On the occasion of Icelands presentation as a guest of honor at the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair, the Schirn Kunsthalle
dedicates a solo exhibition to this countrys 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 artists mysterious system of signs and a new film production to create a mystical landscape. It is for the first time that the manuscripts, which form a vital part of Icelands cultural heritage, will leave the island for this occasion.
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 islands isolated position. This attitude particularly manifests itself in Gabriela Friðriksdóttirs 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 latters 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 Friðriksdóttirs 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 Friðriksdóttirs 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 artists 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 Icelands 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 peoples 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 Iceland.