Review of Show at the Nordic House

See text below the picture of the article. Thank you Richard for a very thoughtful review.

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Ipseity – Abeyance
A look through the lenses and into the crisis

March 2009

Words by Richard P. Foley
As part of the Northern Lights Festival, the Nordic House has been hosting the group exhibition “Ipseity- Abeyance”. The exhibition is one of the first artistic ventures to express the crisis. The exhibition’s curator and photographer, Julia Staples, chose to focus on photography, stating that the “illustrative qualities of photography go together well with representing the crisis.” One recurring theme throughout the show is the choice of portraying the real estate industry so as to reflect upon what has occurred from the economic crisis, as real estate is always a strong indicator of the financial situation in any country.

As I walked through the space and browsed the pamphlet provided, I noticed an article espousing photographer Guðmundur Ingólfsson’s feelings about photography. He told of how the art-form had received a lowered status throughout his career and the struggle for employment that photographers encounter.  It became apparent that the choice of photography was possibly the most appropriate for expressing the crisis. For me, the show truly engaged itself in demonstrating aspects of the situation with realism, subtlety and pathos. Hence, I wanted to try to articulate a few of the artist’s works that conveyed these feelings.

Guðmundur Ingólfsson

Upon entering the exhibition, the first artist’s work on view was that of the aforementioned Guðmundur Ingólfsson, a renowned photographer of Iceland. Ingólfsson presented was a contrast of two photographic series. Firstly, was a modern day reflection on the harbour area in Reykjavík, where a lot of ambitious building plans have been undertaken and sadly halted. The photographs depict large industrial cranes in the skyline, said to symbolise the economic landscape of the depression. The work remained bright and optimistic in its summer setting, compared to the second series “Stories From the Last War”. This older set of black and white imagery shows the demolition of old, unused buildings that existed in Reykjavík, such as the Pravda Club bar. Today, all buildings seem to hold question marks over their heads. As the title implies, these are “Stories From the Last War”, but we are already anticipating the next battle.

Nico Muhly

An American composer, who by chance became involved in the exhibition, was invited after his video collaboration with the DVD magazine, Rafskinna. The live performance was composed specifically for the incomplete city Music Hall. Muhly asked Helgi Hrafn Jónsson to perform on the trombone for its acoustical quality in testing a space—even though the roof was still missing, as he points out. The music seemed to produce an unnerving reiteration of the first verse, creating a stuttering tension that constantly began again and again, with short stints of other compositions but never building to a crescendo.  In this way it managed to convey something of the emotions of the building. Nico Muhly’s comment that this “might be the first and only performance” performed in the Music Hall made the moment even more sentimental.

Ingvar Högni Ragnarsson

A side room holds Ingivar Högni Ragnarsson’s photographic installation series “Waiting”. The emptiness of the work appears to be a stern realisation that all has been deserted in pursuit of better days.  The presence of people is suggested throughout each picture but never seen: car tracks in the snow, tyre marks on a vacant road. The curious aspect of the work is the concept of static time, a moment caught in anticipation. “Waiting” evokes the sense that something is about to happen or just has, reflecting the tense atmosphere of the crisis. The images are motionless, in wonder of what is to come: who will fill the empty car parks and occupy houses? What will happen if left un-built and docile? From an aesthetic viewpoint the photographer has captured a sense of the melancholic beauty of the Icelandic landscape, reflected in the dull greys and silence. His symmetrical angles in the work convey a dramatic impression on the viewer’s natural sense of composition, placing the work as one of the more technically ambitious.

Julia Staples

Photographer Julia Staples works directly with the issues imposed on people throughout the crisis. Two intriguing works produced for the exhibition are a smaller series, entitled “Breiðholt, Iceland” and “Looking Through An Unfinished House in Norðlingaholt”.  “Breiðholt, Iceland” depicts the housing blocks of Breidholt – which legend has it is a notoriously deprived part of Reykjavík with a high concentration of immigrants.

What struck me regarding this series were its vibrant colours, instinctively drawing me to view them. Inspecting the images further, I noticed they were small entrance doors to a housing block, placed in numerical order. The systematic order seemed to express ideas of populace statistics and the categorization of people into a number; in this context, it almost appeared like a list of unemployed families receiving benefits in each apartment. I began to wonder what the impact of the crisis would have here. Would the people of Breiðholt be the first to experience the repercussions of the economic change? If most immigrants emigrate home, will these apartments become barren or be over filled because the housing crash? Just how bad could it get? All these questions posed by the work were inevitably unanswerable. “Looking Through An unfinished House in Norðlingaholt” seems to portray more hope. The images were printed so that the frame mimicked the windows of the house. Most of the window views were set onto a picturesque landscape, contrasting the pathos between the tragic financial restrictions preventing a family for living there, and the hope that one day they will enjoy these views when the economic crisis will be over.

On the most part the exhibition was a conflict between anxiety and optimistic aspirations both connecting to the current atmosphere of the crisis, which makes the work a successful re-enactment of what has been felt throughout this historical period.

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One response to “Review of Show at the Nordic House

  1. Excellent site, keep up the good work

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