Fine woven films

Fréttabladid, March 2, 2006

There are number of signs that new times are upon us - once again. A new aesthetic has hovered in the air for quite a while, and the feeling has not necessarily been limited to the youngest members of society's grassroots. Of course, the young make a strong impact on the direction that new currents take; throughout time, young people have had the greatest need for movement and change. It has always been thus. Sometimes we trace the currents and threads of recent neo-romanticism to old Eastern Europe, East Berlin in particular. These currents have been flowing towards Iceland in the recent past. They bring with them a certain aesthetic experience that lies in poverty and perishable items. A rediscovery of forms and patterns in the large and small from Eastern Europe in the 1960s and 1970s is prominent. During that era, there was no pop culture in East Berlin, as there was in the "free" West; instead, modernism continued in one form or another. This can be seen today in the cafés of Prenzlauerberg - the Wohnzimmer café, for instance. In Reykjavík it can be seen in cafés such as Hljómalind on Laugavegur, and perhaps more strongly at Babalú on Skólavörðustígur.

I mention this because at the top of the hill is the ASÍ Art Museum, where the current exhibition - which will continue through the weekend - fits perfectly with just this aesthetic sense. Yet it is not at all certain that the artist showing there - one who is not a member of the youngest generation - was thinking in this vein or even particularly aware of it. Such notions are simply peripheral. The artist is Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir, and she has not held a show in Iceland in quite some time, so that for me she appears on the stage as a brand-new artist. In terms of form, the works are modernistic, as in old East Berlin. They have rhythm and harmony; they are carefully composed and bring a sense of freshness that is particularly striking, given that the colors she uses are earth-tones - browns, yellows, and reds - and not pure tones at that. She works with a variety of materials that appear inexpensive and disposable, although they need not have been so in their time. Time speaks strongly to me - or rather, the layer of dust over the past. The sense of layer upon layer permeates the works. The skill apparent in the handwork lures the viewer closer and closer in - an uncannily strong enticement in our time.

This exhibition is intriguing for a number of reasons. For one thing, it shows the upswing in fiber art, which dropped out of the educational system to some degree with the founding of the Iceland Academy of the Arts, which did not want to be labelled as a "handcrafts school" and identify the various visual art fields with method and process. There should be no reason not to raise that banner again, though. Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir is an artist who shows how to bring freshness and newness to old and time honored methods and processes that have followed human beings since they first began to create with their hands. What is forgotten becomes new.


Translation by Anna Benassi