TEXT accompanying the installation NATURAL HISTORY in INTERMEDIA 2014.
NEEDLE/KNOT/RHYTHM BY R. WARWICK
A giant thumb is pressing hard on your ass.
Your head feels intense pressure against skin which while soft, feels almost impossible to penetrate. An eye is wide yearning for the connection to be bound with something other than this intolerable intensity that is pushing through your rigid, glistening body.
At last the leather begins to give, stretching out at the point at which you are pushing till eventually [...!] you puncture though. Relief is instantaneous and you are pulled through to the other side as your eye momentarily slips into blackness.
Now pulled upwards you are running... flowing...flying... liberated up, up, UP!
Your rise seems free but is not.
An abrupt halt to your liberation feels at first abstract and distant, either somewhere in the future or very far back before memory. Again, you feel overwhelmed by some invisible force so driven by purpose that helplessly, you at once both acquiesce and resist.
Intense pressure builds in the very tip of your head, a giant thumb is pressing hard on your ass..
THE WORLD IS BOUND WITH SECRET KNOTS
Find an object to use as and anchor
Begin tying your knot
Pull the length of the cords through the loop
Pull gently to snug the knot down
Bend the tight-handed cord over the left-hand cord
Reverse the above (like tying your shoe laces)
Snug the knot
Repeat until desired length
‘All of nature in its awful vastness and incomprehensible complexity is in the end interrelated worlds within worlds within worlds:
the seen and the unseen
the physical and the immaterial are all connected
each exerting influence on the next
bound, as it were, by chains of analogy
magnetic chains. Every decision, every action mirrors, ripples, reflects and echoes throughout the whole of creation. The world is indeed bound with secret knots.’
- Valentine Worth, c.1800’s
If you’re ever in Los Angeles, The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City is where to go soon after arrival in the city. It is a museological anomaly, a specialised repository of relics and artefacts from the Lower Jurassic, with an emphasis on those that demonstrate unusual or curious technological qualities. Halldórsdóttir visited there in April 2012 when she was profoundly affected by its idiosyncratic atmosphere and seemingly contradictory system of classifications. Within the darkened rooms, spot-lighting picks out compelling curios which point to mysteries unique to human endeavour. Within this collection resides research on a compelling figure. A Seventeenth Century Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher; Inventor, composer, geographer, geologist, Egyptologist, historian, adventurer, philosopher, proprietor of one of the first public museums, physicist, mathematician, naturalist, astronomer, archaeologist, author of more than 40 published works, Kircher in his spare time also dedicated himself to his parallel obsessions with magnetism, musicology, astronomy, archaeology, and linguistics, he researched and compiled enormous amounts of data, invented innumerable optical, magnetic, and acoustic devices, composed music, poetry, and imaginative fiction. In this instance however, it is his intuitive philosophical understanding of the interdependency of all things that is pertinent to understanding the work of Hrafnhildur Halldórsdóttir. Aside from his expansive mind, Kircher was not bound to books within the confines of his study, he was instead immersed in the world that so fascinated him. Surviving numerous brushes with death, the most potent example is his last and greatest escapade was on a trip through southern Italy, Sicily, and Malta. It was in Italy that Kircher witnessed the eruption of Aetna and Stromboli, and driven by the elemental desire to understand what was happening, he had himself lowered into the active crater at Vesuvius. At this time a new phase of eruptions from Vesuvius marked this a dangerous time in volcanic history, including a major eruption in the mid-1600’s that buried many villages under lava flows, killing around 3,000 people. Torrents of boiling water were also ejected, adding to the devastation. Activity thereafter became almost continuous till the beginning of the 1700’s.
So, it is here in this dark space that we contemplate what it is to be lowered into an active volcano.
Cocooned in the deepest black she is bowed over, a great mass of hair spills onto the floor almost indistinguishable from the looms of black waxed thread unravelled at her feet.
