Published December 7, 2017
Each artist must determine the moment when a new piece of art feels finished and ready to be revealed to the world. For Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir, a visual artist whose exhibition ‘Garður’ is currently on display at Reykjavík Art Museum, a piece can never really be completed. It relies on the process itself.
‘Garður,’ the Icelandic word for garden, can evoke domesticated nature, such as a suburban home’s lawn, or wilderness and mountain ranges in a different context. The main components are Icelandic rocks from Sundahöfn harbour, which Anna Rún sculpted and treated with materials. Suspended above these rocks, containers of coloured liquid are rigged to drip every hour, watering them and changing their appearance. Slowly they transform both in colour and in texture, as chemical compounds on the rocks, like salt, react to the stimuli.
Authority & powerlessness
Anna Rún’s central philosophy is rooted in the state of absolute authority over a situation while being completely powerless to control it at the same time. “It’s a sort of friction that I find exciting and can be presented in many different ways,” she tells me as we chat over coffee in her Berlin home.
“It plays on how we position ourselves toward nature and how society constantly demands that we encroach upon it,” Anna Rún explains. “It’s a twisted spot we’re in. Scientists are calling this era the anthropocene—this period of time from when mankind started to significantly impact the world. We tend to define everything from the perspective of humans and how we understand and perceive things. I try to mirror our function down to a material or even molecular level, through the use of matter we consider as being inanimate.”
Growing up, Anna Rún benefited from learning about different materials and how the physical world functions. She was fascinated by these subjects, ranging from how electricity works to the effects of yeast on dough. She says that if it wasn’t for visual art, which she studied in Reykjavík and Montreal, she might have gone into chemistry.
The techniques applied by Anna Rún inevitably lead to the artwork morphing from day one up until the final day of the exhibition. Many artists tend to be protective of their final product, but she sees the process as a part of it, much like a performance artist would. “I find it more difficult to imagine handing in something conclusive,” she says. “Visual artists run the risk of becoming hermits, working alone unless they’re in a collective. I try to be aware of not becoming rigid and wanting to control everything. I feel that everything is in motion and nothing is solid. It’s been a throughline in my work. Even when I’ve created more traditional two-dimensional art, which isn’t process-based like this, it’s been the theme.”
Anna Rún argues that even when artwork hasn’t changed visibly, the viewer will have changed, to some degree, since the last time they saw it. “I love being able to revisit a piece of art that has affected me, knowing that it’s still there,” she says. “And even if it triggers the same response in me, there’s always a new experience to be had each time. I would consider my exhibition to be a material performance, where the piece exists in the moment it is being viewed. Art doesn’t exist without the viewer, and that applies to visual art as well.”
In the moment
Anna Rún and her husband, theatrical director Þorleifur Örn Arnarsson, made the move to Berlin last year, after a long period of working on projects all over Europe while keeping a home base in Iceland. They’ve spent time together in Germany before and it was there that Anna Rún started doing set design for Þorleifur’s plays and discovered the possibilities that come with theatre.
“Þorleifur works in a very open way and creates a good energy within the group, which results in freedom to do things your own way within the collaboration,” she says. “What I liked the most was experiencing cooperation where you stopped separating the individual from the whole in the creative process—feeling how the partition between you and the others dissolves as ideas become a shared possession. It’s a magical thing, and healthy for me as a visual artist and someone who works alone. There’s never only one final product which is the correct one. It’s a living process, from rehearsals to each and every show. Everyone needs to be 100 percent in the moment.”
For the last few years, however, Anna Rún has sidelined the theatre to focus on her own visual art. The methodology she employed in her theatre work, however, seems to harmonise with her solo work—this surrendering to the inevitability of change and handing control over to randomness. She’ll explore this further in an exhibition at A.M. Concept Space in Reykjavík, which opens on January 3rd, and in an upcoming solo exhibition in Berlin, currently in development with curator Guðný Guðmundsdóttir.
Ann Rún also plans to return to Disko Arts Festival this summer, a remote festival in Greenland which has partly served as a platform for local and international artists to form connections and go on to showcase their art abroad. “I’ve been involved in the festival since the beginning, four or five years ago,” she says. “It’s held in a tiny village north of Ilulissat on the west coast, by Disko Bay. This year, there were about 40 artists joining the 40 locals in the area, with more than 200 people coming in by boat or hiking from nearby villages for the closing event.”
City and nature
With her work being so linked to the themes and mechanics of nature, Anna Rún says she’s come to realize how important it is to her to be close to wilderness. Living in Berlin has a different rhythm altogether.
“Even though Icelanders are raised in a very European society, we face wild and crazy weather and unstable elements,” she says. “It’s so different from living in a big city, a manufactured area for human existence, built to service our needs. We’re at a point in human history where we have to balance this with the idea of conserving the resources needed to create this kind of reality. In Reykjavík you can look around and see nature, the mountains, the ocean, almost 360 degrees. In Berlin, I don’t have any of this. Being here has stirred something in my subconscious.”