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Interview: Ragna Róbertsdóttir

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November 24, 2015

Studio visit to artist Arna Óttarsdóttir

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by

// Íslenska að neðan //

i8 Gallery in Reykjavík celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It recently announced that a new artist had joined their list; Arna Óttarsdóttir (b. 1986), who is now the youngest artist represented by the gallery. Arna’s first solo-exhibition at the gallery was opened on November 5th displaying 9 tapestries that she created after having taught herself the art of weaving. The oldest tapestry is from 2011 but the majority of the works was created specially for the exhibition. The motifs come from her sketchbooks and are often sketches that were not really meant to stand as independent artworks. She uses Icelandic wool combined with Swedish cotton and occasionally blends it with colourful polyester and other synthetic materials.

I met Arna over a cup of tea in her home where she also has her studio. The house is located in Reykjavík’s city center and the apartment is warm and charming with plants and artworks looming in every corner. Occupying a large table in the living room is a spread-out 3000 piece puzzle that Arna works on in her spare time. The puzzle gradually displays more and more of Picasso’s black and white oil painting Guernica from 1937.

I asked Arna about her working methods, inspirations and her recent collaboration with a commercial gallery.

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What are your working methods in the tapestry? Do you use a loom or is there another technique behind the works?

Two of the works were made using a loom; the pink long one titled 3 Weeks and another one called Green Slab. For the other works I used a wooden frame where you weave over and under a warp, starting from the bottom and working your way up. The loom is more of a production equipment but the frame works better when you’re working on tapestry because you always see the image. When I first started weaving I used to put the image into a grid and counted and measured where I was at each moment. For the new pieces I used a projector and drew the image on the warp. That way it all goes much faster.

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How long does it take to make one work?

It depends on how complex they are. The large works took 4-6 weeks and the smaller ones about 3 weeks. I spent half a year working on Girl Blanket because it is so complex. It was not constant work for half a year but still, it took extremely long. There is not always correlation between the size of the works and the time it takes to make them. All the details matter as well.

Do you have some connection to the tradition of weaving through your family or from your childhood?

My mother used to learn textile at the Icelandic College of Art and Crafts so there was always a loom in my home when I was little. But I don’t remember her using it much. It just stood there in the living room and I didn’t try it until I started weaving myself a few years ago. I haven’t specifically studied the history of weaving but of course I’ve looked into what has been done in the past. That comes naturally and you start noticing textile more. I bought a book about Ásgerður Búadóttir but then I find the works of Júlíana Sveinsdóttir more interesting. I search the Internet a lot and get inspired by blogs that feature tapestry and textile.

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Arna pulls out from a drawer the first tapestry she ever made; an orange smiley-face on a white background, a bit in contrast with the works in the exhibition, at least when it comes to colour.

All the pieces in the exhibition feature a similar pale colour-palette – is there a reason for that?

The colours I use in this exhibition are colours that are not aggressive. That’s something I like. They are simply colours that I find beautiful. I am not thinking about the meaning of them. Some people find them feminine. That’s not how I see them but I still think that association is fine. For me it’s more the feeling that you get a break –they don’t demand anything much from you.

For the artworks I mostly use Icelandic wool that I dye in my kitchen at home using a Swedish wool-coulouring that my mother used to have from her school days. It comes as a powder that you mix with water. You have to boil the water and do all sorts of things with the wool. Then you use acid and heat to make the colour stick to the wool. So there is a bit of a bustle around it. I once got a spinning wheel for my birthday and made some attempts to also spin the wool myself but that was too much, on top of everything else, so I stopped that.

Tapestry is not for everyone but if you relate to it I think you should stick to it and try a bit more.

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i8 Gallery, installation view.

 

Over the past years you have done works in different media, e.g. sculpture and photography, and now you do tapestry. Is there a specific medium that you see as your medium, or is it variable?

Right now I feel that tapestry is my medium. It has been really interesting to only work on tapestry for the last year now and I really learned a lot. Now there are so many things related to tapestry that I want to try and experiment with. However, tapestry is very time-consuming and slow. I will probably keep on doing works in other medium but now I am in my tapestry-period. At the end of the day, my interest lies in various fields. I don’t think I’ve stopped doing anything. At the Art Academy I used to draw, but I haven’t done a lot of drawing since I graduated. You just somehow thread your way on.

The motifs in your tapestries are all from your sketchbooks and they all feel quite every-day. Where do you find your inspiration?

