:HRAFNKELL SIGURDSSON "EYJAFJALLAJOKULL" -
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For some earlier voyagers on the Grand Tour the passage through the Alps was an unwelcome terror. The genteel cities of northern Europe were barricaded by chasms and fractured peaks from the picturesque climes of southern Italy. This landscape in unreasoned ruin was an intrusion and infliction upon their cultured senses. To save their eyes from the horror, it was common for the blinds in their carriage to be drawn during their transit through the high mountains.
This touristy editing out of the abject seems pertinent to these new works of Hrafnkell Siguršsson. The formal device not dissimilar to an altarpiece and one, which Siguršsson's has used in the past establishes something of a dichotomy between the two images, which stand as cultural tropes, and alternately conceal and give way to one another. While in the past Siguršsson's pairing of a pristine Icelandic winter vista that is concealed behind an image of a close up of a refuse site, appears to relate through polarity: the natural versus the manmade; the sacred and the profane; the benign concealing the malevolent. To some extent these new works renegotiate the moral dimension within the work (however it should be noted that in the earlier work the refuse was depicted in such a luscious and compelling way that it would be inaccurate to suggest there was a particular hierarchy being advanced). A hibernal landscape and a great expanse of azure is opened gives way to reveal a tumultuous eruption. Two facets of nature and two quintessential Icelandic images. Yet unlike those on the Grand Tour this vulgarity of nature, the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, is perceived with awe, fear and amazement. The global response to Eyjafjallajökull's activity in the spring of 2010 was an instance of the contemporary sublime, the power and magnitude of the volcano was felt around the world. The volcano brought wide-scale chaos through the grounding of aircraft. It was, in the main, an invisible terror but one that brought a humbling sense of scale to the world. But in this work we see the explosion and emissions at close quarters, indeed the earlier, and smaller eruption of Fimmvöršuhįls next to Eyjafjallajökull became a site of a form of pilgrimage. People drove, walked and climbed to get close to this most phenomenal display of nature, a journey that Siguršsson himself made. However these photographs were not taken by Siguršsson. He chose instead to use commercial stock photography of the landscape and the volcano. This decision can be seen as a return to the formative concerns of his practice where he used found images in the form of postcards and transparencies bought from souvenir stores.
The images are dramatic yet ubiquitous, a part of the visual consciousness, codified for postcards, magazine spreads, posters, etc. Siguršsson acknowledges and extenuates this aspect through making the outer images disjunctive. The compositions recur, slip and echo; it is as if we are viewing the very moment of the mechanization of image. The hand of the artist, of man, is made explicit.
Where the travelers on the Grand Tour choose to shut their blinds to the horror of the mountains, Siguršsson offers a similar possibility. He presents an implicit invitation to choose and change the scene that greets us. It tempts a moral reading of hierarchy between the images but one that is left unresolved or incomplete. Through the repeated opening and closing of the work the absolute recedes; man is the fulcrum to meaning. As beautiful as the images are we understand them as cultural objects, it is just as Protagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher, observed, "Man is the measure of all things.
7 x 7
The video 7x7 (2008) is based on material shot outdoors in the east highland of Iceland. Sigurdsson organized a performance of forty-nine men, dressed in orange work overalls with hoods on, standing in a grid in the winter landscape. A simple synchronized choreography with the group shifting the body weight from one foot to the next is sustained by a rhythmical soundtrack by Steingrimur E. Gudmundsson. It progresses from the ambient sound of stamping in the snow to a digital beat. For the most part the camera is positioned in the midst of a group, displaying close-ups of the backs of the moving men. The orange attire fills the screen so that there is little or no figurative image to hold on to. Occasionally there is a wide crane shot displaying the whole scene. Still, the viewer never sees the individual performers; this anonymous mass of men is only seen from behind. The work emerges out of a local discourse on the largest construction project in the history of Iceland, a hydro electric power plant that required hundreds of foreign guest workers to stay in the barren highland for extended periods of time. The overly futile, yet strictly organized ritual, reflects a shift in mans relationship to nature. The solitary experience of the romantic individual, a classic subject in art history, is replaced by the impassiveness of the homogeneous group. The work has been displayed in different ways, always on a large-scale projection but with different mirroring devices in the space, so that the image is multiplied.
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