Ritualised Logic. The magic of Sigurdsson's work is not only about a re-contextualisation of different forms but of a seeking to invest and uncover new or latent unstable meanings. The work as a whole rewires the apparent connectivity of the world, to materially and conceptually infect systems of logic.
There is something sinister about reversed playback. It most likely relates to the sense that the contrary running of causality, which sucks the present into the past, builds monsters. Sometimes they find physical form: such as the apparent demonic voices that escape when certain records are played backwards, or in the image of being pursued through a persistent twilight by a ravenous garbage truck. But these aural and visual effects are symptomatic of a deeper unravelling. The recorded medium has voodoo qualities, which can generate a curse that is capable of infecting any living presence. William Burroughs was convinced of this and thought the process of recording and playback in a particular location was capable of unleashing this curse in virus form. To demonstrate this use of playback as a weapon he targeted The Moka Bar, an espresso cafÃ© in Soho, London. The justification for this attack was cited as surly staff and a dubious cheesecake. The effects were terminal: The Moka Bar was rendered inert, its clientele deserted, it closed down a couple of months later and was replaced by the/Pressrelease/ Queens Snack Bar.
Burroughsâ€™s literalisation of the effects of re-presentation belongs to an apparent fear incumbent upon humanity that the image necessarily depletes the original. But this approach to sampling, this imposing of death through the fragmenting of the source and its reinsertion within itself, exists beyond theory into practice. And the presence of death, but also regeneration, seems to pervade Sigurdssonâ€™s exhibition. The disparate elements are presented as ritualisations of finality. At points this is overtly expressed through the monuemtalisation of garbage and its social infrastructure, or by the appearance in the gallery of a closed-down, but soon to be reincarnated, shop (complete with a cryptic message in its window which curiously conflates consumerism and religion). Though evident in such particulars, the work should be considered as a totality; the exhibitionâ€™s meta-structure exists as a parallax of ritual and gesture, which moves to a point of transcendence.
Perhaps a caveat or warning should be inserted here: logic is a dangerous thing. It inhabits the world as a passive but pervasive presence, a summation of the ways in which things stand in relation to one another. The structures that hold everything as everything are fundamentally transparent only being made visible through rationalithe exhibitionâ€™s meta-structure exists as a parallax of ritual and gesture, which moves to a point of transcendence.ty. Like Burroughsâ€™s suggests maybe we donâ€™t, or even canâ€™t, know all of those logical relations or exactly how they pertain to the objects of the world. And so the progress of science in obviating the ritualised everyday practices causes certain logical relations to be missed. Yet thankfully we persist with them, we continue in such mundane magic by avoiding walking under ladders, and by uttering blessings when someone sneezes, to prevent the devil from entering their souls. So in our actions we are not completely deferent to the known rational logic structures but nor do we disregard them. This exhibition revels in this healthy irreverence. Take for example the anagrammatic reorientation of the gallery artistsâ€™ names as they are printed in the window space. What is more of a marker of the individual than their name? It is our individual being made into language, a person in word form. With each twist and turn of the repositioned letters and names, identity gets entangled. What makes this mild intervention more troubling is the residue of the initial name that is retained and struggles to be seen under the confusion. It is not a blanket destruction of the name as a signifier; rather it entraps the individual either within their own name or entwines it with another. And, in effect, populates the gallery inventory with a horde of nearly real artists.
Sigurdsson use and understanding of gesture and ritual, has a subtlety in approach. The captivating properties of the individual works appear to carefully conceal a strategy that Burroughsâ€™s would undoubtedly approve. The seduction of the images and objects entice our gaze through a benign presence which ultimately entraps us within. For instance, what harm can an inkblot do? Its â€˜accidentalâ€™ appearance may be thought to ensure ambivalence of meaning and effect. It could be imagined that this is what Rorschach was relaying on when his subjects first encountered those curious forms. It is not the sort of test that is possible to get â€˜wrongâ€™ but as such the psychoanalyst â€” convinced of its validity â€” uses it to uncover the logical patterning of the subjectâ€™s consciousness. The image is a probe to uncover the psyche and here â€“ with the Delivery System garbage â€˜inkblotâ€™, the neutrality intentionally compromised â€” we can gaze on the detritus of the everyday and see incredible forms emerge. The caution to be exercised, and the risk that the psychoanalysts exploited, is our ability to spontaneously see form, connection and meaning in unrelated phenomena. This process of apophenia, that is the fallacious extrapolation to conclusions of connections that are beyond the evidence, is precisely the trap for any attempted explanation of the functioning of ritual and magic. But perhaps magic and ritual is operating outside of verifiable rationale. The Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, hinted at this possibility, in considering the relational actions of schizophrenics to the world. Laing questioned the possibility of their actions not simply being the result of crazed delusions but rather an appreciation of connectivity within the world that rationality blinded us to.
