Port City – Hrafnkell Sigurðsson

The Hafnarborg Centre for Culture & Fashion Films 

April 21 – May 28 , 2012  

Exhibition of new work by Hrafnkell Sigurðsson, mostly from 2011 and 2012, displaying photography, video and wall mounted sculptures. Hrafnkell Sigurðsson (b. 1963) graduated from the Icelandic College of Art and Crafts in 1987 and studied at the Jan Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, Nederlands, from 1988-1990 and at Goldsmiths University in London from 2001-2002. Hrafnkell has participated in numerous group exhibitions as well as having solo exhibitions in Iceland and abroad.

About the exhibition:

Hrafnkell Sigurðsson (b. 1963) uses old junk, ships, and play equipment as material for the exhibition Port City. A video installation, photographs, a textile piece, and a large wall piece made of found objects form a unity strongly bound to its sources and also to Sigurðsson’s past work. Steel, paint, and tar create an ambience that one cannot help but associate with a male work environment, especially as the video piece depicts a man on his leisure time, relaxing and letting off steam.

Most materials in the exhibition were gathered on a slipway, the staging area where ships are landed for repairs and improvements. Big hulls are braced up so that the whole boat is visible, as it never is under normal circumstances, afloat at sea. The ships’ substance and shape become heavy and their nearness oppressive; they loom over the area, looking unstable and strangely out of proportion. The stuff of these mighty tools of labour and transport suddenly seems fragmented. The ships’ patched hulls inspired Sigurðsson’s photographic work Sides, in which pairs of images show both sides of a ship in the slip at a given moment in the repair process. Each pair thus shows a ship’s starboard and lee sides almost simultaneously. Such a limited part of the hull is shown that it is hard to tell what the subject is; form and colour come to dominate the work. As in much of Sigurðsson’s past oeuvre, connections are made here to art history and painters such as Rothko whose use of colour and form results in an almost spiritual experience. Yet the duality in Sigurðsson’s photographs arises more from the departure from a conceptual approach to the ship’s hull, its environment and being, into allusions to painting and the viewer’s personal experience of colour and form. The photographs convey a certain admiration for the painter’s task, but more for painting with a practical goal than for an artist’s painterly work.
The slip, as an environment, fascinates Sigurðsson: material, form, colour, and smell are part of a realm where action unfolds in a set process. Sigurðsson captures some parts of that realm in his photographs and reveals other aspects in Cloth, a work he fabricated from rags. He pulled them out of the slipway sludge and sewed them together into one continuous cloth. In this piece both human presence and remoteness are almost tangible, in that the cloths were clothing that fulfilled its purpose, got hard use as rags, and lastly were hand-sewn by Sigurðsson. The cloths’ original colour is barely discernible but forms an earth-tone palette under oil, paint, and dirt. Colour, smell, and texture distinguish this piece in many ways from Sigurðsson’s past work, which has primarily been in video and photography, in which colour and texture are impalpable; photography documents material but is not the material itself. A similar sense of colour and material characterizes Lids, a prominent work in this exhibition. Each of the found paint-can lids comprising this work is separately coated with paint; together they form a single large pictorial surface.
In the video installation Ride, a trip down a water slide is shown from two angles at once. The trip down the slide, the play of surrounding colours, and the game and excitement of rushing down are accented by Axel Hallkell Jóhannesson’s sound piece. The fear-tinged horseplay of the man enjoying a moment’s pleasure on a water slide renders him vulnerable, not unlike a ships’ hull hauled up in the slip: on a break from his duties but relating tensely to his environment.
Hrafnkell Sigurðsson graduated from the Icelandic College of Art and Crafts in 1987. He pursued graduate study at the Netherlands’ Jan van Eyck Academie from 1988 to 1990 and earned an MFA at Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2002. In his twenty-year exhibition career, Sigurðsson has shown his work in all of Iceland’s major exhibition spaces, including in a 2009 solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Iceland. He has also exhibited extensively abroad and been Iceland’s chosen representative at international exhibitions. His work is represented in public and private collections in Iceland and overseas. In 2007 Sigurðsson received the Icelandic Visual Arts Award.

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