In the Icelandic artist's films, surreal scenarios confront the viewer with wondrous worlds.
On the occasion of Iceland's presentation as a guest of honor at the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair,
the Schirn Kunsthalle
will dedicate a solo exhibition to this country's artist Gabríela Friðriksdóttir
from September 29, 2011 to January 8, 2012. Her approach is characterized by the use of
a variety of media: drawings, paintings, photographs, and sculptures figure as prominently as
installations, performances, and video films. In her works Friðriksdóttir assembles various
cultural, religious, and psychological elements to unfold a unique aesthetic canon of signs,
forms, and meanings. This becomes particularly evident in her films, whose surreal scenarios,
abandoning all traditional patterns of narrative, confront the viewer with wondrous worlds in which
dream images mingle with stories from Norse mythology and references to sexual psychology.
For her films, Friðriksdóttir has repeatedly collaborated with the Icelandic pop star Björk. For the
Schirn, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir has conceived a room entitled "Crepusculum" (dusk, twilight)
in which medieval Icelandic manuscripts are combined with the artist's mysterious system of
signs and a new film production to create a mystical landscape. It will be for the first time that the
manuscripts, which form a vital part of Iceland's cultural heritage, will leave the island for this
Gabriela Friðriksdóttir, born in Reykjavík in 1971, studied a the RYMI School of Art in Reykjavík
and at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts before graduating from the Icelandic Academy of Art in
1997 as a Bachelor of Arts in Sculpture. She became internationally known for her involvement in
the 51st Biennale di Venezia in 2005, where she represented her country as the youngest
participant by staging her multimedia installation "Versations/Tetralogia" in the Icelandic pavilion.
Besides solo exhibitions held, among other places, in the Migros Museum in Zurich (2006) and at
the Prospectif cinéma in the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2007), as well as a show she shared with
the US-artist Matthew Barney in the Akureyri Art Museum in Iceland (2005), her works were on
view in group exhibitions in the Museum of Modern Art in Oslo (2005), in the National Gallery of
Iceland in Reykjavík (2008), and in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (2010).
Gabriela Friðriksdóttir has established herself as an integral part of a young Icelandic generation
of artists who jauntily experiment with all kinds of genres and media as they are only peripherally
influenced by the cultural traditions of Continental Europe thanks to the Nordic island's isolated position. This attitude particularly manifests itself in Gabriela Friðriksdóttir's numerous
collaborations with musicians, designers, and theater makers. For instance, she worked together
with both the French design office M/M (Paris) and the Icelandic musician Björk Guðmundsdóttir.
To the latter's CD box "Family Tree" (2005), she contributed drawings and photographs and
directed the video clip "Where Is the Line?" (2005), while the musician in turn acted in
Friðriksdóttir's films, as did many of her friends and artist colleagues.
In her oeuvre, the delight she takes in experimenting is expressed first and foremost in the great
variety of media she employs, all of which are connected by a set of idiosyncratic aesthetic signs,
forms, and meanings and which are characterized by a fusion of organic and synthetic materials,
of delicacy and coarseness, of beauty and revulsion. This encoded canon, which can be
deciphered only approximately, is further augmented in her video works, in which Friðriksdóttir
fathoms the limits of human existence, of feelings and desires. Mysterious dream images offer
insights into obscure regions of consciousness. The works oscillate between motifs from Norse
legends and references to popular culture, from horror movies to heavy metal, and also include
elements of sexual psychology, associations of spiritual exercises, and things past and present.
The recurring ingredients of these seemingly surreal scenarios – such as flour, dust, sand, clay,
threads, roots, wood, fire, tarot cards, or snakes – are subject to Friðriksdóttir's individual
mythology and appear to derive from a different world, as do the landscapes emerging from them
and their mostly porous, rugged surface textures. The same applies to the creatures populating
these realms, and to their garments made of roughly sewn burlap or fur, but also of dough,
bandages, plastic, hay, hair, and mud – not to speak of what pours forth from their bodies'
openings: excrements, blood, mucus, squirming masses, or gelatinous blackness. The
deconstruction of linear patterns of narrative and traditional ideas of a plot and the renouncement
of conversation as such generate film works of painterly charm and extravagant fantasy from
which emanates a raw, powerful force.
For the show at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir has conceived an installation whose
Latin title "Crepusculum" means "dusk" or "twilight" and whose mythical spatial atmosphere
results from the contrast between light and dark. In a dusky desert landscape – an intermediate
realm between day and night – the artist's mysterious system of signs is combined with a new
film production, tones, and sounds, as well as eight original medieval manuscripts, to create
a fantastic universe.
These eight manuscripts belong to a bulk of almost 2,000 documents preserved in the Árni
Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík; the oldest examples date from the twelfth
century. These invaluable works are part of Iceland's national cultural heritage and will leave
the country for the first time ever. On parchment made from calfskin, legends of knights and
saints and songs that had been passed on orally, but also factual reports, law codes, and didactic
and entertaining almanacs were copied by hand; some of them were elaborately adorned with
decorative initials and drawings. The sagas and stories abound in supernatural views of the world
in which dragons, sprites, shape shifters, shamans, witches, and giants populate the Nordic island and in which magical practices and dreams, a driving force behind the course of events,
play a key role.
In her most recent work, Friðriksdóttir again lays a trail to a time when magic was fundamental in
the understanding of the world; when melancholy was not yet equaled with plaintive resignation
and apathy; and when occultism incorporated such secret sciences as magic, astrology, and
alchemy, all of which were directed at expanding people's knowledge of the world and of
themselves. With "Crepusculum" Gabríela Friðriksdóttir returns to the origins of her work
as an artist. It is a personal product that bundles motifs and themes of her previous activity
and develops a great suggestive force in its intensive exploration of the tradition and culture of