Iceland has taken part in the Venice Biennale since 1984, but the country’s pavilion has regularly changed venues. After around two decades in Alvar Aalto’s Finnish pavilion building, Icelandic artists set up shop everywhere from a 14th-century Grand Canal palace, where Ragnar Kjartansson enacted a live painter’s studio in 2009, to a 20th-century Giudecca warehouse, where Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir used synthetic hair to create a large-scale installation in 2019. This year the Icelandic pavilion will move to the Arsenale’s 450-year-old Artiglierie building, where video artist Sigurður Guðjónsson makes full use of a seven-metre-high naval workshop space with an immersive, dual-projection piece called Perpetual Motion.
Sigurður, 46, used a high-speed 4K video camera equipped to film metal dust scattering and gathering around a magnet. In post-production, he refined the imagery by altering the speed, colour and direction of the metal fragments. The finished imagery is projected on a vertical screen and along the floor. The projections are accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack—which Sigurður calls a “soundscape”—that the artist created with composer and sound technician Valgeir Sigurðsson, known for his collaborations with Björk.
Sigurður’s piece is curated by the Spanish art historian Mónica Bello, who is the curator and head of arts at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland. Bello sees Sigurður as an ideal representative of his country’s distinctive topography, marked by active volcanoes, waterfalls large and small, barren lava fields, blue-and-white glaciers and otherworldly neon-green moss. “In Iceland, you can get obsessed about the transformation of matter,” she says.
Fusion of natural and industrial
Sigurður says he is inspired by what he calls “wasteland”, such as Skeiðarársandur, a glacial outwash plain near Iceland’s south-west coast, depicted in his 2012 work Veil. He also cites the man-made wastelands of industry as an influence, and the completed soundtrack of Perpetual MOTION suggests a fusion of the natural and the industrial, like wind rushing through a working factory.
Sigurður calls Perpetual Motion a “multisensory sculpture”. And it’s colourful, to boot. Though the metal dust and the magnet are somewhere between steel- and charcoal-grey, he has used light to bring out tones from blue to yellow to purple. “It’s an interesting palette,” he says.
After Venice, Perpetual Motion will return to Iceland, to inaugurate the new building of Sigurður’s Reykjavik gallery, Berg Contemporary. Towering, ever-changing particles accompanied by shifting, alien sounds may not merit a single interpretation, and some viewers may go so far as to contemplate the spiritual implications of infinity. Does the artist expect that? “Yeah, hopefully,” he says.
Artist: Sigurður Guðjónsson
Organisers: Mónica Bello; Icelandic Art Center