Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir
Icelandic artist Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir creates a new site, transforming TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary's gallery space with walk through walls of paper strips. Somewhere in the depths of that paper forest a video of looping lights; shade and movement is found, stuck in an infra-loop, resonating with each individual expedition of the audience through the temporary site.
Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir (b. 1969) completed her studies at the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts in 1994. She spent two years at an exchange program in Germany, at the Art Academy in Kiel and the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Frankfurt am Main. She finished her BFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 1997 and completed MFA studies in Fine Arts / Integrated Media from the same school in 1999. She received a grant to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Main in 1998.
Hekla has actively exhibited internationally since 1999 and has had numerous solo and group shows. She has also worked within the art scene by curating, teaching and giving lectures. She was one of the founders of Kling & Bang gallery in Reykjavík in 2003 and is still on the board of the gallery. Having taught at the Iceland Academy of the Arts since its foundation Hekla is now, since fall 2012, a professor at the Fine Arts department.
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Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir’s inventive responses channel the mystique of her native Iceland. Conflated in works that run the gamut from video to photography to sculpture are notions of nature and culture, past and present, community and self-reliance, open concepts that draw upon the aura her home country holds in the popular imagination. The exotic appeal of this geographically isolated state – fueled by the words of historic sagas and the illusory visions of the northern lights – has remained intact for centuries though is now met with less romantic views too as the world’s eyes fall on its floundering economy and the disappearing icecaps of the circumpolar region of which it is a part. While the latter reflects the changing landscape of the north and perhaps a new global perspective thereof, Jónsdóttir, as well as other Icelandic artists of her generation, embraces the former, the limitless possibilities that this place stirs in the mind.
For nearly two decades now, the Reykjavík-based Jónsdóttir has looked to make physical the fanciful in the work she puts forth. As if gleaned from a dream, a perpetual display of fireworks hovered before us in her 2005 mixed media piece entitled Fireworks for L.A. Disbelief was suspended in a colourful arrangement of sound-reacting cold cathode ray tubes hung from the gallery ceiling, an apt stand-in for an endless succession of brilliant pyrotechnic explosions. Here, Jónsdóttir magically captured in object form the semblance of a fleeting moment without bringing it to a halt. In an earlier off-site project from 1998, a frozen puddle was located on a dirt path in the middle of the woods on a hot summer’s day. This surreal occurrence was achieved by placing a functioning refrigerator – door removed and facedown – over a shallow earthen depression filled with water. The apparatus used to accomplish this feat – the aforementioned appliance and lengths of extension cord that kept it running – were quietly removed without a trace. Left behind to be discovered was the small, ice-covered pool if only just for a short instant before its thaw. Through these particular gestures, as in all of her past efforts, Jónsdóttir sought out and shared with us encounters with the seemingly miraculous.
Such sentiments are echoed in her current installation that transforms the defined parameters of the gallery’s architecture into a sublime tableau of a dense forest without bounds. Walls of vertical paper strips – not unlike a thick stand of trees – dictate to an extent the navigation of the space while they simultaneously absorb a looped sequence of projected imagery. The interplay between one’s own movements, the ambient light of the video, and the resultant shadows that rake across the floor only heightens the sense of mystery that lies in wait. As the viewer makes individual passage through this latest creation by Jónsdóttir, what one finds is something that will surely enlighten and activate a journey within.
David Diviney is the curator of exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. Among other projects, he curated Sundogs: Contemporary Icelandic Art, Truck Gallery, Calgary in 2008 and the reciprocal exchange exhibition Sleepless Nights: Visions from Western Canada, Kling & Bang gallerí, Reykjavík in 2009.