The everyday inspires me and also the insignificant things in life, as can for example be seen in a piece I once made out of crumbs from my kitchen table, things that you wouldn’t otherwise contemplate. The drawings that I used for the tapestries are either drawings that I don’t find beautiful or sketches that were never meant to stand as artworks alone. They were meant to be developed further but here I take them and use them exactly as they are. That was sort of the idea behind the works but then I think that the pieces are also something completely different. They are not necessarily a clear image of that idea.

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How is it for you as an artist to have started a collaboration with a gallery?

Of course it only recently started but I’m very happy about it. It is really good for me because I’m not a famous artist. It means a lot for me. I have sold works before but not to any extent. It’s nice to not have to think about that myself. At least this fits me very well.

What’s next up on your agenda?

Actually, I have nothing scheduled. All my focus the last months has gone into this exhibition, so the next steps are undecided.

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 // ÍSLENSKA //

i8 Gallery fagnar um þessar mundir 20 ára afmæli sínu og tilkynnti nýlega að nýr listamaður hefði gengið til liðs við galleríið; Arna Óttarsdóttir (f. 1986) sem er jafnframt yngsti listamaðurinn sem galleríið vinnur með. Fyrsta einkasýning Örnu í i8 var opnuð 5. nóvember síðastliðinn og til sýnis eru 9 vefverk sem hún hefur unnið á undanförnum árum, flest voru þó gerð sérstaklega fyrir sýninguna. Elsta teppið er frá 2011 en Arna er sjálflærð í vefnaði. Mótíf verkanna koma úr skissubókum hennar og eru gjarnan skissur sem var aldrei ætlað að standa sem sjálfstæð listaverk. Arna notar íslenska ull í bland við sænska bómull sem hún blandar gjarnan litríku pólýester og öðrum gerviefnum.

Ég hitti Örnu yfir tebolla á heimili hennar í miðbæ Reykjavíkur þar sem hún er einnig með vinnustofu sína. Íbúðin er hlýleg og heillandi og plöntur og listaverk leynast í hverju horni. Á stóru borði í stofunni er stórt 3000 bita púsl með mynd af Guernicu Picassos sem Arna vinnur að þegar hún á lausa stund. Ég spurði Örnu út í vinnuaðferðir hennar, hvað veitir henni innblástur og fræddist um nýlegt samstarf hennar við i8.

Hverjar eru vinnuaðferðir þínar í vefnaðinum? Notarðu vefstól eða liggur önnur tækni að baki?

Tvö verkanna eru unnin á vefstól; bleiki langi refillinn (3 Weeks) og verkið Green Slab. Í hinum verkunum nota ég tréramma þar sem þú strengir þræði eins og áttu og svo vefarðu undir og yfir til skiptis. Þú byrjar niðri og vinnur þig upp. Vefstóllinn er meira framleiðslutæki en ramminn hentar betur í myndvefnað því þú sérð alltaf myndina sem þú ert að vinna að. Í eldri verkunum setti ég skissurnar upp í net þar sem ég þurfti að telja og mæla hvert ég væri komin hverja stundina. Í nýju verkunum strengdi ég uppistöðuna upp á rammann og svo notaði ég skjávarpa og teiknaði á uppistöðuna. Það gengur mun hraðar þannig.

Hvað ertu lengi að vinna eitt verk?

Það fer eftir því hversu flókin þau eru, það er mikill hluti af því. Stóru verkin tóku sirka 4-6 vikur og litlu um 3 vikur. Verkið Girl Blanket tók um hálft ár því það er svo flókið. Það var ekki stöðug vinna í hálft ár en tók samt ótrúlega langan tíma. Það er ekki alltaf fylgni á milli stærðar og tíma, öll smáatriðin skipta líka máli.

Áttu einhverja tengingu við vefnað í gegnum fjölskylduna eða frá barnæsku?

Mamma lærði textíl í Mynd- og hand svo það var alltaf vefstóll heima þegar ég var lítil. En ég man ekki eftir að hún hafi notað hann mikið. Í minningunni var hann bara þarna í stofunni. Ég prófaði hann ekkert fyrr en ég fór að vefa sjálf.

Það hefur ekki verið markvisst hjá mér að kynna mér sögu vefnaðar en ég hef auðvitað skoðað það sem hefur verið gert. Það kemur eðlilega og maður fer að taka meira eftir vefnaði. Ég keypti bók um Ásgerði Búadóttur en svo finnst mér verkin hennar Júlíönu Sveinsdóttur skemmtilegri. Áhuginn á því að vefa kviknaði eiginlega af því að skoða blogg sem voru með mikið af vefnaði. Ég skoða netið mikið.

