Text by A. Rawlings

Text by A. Rawlings




On winter solstice 2016, Haraldur Jónsson and I slip into conversation at the top of BERG Contemporary, one of Reykjavík’s newest art galleries. As practitioners committed to the poetic, our conversation unspools with an improvised intensity, a performance for an us.

“How to be on the horizon of experience?”

As the afternoon dims, I listen. Haraldur’s mental associations are lightning-fire. Needlepoint. Quick. Incisive. His undivided attention creates an intimate moment tailored to the context and affiliation of the meeting. This is applicable to both his exhibition works and to this moment where we slip into conversation. His questions bely his knowledge that we share mutual interests. He’s speaking from within his life-long research: the emotional space of any us.

“How to start a conversation with your surroundings?”

In 2000, Haraldur installed Chamber Music in Bergen, Norway’s brutalist-designed Grieg Hall Concert Hall. As the rainiest place in Norway averaging 280 precipitous days per year, Haraldur focused on the region as an “emotional space.” On concrete walls, he projected video portraiture of facial expressions of teenagers “a little bit like the weather.” He collected a variety of rain sounds, which acted as sonic architecture for the exhibition. Chamber Music’s opening was attended by Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja. As Haraldur met Harald and Sonja, it started to rain inside. From a skaldic poetry tradition emerges the 21st century’s performance poetry:

“How to desire a space?”


Haraldur describes his creation and development process as intuitive, an abstract carving-down of a work to expose it. For Haraldur, architecture is a state of mind, but architecture also governs our movements. A house is a mood, but it’s also a body. He relies on these configurations to engender a creative process that is intuitive as it carves down the theoretical and material work to reveal its make-public form.

BERG Contemporary’s gallery space wasn’t yet finalized when Haraldur was approached as one of the debut artist whose new work would establish an aura for the rooms. The gallery intended their new institution as a traditional “white cube” for the Icelandic public to enter. Such a white cube would no doubt signify a space of art, but also a space of commerce. A mood, a body. The unfinished gallery contributed to how Haraldur commenced the Leiðsla / Channel works.

How might he break open the white cube to show the wound with which traditional exhibition space is inflicted, and how might his exhibition’s public opening then correlate to a medical operation? Haraldur’s 1998 exhibition In the Skin for Reykjavík’s Living Art Museum foregrounded post-humanism, so gripped by gender, cyborg, mutation, and HIV. His artwork “Bloodmining” featured a gallery space reversioned as health clinic, where visitors’ blood could be taken with needle and syringe, then returned in a vial as a souvenir of one’s self. “Blood is concentrated,” Haraldur posits. “Material. Evidence of having the experience.”

Haraldur’s works continue to be penetrative and extractive, sublimating the hidden knowledges of routine experience. Exhibition visitors unwittingly become midwives (Icelandic: ljósmóðir, translated literally as lightmothers). Indeed, Leiðsla / Channel runs through the darkest period of the year, with just four hours for the sun to crest the horizon in December. Lightmothers needed to attend the darkness, the opening. The white cube doubles as a clinic again within Haraldur’s context, a cube or clinic isolated from the outer world and yet so far inside the world, it’s otherworldly in its crisp, pristine light. The white cube triples as lightmother. A room is a body.


Leiðsla / Channel proposes the collusion of gallery space with visitor as a channel, a ritual, an ecstacy. Translated to English, Leiðsla / Channel signifies simultaneously as trance, guide for a journey, initiation, metal pipe for brackets or moulds, cable, the way, and the path. For the exhibition’s opening, Haraldur considers how to manifest these correlative definitions into materials, obviated through performance. The stage is first beset with several mixed-media works, what he types a “phenomenological wunderkammer” for the gallery visitor.

Berg Contemporary’s doorway is wide. To its left upon entering, visitors might notice that a second doorway (opening to a private upstairs) is half as wide as the gallery’s entryway. Beside that, Jónsson’s first curiosity: “Niður.” This work is a gap, an opening just wide enough for one body to pass through if only it weren’t felt. Felt as in emotionally resonant but also literally fabric. “Niður” becomes an invitation, a metaphoric felt doorway, a possibility of if only a door within the white cube. How to open, and why, and where.

Opposite the gallery’s doorway, two large and clear plexiglass forms suspend mid-air, mounted on wall pegs. The plexiglass installation of “Mið” bends into familiar yet indistinct forms, tentative in their touching. My form is reflected in their forms. This gentle mirroring foregrounds the coming curiosities placed throughout Haraldur’s exhibition.


