The neat stacks of the Mosfellsbær Library don’t stop abruptly at the door of the exhibition that lies hidden behind it; rather, they seem to continue on inside. The first piece, hung from crisp white walls, looks rather like a stack of shelves, or perhaps some sort of play shelf. After all, it’s made of fabric — hardly something the librarians can arrange their books on. Beyond this, a metal frame forms the shape of a chair. From a distance, it appears three dimensional, but a closer inspection shows it flattened against the wall, as unfit for function as the “shelves” that came before it. Together, these objects form the entrance to Guðlaug Mía Eyþórsdóttir’s new exhibition ‘Milli Hluta.’
Leave it at that
“It’s a reference to an Icelandic saying that we have,” Guðlaug says, explaining the origins of the exhibition’s name. “‘Liggur á milli hluta,’ which means ‘lies between objects.’ It’s a bit like, ‘leave it at that’, so it’s a play with words. I could say that the meaning of the exhibition itself is lying between the objects.”
While this might sound a bit like the English phrase “to read between the lines”, there’s no true direct translation of the Icelandic saying.
“It makes more sense in Icelandic,” Guðlaug laughs. “When you read between the lines the meaning is still there, but with ‘liggur á milli hluta’ you cast the meaning aside. You just leave it at that, you don’t read into it. Is there a meaning or simply none at all?”
Familiar yet unfamiliar
Like the title, the exhibition repeatedly teases the viewer with meaning and then with its absence. Each object is familiar yet unfamiliar: almost recognisable as an everyday object, but never quite. Is that a cabinet? Well, sort of, but certainly not one you could keep anything in. Moreover, there are no titles or placards to help the viewer out. Instead, each piece stands anonymously, spaced evenly around the white room, silently begging questions but answering none.
“You construct the meaning with your presence in the space,” Guðlaug answers. “My starting point is the forms that surround us everyday: a texture, a form, a material. And I take those forms and I reshuffle them — try out different colours or scales. You could come here and see what looks like a cabinet, and then what looks like a shelf and you decide that it’s an office space. You develop your own meaning out of the familiar objects that surround you.”
Figure it out
Though Guðlaug takes her inspiration from everyday objects, she concedes that her ideas often start more abstractly: with an atmosphere or space. This particular exhibition started with the idea of a library, the very one she’s exhibiting in. Guðlaug’s early idea suggested a series of objects — a shelf, drawers — and once placed in the exhibition space, those objects would construct their own new meaning in relation to one another. One viewer, she explains, might look at them and see a library; another, a bedroom. That’s why Guðlaug doesn’t, or perhaps can’t, explain where each piece of inspiration came from, even as she walks around the exhibition: it’s more fun for the viewer to have to figure it out for themselves.
Fundamentally, what fascinates Guðlaug, she emphasises, is forms. She quotes the Danish art historian Rudolf Broby-Johansen: “Things live longer than people and forms live much longer than the objects themselves.” It’s a sentiment that’s easy to view when confronted with her work.
Guðlaug’s forms are at once familiar yet bewilderingly unfamiliar, representative of everyday objects, but never fully taking those objects’ shapes. In ‘Milli Hluta,’ she abandons the objects’ limitations and retreats to the platonic form: form that retains beauty, but exists without function.
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