Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir´s KEEP FROZEN at Þoka
Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir´s KEEP FROZEN opens at Þoka Gallery on the 31st of May.
Þoka is a small exhibition space nestled away under the Hrím design store on Laugavegur. Aldís Snoradóttir started the gallery in May 2012. The space has seen an exciting and varied program since its conception with a range of artists and designers interpreting the space including Davíð Örn Halldórsson, Björk Viggósdóttir and Rebekka Moran. I spoke to Aldís about the gallery and the upcoming opening on the May 31st of Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir´s continuing project Keep Frozen part two.
Carmel: What inspired the idea of starting your own gallery space in Reykjavik?
Aldís: I had always been interested in opening a gallery at some point after my studies but I moved back to Iceland early 2012 after pursuing a BFA degree in art history abroad. Iceland has very many talented artists and exhibition spaces have been limited. I wanted to open a commercial gallery but still maintain some of the risks artist-run-centres are able to take when it comes to the nature of the exhibition. I guess Finally I was determined that I wanted to open a gallery while eating a typical Christmas dinner, glazed ham, in March 2012 with friends. We were joking around with big ideas and saying that I should just open a gallery and exhibit the works by another dinner guest, who is an artist. It all happened in the end.
C: Were there any particular galleries or project spaces that inspired the model of Þoka?
A: I have been a big fan of i8 gallery for many years and admire how they have built up their small gallery into a internationally known and respected art establishment. In my opinion they are strong in choosing artists and it has been to their advantage that they stick to their aesthetic taste and are not afraid of taking risks, resulting in interesting exhibitions. Surely they have been an inspiration in many ways.
C: You studied in Montreal, Canada. How did your time there affect the way you viewed the Icelandic gallery scene?
A: In Canada, and especially in the province of Quebec, there is a strong artist-run-centre scene and I was fortunate enough to be able to intern for almost a year at one of the more established ones, Centre des Arts Actuels Skol. So I guess I got to know more about the ins and outs of artist-run-centres rather than commercial galleries. My feeling was that the running of these artist-run spaces was more organized than here in Iceland as 2-3 people in each space worked at the office from 9-5. Of course the environment is very different in Canada since the funding of art projects is more generous and not really comparable to the situation in Iceland.
C: How did the gallery begin? What was in the space before you got there?
A: Around the time I was settling back in Iceland friends of mine were opening Hrím on Laugavegur. They had an empty space in the basement and asked me if I was interested in opening a gallery or do something creative with it. I was thrilled and started working. It used to be a clothing store and the space was a mess, with wallpaper, horrible lighting and poles sticking out of the walls. Many hours were spent in the space altering it so it would become the white cube space it is today. Hrím funded the starting cost of the gallery, bought lights and paint and many hands participated in cleaning it up. Today received grants cover all extra cost associated with the gallery but Hrím provides the space which is very generous.
C: Although you did have the show during the design festival Raise the Flag celebrating alternatives to Iceland´s flag, the gallery seems to have quite a broad range of contemporary art practices not particularly design. Have you felt any need to refer to the design shop above you or is the gallery a totally independent space?
A: The gallery is independent and has mostly focused on visual arts by young and emerging artists. But I think it makes sense to refer to the store to some extent and DesignMarch has been a great venue to make that happen. Open calls have been made to designers of all kinds and Tinna, the owner of Hrím, has participated in the decision process. The exhibitions during DesignMarch have been more visible above ground and in the store as there have been made window displays directly related to the exhibitions. I’m not sure I would have sought after participating in DesignMarch in the beginning if the gallery was not located in the basement of a design store but my experience in doing so has been great and I consider it a good twist in the exhibition year. It has also attracted a different audience, which is great.
C: What have the challenges or advantages been with such a small white cube space?
A: I have mostly felt that there are advantages of being in a small, windowless, white cube space. It has proven to be a comfortable size for solo shows and it has been easier, or come more naturally, to create little worlds and absolute experiences. Of course there are some challenges, for example it is not possible to exhibit very large scale works and some times it would be better if the ceiling was a little higher or a more distance could be made with a projector. But these are minor problems almost not worth mentioning.
C: What has steered your selection of artists? Is there a particular thread you carry through the exhibition schedule?
A: I have been focused on exhibiting new works by young and emerging artists that have previous experiences in exhibition making. I am interested in exhibiting diverse works based on strong concepts and I encourage experimentation. It has been wonderful to see the results of some of the artists that have gone outside their comfort zones and taken risks. I also try not to put too similar artists right after each other, preferably working in different media. I really like it when exhibitions are great contrasts so the feeling is almost like a new and different space is being entered with each exhibition.