Arna dregur upp úr skúffu fyrsta veggteppið sem hún gerði nokkurn tímann; appelsínugulan broskall á hvítum bakgrunni. Skær liturinn stingur eilítið í stúf við litavalið á sýningunni í i8 þar sem öll verkin eru í svipaðri fölri litapallettu.

Velurðu litina í verkin þín eftir ákveðnum leiðum?

Litirnir sem ég nota hér eru ekki ágengir, það er eitthvað sem ég fíla. Þetta eru litir sem mér finnst fallegir, þeir eru valdir út frá því. Ég er ekki að hugsa um hvað þeir þýða. Sumum finnst þeir kvenlegir, ég tengi þá sjálf ekki við það en mér finnst sú tenging samt alveg fín. Mér finnst þetta meira vera að þú færð frí, þeir taka ekki mikið á.

Í verkunum nota ég íslenska ull sem ég lita í eldhúsinu heima. Ég nota sænskan ullarlit sem mamma átti frá sínum skóladögum. Hann er í duftformi og maður blandar duftinu út í vatn. Svo þarftu að hita vatn og gera alls konar kúnstir með ullina. Síðan er það sýra og hiti sem festir litinn í ullinni. Svo það er mikið stúss í kringum það líka. Ég fékk einu sinni rokk í afmælisfgjöf og prófaði í kjölfarið að spinna ullina líka sjálf, en það var of mikið ofan á allt annað svo ég hef ekki farið langt í því.

Vefnaðurinn er ekki fyrir alla en ef þú finnur þig í þessu ættirðu kannski að halda aðeins áfram að prófa.

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i8 Gallery, installation view.

 

Þú hefur unnið í ýmsa miðla á undanförnum árum, t.d. á nýlegri sýningu í Harbinger, Heimasæta, þar sem þú sýndir m.a. skúlptúra og ljósmyndir. Líturðu á einhvern einn miðil sem þinn miðil, eða er það flöktandi?

Akkúrat núna finnst mér vefnaðurinn vera minn miðill. Ég helgaði mig vefnaði síðastliðið ár sem var gaman að prófa því ég hef ekki gert það áður. Ég lærði ótrúlega mikið á því og nú er margt sem mig langar að prófa í framhaldinu tengt því.

En vefnaðurinn er svo ótrúlega hægfara, maður lærir svo hægt. Þess vegna hafa sýningarnar líka verið blandaðar, maður hefur ekki tíma til að gera bara vefnað. Ég mun halda áfram að gera verk í aðra miðla en nú finnst mér ég vera á vefnaðartímabili. En annars liggur áhugi minn í mörgum miðlum. Í Listaháskólanum var ég að teikna en ég hef ekki teiknað mikið síðan ég útskrifaðist. Maður bara þræðir sig einhvern veginn áfram.

Mótífin í verkunum á sýningunni eru öll úr skissubókunum þínum og eru nokkuð hversdagsleg. Er eitthvað sérstakt sem veitir þér innblástur?

Hversdagurinn veitir mér innblástur og eins það sem er ómerkilegt, samanber verk sem ég vann úr mylsnu og sýndi á sýningunni í Harbinger. Hlutir sem maður myndi annars ekki hugsa mikið um. Teikningarnar sem urðu að teppunum á sýningunni eru annnaðhvort teikningar sem mér fannst ekki fallegar eða voru teiknaðar þannig að þær áttu ekki að standa sem verk heldur átti eftir að vinna þær áfram. En hér tek ég þær og nota beint í verkin. Þessi hugmynd var útgangspunkturinn en svo held ég að verkin séu líka eitthvað allt annað, ekki endilega skýr mynd af þessari hugmynd.

Hvernig er að vera komin í samstarf við gallerí?

Það er náttúrlega bara nýhafið, en það er frábært. Rosalega gott fyrir mig því ég er ekkert frægur listamaður. Samstarfið hefur mikla þýðingu fyrir mig. Ég hef alveg selt einhver verk en ekki af neinu ráði. Það er fínt að þurfa ekki sjálfur að stússa í því. Ég held alla vega að það henti mér mjög vel.

Hvað er næst á dagskránni hjá þér?

Það er í raun ekki neitt á dagskrá. Allur fókusinn undanfarna mánuði fór í þessa sýningu svo framhaldið er óráðið.

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i8 Gallery, installation view.

 

 

 

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