Geo-Art from ‘Iceland’

By Tanya Silverman

The Aerial River Series. By Olafur Eliasson. 2000. Forty-two framed chromogenic prints, Ed. 5/6. Private Collection, New York. Copyright Olafur Eliasson.

Black, porous pumice stones speckle the Eastern-facing barrier. From an aerial view, you can follow a river meandering through jade mountain valleys. Displaced white salt sits still atop an isolated surface.

Almost no trees grow in Iceland, the country, so there are none in this respective exhibit.

Iceland: Artists Respond to a Place is a mixed-media exhibit currently installed at NYC’s Scandinavia House. Curator Pari Stave says that asking questions about human relationships to land is paramount to her approach as an art historian.

Iceland, she adds, is “a dynamically changing place of volcanic and seismic movements and dramatic atmospheric conditions,” where people become “uniquely attuned” to its earthly elements.

Lava Landscape. By Ragna Robertsdottir. 2014. Site-specific wall installation; lava pumice and adhesive. Copyright Ragna Robertsdottir.

“If you follow the news in Iceland you will see that there is a near constant awareness of weather alerts, road closings because of high winds, and health warnings because of the drift of toxic gases as a result of volcanic activity,” she describes.

Iceland premiered at the Katonah Museum in Westchester County. Stave reasons that more people are likely to observe the exhibit in the city. However, it’s probable that patrons will be of Scandinavian background, therefore familiar with Iceland’s climatic conditions.

Untitled. By Eggert Petursson. 2003. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik. Copyright Eggert Petursson.

But for us unfamiliar spectators, Iceland provides interesting introductory learning materials. We can study the country’s indigenous flowers through Eggert Petursson’s two oil paintings. To paint the intricately detailed, stoutly textured pieces, the artist worked for months at a time, by memory. Staring at Petursson’s completed colorful medleys not only exposes us to the gorgeousness of cute purple cups or fringy yellow petals, but also their biological persistence. Such dainty flowers bloom even in harsh terrains like lava pits or heathlands.

Pleasure Stones. By Egill Saebjornsson. 2008. Installation: lava stones, pedestal, single-channel video projection, sound. Private Collection, Dusseldorf, Germany. Copyright Egill Saebjornsson.

In the gallery’s smaller side room, there’s Egill Saebjornsson’s video installation, Pleasure Stones. A pair of lava stones is placed on an elevated surface, in the dark, where shades of shining light are cast, continuously shifting. Stave interprets the installation as “a sense that light and movement changes our perception of a landscape,” but that the artist “takes it to the extreme of imagining the stones are live and expressive.”

Perhaps, even though the lava presented is in a solidified state, the ever-transitioning light is meant to evoke an eerie essence of the magma’s unsettlement. For whatever prior explosions these hardened rocks originated, a future eruption is bound to affect Iceland.

Artists can render a certain stasis by documenting aspects of the changing world they experience–even if the subject fluctuates as difficultly as the geology and geography of Iceland.