- analyzing identity
The true artist is known by the use he makes of what he annexes, and he annexes everything. Oscar Wilde
ID LAB is an exhibition of works by artists who engage in the ongoing discussion about identity and images and employ to this end strong forms of identification from fashion and design. They connect the conceptual world of their artworks to the powerful language of fashion and thereby gain a direct connection to their viewer. The works are diverse and their subject matter varied; they do not stay within the confines of the framework they reflect, but grapple with traditions, processes, zeitgeist, and contemporary identity.
The exhibition is on the boundary of two adjacent worlds, subject to different mandates but possessing common origins and closely related languages: on the one hand, the visual art world in which artists objectify ideas or experiences and mete them out to the world within meaning-laden art world walls; and, on the other hand, the world of design in which designers reflect the zeitgeist and framework of daily life through product and production. Here we are delineating what divides design and visual art but the conjunctions are many; more joins these two worlds than separates them. Although the political and market frameworks may diverge, visual art and design build on the same visual laws and rely on creative individuals.
The artists presenting work in this exhibition are Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, Huginn Þór Arason, Jón Sæmundur Auðarson, Katrin Olina Petursdottir, and the Icelandic Love Corporation. They take on the subject of contemporary identities and zeitgeist in different ways but have in common a use of color, form, and material to extend the artwork beyond the visual art world and into the world of design and fashion—where the visual language has been desacralized. These artists follow the mandates of the visual art world but annex the world of fashion and design.
Huginn Þór Arason’s work, Ghost, is an installation and also a performance that extends beyond the museum walls. Carved white fencing partitions off a workshop where tailors sew a garment for any museum guest who wishes one. The garments are sewn according to patterns borrowed by Arason from a group of artists and designers. Arason asked the group for patterns of garments that they had designed either for themselves or someone close to them. Thus the garments are not for manufacture, exist in only one or two samples, and reflect an identity, or a personal view of a given person’s image or appearance. When Arason takes the patterns in hand and gives anyone who so desires the opportunity to wear the clothes, he’s borrowing the image as well. However, Arason’s garments are stripped of the characteristics of color and texture: they are all cut from a white durable cotton fabric, used in uniforms or work clothes. Thus though guests become party to the style of those who supplied the designs, Arason removes the garments’ personal quality through the neutrality of the white color and the vision of the garments being worn by many people. This work is a complex interlacing of the participation of the artist, those who supply the designs, the tailors, and finally of participating guests who carry the work beyond the museum walls. Arason borrows an identity and loans it on to others. The work process in the museum involves the recycling, transformation, and recreation of identity.
Hrafnildur Arnardóttir’s (aka Shoplifter) Imaginary Friends are simple sculptures that challenge the viewer’s ability to build a complete picture from slender clues. Hair and headwear feature prominently here, and indeed Arnardóttir is known for her use of hair, treating image-making and the idolization of appearance. All the imaginary friends are equipped with personality, full of humor, candid and unabashed. The sculptures come into being from sticks and simple objects that recall styles and staple images from fashion and the zeitgeist and carry an air of unhesitating youthful energy. Thus the works are full of play and unexpected allusions to real friends and other people. Arnardóttir’s works express an ironic and unrestrained quality that have been part of the art world since the last decade of the twentieth century and that toll the passing of that father of contemporary times, modernism. Ornament, decoration, and beauty are words that Arnardóttir is willing to use in speaking of her work; she is not afraid to toy with the boundaries between art and fashion and to explore the ties between them. She designs clothing, draws inspiration from the fashion world, and approaches design from the angle of her expertise in visual art. Both worlds can be seen in her work, alluding to and influencing each other.
Jón Sæmundur Auðarson has used fashion to disseminate a worldview that he has developed as a framework around his own life and lifestyle. His work includes forthright symbols, often provocative, with clear appeal in present times. His symbolic world has historical roots, often religious and nearly always pertaining to death. Auðarson’s primary symbol is a skull worked into a personal trademark, encircling it with the words, HE WHO FEARS DEATH CANNOT ENJOY LIFE. He has utilized fashion’s persuasive power in spreading his message, but he has also utilized one of the most powerful propaganda tools on the street in recent years - the T-shirt. Auðarson runs the retail store Nonnabúð, selling his own design; the store is in actuality part of his art. Auðarson’s above-mentioned artwork of skull and text has become a kind of brand name, carrying the artist’s thinking far beyond the visual art world to influence fashion trends of the day. The text reflects his personal view as an HIV-positive individual who has made his peace with death while living a healthy life, with strength, without fear. In his work, Doppelgänger, he portrays the virus in a wall painting, his well-known symbol, and a vinyl record, alluding to music as an aspect of personal lifestyle and expression. The work is accompanied by the electrified cosmic beat of a recorded version of Auðarson’s life mantra.
Katrin Olina Petursdottir’s installation, Eulenspiegel, is a fantasy world full of accessible yet complex allusions and symbols. Fragmentary narratives form part of a compelling framework, with strong personal characteristics, in which imagination, memory, and familiar motifs meet. The viewer enters the work, which surrounds him and invites him on a journey into a fantastical natural world. Katrin Olina´s vision of nature lies between the sublime and the fairytale, where real and fictional beings recite. The astounding images fuel the viewer’s imagination; he embarks on a journey armed with his own feelings and realm of ideas. Thus the work becomes a place at the border between real and imagined space, both in the viewer’s mind and the museum space. The tightly packed world revealed by the work is full of beings that can be considered in an art historical context, in the context of history, savoring of the world of comics and personal history. Eulenspiegel reveals a sophisticated identity founded on allusions to the past and the zeitgeist of our times.
The Icelandic Love Corporation has earned notice for their clear and enjoyable presentation of works treading a fine line between controversy, irony, and jest. Just over a decade ago, they burst onto the Icelandic art scene with a seductive and light-hearted presence, reviving general interest in performance as an art form. They have since worked in various media, exhibiting installations, videos, sculpture, and photographic works as well as performance. Their diverse subjects reflect a sharp focus on contemporary life. In their work for this exhibition, titled Zeitgeist, they recreate a photography studio, an environment where an artificial world is captured on film. In the ILC’s photography studio, the zeitgeist is personified as a fancifully dressed being, sitting on a rope, with a third eye in the back of its head that looks back, keeping the past in sharp focus. Also appearing in this work is a being symbolizing vanity and embodying a duality characteristic of the ILC, as this humorous being on closer inspection might also be a parasitic creature that wreaks havoc all around. In Zeitgeist a six-legged being symbolizes the ILC’s three members, Eirún Sigurðardóttir, Jóní Jónsdóttir and Sigrún Hrólfsdóttir, calling to mind the discussion that needs to take place before an elaborate creation can come into being.
Ólöf K. Sigurðardóttir, curator. Print