Comprising only a large installation at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir’s Crepusculum – Latin for “twilight” or “dusk” – is a mixed-media, polyphonic, physical exploration of metaphysical structures that govern the human psyche, and speculates that an enigmatic and irrational system of signs, meanings and forms counterbalances the deceptively ordered exteriors of our existence.
Above all, it is an experiential and tactile show that prioritises evoking a multitude of emotions over engaging the intellect. A large, white spherical entity around which alchemical instruments are scattered sits on a pile of sand; music seems to leak out from all sides of the wall, surrounded by glass-protected ancient Icelandic calfskin parchments that record supernatural accounts of a medieval Scandinavian world inhabited by witches, trolls and dragons. The installation is populated with elemental components of the earth such as dust, dough, fire, blood, burlap and fur, but also overlaid with textures that are fur- or hair-roughened. An accompanying video bolsters the already-surreal installation as a narrator weaves a showy mythological universe with his droning words: a man guts slimy fish, a figure lithely unfolds itself out of clay “legs” and “helmet”, a figure wrapped in tattered cloths hikes laboriously across a sandy wasteland with another strapped to his back towards the self-same spherical entity.
Crepusculum’s allusive and mystical atmosphere appears to be as much a personal aesthetic journey as it is a collective memory of Iceland’s histories. Materially, the exhibition is about Friðriksdóttir’s continued creative experimentation with diverse materials and media that has been in part influenced by the breadth of Swiss/German Dieter Roth’s artistic processes and vocabulary. Friðriksdóttir’s starting point for Crepusculum is rooted in her own dreams – intangible tendrils of thoughts that bleed into each other are first allowed to drift unassisted into esoteric realms and subsequently thematically developed through a combination of simple sketches, sculpture and film. The overall effect is an imagistic universe comprising a choir of overlapping voices, an aggregate of signs and diverse earthy components, but it is hard to see beyond Crepusculum as an oracular endeavour to present nebulous connections to sexual psychology and pop culture while casting light on deconstructing traditional patterns of narratives located within Norse mythology .
But Crepusculum is also Friðriksdóttir’s personal re-imagination of a time in Iceland when folklore, gods and magic were fundamental tenets of existence, and where elaborate stories of creation were punctuated by moments of horror, melancholy and unquestioning didacticism. Augmenting her exhibition are twelfth century manuscripts and almanacs loaned from the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík for the first time; such is the reinforcement of the historical investment in Iceland’s national cultural heritage and the revelation of the intense grip that these traditions and mythology still have on twenty-first century Icelandic culture. Perhaps then, for Friðriksdóttir, this is simultaneously a profound ambassadorial undertaking on behalf of the Icelandic people, a cultural burden so complex that it could only be presented in ambivalent spaces as metaphysical considerations.
Gabríela Friðriksdóttir: Crepusculum will be on show at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt until January 8, 2012.