Slowly, an elbow rises and falls. White fingers probe, her needle a glint of sliver is the only light in the room. To her right she has something resembling a shrine consisting of;
Ampoules of volcanic ash and sand
Charred ingots of wood
Great shards of the darkest obsidian, jet and prismatic jags of hematite
An image of a skull at the northerly tip of black pentagram flanked against a wall
A skull mug used as a container for pencils and pens
A handmade ball made of stretched leather the size of a human head
Long bobbed pins
Needles, all sizes
Swathes of the softest leather
A smallish cluster of golden bells
Candles, curled and low.
Propped at the apex, a print that at first glance looks like a Max Ernst turns out to be the dystopic landscape of Moominvalley by Tove Jansson. This realisation is simultaneously delightful as it is darkly uncanny. Although a place of calm; of slopes and rivers and fruit trees, Moominvalley is continually threatened by natural forces, of volcanoes and great floods. It has also, a dark melancholic counterpart that exists in another world, a place of boredom and repetition - its stark landscape is punctuated with terrifying shards of rock and is so vast that progression through it is necessitated by the use of long teetering stilts (no doubt a solitary and potentially dangerous mode of travel). This is world she recognises, where the most elemental forces of nature preside over the phrenic and rational claustrophobia of lives lived today. This image and the venerated arrangements of her dark matter coalesce into an atmosphere born in prehistory, a space so unfathomably far away both in time and rational thought. Yet, this liminal line between ritual and sculpture, time and atmosphere is where she makes, communes with her material and ultimately vanishes.
But for now at least she pierces and pulls, pierces and pull pierces and pulls. Then turns a record over. For hours, days, months she pierces and pulls and turns the record over.
R. Warwick, October 2014
Rhona Warwick is a writer and researcher based in Glasgow where she was trained in the dark arts of Sculpture. Past publications include; Garth Evans: Beneath The Skin. 2013, Nicky Bird Beneath the Surface/ Hidden Place. 2010, Arcade: Artists and Place-making 2006.
SPECIES OF SPACE
by Jim Colquhoun
“The series of signs multiplied itself into a series of signs of signs, of signs repeated an innumerable number of times, always the same and always in some ways different, for to the sign made on purpose was added the sign fallen there by chance.”
Italo Calvino ‘Cosmicomics’
“... to try meticulously to retain something, to cause something to survive; to wrest a few precise scraps from the void as it grows, to leave somewhere a furrow, a trace, a mark or a few signs.”
Georges Perec ‘Species of Space’
“Space and duration are one.”
Edgar Allan Poe ‘Eureka’
Hrafnhildur Halldórsdóttir approaches space with the intention of bending it, linking its disparate proportions, making it other than it is, transforming it. Particular spaces indicate the dimensions and the duration of the work to be done and it is partly due to this desire to let chance and circumstance dictate that it resembles a conjuration, a spell, a form of magical thinking wherein there resides a conscious desire to cause change in the world of things. Her art (all art?) can be viewed as a metonym for being in a world where the noumenal and the phenomenological abut each other, intermingling through the conscious intervention of the artist. Duration is a key component in this process, Halldorsdottir recognising that ‘time taken’ may move things beyond the limits of the physical into an arena where repetition itself becomes central. There is a chance that once the ‘ritual’ is inaugurated it may undermine the whole profane process of deadlines, opening nights and end points and just as with the proponents of magical thinking there is a danger that the artist may lose herself in the endlessly unfolding moment, causality reduced to nothing but a queasily myopic treadmill... What saves the work (and the artist) from becoming lost in process is the need to engage with the specifics of particular spaces, but also an engagement with materiality, in this instance a delicate substratum of threads, paint, felt and leather (amongst others) are teased into something resembling a rapprochement that nevertheless may fly apart at any time as the signs and the portents endlessly proliferate.
Jim Colquhoun 2012
THE DEEP FIX BY JIM COLQUHOUN COMMISIONED TO ACCOMPANY "THE RAW AND THE COOKED" BALDVIN RINGSTED & HRAFNHILDUR HALLÓRSDÓTTIR , INTERMEDIA, GLASGOW
The Deep Fix
“Rock began as a series of grunts, got hung up with language, and may yet evolve into a new poetry of laughter, chants and howls.”
