About POLIS in Wroclaw

Nature is invaluable and so is life from its very start in the womb, our children and the freedom to live our lives in peace. In a perfect world all this belongs to everyone but we do not live in that world, our world is complicated by innumerable things which start at home and extend to the international community, political, economical, commercial and artistic. The tension that this creates is a theme that connects all the artworks of POLIS, a show created by five Icelandic women artists.
There is tension in the selling of Icelandic nature to the highest bidder, in the building of hydro-electric projects serving international companies with cheap electricity. Unique areas of unspoiled nature are gone forever and in the future even more might be lost. This loss and the fragile existence of Icelandic nature is the core of the artworks of Borghildur Óskarsdóttir, it is reflected in the empty moulds of clay, in the photographs showing that which is not there.
The tension between living, organic material and technological experiments that go beyond our imagination, the contradiction between folkloristic legends and modern genealogy is the main focus of the works of Ólöf Nordal in this show.
The freedom of our children is what Ósk Vilhjálmsdóttir deals with in her work in POLIS, images of the role-playing which starts at an early age are set against a background showing the fast growing capital of Iceland. Along with this sounds the empty laughter usually connected with soap-operas on TV, now eerie and hollow, reflecting on the complicated society children are a part of today.
Children and war and the effects of war on society in general is displayed without mercy in the works of Valgerdur Gudlaugsdóttir presenting tiny camouflage dresses for babies, embroidered balaclavas for everyone, unique versions of personal handguns. After 9/11 a wave of camouflage fashion swept over the western world, - are we all at war now and are even our babies part of it?
The effects of war are undertones in the works of Eygló Har›ardóttir showing a different kind of refugees than the one we see on the news every day, she shows images of tiny bats that were airborn from the mainland to Iceland decades ago. They were not always welcome, just as refugees today. But Eygló´s images show more than that, they reflect the collective unconscious and each of us sees something different in their large, coloured patterns.

Ólöf Nordal is one of not so few contemporary artists in Iceland who seek inspiration for her art in Icelandic tradition, but only she can make the link between the past and the present in a totally witty and deadpan way. Ólöf is a sculptor but also uses video and photographs is her works and installations. In one of her series she combined modern toys with traditional playthings of children in Iceland - ram´s horns, creating uncanny, disturbing objects. She makes use of Icelandic folktales and superstitions in many of her works, f.ex. creating white ravens or toying with the idea of a cuckoo´s egg, but in an unexpected way linking it with modern ideas and experiments in genealogy. Ólöf is never nostalgic and all her works manage to adress various aspects of contemporary life, such as the battle for feminism, war, consumerism or the effects of scientific discoveries on the individual. In an engaged and witty way Ólöf has shown many young artists a way to come to terms with their roots without losing their touch with the present.

It is almost possible to call
Ósk Vilhjálmsdóttir a loner in the Icelandic art scene, her strong sense of political commitment is nearly without parallel in Iceland although Ósk shares her commitment with many of her colleagues in other countries. Political engagement is strong with Icelandic artists in general regarding f.ex. nature preservation but few use it directly in their work as Ósk does. Her shows and installations are often made in co-operation with the public, such as her series of works made with children and teenagers. In a work-shop like atmosphere Ósk built a small wooden cabin together with children in various places, both in Iceland and abroad. Then she asked them to speak for the camera, asking them about their dreams and desires for the future, showing the result on a screen inside the cabin. The outcome is an engaging work of art that reveals the weaker sides of society in an almost innocent way. Another project of Ósk was her show in Gallery Hlemmur in Reykjavík in 2003. The show was called Something Else, pointing to the fact that many people would indeed like something else than they have. Ósk changed the gallery into a forum open to all, she put up a table, chairs and a coffee machine and almost every day she had more or less formal discussions led by people with very different backgrounds. The “show” was an experiment but worked surprisingly well, with a lot of people coming in every day, expressing their opinions and making interesting crossovers between f.ex. university backgrounds, artists, musicians, dentists or teachers.

In the art of
Borghildur Óskarsdóttir one sees her background, the past and the present, the near and the far, the small and the very large. Her viewers have walked across an image of the earth from its core to the surface, have watched the constellations of the night sky reflected in the water of the their swimming pool. She has presented her family tree and suggested the endless possibilities of every individual. Icelandic nature is the theme of many of Borghildur’s works, especially its fragility and the necessity of its preservation. But even when her works deal with urgent issues they always invite an open and poetic reading, in the end it is the viewer that decides, the artist respects the viewers ability to see and understand.

Eygló Hardardóttir looks at something it is never just a thing or a phenomenon that needs no further reflection. In all things, everyday or not she looks for the core, the context and the connection to all other things. Everything is alive with meaning and so are her works which can be read and understood on many levels. The unconscious has played an important part in her art, she uses images and signs of the human mind, uses system such as the Rorschach test and plays with the juxtaposition of this with images from everyday life such as newspaper images.

The constant bombardment of propaganda on our lives is one of
Valgerdur Gudlaugsdóttir´s main themes. She displays the commercialization of women, children and war, nothing is sacred in her works just as in the society she reflects on. The constant power struggle in our everyday life is illlustrated in her more recent works, the struggle between the sexes, the brute force which more often than not is used by the stronger to control the weaker. In a larger context these works reflect on war in general - Iceland is a country at war, the government supporting the US invasion in Irak. Nobody is innocent, even when we think we are we might unknowingly support the waging of war by dressing ourselves or our children up as little soldiers, babies ready for camouflage action.
Text by Art Critic Ragna Sigurdardóttir