Bryndís H Ragnarsdóttir and Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir
text by Markús Þór Andrésson
An evening in Paris of surreal role-play, fantastic confabulations–and a superb meal.
For two months this spring, artists Ragnarsdóttir and Hauksdóttir are collaborating on a series of performative works. Even though they are still without a clear end result at this stage, a studio visit reveals an interesting and playful approach to a work in the making. The women are currently artists in residence at Kjarvalsstofa in Paris, The Kjarval Residency, named after the renowned painter (who has his own museum in Reykjavík). The studio is situated in The Cité Internationale des Arts, a complex of apartments and studios close to the Notre Dame that has accommodated more than 18 000 artists from all over the world since its opening in 1965.
Bryndís Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir and Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir use their time in Paris wisely, planning delightful soirées in order to meet interesting people and have fruitful conversations–precisely as one should in that beautiful city. Their project, entitled Assembly of the Holy, began with a written outreach to sixty-odd people. By old-fashioned mail, friends, acquaintances, artists who they admire and other heroes received a personal letter in a pink envelope. “We would like to invite you to join a gathering in Paris this spring. […] As part of the project we selected individuals a seat at an assembly for one evening in Kjarvalsstofa. We will host four such gatherings. The concept of the project is further explained on the following pages.”
The letter sets the rules of the game; each invitee is cast in a specific role to be played out during the event. Among characters are Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, the philosopher Hannah Arendt, the writer Truman Capote, the lead character in the series of French soft-core erotic movies, Emmanuelle, the Dadaist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the literary figure George Bataille, Marilyn Monroe and Mary Magdalene, to name but a few of the historic and fictional personages. Ragnarsdóttir and Hauksdóttir take turns in impersonating the Secretary and the Animal. The former is braced with a camera on her forehead during the evening, documenting silently whatever takes place, while the latter is an incorporation of the unsupervised and uncivilized, turning to whatever means required to stimulate the flow of events.
According to the artists, the idea behind the soirées is based on a longing to explore the notion of the feminine via pathways that were developed before the post-modern era. As an example they look to the Surrealists, the Dadaists and other modern artists and thinkers. They moreover trace the history of the feminine further back to ancient ideas, relating women with certain animalistic attributes. When body and mind became separate entities in human thought, man was linked with the soul and woman with the body; their unity as a couple completing the human condition. The feminine was thus from the outset related to Earth, the primal and the wild. Ragnarsdóttir and Hauksdóttir want to revisit these ideas, merging the refined and civilized etiquettes of the soirée with animalistic elements, exploring the outcome through works of art.
Alain Badiou’s criticism of the post-modern condition seems to be at play in the artists’ revision of historic ideas about the feminine. Challenging the politically correct vision of contemporary gender theories, they bring back into effect the anachronistic notion of binary logic and difference. In any case–if only for an evening–they do seem to be in allegiance with the French philosopher, fighting his dystopia of an atonal world–un monde atone: “We want to acknowledge the ideas of women as representatives of nature and sister of animals and reclaim them as a basis of intellect. We therefore seek to accept and celebrate this heritage rather than oppose it. Animal intellect and instinct, historically associated with the feminine, will be unveiled for one evening at a time in a holy assembly.” Needless to say, Mr. Badiou has been sent a letter of invitation, but he still has not replied.
And how did the first evening turn out? The first Assembly of the Holy has already taken place as a kind of a dress rehearsal. Guests showed up and according to Ragnarsdóttir and Hauksdóttir, everything was “very improvised and very beautiful”. They shot video and photographs and now plan to go through with a few more events before their residency in Paris expires. The artists plan to exhibit the work resulting from their experiments in France, in venues in the Netherlands in the fall and later in Germany and Iceland.