From Iceland — THE PRESENT IS OVER! Helena Margrét Jónsdóttir Talks Ghosts, 2020 & The Importance Of Humour

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Art Bicnick

As a flicker of light appears at the end of the pandemic tunnel, we sat down with the next generation of Icelandic artists to discuss the future. The conversations were freeform—some focused on the upcoming years, others reflected on realisations from the past months, others still looked with wide-eyes at the future of the scene, which has only grown within the restrictions of the coronavirus.

Presenting, an artistic vision of the future, as told by the future. First up? Helena Margrét Jónsdóttir.

Helena Margrét Jónsdóttir. Photo by Art Bicnick

Helena Margrét Jónsdóttir

When the Grapevine spoke with Helena Margrét Jónsdóttir, it’s the day before the opening of her first solo exhibition ‘Draugur uppúr öðrum draug’ (‘A Ghost Of Another Ghost’) at Hverfisgallerí.

“Getting through unpleasant or tough moments with humour and seeing the hilarity in them, that’s the only way to do it, because what is the other option?”

“When you see someone who looks really bad, in Icelandic you say they look like a ghost of another ghost,” Helena explains. “So I was working with that state of being, like a person who is almost a shadow of herself. She’s not really present. She’s see-through.”

Aesthetically, Helena played with these notions by blurring the lines between flat backgrounds and two-dimensional details—eventually ending up with a series of large blue-scale works featuring everything from disconnected limbs and Draumur candy bars to shiny spiders on tongues.

“The work I was doing previously was all about longing. I would have these long hands that were tangled. So it was like you’re getting in your own way. You’re being so complicated about, you know, getting a candy bar,” she says, referring back to the aforementioned Draumur candy bars. “This was in a direct line from that, but now, instead of tackling yourself, you’re kind of invisible.”

Artwork by Helena Margrét Jónsdóttir.

Ghosts with the jokes

The exhibition is relatable, fitting within the 2020-21 vibe—everyone has had their fair share of ghost-of-a-ghost moments in lockdown.

But it’s Helena’s interplay of humour and tragedy that feels particularly poignant. “I have these dark subjects, these ghosts and spiders that are traditionally connected to horror, but I wanted them to be humorous,” she explains. It’s this comical look at tragedy that’s emblematic of the pandemic zeitgeist.

“I think getting through unpleasant or tough moments with humour and seeing the hilarity in them, that’s the only way to do it, because what is the other option?” Helena says. And in the face of wide-scale problems like a worldwide pandemic, impending climate change and political unrest, Helena’s right. What is the other option?

“These are such big concepts that you can’t really do anything about as an individual, so the only thing you can do, instead of despairing and living under your bed for a whole year…” she laughs, before shrugging. “You kind of have to look at the funny side.”

Artwork by Helena Margrét Jónsdóttir.

Social distancing?

And Helena doesn’t just talk the talk—she, no doubt, walks the funny walk. Helena’s a comedian, with a dry, toned down, almost deadpan sense of humour that sneaks up on you when you talk to her.

“Like what is social distancing? That is my life!”

When asked about her experience as a whole in 2020, Helena, fittingly, points out the silliness of it. Grinning, she admits she didn’t really find a difference between pandemic life versus her normal one, neither in her artistic practice nor in her personal one.

“I’m always in my studio working, so when the pandemic came and everyone was like, ‘Oh, we have to social distance now’ I was like, I have been socially distancing since I began working,” she laughs. “I’m not meeting anybody. I’m just there every day and then I go home.”

“Like what is social distancing? That is my life!”

Artwork by Helena Margrét Jónsdóttir.

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