Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir – Keep Frozen, part 4
Keep Frozen part four: a mixed-media installation and collaborative performance by contemporary visual artist Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir
Keep Frozen part four is inspired by reflection on the history of the Asmundarsalur gallery in the Listasafn ASÍ museum in Reykjavik – an exhibition space for paintings and the venue in which the exhibition takes place – and the history of the museum, which features a painting collection owned by manual workers. The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) owns this museum, and will celebrate its 100-year anniversary in 2016. Befittingly, the artwork on view will be developed and performed in collaboration with dock workers from the Reykjavik harbor. It is no coincidence that the Reykjavik harbor celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2015. This exhibition is the fourth in the Keep Frozen series, and it weaves together various narrative threads from previous exhibitions by Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir.
In the storage area of the fishing company Ögurvík in the Reykjavik harbor, a net and buoys weighing several tons lie in a heap, recovered from a one-year sojourn at the bottom of the sea. The net belonged to the factory freezer trawler Vigri, that lost the net to the sea at the same time as the artist's documentary film Keep Frozen was being shot, in the Winter of 2014. The documentary revolves around the unloading of frozen fish from Vigri. Coincidentally, almost exactly a year later to the day, another ship found the net at the bottom of the sea and recovered it. Its colors and texture have been deeply affected by the year it spent underwater in the salty sea. At the first exhibition in the Keep Frozen series at DE-CONSTRUKT [projekts] in New York City, Guðnadóttir exhibited tiny, delicate fragments of net threads and detritus that she had found on the Atlantic coast of Africa. Large quantities of leftover threads constantly wash ashore after floating across the ocean. Some have fallen off of ships, others tumbled into the water at faraway docks. One could say that the artist brings the theme of the net full circle by now exhibiting an entire, massive net.
Prior to the exhibition opening, a performance will take place in which the net is transported by a group of dock workers from the harbor, through the center of Reykjavik and up to the ASÍ Art Museum, which is situated at the top of a hill. There the workers will place the pile in the middle of Asmundarsal on the 2nd floor of the museum. It will not be possible to plan the date and time of this performance in advance, as it is never certain beforehand when ships will dock in the harbor and need to be unloaded, and when the dock workers will have a day off from unloading. In Asmundarsal, this heap of net takes on the role of a “found sculpture” recovered from the bottom of the sea.
At the second exhibition of the Keep Frozen series, at the Reykjavik Art Festival in 2014, Guðnadóttir introduced her thoughts on the artist-as-worker and the worker-as-artist: A series of photographs titled The Artist as Worker depicted her reenacting sequences of physical movements of manual labor, while workers held a poetry reading during the opening. The poems were commissioned especially for the occasion from a former dock worker, Hinrik Thor Svavarsson. At the ASÍ Art Museum Guðnadóttir will further explore this theme. She commissioned a series of paintings of the shipyard of Reykjavik harbor, with an emphasis on the colors and texture of ships and the methods of ship hull painting. By chance, the contemporary painter David Subhi was a worker in the shipyard at the time, and so it came to pass that a professional artist painted these paintings in his working hours as a manual laborer. Subhi himself sees his day job at the shipyard as a research opportunity for exploring the materials and methods of ship hull painting. Independently from the Keep Frozen project, he painted large-format paintings based on close range photographs of the aforementioned freezer factory trawler Vigri while dry dock repair work was being done on her. Vigri is the most beautiful ship in Iceland, with her incredible shade of dark green-blue and shapely form. Subhi has a solo exhibition of his Vigri paintings in Reykjavik shortly after Keep Frozen part four opens at the museum. One can say that in the collaboration with the painter David Subhi, Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir's research on “the artist as a worker and the worker as an artist” has come to a beautiful conclusion.
However, the circle is not yet entirely complete. Keep Frozen part four takes up a line of thought pursued by the artist in the video Material Puffin, which was shown as part of her installation at the Reykjavik Art Festival in 2014. The video shows the artist as a puffin (a female figure with a large puffin costume head) pumping liquid gold into the harbor from a gas pump. Many asked what this act had to do with the harbor, and there is of course no single answer to that, however, the artist's intentions will become clearer in this fourth sequence of the series. For the first time, a new sculpture by the artist will directly reference the video. The aesthetics of the harbor revolve largely around the eternal struggle of keeping rust at bay. Rust is created by the interplay of the sea and the metals used as construction material for ships and harbor structures. The sculpture is connected to Guðnadóttir's reflection on a quote from artist and essayist Allan Sekula, saying that if ships were made of gold then we wouldn't need to paint them in the many colors that characterize the harbors. Such a shift in the use of materials would subvert the aesthetics of harbors and our image of the harbor as a site of degradation – a place that we instinctively connect to the the melancholy of capitalism.
Keep Frozen is the title of a long-term research project that Hulda has been working on since the year 2010. A part of the research is a series of exhibitions that started with KEEP FROZEN part zero, a one-channel video that has travelled around the globe. The series continued with KEEP FROZEN part one, a mixed-media installation event at DE-CONSTRUKT [projekts], New York City in 2013. A year later the research was presented for the first time in Iceland as KEEP FROZEN part two, a mixed media installation at Gallery Thoka during the Reykjavik Art Festival. The third sequence of the series will be shown in a former power plant in Leipzig, Germany in January and February 2016, with a performance by dock workers and a subsequent re-staging of the performance as a 3-channel video installation in a 500 m2 venue. In the near future, the documentary film Keep Frozen will premiere. The film is about the unloading of the factory freezer trawler Vigri in the Reykjavik harbor. The research is discussed in detail in the book Keep Frozen – Art Practice as Research. The Artist´s View that was published in 2015 and launched at Berlin Art Week in September 2015. In the book, the artist acts as the editor of articles by other artists, philosophers and curators. The book also contains the results of audience research, an interview with the artist and 196 research and installation images. The publication was one aspect of opening up the singular research process, framing it within a wider context and relating it to other art-practices-as-research. With a symposium that will be held at the Iceland Academy of the Arts, Reykjavik on the 12th of February as well as in Leipzig, Germany in January, this objective is realized by giving other artists a platform to present their own research. Keep Frozen part four is part of the larger project Keep Frozen Projects. www.keepfrozenprojects.org
Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir was born in Reykjavik, but has lived around the world and is currently based in Berlin. After many years of traveling she studied Social Anthropology at the University of Iceland and graduated with a BA degree in 1997. She also gained an MA degree in Interactive Design before earning a BA in Visual Art at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. In 2008 she won the Icelandic Academy Prize Edda for the best documentary for the film Kjötborg, three years later, she had a solo exhibition at the Reykjavik Art Museum. Guðnadóttir has had solo exhibitions in Berlin, Barcelona and New York City, among other places, and has participated in numerous international group exhibitions and screenings. She works mainly with film and interdisciplinary media, with an emphasis on installation, sculpture, performance and intervention in works that touch on social and economic issues from a personal perspective.