Review of heima?/home? : ASI Art Museum in Reykjavik, Iceland

by Thora Thorisdottir; Translation by Jón Proppé and Published in Morgubladid, April 30, 2006, p. 44

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ladder   , detail / Installation view / 2006 / ASI Art Museum, Reykjavík.

ladder, detail / Installation view / 2006 / ASI Art Museum, Reykjavík.

The abstract paintings of Anna Jóelsdóttir are visually unusual in that their curious impact and strong authorial characteristics seem to be the artist’s personal interpretation of a metaphysical truth. Jón Proppé writes a catalogue text where he notes that Anna’s works present both pure clarity and bubbling chaos on a single canvas, these two opposite approaches that characterize abstract painting. One can easily say that contemporary art more or less always deals with contrasting, combining or synthesizing such metaphysical dualisms as spirit and matter, order and chaos, and not least logic and emotion. Abstract art in its various forms and movements was from the beginning preoccupied with formalism and rational approaches, seeking to present general ideas as simply as possible – without metaphorical or narrative ornaments – and thus to approach a more pure and enduring reality. An abstract reality.

This purely abstract reality of forms is both spiritual and rational while the other, more lyrical approach of abstraction is based on emotional intuition, the depth of chaos and intangible disorder. By simplifying somewhat we may say that these two approaches shape the conflicting ideology of abstraction in art, in the context of more general ideological, philosophical or political conflicts in our external reality. The external context today, and the ideological vision to which most agree, is that pure reason and logic is not devoid of emotion and that emotional arguments and chaos are not without some reason and inner order. Some go as far as to say that argumentation based on reason is no better than argumentation based on emotion, or that there is no difference between the two so that our old ideas about truth have become relative or have even been erased altogether. Anna’s works lie somewhere along these lines and can most simply be read as the personal expression of such metaphysics as they appear in our day. The exhibition also deals with formalism in a more symbolic way if we read the three-dimensional base of the paintings which appears in many guises. The rectangular space of the canvas is extended beyond its normal neutrality and becomes sculptural when it is replaced by wooden panels. When the wood is then cut up into strips, it becomes the foundation of paintings but the strips or sticks are also units that can be reconstructed into a new, composite, whole. A ladder [in the exhibition] made of such sticks thus manages to express a unity formed from many geometric parts whose surface is the foundation of chaotic painting. The ladder, though, is irregular and the chaotic surface, on closer inspection, reveals myriad logical symbols and conscious forms. When I read what I have written above it seems dreadfully uninspiring; the works themselves are much more colorful and attractive to the eye. As metaphysical speculation they do not perhaps manage to do much more than illustrate the zeitgeist of contemporary theory and art, but the exhibition also reveals an attempt to break up the boundaries between forms and expressions that characterize progressive contemporary art on the one hand and commercial art on the other. Here we see clearly that as soon as the works are reduced in size and presented, for example, in oval shape, they strike us as commercial art. This leads us to speculate on whether size alone is enough to dispel the feeling that an artwork is commercial or merely crafted, or whether the distinction is perhaps nothing more than an ingrained misunderstanding that we should try to rid ourselves of. Conceptual art probably never managed to escape a sort of designed approach and marketing of itself. What really matters here is that Anna’s exhibition is a valiant attempt to visualize the outer forms of order while reflecting an inner fragmentation, and vice versa, showing that these two perspectives can never really coexist and are therefore evidence of a very real conflict.