Review by Katharina Hauptmann. Photos by the author and courtesy of the gallery.
Until recently I had only be familiar with Guðmundur Thoroddsen's beautiful paintings. So I was rather surprised when I entered Gallery Þoka, where Guðmundur’s exhibition ‘Hlandvættir’ is currently running, finding wooden sculptures and ink drawings but no paintings.
In the left and right corner at the back of the showroom two big, wooden sculptures of men’s heads seem to watch over the exhibition.
The heads have huge, pointy ears, painted beards and rockabilly hairdos and are roughly carved.
In the center of the room is a goblet made of horse excrement surrounded by small, wooden statues, which depict men pissing in the direction of the goblet.
On the walls are several black ink drawings on paper showing peeing men as well as portraits of heads.
The whole scene reminded me a little bit of an ancient burial chamber.
In addition there was a sound piece played in the showroom which consists of male voices cheering or chanting.
I was intrigued and fascinated by this beautiful show and came to wonder why Guðmundur suddenly abandoned painting in favor of other materials.
Guðmundur Thoroddsen (b. 1980) obtained a BFA degree in visual arts from the Iceland Academy of the Arts in 2003 and graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York with an MFA in 2011.
His last solo exhibition, ‘Father's Father’, took place in January 2012 at the Asya Geisberg Gallery, New York, and was in the same vein as ‘Hlandvættir’ but much more serious.
The title of the show, ‘Hlandvættir’, is a word game. In Norse mythology, the landvættir are spirits protecting Iceland, whereas hland means “urine”.
With ‘Hlandvættir’, Guðmundur allows himself to play around and be a bit foolish, as he told me.
When he began his studies in New York, he had grown tired of painting and didn't enjoy it anymore. So he shifted his focus to wood carving instead.
The whole process was rather different from how he normally works, Guðmundur explained. Usually he gets an idea, then thinks about the material and at last picks the tool.
This time Guðmundur had the tool first—as he had received an axe as a birthday gift—so he started carving wood.
The main topic of the show, the pissing men, is treated very delicately and did not strike me as obscene at all.
It came about when the artist starting thinking about all those silly things men do to prove their masculinity in the context of ritualistic competitions, as in pissing contests, etc. “To me this is just silly and funny,” says Guðmundur, “but maybe those men are being serious, I don't know.”
This is also were the sound piece comes in and unfolds perfectly. The chanting reminded me a lot of the typical cheering one would hear in a beer tent at the Oktoberfest in Germany where guys urge their buddies to drink more and faster.
It sounds like male silliness to me.
Working with ink is an entirely different experience to the artist, as ink acts quite differently than the paint Guðmundur is used to. The ink dries faster and is maybe even a bit unpredictable. This is much to Guðmundur's liking, as he used to be precise when it came to painting.
Weirdly enough, the first question that popped into my mind when looking at the excrement goblet, was whether the shit was from Icelandic horses. And indeed, it was.
“I've always been interested in shit as a material, I even wrote my master's thesis about it,” Guðmundur told me.
But there is more to the exhibition than just male foolishness.
There is a more serious undertone of death or mortality as well, as the setup of the artwork resembles a burial chamber or an excavation site.
The goblet could be an urn, the landvættir guardians watch over a tomb and the small statues of the urinating men could be archaeological findings.
Guðmundur had the idea for the setup while he was in New York and experienced a loss in his family which made him think a lot about rituals involving death.
Still, in this exhibition he tries not to take the death topic too seriously but “joke and be practical about it.”
The new avenues the artist has been exploring with this solo exhibition are as fascinating and intriguing as they are promising. It will be interesting to see where Guðmundur Thoroddsen will go from here.
Katharina Hauptmann – [email protected]