Sleppa leiğarkerfi.

 #2 [June 2005]


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"... one of the weirdest" - Gabríela Friðriksdóttir at Venice Biennial

Iceland’s representative at the 51st Biennale in Venice is Gabríela Friðriksdóttir. Born in 1971, she is the youngest artist yet to be sent to Venice but her show looks to be the most highly profiled one ever. Her name and images from her works, titled Versations/Tetralógía, were featured prominently in the pre-festival coverage of several magazines and newspapers and on many of the lists of must-see exhibitions in Venice this summer.

Most of the press emphasises how fresh and unfamiliar, if not quite outlandish, Gabríela’s work is. It’s fascination seems to lie in its power to surprise and overwhelm in contrast to the more restrained pieces on exhibit in many of the other pavilions in the Giardini and in the festival in general. Alastair Sooke writing for the Telegraph picks Gabríela among the highlights of this year's event and notes that she is the youngest artist to represent Iceland at Venice. “She is also one of the weirdest.” Sooke adds. “Her intricate drawings of cuddly gremlins are especially wonderful: complex, psychedelic and compact… For Venice, she has cooked up something truly outlandish…”

There is, in addition, an underlying interest in Iceland and its artistic product. Gabríela provides ample content for those with a scholarly affection for Icelandic culture and Charis Dunn-Chan, for the BBC, notes that she “uses myth and epic saga in an exploration of identity and her Icelandic ancestors”.

Gabríela is herself very pleased with the reception she has had in Venice but she is particularly pleased with the enthusiasm of the people who participated in and helped her realise the intricate videos and installation in the small pavilion.

The Icelandic Pavilion at Venice Biennial 2005


“There are two sides to being an artist, good and bad,” she explains a few days after the opening, still in Venice and worn out from weeks of work and interviews. “The good part is making the work; the bad part is the exhibitions.” There isn’t a hint of condescension in this statement and she has been enjoying the party atmosphere of the opening days as much as anyone would. It is merely a confirmation of her individuality and her open approach to collaboration. “These people I work with, they can do anything,” she says. “I just call up and ask ‘Are you coming?’ I don’t even have to say what for.”

The list of collaborators is long and includes the musicians and composers who provided music to her videos and for the installation: Björk Guðmundsdóttir, Borgar Þór Magnason, Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson and Jónas Sen. Björk Gudmundsdóttir, Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson, Erna Ómarsdóttir and Sigurður Guðjónsson collaborated on the videos themselves as did a number of Gabriela’s friends and fellow artists. Texts for the catalogue were written by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Kristín Ómarsdóttir, Sjón and Stephanie Cohen. Even the designers of the loudspeakers, M/M Paris, are credited prominently and the catalogue is accompanied by a CD of the music in the Tetralógía exhibition.

Versations/Tetralógía, Interior view of the Pavilion


Even the preparation of the pavilion involved teamwork, transforming it into a large mud hut, something dug from the ground itself. The speakers, painted a shiny black and shaped vaguely like pagan fetishes, hang from the front of the hut and from the trees surrounding the entrance, playing music that seems to come from everywhere at one. Inside, the impression of a mud hut is confirmed by brown walls, a haystack and generally gloomy atmosphere. (For once, the low ceiling in the pavilion works just right.) The videos are engaging with imagery and action pulled boldly from a murky past. There are scenes with a bottle from within a mud-and-stone hut such as was the most common building in Iceland until not much more than a century ago. There is also a sequence of more mythological scope involving Björk, featured as a fertility goddess, giving birth to a slimy creature that writhes in mud. The overall effect is distinctly primitive and a bit oracular, giving glimpses of some primal mystery. It was certainly arresting enough to entice the overindulged visitors to the opening weekend at the Biennale.



See: Gabríela Friðriksdóttir - Versations Tetralogia at Venice Biennial 2005 in LIST #1 [May 2005]
and the artist's website:


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