. Jónsdóttir Hjördísardóttir appears, under the brim of a bright red hat. “Come in,” she smiles. “Welcome!”
The space is littered with large letters made from what appears to be scrap metal of various types. Katrín walks around the space, gathering them together and laying them out on the ground. As she adds new letters, “Sjá” becomes “Sjálf,” then “Sjálfsá,” and, eventually “Sjálfsást”—or “self love,” in English.
The piece will be hung outdoors at Mjódd, a somewhat charmless bus interchange and shopping area in the Reykjavík suburbs, as part of a group exhibition called ‘Úthverfi,’ or ‘Suburbs.’ “What makes me so excited about this is to try and integrate art into places where there isn’t much to find,” says Katrín. “You blur the line between art and everyday life. Shopping malls should be places to put artwork.”
A contract with yourself
Katrín is fully engaged with the idea of artistic outreach. Like many artists, she seems slightly frustrated by confining her work to objects in museums as the wider world passes by in the street outside. So, as part of the project, she will be present at Mjódd, standing beneath her sign and offering passers-by a contract to sign.
However, rather than a new home insurance or phone agreement, this contract is one that people sign only with themselves. “It will have the date, and the Sculpture Association logo,” says Katrín. “It says ‘I, (then their name), promise to love myself always.’ I find this line between life and art so fascinating. When I stand there asking people to sign a contract with themselves about self love, I’ll seem like anyone else who’d be there trying to sell them something. It’s hilarious, in a way, and wonderful… but I’m not selling them anything. It’s just encouraging self love. It’s something for them.”
Sentimental and rough
Aside from the performances and the opening night, the sign itself will stand alone for the duration of the exhibition.
“The concept is sentimental, but the materials are rough,” says Katrín. “Those two elements merge together, like reality and unreality. It’s a sign, like propaganda in a way—but instead of being negative, or a warning sign, it’s trying to integrate positivity into this language.”
One of many possible outcomes is that the artwork will act as a distortion in the neighbourhood, turning peoples’ minds away from day-to-day matters and towards useful introspection, or bigger questions about life.
“If we had interesting or exciting or beautiful art happening along with architecture, the landscape would bring us more fulfillment,” says Katrín. “It would be so easy to turn urban places into beautiful situations, if we put our minds to it—and funded it. We have the talented people to make it happen. It would be cool to see. Because art is challenging—you’re dealing with something odd in the surroundings.”
Katrín is excited and intrigued by whether it will stand out from, or merge into the urban environment. “Maybe people will see the sign and think it’s going to be a sex shop,” she laughs. “I really don’t know what will happen! And I like that.”
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