Richard Neville Playpower
There is a point after which we lose ourselves – like an ecstatic dervish whirling his way towards divinity or a shaman drumming himself into the nagual each of us must find a way to exit this Slough of Despond, the muddy corporeality of everyday consciousness. Most of us will choose deep immersion in music as our primary route out and this escape is explicitly a journey beyond language. But where does this journey take us and how do we get there? As entities within our mother’s womb we are, as it were, pre-programmed to respond to music by our intimate relationship with the incessant sluice of blood, the crack and twang of bone and sinew, the relentless beat of the heart and the muffled intrusion of the outer world, all conspiring to hardwire a desire for sensory immersion. For 3 or 4 months, as a foetus we are subjected to a constant barrage of sound, a pummelling, relentless cacophony that, perhaps, we spend the rest of our lives trying to rediscover. Is our pursuit and enjoyment of music an elaborate way of reaching back to the primal source of all warmth and comfort?
Ringsted and Halldorsdottir are hauntologists in the Derridean sense of recapitulating our relationship with the dead, in their case a specific disinterment of the lovingly embalmed corpse of Rock & Roll. They wish to decipher the secrets of the pantheon, search its rotting entrails for signs and portents, seeking ritualistic, fetishistic, even chiliastic immersion in its (waning) power to realign the everyday. The Spectre of Rock & Roll stalks the land, neither dead nor alive, shedding and re-growing its skin in an endless cycle of death and rebirth – but always a little more threadbare, a bit more shit. Is it any wonder that Ringsted and Halldorsdottir, like many of their contemporaries, are harking back to some notional golden age when purity of purpose was aligned with dumb-ass attitude, when boys (and occasionally girls) could reconfigure the reality of millions through the (in)judicious use of a killer riff? But is the continuing reanimation of Rock & Roll an insidious cultural cul-de-sac, a trans-generational trauma of bad drugs, bad karma, crap sex and macho posturing set on endless repeat? Or is it a gnostic-style escape route from the deep despond of being?
The Heavy Metal Kid
“Cut word lines – Cut music lines – Smash the control images – Smash the control machine – Burn the books – Kill the priests – Kill! Kill! Kill!
William Burroughs The Soft Machine
William Burroughs describes the rock concert as ‘a rite involving the evocation and transmutation of energy’ comparing the rock star to a priest (1) and reminding us that the origins, of all art, music and theatre is in religious ritual. The trappings of Rock & Roll – displays of triumphant machismo, frenzied performance, flamboyant costumes and lubricious sexuality – all point to rock’s use as a mass psychic placebo, a manifestation of control, but as with the Gnaoua musicians of Morocco, who use music explicitly to heal both psychic and somatic disorders, rock music can also direct us towards a decisive break with consensus reality. Like an encounter with the magical reality of the shaman, deep immersion in the wilder shores of music can help to smash the habit of conformity and inaugurate the pleasurable negation of the straight society by calling into question all of the sacred verities milling around the social, the sexual, the geographical, the political, the geometrical, the mathematical and the economical. In other words it is an antidote to PSYCHIC CONTROL.
ALL HAIL ROCK & ROLL!
“rock & Roll addiction is a festerin’ habit
you gotta keep playin’ like a paranoid rabbit
you can hook me on your tail, penetrate my soul
make me feel the sting of rock & roll
I’m a heart & soul, rock & roll, heart & soul, rock & roll junkie”
Herman Brood Rock & Roll Junkie (2)
1/ ‘The Jimmy and Bill Show’ William Burroughs interviews Jimmy Page, Crawdaddy magazine (June 1975).
