- Kirsten Nicholas
Perched between the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, Iceland boasts both geological and cultural wonders. Glaciers and lava fields characterize the country’s largely uninhabited landscape, whilst the world’s most northerly capital, Reykjavík, combines small-town charm with big-city vibrancy. Contemporary Icelandic artists draw inspiration from their unique surroundings, creating internationally acclaimed work that declares Iceland an artistic hub. The following list of ten artists illustrates the country’s artistic diversity.
The natural and the manmade collide in the collaged works of Icelandic born, LA-based artist Heimir Björgúlfsson. Visualizing the notion of surreal dislocation, Björgúlfsson’s works are an amalgamation of disparate elements that illustrate the fragmented definition of place in contemporary society. Animals occupy, but do not inhabit, sparse landscapes, existing as outsiders in the natural world, while industrial components are superimposed on geological images. In addition to his two-dimensional work, Björgúlfsson also creates uncanny composites of realistic animals and quotidian objects. Exhibiting sculptures and canvases together, Björgúlfsson’s displays place viewers in the middle of a world that illuminates the transience and malleability of place and location.
Icelandic born, New York-based artist Katrin Sigurdardóttir creates installations and sculptures that explore the dynamic relationship between body, perception and memory. Playing with the concept of miniatures, Sigurdardóttir harnesses the power of perspective to physically and visually engage viewers. Whether modeling a large-scale environment on a reduced scale for High Plane V (2007) or creating miniature models of parks for Green Grass of Home (1997), Sigurdardóttir’s work skews perception of physical spaces in order to elucidate the varied connotations people associate with ‘place’ and ‘home’. Her recent installation at the 2013 Venice Biennale garnered widespread international acclaim.
Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson
Working together since 1997, art duo Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson create provocative works that explore the prescient topics of belonging and exclusion. For the 19th Biennale of Sydney, they collaborated with The Refugee Art Project to create a sculpture, entitled Bosbolobosboco #6 (Departure-Transit-Arrival), that invites the audience to listen to four different refugee stories. Introducing people to real stories of displacement highlights an overlooked facet of society. Their ongoing campaign, Your Country Doesn’t Exist, further clarifies their attitude towards globalization and cross-cultural exchange. By reproducing these words in various media since 2003, they aim to incite ruminations on territorial questioning and national denial. This project was the cornerstone of their pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011.
Conceptually-driven artist Rúrí explores weighted philosophical notions of identity, time, and relativity. Through immersive installations, outdoor sculptures and performances, she hopes to deepen humanity’s understanding of existence by illuminating the natural world. Water-driven environmental wonders like rainbows and waterfalls are recurring motifs that illustrate the international universality of this element – water knows no bounds. Her acclaimed work Vocal VI (2012) projects a large waterfall onto a wall, while another projection turns the ground into the surface of a man-made reservoir. Texts by authors who are critical of mega-damming projects scroll along the floor, reminding visitors to be cognizant of environmental impact projects. Rúrí’s provocative works aim to highlight the transience and beauty of life.
The Icelandic Love Corporation
Composed of three female artists – Eirún Siguròardóttir, Jóní Jónsdóttir and Sigrún Hrólfsdóttir – The Icelandic Love Corporation has been working together since graduating from the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts in 1996. The ILC blends humor, honesty, and playfulness to present subtle social critiques from a female perspective. Works such as Wheel (2011) highlight the taboo nature and weighted concept of the female reproductive cycle. A large wooden wheel carved with sexual organs is filled with varying hues of red pantyhose – a recurring element in their practice. Similar to their other works, the layered meaning of this visually engaging piece is not immediately apparent. The ILC is also known for their alluringly beautiful performances that transport viewers to imaginative worlds of discovery.
Drawing inspiration from her cultural heritage, multidisciplinary artist Gabríela Frioriksdóttir mines Norse mythology and Icelandic sagas to create an imaginative body of work that is simultaneously inviting and threatening. While the surreal anthropomorphic objects that inhabit her paintings, sculptures, drawings and animations recall childhood whimsy, her photographs and films rely on realism to tell fictional stories of creation that are mesmerizingly eerie. Her work illuminates the universal opposing forces that characterize life on earth. In addition to international exhibits, Frioriksdóttir has collaborated with noted artists Matthew Barney and Bjork. She represented Iceland at the 2005 Venice Biennale.
Ragnar Kjartansson enchants audiences with his multi-sensory pieces that combine performance, video, and installation. Incorporating elements of film, music, theater, visual culture and literature, Kjartansson’s high-quality productions create powerful experiences by uniquely presenting memorable moments. His acclaimed work The Visitors – a multi-channel video installation – exhibits an array of musicians playing a simple tune repeatedly in separate rooms of an old farm. The dramatic sound, combined with banal actions, culminates in a moving experience that feels both nostalgic and timeless. All his work expertly manipulates a viewer’s emotions. Arguably one of the best-known Icelandic artists, Kjartansson exhibits internationally.
The installations of Finnbogi Petursson intertwine sound, sculpture, and architecture into a multi-sensory experience that physically illuminates the intangible nature of sound. In order to characterize these invisible elements as tangible entities, Petursson illustrates how certain elements, like water and light, are affected by sound waves. His 2014 work Infra – Supra uses sine waves to ripple water and spotlights to project the subsequent hypnotic patterning onto the wall. Petursson’s unique practice manipulates sound waves in an effort to position them as an active medium like drawing or sculpture. These simple visual and aural experiences are masked in critical thought, imbuing Petursson’s work with a meditative quality.
Icelandic sculptor Ólöf Nordal holds an MFA from both the Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan and Yale University in Connecticut. Her artistic practice is steeped in heritage – Nordal draws inspiration from Iceland’s melancholic landscape and magical fauna. Inanimate animals like the extinct great auk, and natural elements such as thermal water regularly appear in both her indoor and outdoor projects. Her public work titled Púfa, which opened in December 2013, celebrates the country’s continued relationship with the environment. Nordal constructed a bucolic hill on top of which sits a small fishing shed where the daily catch can be hung to dry. Through actively engaging her surroundings, Nordal further ties her work to Iceland’s past, present, and future.
Straddling the line between fine and commercial art, Steingrimur Eyfjörd works in a wide range of media, including photography, comic strips, video, painting, sculpture, performance, writing and installation. Concerned with the structure and tools of narration, Eyfjörd explores how stories and history come to fruition. One of his most famous series, The Golden Plover Has Arrived (2007), which was shown at the 2007 Venice Biennale, highlights the Icelandic obsession with a small bird that signifies the beginning of spring. Through fourteen individually titled works in various mediums, Eyfjörd uses this icon as a springboard to explore the creation of modernity in Iceland. The methodical layout of his installations endow them with an ethnographic feel that underscores Eyfjörd’s desire to understand how consciousness shapes physical reality.