The Reykjavík Museum of Photography is currently hosting three exhibitions focusing on the soul of the human habitat but from different aspects: the exterior in Thórir Ingvarson's “Houses are also people” (until May 4, 2011), the interior in Orri's “Interiors” (until May 8, 2011) and the aesthetics of still-life in Leifur Thorsteinsson's “Series 2011” (until March 17, 2011).
Review by Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine. Photos courtesy of the museum.
Nervous because of by my impending deadline and scratching my head in indecisiveness, Orri's “Interiors/Innvidir” brought me salvation with a flood of inspiration.
I recalled having seen the exhibition in January when it had recently opened. Sometimes going to see exhibitions is a pleasant experience like getting a surprise lollipop but once you are out on the street, you can barely remember whether it was lemon or strawberry.
In this case, the remembrance of the experience was of refined subtleness, which brings to mind a comparison with the lyrical music of Slowblow, the band of Orri (b. 1970) and Dagur Kári (b. 1973), a musician and film maker.
I decided to see “Interiors” again to check whether the passage of time had embellished my memories. The self-invented “second time trial” is a good rule. In this case, the theme of weathered houses, a road too well-traveled, seemed bound to fall prey to easily fabricated nostalgic stereotypes.
According to the webpage of the Photography Museum, Icelandic photographers have in the past “mainly focussed on the exterior of the house and the Icelandic landscape around it. Such photos have tended to be in black-and-white with a touch of romantic mystery. Orri’s photographs have a different ambiance. He seeks to capture the colourful spirits and aura of the deserted that lives in the interior of the houses (...)”
In the museum’s lobby space called Skotid, I found the work of another young photographer, Thórir Ingvarsson (b. 1982, lives in Copenhagen), who explores the colorful exterior of old houses in a misleadingly similar series of photographs, entitled “Houses are also people/Hús eru líka fólk”, which opened only a couple of days ago.
Referring to houses as people, Ingvarsson says on the webpage of the Photography Museum that “in the exhibition ‘Houses are also people’ there are many lively individuals, a mixture of very organized, lazy, colourful, thrifty, confused, crude and mature people.”
Despite Ingvarsson's intention, the presence or lack of human life doesn't really take the center stage of attention. His objective explorations of compositional elements bring to mind the structural and rhythmic pursuits of the German duo Bernd and Hilla Becher with their famous series of documented industrial buildings, rather than any implied psychological motivations.
I stared and stared at the projections of Ingvarsson's photographs on the wall (they are the same as the framed copies in the adjoining corridor) and I came to the conclusion that the exterior of a house can never fully reveal what secrets really lie in the heart of a home.
In the dictionary of dreams, the house is a symbol of the dreamer's psyche which completely makes sense, as is the popular saying “my home is my castle”.
Specific functional rooms are said to indicate an aspect of your personality. For example, the attic represents the intellect, the basement is the unconsciousness. Worn-out interiors in particular represent old attitudes and beliefs which are a symbol of a need for a change.
I totally met the reflection of my psyche in Orri's “Interiors”. Without realizing it, I started walking down memory lane recounting all the places I ever rented and their accompanying stories...
The coffin-sized room from my student days in Akureyri which was filled with dusty books up to the ceiling. After cleaning it and making it habitable, I proudly acquired my first independent territory without other roommates.
The first depressingly empty five-bedroom apartment my husband and I rented as newly weds. Our only property was old clothes and boxes of books but the apartment later became the most blissful loving memory in our life together as a couple.
Last night I fell asleep in the comfort of my self-created environment of a perfect home, trying to figure out how many countless hours of my conscious life I have eagerly spent selecting, combing, remodeling, painting and fixing the hundreds of invisible domestic details to provide my family with shelter and inspiration.
The concept of a safe home is such an illusion, though. I don't even own the place; I am still a nomad and will be broken-hearted the day I have to leave this apartment where my daughter was born. Nobody who has invested his or her heart in creating a home and utopian future could abandon that nest of dreams hastily... Orri's forsaken farms are no exception.
The works don't have titles, but individual works don't really matter. I recognized fragments of somebody's fragmented past and consciousness, which could be mine or yours.
A dead bird in the windowsill which almost seems to be sunbathing in a frozen snapshot of a momentary glee. A white curtain still hanging in its place like the white hair of an old woman waving goodbye.
A door with multi-layered paint that is peeling off in a patchwork of white, gray, rusty red, cyan, ultramarine and other shades in between where with every layer you can count the number of generations this door has outlived...
Given the ambient old-fashioned and down-to-earth mood of the works, the fact that Orri is not fond of digital technology and doesn't use a mobile comes as no surprise to me.
In an email, he confirmed that he doesn't have a website but told me that a book with this photo series will be released in the autumn by the German publishing company Steidl.
When asked about the inspiration for the series, he revealed to me that “my fascination with these places slowly evolved into a focused project. I never think of a ’project’ to work on beforehand, instead I photograph when and what I want to without any thought of how or if it will ever be presented publicly. Then, over a period of some time, I start to see something happening between some groups of images and then I start trying to mold them together into some coherent group.”
In regard to his future plans, Orri is working on several groups of ideas at the moment. For example, an ongoing portrait of his family, which he intends to exhibit some day.
In addition, he’s working on close-ups of the Icelandic flora/fauna, shot on 8x10 format. He also envisions that a family trip across Southern Mexico and the USA will become a photo travel journal including written notes.
Here it should be noted that Orri's photographs in the “Interiors” series share the exhibition space with another exhibition, Leifur Thorsteinsson's “Series 2011/Sýningaröd 2011” (to the left of the entrance), even though the difference in style and subject matter is apparent.
Thorsteinsson's still-life series are of two different types: black-and-white close-ups of a leaf, which remind me of Imogen Cunningham's elegant black-and-white close-ups of a flower, and a breathtaking painterly series of still-lives printed in color on water-color paper.
Don't miss seeing “Series 2011”, which closes on March 17, as Leifur Thorsteinsson (b. 1933) is the father of Icelandic advertising and a founding member of the Museum of Photography itself.
If I were asked to compare the three exhibitions, I’d say that the sophisticated sensitivity found in Orri's “Interiors” combines the compositional perfection from Ingvarsson's “Houses are also people” and the sensual delight from Thorsteinsson's “Series 2011”.
“Interiors/ Innvidir” runs until May 8, 2011, “Houses are also people/ Hús eru líka fólk” until May 4, 2011 and “Series 2011/Sýningaröd 2011” until March 17, 2011.
Reykjavík Museum of Photography/Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur is located on Tryggvagata 15 (6th floor), 101 Reykjavík. Admission is free.
Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine – kremenan (at) gmail.com
Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine works at home for the elderly and is a passionate collector of art books, dedicating every spare moment to learn more about art while dreaming about having an exhibition of her own. She studied graphic design at the School of Visual Arts in Akureyri from 1999 to 2002. In college she realized that she didn’t want to be a designer or commercial artist but rather an illustrator and writer. At the moment she’s experimenting with her first graphic novel.