Six horizontal trees spin slowly in a dimly lit room, outlined only by the remains of their ever-fading leaves and branches, which litter the floor around you, crunching under your feet as you walk through them. Only months earlier, the trees were vibrant, hydrated and healthy—their stalks flexible and swaying as they rotated lazily on their axis.
But, of course, they were dead then as they are dead now. Six trees slowly exciting the world—an autopsy in front of your eyes, allowing you to witness, in real time, the degradation of what was once life.
Enter ‘Hringfarar’ the newest installation by artist Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir.
The prose of death
The aforementioned six, Anna explains, were sourced from local forest brushers. “They take out trees that either don’t need to be there or shouldn’t be there, so these are trees that were not determined to end their lives through me, but through another agency, and now I’ve brought them into this situation,” she says softly, sitting back in a side-room of the museum. “I am bringing them into a situation where they are slowly becoming their own shrine and going through the process of leaving their earthly existence. These are trees that have been alive for decades, so there is a lot of accumulated life that is vanishing. These are the processes that living creatures go through when exiting. It’s almost like prose or a poem.”
Anna sees this act—this slow witnessing of natural death—as a confrontation for humanity.
“I am interested in what happens when you are faced with this sort of setting, we make decisions on an everyday basis that have some consequence on our environment, or rather unavoidably are consequential within a web of relations that forms the interdependent life of the planet.” she explains. “ I´m sort of obsessed with the bluff or the double standard that we perhaps crucially maintain in order to go about living our daily lives within the construction of human society. It is challenging to be aware of these interrelations in every moment. It is necessary to allow ourselves the bluff but its even more crucial to feel the connection, to witness and to be present for something outside of ourselves. These contemplations have been chronicling in my work for a long time.”
Changing the hierarchy
Anna’s installation is part of the ‘Iðavöllur: Icelandic Art In The 21st Century’ exhibition, which saw 14 artists take over the entirety of Hafnarhús to showcase the work of an entire generation. While there were no specific guidelines for the creators, the loose overarching concept was to explore the massive changes this generation has seen since their coming of age, be that social, political, or ecological.
Anna’s piece fits in well then. It attacks this topic dead on, forcing the viewer back into the natural world that humanity has, especially within our lifetimes, pushed to the sidelines. It puts into focus the hierarchies that we have become naturally accustomed to—those which deem the Earth to be the servant of man and nature a commodity. Because in light of our current climate catastrophe, those hierarchies are now indisputable ones—unconscious tenets of a civilization where it’s cheaper to buy new resources than repair old ones. Anna hopes, though, that we can soon move beyond these beliefs and redesign our own universal beliefs.
“We need to re-contextualise our relationship to and with and within the natural world, including all our systems and structures and technologies. We need to make it all work as a sustainable part of the whole” she says. “Re-discover how to talk about things and how systems of definitions have been laid down, renegotiating our value system, we do have the mental capacity to do so”
But Anna’s questions go deeper—pushing at the heart of our core beliefs. “This is much more than climate change. This has to do with how we relate to our surroundings. It’s on a very basic and primitive level about interdependencies and inter-relation” she states strongly. “Our human nature is that we will always be full of contradictions. We need to embrace that but we also need to make clear guidelines on where we are a danger to ourselves and the sustainability of us as a species—no less the sustainability of the entire planet. This comes down, in some form, to ethics.”
A brutal contemplation
Anna intentionally presents no prescribed solutions to these problems—in fact, part of her confrontation is that there are no prescribed solutions, for if there were, we wouldn’t be in this situation.
“I’m a visual artist. I’m not a scientist or an engineer,” she smiles. “My work is not to produce solutions; my work is to produce contemplations and I think that’s just as necessary for the human spirit.”
And walk through the installation, and you can’t help but be ambushed by the brutality of time. A live presentation of death, it’s a play in its most primal form—no embalming, no shroud and no tomb. Just a room with a rotating machine presenting the thread that connects us all: mortality.
“There are six bodies in this space, six bodies rotating and changing and dying,” she concludes. “I think no matter who you are or how you think about things, your body is affected by witnessing this.”
‘Iðavöllur: Icelandic Art In The 21st Century’ runs at Hafnarhús until October 17th.
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