Highlighting (I)ndependent people

Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir reviews the highlights of the Reykjavík Art Festival visual art focus, (I)ndependent people.

A kassen, detail. Photo: Pétur Thomsen

Taking over most of Reykjavík’s exhibition spaces these days is a large scale exhibition on Nordic art collaborations titled (I)ndependent people, Collaborations and Artist Initiatives, curated by Swedish Jonatan Habib Engqvist. The exhibition is part of the Reykjavík Art Festival, this year turning its focus on visual art.

The criteria for exhibitors at (I)ndependent people, an exhibition project originally concieved around alternative art practices in Nordic countries, was Scandinavian groups who in turn collaborate with other groups, engaged with society around them. Some of the artist groups are new constallations, others are old and proven. The rule is: no solo shows. As stated by the curator in his introduction, the project “relies on participants relinquishing their subjectivity, or momentarily placing it in parenthesis”, referencing the project’s logo the (I) – the ego, the self, separated from Independent people, the title of a novel by Iceland’s beloved Nobel-prize novelist, Halldór Laxness (1902-1998). The project attempts to apply ways commonly used by artist initiatives, most importantly collaboration and the transcending of one’s ego, to a large-scale institutional project.

Volumes for Sound – Dubbin & Davidson
The Living Art Museum
19. 05. – 15. 07. 2012

For their exhibition at The Living Art Museum Melissa Dubbin & Aaron S. Davidson, working collectively since 1998, have constructed wooden sculptures that serve as speakers. They were used for musical performances during the opening and continue to be used by Icelandic electronic musicians on six weekly concerts. Each performer has the liberty to arrange the sculptures as desired, creating a new installation each time.

Dubbin & Davidson, “Volumes for sound”. Installation view. Photo: Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir.

In addition to the speaker sculptures Dubbin & Davidson  show a video work The New Noise, (2010) which shows sand vibrating on top of a drum, but with the screaming lack of sound. They also display black/white photographs of vacant concrete shipyards taken from above. They resemble speakers in shape, echoing emptiness.

Dubbin & Davidson, “The New Noise”, 2010, Photo: Pétur Thomsen

Entering the space on a performance with pumping volume and sound filling the space is one thing. An altogether different thing is coming in the in-between, when the installation is completely silent. By creating volumes for sound, and then not always fill it, the artists also point out the lack of it. The absence of sound becomes an almost visible volume, turning silence into negative sound; enhancing as well the negative space in all the “empty” parts of the museum, that sound could otherwise seep into. A sentiment further enhanced by the contrasting black/white photographs, resembling school projects on positive/negative space. It is simultaneously a potential for future sounds and a memory of sounds past, bouncing through volumes of space and time.

Open; Wait – Silvia Bächli & Margrét H. Blöndal
19. 05. – 30. 6. 2012

Margrét Blöndal, “Untitled”. Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery, Reykjavík.

In Open; Wait the works of Silvia Bächli and Margrét Blöndal meet, in the two artists’ first show together. Bächli shows gouaches and ink works on paper, mounted directly on the wall in a straight forward manner and Blöndal’s sculptures, though small in scale, occupy the space from floor to ceiling installed in different levels in the space. Putting the two together makes perfect sense.

The exhibition’s title is remarkably accurate.To enjoy the exhibition, after entering its openness, requires patience. It has to sink in. One needs to stay still for a while and let the air settle before managing to feel the vibrations from the works that then gradually fill the room. Characterized by honesty in the choice and use of materials the works are thorough and complete. A sense for the entire process becomes present with the exceptional use of materials and almost performative timing, always stopping the process at precise crucial moments.

The two artists’ works were mixed together in the show, causing me to slightly miss having the space to enjoy each of them on its own terms, particularly since Blöndal’s delicately determined sculptures, hanging from the ceiling, are fully capable of claiming the entire white space below. The mere act of putting the artists in one show is enough to make the serene connection between the two.

That however does not stop the joy of the delicate excitement of Margrét Blöndal’s sculptures. The sense for material, balance and composition is enchanting. The sculptures are full of faith and potential – not for a moment do the materials doubt their existence and power to shine and stand out in the artist’s hands, despite being ones often discarded as insignificant; plastic, sticks, string, fabric, cardboard and so on.

Traces of Bächli’s process are evident; pencil strokes and pigments, scattering time and leaving it behind. It requires the audience to let go of chronology and logic and get lost in the works’ flow of time. A comforting earthy stability that balances Blöndal’s airy sculptures.

Silvia Bächli, installation view. Courtesy the artist and i8 gallery, Reykjavík

Finally curator Chris Fite-Wassilak’s text Analogies accompanying the exhibition has to be mentioned. He quotes others, mixing it with original texts and most importantly personal footnotes that work individually but can also be read together. The text follows the rythms of the works and lets it beat throughout, constructed without superficial logic but in total harmony with the exhibition. To quote one of Fite-Wassilak’s footnotes, this one to a comment on the Big Bang Theory, taken from a radio interview with Brian Greene: “Conversationally, [the works] might seem elsewhere, with the bright gleam of idealism in the eye, but then what they’re saying. It’s all hard facts. Gritty scrutiny.” I can’t really put it any better.

A kassen
Kling & Bang
19. 05. – 16. 06. 2012

As the old masters pulveried minerals into pigments to create coloured paint A kassen artists create their own paint. Except their pigments do not come from natural materials but everyday mass-produced or common household objects, such as a bicycle, a box of pens and a plant that they smash to pieces and add binding agents to in order to make paint for unique works.

A kassen, detail. Photo: Pétur Thomsen

In the exhibition at Kling & Bang they use their homemade paint to create clean minimal squares, shown next to framed photographs of the respective objects. (For full disclosure, I am a member of Kling & Bang, but unaffiliated with the artists and did not work on this particular show)

The exhibition leads to thoughts about the artist and his work as well as honestly working with colour texture and composistion. It is extremely well behaved on the surface but underlying it there is some disobedience, a will to explore and stir things up. On entering the room the monochromes all seem calm and similar but when each work is approached the turmoil is more obvious, the texture reveals the coarse mess behind each creation. So it is about color, surface, texture and art. It also hints at the relativity of things, a box of pens can fit in your hand or cover a huge square on a wall, but it is still the same box of pens.

Having explored the gallery’s main room one enters a small space on the side where two more monochromes of glistening gold and silver await. Upon closer examination one notices that to create the silver one A kassen had to sacrifice the Oxford dictionary, it is quite grey with the shredded paper clearly visible.The golden one is made out of a coarsely grinded wooden chair, all brown and yellow. I didn’t expect to see them shimmer again after the revelation of their true nature but remarkably, undergoing the process of this transformation and with the necessary element of distance they do turn into precious fields.

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