Katrin Sigurdardottir’s entry for the Iceland pavilion, Foundation for the Lavanderia (2013) for the Venice Biennale is a beautiful piece of handmade tiled flooring that flows in and out of the laundry building; great, but what does it have to do with anything? While in any other context one might mistaken it as a mock-up display for a tiling company, I thought there might be something deeper going on here.
Based on the outline of an 18th century pavilion, with the outline of the walls and columns built up to skirting level, the Foundation firstly depicts the dichotomy between the utilitarian Lavanderia and the ‘opulent’ pavilion, and emphasizes it by floating it above the floor plane, and truncating the door so that visitors have to stop and crouch to go through the door and enter or exit the space.
The pattern of the design, vaguely reminscient of Rococo period interiors, or the interior of the multi-styled Duomo in Milan, is not found in any historic Icelandic building, which are typically like this:
Incidently this blueish color tile and flowery pattern is rarely found in any historic building anywhere; not in any Italian Renaissance cathedrals, historic Greek or Mediterranean interiors, so where does it come from? Or what does it allude to?
There are definitely some contradictions going on; the pattern is orthogonal on the inside and radial on the outside, it looks familiar, like you’ve seen it somewhere before, yet one cannot quite pinpoint exactly where. The closest would be the Milan Duomo, which was built in the 14 century and constantly re-built over and over again over centuries by different architects each time, resulting in a hodgepodge of styles, which is whats going on here.
Of interest are these ‘turf houses’ in Iceland where the turf on the ground becomes the roof of the house, and so perhaps it is a reference to that where the floor of the ‘pavilion’ becomes the national pavilion itself. But I do not know what this really means. Perhaps it has something to do with the Italian Renaissance, which never came to Iceland, and is an aspiration of what ‘could have been’, or it is a commentary on the Italian Renaissance, since this is in Italy.
The fragmentation of planes and the shifting of scales of a classical interior would form the basis of Boiserie (2010); a detachment of the interior facade and sequential miniaturization would lead one to experience a kind of gradual ‘fictionalization’ of reality, the reality, if you can call it, when one passes through the ‘noble’ entrance door frames into this space. All sense of ‘haute couture’ becomes dissolved as one experiences the wall panels warp and shift in scale, unfurling itself in a snaking pattern until they become miniaturized like a doll house, and ultimately culminating in a real classical interior that has been bleached of color and located within a dark room.
The High Plane (2005) and High Plane (2006) installations experiment with this idea of ascending to a higher level in order to view the exhibition, which is a miniature replica of icebergs in Iceland. Once there, by poking his/her head above the ground plane/sea level, one inevitably becomes part of the exhibit, as there is nowhere to go but down.
Supra Terram (2015) is an installation which is essentially a room shaped like a hollowed out iceberg, and just like an iceberg the upper 10% protrudes into the gallery level above, but unfortunately one must see the concept drawing to fully appreciate this. I almost wish the floor of the upper gallery is made of glass, so that the connection between upper and lower parts of the sculpture is visible.
Since 2004 Katrin Sigurdardottir had been using the ‘lost’ architectural history of her hometown in Reykjavik, by re-constructing in miniature scale pre-war era houses, mansions that had their plans submitted but were ultimately left unbuilt, as a basis of exploring the destruction of individual and collective memories, and the creation of new ones, in the process of modernization and urban redevelopment.
These proposed houses were meticulously built according to the plans, then subjected to various destructive forces; some of them had parts torn out, some houses were thrown or dropped from height to the ground, some were set fire to. The remnants were reconstructed, culminating in the exhibition Relics (2012).
Incidently the word ‘Relic’ is also somewhat ambiguous in its meaning; are these houses cultural relics, to be revered like religious artifacts, or are they relics, things that have been rendered obsolete by technology or progress, waiting to be discarded?
The rough clay finishes, the ripped the surface of the walls, braking them to pieces and the effect of burning parts of them produces a sort of abstraction, weathering of materiality that is strangely reminiscent of these abandoned farmhouses I found that are apparently quite prevalent in Iceland’s countryside.
These ruins which have become ubiquitous to most modern cities, have enshrouded within them, within the fabric of the weathered materiality, the lost hopes and dreams of its previous occupants, and seen collectively, of the whole country, which might be what these models are alluding to.
Subjected to the same destructive ripping and fragmenting, 11 pieces (2011) and 13 pieces (2011) displays the same nostalgia, the same (potential) loss and passage of time of other cultural institutions; the Queen’s Guard in Buckingham Palace and the Orient Express train which embodied luxury travel from Europe to Siberia during pre-war times. While the former still exists it is already becoming a ‘relic’; its use is more for show and commemoration than actual defense, while the latter is already consigned to the history books, retired by technology.
The other experiment Sigurdardottir conducted was on the house(s) in which she grew up in, culminating in the exhibition Ellefu (2012) which means ‘eleven’, which is also the street no of the house she grew up in. These architectural models, white detached interior parts of the building, devoid of material representation and furnishings, probably contains a lot of personal memory for her, but other viewers would struggle to feel it, but on the whole her work has a lot of depth.