So this leaves us with the question of what we see in Sigurdssonâ€™s garbage-blot, and wider, what do we understand in this accumulation in the gallery as a total? What does Sigurdssonâ€™s magic aim at? Perhaps the answer can be traced through one series of works so far only alluded to; the fabric canvases created from the material from which garbage collectors and other public services workers uniforms are made. These can be partially understood within the art historical context of Neo-Geo (the art movement linked to NYC in the 1980s around Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton et al.) that developed a style which exploited colourful yet prosaic geometric arrangements. Their uncompromised aesthetic often developed from existing systems such as printed circuit boards. But Sigurdsson is not interested in utilising an arbitrary system, as say Halley would have, but instead uses the actual materials which in themselves contain a codification that identifies it to a very particular systemised aspect of humanity: waste processing. And in turn there is a direct connection to other works by Sigurdsson that reference the process of garbage accumulation and disposal both in this exhibition and in previous work (such as thegarbage bag photography series from 2004). These build to generate an understanding of the specific extensions that originate in the ritualistic practises of consumerism and progress through the garbage management process to the final, literal, creation of new landscapes. Yet Sigurdsson approach is the initiation of an aesthetic inversion, where the waste and its processes becomes fetishised, making our own detritus, which is usually considered repulsive, unexpectedly reveal its beauty that lurks within. This looping of cause and effect unravels the functional conduit which underlies the consumerist ritual, a process that requires regular purging to create the space to start accumulation afresh. Within this context, garbage disposal and waste management processes take on mythic proportions. It becomes a system for recurrent cleansing that is unlike the Christian confession, which atones the sins, in that this purging operates only as a domestic stocktaking to make more space for new purchasing opportunities. The unspoken facilitator within this cycle of purchasing fetishism is the garbage heap, a silent witness to the continual process of acquiring and disposing, that becomes an object of confused wonderment and a new, continually morphing, landscape. These mounds on the peripheries of our towns stand as monuments to this process and are literally compressions of our aspirations and dreams as represented through this consumerism.
The magic of Sigurdssonâ€™s work is not only about a re-contextualisation of different forms but of a seeking to invest and uncover new or latent unstable meanings. The work as a whole rewires the apparent connectivity of the world, to materially and conceptually infect systems of logic. Sigurdsson is a sly magician. His evocation of forms, systems and cultural detritus draw out a series of speculative relationships that exult in their uncorroborated and extrapolated connectivity, to exploit the nascent desire within us to comprehend the world as behaving as a unified whole. Thus Sigurdsson makes use of that hazy area where rationality fails to find the logic. The result being that the exhibition takes us on an excursion into the unexpectedly near margins of common day magic through which it develops a nexus to question the nature of our attitudes towards systems of meaning. Individually the works have a subtle potency yet in concert they unmask the moulding of the causal functionality of the world. Yet strangely in an exhibition populated with so much waste and finality the possibility of transcendence is perpetually near, rebirth, rewiring and renegotiation allows a sidestepping of condemnation. Which ends with the questionable possibility that we may even know who â€˜nroh nirakâ€™ could be.
I first encountered Hrafnkell Sigurdsson's photographs in Reykjavik a year and a half ago, at the suggestion, I might add, of PÃ©tur Arason, who in his typically concise, quizzical, raised-eyebrows way wondered, well, whether there might really be something there. He was right, there was, and I recall being transfixed by Sigurdsson's head-on, large-scale photographs of snowy mountains or seemingly remote geologic formations which turned out to be nothing more than "mountains" of snow on streets in the small town of Selfoss, heaped into big piles by snowplows after a storm. These photographs yield a wonderful confusion between landscape and villagescape, natural and man-made environment, and there is also something refreshingly topsy-turvy about them in Icelandic terms: not photographs of Hekla, Thingvellir, or any other renowned site but of ignoble snow piles on Raudholt Street, in the center of Selfoss, or j/Pressrelease/ust off the main road Austurvegur. Nothing could be more anti-romantic, but still Sigurdsson's photographs are undeniably gorgeous and seductive, and in a way that conjures (however obliquely, however tongue-in-cheek) psychologically transportive encounters with the startling geology for whic h Iceland is known. Moreover, you look at them, and you are duly dazzled, yet there is something absurd about being dazzled by what is in effect detritus, namely a mess of snow cleared off the streets in order to make them passable. But in the meantime, something downright meditative develops, even a sense of wonder and difficult awe, and that's also what happens with Sigurdsson's new photographs, all taken of tents in the landscape.
