Ólöf Nordal at Nordatlantens Brygge, Copenhagen
Skeletons in the Closet of History: Body parts, racial theories and colonial phantasies
Seminar 12 January 18.30 at Nordatlantens Brygge
Ann-Sofie N. Gremaud will open the seminar with an address on the many perspectives that are opened in Nordal’s exhibition. The two Icelandic researchers Gísli Pálsson and Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir have both worked with Ólöf Nordal’s exhibition when it was shown in Iceland – and Gísli, who is an anthropologist himself, will talk about the racial theories that the anthropometric survey projects have been based on and Æsa will speak about the artist’s role in this regard.
Gry Hedin will talk about the experiments done in Denmark in archeology and ethnography in the 1840s to find the Danish people’s roots and the artists’ engagement in this project at the time. Mathias Danbolt will talk about the connections between colonial history and art history – and the role of whiteness in the pedagogical apparatus at museums. Kirsten Thisted will connect it all to the North Atlantic House, and talk about Bryggen’s role as the home of the idea of the North Atlantic region and the historical and contemporary relations of the former Danish empire .
The exhibition is shown at the North Atlantic House 15 November 2014 – 18 January 2015
At first glance, Icelander Ólöf Nordal’s two series of archives resemble magnificent photos of old archive material. In fact, that is what they are – at least at first glance. However, on closer examination, you also see what the pictures are, what stories they conceal and what ideas and theories they express.
For Musée Islandique, Nordal critically examined and photographed two scientific collections with close links to Iceland, one dating from the 1850s, the other from the second half of the 20th century. The older of the two collections consists of plaster casts of Icelanders and Greenlanders: busts, hands, lower legs and torsos, all collected in the course of a French expedition to the two countries. The other was collected by the Icelandic anthropologist, Dr Jens Pálsson (1926-2002) and consists of pictures, hair samples, letters, memories, impressions of palms etc.
Nordal studied the collections, their backgrounds, the individuals responsible for them, the meaning they had in their own time and, particularly, the significance they possess today, once rescued from the dark depths of the archives and displayed in a contemporary, post-modern context.
Though the collections were established in different contexts and historical periods, their raison d’être was basically identical: a fascination with the concept of “Nordic” and a desire to gather data to substantiate the notion of a “Nordic” race. Together, the two series of works tell a wealth of stories associated with colonial history, identity and self-understanding, dodgy racial theories and changing scientific discourses.