Hulda Stefánsdóttir: In Media Res
September 18–November 6
When you entered this exhibition space you came from somewhere else. When you leave this space, you will go somewhere else.
Last year, Hulda Stefánsdóttir published the artist book Time Map with Space Sisters Press in New York. The artistic process behind the book led her to this exhibition. “Time Map is a series of smaller works, which I worked in a fragmentary continuum over a long period of time, and there are still works being added to that collection.” Works from Time Map, along with the newer additions, are displayed in the gallery’s inner hall. “It’s an indirect continuation,” says Hulda, referring to the exhibition’s larger paintings, but adds that she never thinks of her work as a linear process. There’s no beginning nor an end, more like a chaotic cross-interaction where one thing leads to another. And maybe it’s difficult to recognize the origin and where it leads.
In media res
Hulda has been reflecting on time over the last few semesters, as we all probably have. All this time that seems to be going to waste, all this time that we suddenly gained. The wait for the futurity, the wait for something to pass.
“Why are we constantly waiting for one thing to finish and another to start?” Hulda wonders.
The term in media res comes from Latin and means “in the midst of things,” and refers to when a narrative starts in the middle. But what does that mean, anyway? Shouldn’t that apply to all stories of the world? Each narrative is a result of another and the antecedent to the next one.
Hulda says that this has to do with her own approach to the artistic process. “I never approach it as a tabula rasa, a clean slate.” We start conversing about mankind’s primitive works of art, old stone carvings, markings in the shape of forms and lines. “I have been pondering over the basic human need to express oneself, both pictorially and abstract. This long and deep cultural history, how the works inevitably speak into a wider external context, both in time and space.”
Hulda mentions how the familiar sometimes appears to her in the work process: Something familiar from the subconscious, that awakens her curiosity and longing to search further. I ask her to describe her work process.
“For the last few years, I have been working with many thin layers of canvas. Layer after layer. I paint the base and then I lay an extremely thin cotton canvas over the surface and paint over it again. There’s always something that shines through.”
A clean slate doesn’t necessarily mean a new beginning.
But creating art is one thing, be it painting or writing, but exhibiting it is another thing. Mediating it. I therefore wonder if Hulda has something specific in mind when it comes to showcasing her work.
“I don’t have a specific statement in mind,” Hulda answers. I immediately understand that I touched upon something complicated. Her tone has changed. I ask if she thinks that society demands a statement from the arts and if she finds that wearying. Hulda pauses, before answering. “At least I think that art shouldn’t always have to address specific topics,” she finally answers. “Even if art is always concerning the present, it’s also transcendent in regards to time. It’s okay to just let go, come and become fascinated – or not.”
And by that, I suddenly understand where she’s coming from. I hesitate a bit before I ask her if she believes in the alteration powers of art. It sounds so ostentatious, but I feel like I need the answer.
“Yes,” she answers without hesitation. “Absolutely, always. I read poetry, listen to music, watch movies, look at art and something happens. I believe in the power of creation. I’ve been like this since I was a teenager. Maybe I’m naïve but this is how I feel.”
You can walk into an art exhibition, from wherever, and be transformed. Then keep on with your own story. In media res.
Halla Þórlaug Óskarsdóttir