Hrafnkell Sigurdsson's new body of photographs picks up on his signature nature-culture collisions, here with vivid, head-on shots of various tents seemingly situated in the remote wilderness, but in fact all taken within a 50 minutes drive of Reykjavik, and sometimes a lot closer. In each photograph, the tent assumes a giant-sized part of the shot.
Always in the middle as a looming monochromatic force, it, and not the surrounding landscape, is the dominant element. As much as there are suggestions of physically challenging, psychologically-charged encounters with nature in these tent scenes, there are also clear suggestions of glossy, product -hawking advertisements in some sleek outerwear catalogue, and you pay careful, almost acquisitive attention to the specifics of each tent and the differences between them: for instance a lime green one with an interesting flap, or a dark one the color of onyx, or another red as a sunrise, all of which would be good to use, all/Pressrelease/ of which would be excellent to own. In Sigurdsson's wilderness Pop, mass-produced sporting goods products infiltrate the natural vistas and amazing geologic formations where they are situated with startling effects; they at once fit in and disturb. In any event, these are the commercial days when, in order to have a "pure" wilderness experience, we first have to go shopping for all sorts of colorful, synthetic stuff which advertises good health and robust energy. Like his photographs of snow piles, Sigurdsson's tents also succinctly occur at the border not only between city and landscape, but between old and new Iceland: the Iceland of big distances, remoteness, sweeping interiors, precarious winters, and widely scattered rural enclaves and the relatively new, urbanized, mobile, jazzed-up, recreational Iceland comprising a Scandinavian paradise in the north which is good for the health and the soul and just perfect for vacationing tourists. Or for back country trekkers with their requisite tents.
All of this feeds into Hrafnkell Sigurdsson's photographs, yet what really singles them out is the uncanny way that typically austere and elemental, yet resolutely straightforward, shots of something so familiar as tents wind up so visually vital and richly enigmatic. A large black tent with a vaguely menacing air, erected on a snowy valley field, is clearly a tent, but in Sigurdsson's photograph it takes on other complex associations. For one thing, its sloping form mimics outcroppings, various hills, rock shapes, or lava formations in the area. This is an artifice with very nature-like attributes, and once again you get the feeling that some kind of border between human (tents are, after all, designed for a very specific human use) and inhuman is being traversed. For another, this temporary, nomadic abode in the middle of nowhere also looks suspiciously alien, and I mean really alien, as if a UFO had landed to explore Iceland's interior (from time to time Sigurdsson augments the otherworldly quality in his work by slightly manipulating the image on his computer.) Meanwhile, a bright crimson tent, tethered by ropes and spikes to a snow field, is at once brazen and fragile, but it's also one of many instances when a slightly eerie beauty creeps in along with an almost unnerving loneliness. Here the tent seems to be in dialogue not just with the surrounding landscape, but with the cosmos writ large-with the snow-covered fields, and the vast, bluish-white sky, but also with what is under the fields, what lies behind the sky.
While Sigurdsson's methodology, including computer alterations, is technologically advanced, his photographs remain austere and uncluttered, and in this sense he's part of Minimalist-inflected strain of artmaking which has for long proved to be so potent in Iceland. However his photographs are also visually lush, and in any event such a combination of austerity and lushness is prime territory for this artist. I hate to refer to famous critics, and especially critics whose last names begin with the letter "B" (like Bakhtin or Baudrillard, Barthes or Benjamin) but in a post-Benjamin era it's obvious that any number of painters have incorporated techniques of photographic representation into their work. Sigurdsson, on the other hand, is part of a new generation of artists who are incorporating distinctly painterly elements into their photographs, and indeed not only the visual complexity of his works, but also their size and shape, very much suggests painting per se. In his very painterly photos, everything clicks visually: the shape and color of the tents in the foreground, the empty, usually snowy expanses stretching off into the distance, acute natural light; skycapes, clouds, horizon lines. If you like pure retinal pleasure you get this in droves, although always with Sigurdsson's kind of less-is-more elementalism. Personally, I think it likely that Hrafnkell Sigurdsson's photographs of tents, which suggest a mediated nature in an ultra-mediated time, are ultimately a lot more connected with the tradition of landscape painting in Iceland than one would normally suppose, for instance with the paintings of ÃsgrÃmur JÃ³nsson and ThÃ³rarinn B. ThorlÃ¡ksson, or the bristling lavascapes of JÃ³hannes Kjarval. In his photographs, Sigurdsson never discloses any human activity, and he leaves it entirely ambiguous exactly why the tents are there. But still these pared-down encounters between tent and landscape amount to a quirky, but very compelling, engagement with this specific land and what it symbolizes, with this homeland and all that it means, with this landscape and the abiding pull that it still has (one guesses) on Sigurdsson's psyche.
11 am - 5 pm Wednesdays to Fridays
1 pm - 5 pm Saturdays and by appointment
Admission free - All welcome