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 #1 [May 2005]


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Gabríela Friðriksdóttir - Versations Tetralogia at Venice Biennial 2005

The work which Gabríela Friðriksdóttir is showing at the Venice Biennial 2005, Versations Tetralogia, makes oblique reference to this narrative tradition, which appears in the present day in the most unlikely forms, and often in a highly paradoxical fashion. Icelanders are said to read more books than any other nation, yet when they come together they either say nothing, or won’t let each other get a word in edgeways. Nobel-prizewinning author Halldór Laxness maintained that the Icelanders remain unconvinced by logic, and that when they talk to each other it is generally on a very personal level, often ending with an argument. “Icelanders’ thinking is in accord with the windy climate: they swing from one opinion to another and detest a dead calm. A draught blows through the Icelandic mind. Like the young rock on which the Icelanders live, their thinking is similar: young, raw and insubstantial – unlike the solid marble of the Continent,” says Gabríela.



The Artist addresses this illogical Icelandic tradition of discourse in her work, and underlines this with the title Versations, where she has omitted the prefix con- from conversations, implying that this is not a true conversation but an attempt at conversation. And perhaps it is the most powerful who seize the right to be heard; but words are vital, although their virtual reality traps us ever more securely in its net.


Gabríela delves beneath the surface of the words, strives to find the reality beneath, gives herself over to a fantastical imagination which she unleashes, seeking inspiration equally in literature, mysticism, musical and visual arts. She has taken a piano melody which she improvised and has been composing since she was a teenager, and asked four musicians – Daníel Ágúst Haraldsson, Björk Guðmundsdóttir, Borgar Thor Magnússon and Jónas Sen – to compose a piece based on the melody. The video and musical works are then edited together to form the Tetralogia, which as a whole forms a quartet, although each video is autonomous.


In Ancient Greece the term tetralogy meant a series of four plays by the same playwright, in which the first three were tragedies, the fourth a satire or comedy. The aim was to win a contest held among playwrights at a feast held in honour of the god Dionysus. Gabríela’s Tetralogia could thus be an ode to Dionysus. An ode in which the artist is the catalyst which unleashes the ions and permits them to rearrange themselves, inviting a select team to join her and contribute to creating a splendid outcome.


But Tetralogia is just part of this polyphonic installation, which is an attempt at bringing together different media. The façade of the pavilion has been altered in accord with the content, the music of the videos is heard through loudspeakers, and the visitor has a vague premonition of what waits within. The visitor is gradually drawn into the spiritual and mental world of the artist, becoming an explorer in this wonderland of symbols, images and sounds, encountering on his/her journey through the pavilion all sorts of bizarre beings, which drift between dream and reality, truth and illusion, heaven and hell.


In Versations Gabríela also addresses the chaos – the disintegration and disorder – of today. She explores our perceptions, emotions, longings, the boundaries of emotion and the unification or tension between different art forms. “Where is the line?” asks Björk on her latest album, Medúlla, in which the human voice is the basis of expression, and its palette of colour is explored to the utmost. Gabríela and Björk joined forces, together with dancer Erna Ómarsdóttir, and created the idea for a video for Björk’s song; Gabríela uses the same material in one of the videos of Tetralogia, in which she addresses imbalance of emotions and their expulsion from the body, or catharsis, as she did in the video Catharsis of 2004. Björk becomes an upholstered host, a sort of Venus of Willendorf, who gives birth to a demon coated in a white stickiness – dancer Erna Ómarsdóttir – who, after a wild dance, withdraws back inside the host. In the final scene everything explodes, and hay-wraiths emerge from the background, as if a mutation has occurred in the electrifying atmosphere, and plunge down on the host, who vanishes and is absorbed into the whole.


The primal energy of the narrative, the desperation and claustrophobic atmosphere, are intensified by the rough, raw texture, strong visual contrasts and the bizarre hay-scape of the barn.


Gabríela focuses, like the surrealists, on the spontaneous, but with the proviso that the spontaneity grows from the seed of the forefathers. She takes arms against rationalism, and bends the rules to her will. She seeks answers in what happens between waking and sleeping, the objective and subjective, or in the tension between the mind and the material world. She entangles the observer in her web of symbols, as she did in her first show, The Nameless One, in 1997, thus activating the web.


Laufey Helgadóttir
Translation Anna Yates
(Excerpt from the Venice Cataloge)


Gabríela Fridriksdóttir
Versations Tetralógia
The Icelandic Pavilion
51. La Biennale di Venezia
June 12 - November 6, 2005



Courtesy of the artist.



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