North Atlantic Pavilion at Liverpool Biennial: Interview with artist Sigurdur Gudjónsson

The inaugural North Atlantic Pavilion brings together artists from Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands as part of City States at this yearʼs Liverpool Biennial. It features new works from artists Sigurdur Gudjónsson (Iceland), Hanni Bjartalíd (Faroe Islands) and Jessie Kleemann (Greenland). The exhibition showcases installations, performance and moving image works by artists from countries in the North Atlantic. Their work challenges and dissects the tensions that exist in embracing a strong national and regional identity – focusing especially on work that questions the received notions and surface appearances of what ʻhospitalityʼ means.

Aesthetica spoke to one of the exhibiting artists: Sigurdur Gudjónsson about his new video work, Prelude.

A. Firstly, lets start by talking about your creative practice. Where did it all begin for you?

SG: I started out as a guitarist in a heavy metal band as a teenager, at the same time I experimented with some paintings and 8mm films. When I joined the Academy in Iceland in 2000, I spent a whole year drawing and making some sketches before they let me into the video lab. At one point, I found that I could use music in my videos and that’s when I thought, ‘This is really it for me!’

A. How did it come about that your UK debut is with the Liverpool Biennial?

SG: I was so lucky that the curators of the North Atlantic Pavilion, Ingi Thor & Andy Brydon, were in Iceland when i did my last solo show over there at the Hafnarborg Art Museum. They came for a visit and must have liked it since they offered me to go to the Biennal.

A. Can you tell us about Prelude?

SG: I was invited by a video collector to stay in a residency in Vienna a year ago. The apartment was classical, 200 square meters flat and it was completely empty. The host offered me some furniture but I decided to turn them down – and keep it clean, apart from one chair and a desk and a bed to sleep in. I used the apartment as my studio. The floorboard were old and they creaked when I walked over them; it echoed in there similar to what you hear when you make a sound inside Icelandic caves. The spark came from the creak and that´s how it all started and Prelude is based around the interaction between the creak, the body in the space and the strings made of steels that is layered over the original vision.

A. What is it that attracts you to work with film and what are you hoping to achieve through this?

SG: I like to share my own vision and create a special environment and atmosphere, in my opinion the film medium is just perfect for that. I’m always hoping to achieve a poetical ambience through my videos. But what I also think is so great with the film medium is that I can compose sound and music over the film.

A. Your work has been described as haunting and alienating focusing on mysticism, desolation, the grotesque and the bleak. Could you expand on this?

SG: I guess what I find beautiful other people sometimes find dark or bleak. I like to figure out what is behind what you normally see because the gem might be hidden somewhere in the scrap heap. I also work with dreams and try to dig into my own sub consciousness. I guess the things that haunt me become haunting for other people.

A. You feature sound heavily in your art. Would you say that music influences your art?

SG: I would say that music is equally important to visuals in my art. Very often the sounds that I find within a space create the setting, influencing other formal and aesthetic qualities, while other times the atmosphere, in all its sensory aspects, drives a work forward.

A. What’s next for you? Can we expect to see you in the UK in the near future?

SG: Next is the Liverpool biennial and then in November I will do a solo show in Iceland in gallery Kling&Bang where I’m showing new work. I certainly hope that I will do a lot of shows in the UK in the nearest future and am looking forward to it.

North Atlantic Pavilion: City States, 15th September until 25th November, Liverpool Biennial, Ex Royal Mail Sorting Office, Copperas Hill, Liverpool, L3 1AA.

Credits: Prelude (still), Sigurdur Gudjonsson