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Venice: Katrín Sigurdardóttir’s “Foundation” for the Icelandic Pavilion

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Katrín Sigurdardóttir is calm and collected when we meet at her breezy studio in New York. An impressive feat considering the artist just arrived from Istanbul moments before our interview. Inside her sparse bright, workspace lie the ruins of her latest project for the Icelandic Pavilion of the 55th Venice Biennale (now on view). Sigurdardottir sat down with Whitewall last month to discuss her process in preparing for the show and what people can look forward to seeing from the artist in the near future.

WHITEWALL: The works that you made for the Icelandic Pavilion as well as your structures for your exhibition at the Met in 2010 have a very strong architectural presence. What’s the most difficult part of the process of creating these kinds of installations?

Artisinal tile construction and mixed media installation

KATRIN SIGURDARDOTTIR: Obviously I am drawn to a process that is very intensive, and I like to be involved in every aspect of the production of the work. The Venice Biennale work is a work that I drew from scratch. I started the first part of the process [by adapting] some examples of 18th-century decorative arts and architecture to fit into the site that I wanted to work with. There was a lot of study of pattern and basically before we started producing anything, I had been drawing for a solid year.

Then the other part of it is to come up with a pattern for this ornamented floor that works out and that can be produced and is intense and interesting and unique and artful and makes sense in the shape that I’ve created.

Photo by ORCH_orsenigochemollo

WW: The Venice Biennale is a major contemporary art meeting place, geographically and otherwise. Did you feel any kind of obligation to produce something that was very nationalistic or centered on Iceland?

KS: I think it would be a mistake to try to contextualize one’s work specifically to the perimeter of the Biennale. I think the Biennale is just a large international art show.

Courtesy of the artist and the Icelandic Art Center

I was asked in Iceland, why I didn’t choose something more Icelandic, but I think the work is Icelandic in its appearance. This is a piece that uses history to speak about the present. It’s using the cannon or the legacy of what now has become contemporary art. At one point in time this was the art of the moment.

Although this work could be viewed as more closely related to the decorative arts, it does question the boundary between what’s decorative and what’s not. There’s an incredible contrast between the pre-existing building and this proposed place and I think there [are] questions of value that are raised in the work and I think that in some way this can be brought back to and seen in context of recent events in Iceland and in the world.

Artisinal tile construction and mixed media installation

WW: It’s always intriguing to know which artists other artists are interested in. Which artists at the Biennale are you looking forward to seeing this year?

KS: I’m so pleased with having been selected this year because there are so many artists. The people who I am really looking forward to seeing and celebrating with are Lara Almarcegui from Spain, Flavio Favelli and Piero Golia in the Italian Pavilion, Jesper Just from Denmark, Sarah Sze from the United States, and Mark Manders from the Dutch Pavilion.

Photo by ORCH_orsenigochemollo

Doing such a large project, I have been pretty much just in my studio for a year and a half. It’s almost like being on a polar expedition. Everyone knows you’re on this expedition but you’re only on it with a few people and you only see the people on your team and everyone knows you’re there but you’re far away at the same time.

WW: Is there anything in particular that people might not see that you want to convey in your work at the Biennale?

KS: The way I make my work is really instinctive and comes to me almost like a vision. Usually, after I make the work, I start to analyze it and I start to see the different facets and the different aspects that come together.

I would say I generally think for all of my work, that it speaks very differently to different people. Children often get very excited with my work because it sort of commemorates childhood and child’s play. It’s not far from the toy world. It says something completely different to a ten year old than it does to someone who has been studying art history for 20 years.

I don’t intend on a particular reading in my work. I believe if I intended on a particular reading I would be making art for a very different reason than I am.

Katrin Sigurdardottir was born in Reykjavik, Iceland. Sigurdardottir works in mediums including sculpture, and drawing. Her works explore themes of distance and memory in architecture, cartography, and urbanism. Sigurdardottir has exhibited with Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA/PS1, SMAK Museum of Contemporary Art and Reykjavik Museum of Art. She lives and works in New York, NY.  



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