When the gallery first opened I contacted the artists that I wanted to exhibit and hoped that they would accept to show since I was new to the scene and unknown. Today I receive too many excellent applications from Icelandic and foreign artists and wish I could fit more of them in the program. I choose every artist and try to choose artists that in my opinion fit ÞOKA’s mandate. It is hard to pinpoint what ÞOKA’s mandate is exactly since it is mostly based on my taste and interest.
C: How much input do you have in each show? Do you write an accompanying text for all of them?
A: I have some input in every show. I have written most of the accompanying texts, which in my opinion is an important asset to a show. So I often do extra research and try to get an in depth understanding of the concept and the practice of the artist. I also do PR related stuff, create FB events, send out press releases and invitations to our mailing list and try to get some media coverage. The artists usually have an idea how they want to install and I sometimes comment and help to find solutions to problems that might occur. It is important to me to be involved with each show and it gives me great joy.
C: Can you tell me about Hulda Rós Guðnadóttir’s work coming up for the Reykjavik Arts Festival?
A: Keep Frozen part two is a part of an exhibition series and a larger art-research-project that involves a documentary and a book publication. Keep Frozen part zero is a single channel video which has been displayed at various video festivals and Keep Frozen part one was a mixed media installation exhibited at De-Construkt, New York. Keep Frozen part two, which is taking place at ÞOKA during Reykjavik Arts Festival, is an installation that consists of a sculpture, photos and a video. Guðnadóttir is researching childhood memories of the aesthetics of the harbour, the docks and the sea in general. She is an observer of socio-political issues and approaches the subject in a surreal and abstract manner. The often forgotten or hidden work of dock workers is examined and she puts it in context with the artist as worker. It is a multilayered and thought provoking work.
C: Was this work chosen to be part of the festival in particular?
A: When Guðnadóttir approached me early fall 2013 I was very fascinated by her ideas. I had been thinking a lot about art-as-research projects so I was excited to be a part of it. Since the exhibition was supposed to take place in May/June 2014 I decided to contact the Reykjavik Arts Festival and propose to them the exhibition, which I considered built on a strong concept. Fortunately it fell well within the theme of the 2014 festival, unfinished work or work in process, so it was accepted to be a part of the festival’s program.
C: There are many different types of essays in the book accompanying the project (published in early 2015) as well as the two previous incarnations of Keep Frozen, how do you as a curator deal with presenting this amount of research in an exhibition setting?
A: This exhibition is a single chapter in this project by Guðnadóttir and this is the only chapter I am directly involved with. I will make sure that enough information accompanies the exhibition so that people can get a better picture about the project as a whole. An artist talk will also be held June 1st where the artist will discuss the work and how it relates to the Keep Frozen project in general. The exhibition consists of elements that have been used in previous parts of the project and that will be used in upcoming parts. Even though this is a research the results are not presented in a scientific way but as an installation.
C: What is in store for Þoka in the future?
A: There are some interesting exhibitions coming up this fall, first Ragnar Jónasson then Curver Thoroddsen and finally Áslaug Íris Katrín Frijónsdóttir. Hopefully we will be able to start representing artists soon and work for them more extensively. There are plenty of talented artists here in Iceland that deserve a worldwide attention.
Aldis Snorradottir (b. 1983) is a curator, writer and a gallery director. She finished her BFA degree in Art History in 2011 from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada and is currently pursuing her MA degree in Art Theory from the University of Iceland. She also holds a BSc degree in business from the University of Iceland. Snorradóttir has written about arts for the Nordic Style Magazine and recently wrote an essay about works by Rakel McMahon for the exhibition View of Motivation. She was an exhibitions assistant during Art Pop in 2011 (part of Pop Montreal music festival) for Adventures, an exhibition by members of post-punk band The Raincoats where she worked closely with the artists. She has held the position of a gallery director at ÞOKA since May 2012.
Carmel Seymour (b.1979) graduated from Honours in fine art in 2009, at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia. Since graduating she has participated in a number of international residences in Iceland, Germany and the Winterjourney program at the Banff Art Centre in January 2014. Her work has been featured in Australian Art Collector, The Age and Art Monthly and is in numerous collections including The Proclaim collection and Artbank. She was the recipient of the 2013 Stuart Black Scholarship for drawing. She currently divides her time between Reykjavik and Melbourne and is undertaking her Masters of arts degree at the Iceland Academy of Arts. Carmel is represented by Helen Gory Gallery.