2/ More on Herman Brood by the inestimable Stewart Home at: http://stewarthomesociety.org/blog/
RIFFERAMA : JIM COLQUHOUN
RIFFERAMA: HRAFNHILDUR HALLDÓRSDÓTTIR
Hrafnhildur Halldorsdottir’s art cannot be strictly ‘relational’ as in Nicolas Bourriauds usage of the term, but nevertheless she is a catalyst, the still centre in a storm of provisional meaning played out in her strategic use and abuse of everyday materials. Her affinities lie with the stuff that others discard or disdain – cardboard, thread, string, cheap felt tip pens and garishly-coloured feathers. Her tactic is to force them into a kind of uncomfortable (and beautiful) rapprochement, wherein their bathetic, abject qualities are nullified through sheer force of will and a concomitant Sisyphean effort. The term ‘domestic conceptualism’ does not do her justice with its snide allusion to ‘womens work’, here instead we sense a rigorous and poetic sensibility, which, while playing out within a strict set of conceptual parameters, nevertheless holds the keys to its own ‘critical materialism’, a flurry of chance encounters between materials that forces us to reconsider our notion of art as a privileged subject. The many references to music and especially ‘rock’, re-emphasises the artists desire to lose her self, and us, within the sonic architecture of a thunderous riff.
THE POLITICS OF PLAY
The Politics of Play
“The only structure which permits of natural activity is one so flexible as not to be a structure.”
Improvisation is often dismissed as the slightly simple younger brother of contemporary composition, but in reality is the inextinguishable font from which all true creativity springs. In opening ourselves up to chance, the vagaries of interpersonal relations and the spontaneity of the crystalline moment we may glimpse something of the true nature of reality. Creativity is not simply a matter of stumbling, through long and painful effort, towards some kind of hard-earned epiphany it is also, quite simply, the sudden accession of experience towards transcendence.
Hrafnhildur Halldórsdóttir’s insistence on allowing the materiality of her art to express itself reflects our everyday relationship to the world of things, her desire to let things take their course being an acceptance of the ineffability of experience. It is the dialectic of the decorative and the functional, the plenary indulgence of stuff. With these participatory works she seeks to open up the materiality of her work to the vagaries of personal interaction. In handling these exquisite objet trouvé you are invited to rediscover the joys of spontaneous play, the challenge being to lose yourself in the moment to such an extent that self-consciousness dissolves itself in the general solvent of a synaesthesic bliss, an improvised and generous quid pro quo between you and this artist.
Jim Colquhoun 2007
BY SANNE KOFOD OLSEN
GREYSCALE/CMYK CATALOGUE/NIFCA 2002
Processing is a word normally related to computer science. Nevertheless, it seems to be a very appropriate designation for Hrafnhildur Halldórsdóttir’s work. Processing is exactly what she does while producing her work of art, in one-take act without regrets. The act is the leading principle in her works, in which an understated or invisible performativity is immanent in small stitches or the full use of a crayon. As in most art works, the act of the artist is recognisable but, in cutting up a piece of felt and sewing it together again as in the piece, I change my mind- consisting of 15 pieces of differently coloured felt- and the act of finishing a wax crayon on a piece of paper in six wax crayons.
The pieces have a literal quality and a matter-of-factness, which lies within the process of doing. The choice of materials is also based on the same pragmatism. Materials that can be found anywhere - in local paper - shops, no matter where you are in the world, are used. Felt, confetti, tape, wax crayons (the ordinary ones you can buy for children), self - adhesive plastic and of course paper. All in all everyday materials that are easy to get hold of. Materials like these are in severe opposition to what we traditionally think of as ”art creating” as the visible act. A kind of ”low” materiality (as opposed to the ”high” materiality of, for instance, easel painting or stone sculpting) that is also related to ”low” or everyday culture: interior decoration, children’s play, etc. It could be characterised as a domestic materiality, consistent with the sizes of the works, which are all small, easy to handle, and very practical if you are dependent on a small workspaces or changing locations.
In the 1970s, work like this would probably have been labelled ”women’s art” but, as perceptions have changed, instead it might be called ”low” or ”domestic” conceptualism in which the process of doing and the here and now are essential factors for the final result.