“Language is incomprehensible animism,” Haraldur suggests, “something perceived but not understood.” Language looms as an entity with which to merge. We attempt to merge with the Icelandic word skilja to consider its inhabited contexts, its enactive imponderabilia. To do this, we touch on words that house skil.

skil: division, boundary
skila: to give back or return
skilaboð: message
skilagjald: deposit
skilagrein: statement
skilgerð: legitimacy
skilinn: divorced
skilja: to understand, to divorce, to separate
skilnaður: separation
skilningarvit: sense organs
skilningstré: tree of knowledge
skilningur: comprehension

We roll the Icelandic words in our mouths, puzzle over imagined etymologies. So many definitions suggest belief in truth, understanding, and rupture. To test belief and to enact rupture for the opening at Berg Contemporary, Haraldur randomly selects an audience member, using the selection tactics of a child’s pointing game, who will participate with him in performance. The performance is one without language. Belief. Rupture. At the opening, Haraldur selects four gallery visitors and counts “eeny meeny miny moe” until the selection game lands on his sister.

Haraldur drapes a red blanket over his sister, and to her he offers his arm which she holds. They walk through the gallery, austere and slowly. Who leads who? They walk the space as though the indicator moving around the gallery is on a Ouija board, spirit-glass. Unsure who leads who. The audience architects physical and sonic space for the procession, a quieting improvisation of assembly. Incision. The crowd gapes, gaps, wounding.

Under the blanket, his sister is the performer who cannot be seen. Hers is a sensorial performance through touch. She takes direction from her guide through touch of her arm and the ground beneath her feet. Light touches. Firma. As her confidence emboldens, he loosens his contact. “Hands,” for Haraldur,” “are the second face.” Face and hands gesture. Sister and brother glide through interior and exterior, enacting the subtility of their communicative dance. “Language and fire are invented at the same moment.”


Valur Brynjar Antonsson and I lean against a wall, our heads bobbing dangerously close to the hung work “Channel”—seven drawings, pencil on paper, conduits for imagining movement through a space. Valur wrote the catalogue copy for Leiðsla / Channel, but we do not discuss this. Instead, we survey our personal lives through psychotherapeutic narratives of mourning and fatherhood, oddly private subjects to leak from our bodies in the bright lights, video camera, and crowded opening of Haraldur’s exhibition. And yet, this familiarity of subject, this moment of disclosure, amplifies the medical precision of the art opening.

The sound of the artworld, the gathering, elicits a murmur reminiscent of Norwegian rain. A curious room. Leaving the gallery space together, Haraldur and his sister navigate the immediate streets. The murmur falls away, its affective rain a prologue to an ear-cleaning walk at dusk on the streets of downtown Reykjavík. A cameraman documents their journey into twilight.

A man walks with his sister. She is veiled. A protection. A lead. Executioner or will he give her away in marriage.

Outside the gallery, they stand with dwarf birch. The artist looks into the eye of the video camera fleetingly.

Outside the gallery, they stand with a fence. Maybe they consider it. At least they do not breach it.

Solemn walk.

Outside the gallery, lamps in windows in a stark concrete autumn twilight.

Outside, cars purr.

Outside, the blue screen of the sky. Video-projector blue.

Outside, an arrow points to the sky but the couple passes without acknowledging.

Outside, she handles the metal pipe of the railing. Leiðsla means metal pipe. She handles a way.

Outside, she handles another way with her palms pressed to a car.

Outside, any walk could be a rite.

Outside, his hand grips her arm through the blanket. Their game is silence. Solemn.

Outside: Lindargata. The trees are a way. The street is a way.

Outside, more-than-language language points to numerous paths. Navigation is demarked on dark maps.

Outside, she rings a bike bell.

Outside: Gjaldskylda. P2.

Outside, many follow the couple.

Outside, they hear the hum of the opened gallery. A blood gush of murmur pours through the door. They insert themselves.

When they return to the point of departure, the gallery opens its crowd to insert Haraldur and his sister into its folds. Haraldur suddenly pulls the blanket off his sister, as a Polaroid snaps the exact moment her face is exposed. Haraldur describes this gesture as documenting the wound, the opening that ruptures the new known experience beneath the blanket. “The moment when the veil is removed, we see the second veil,” Haraldur insists, “the flesh. To see the face as a wound, naked, its truth—just an instant, then it’s gone. And the silence of the child a moment before, it screams in its silencing.”

The white cube is rendered as black box through inserting the theatrical into a gallery space. A wedding, an execution, an apparition. For attendees to open themselves to the moment of performance is a choice to present a gift to one’s self, like giving blood to one’s self, like walking outside of a contextualized room and entering it again through the context of return.

If a stage moves, where does it begin or end? Such performative works parade dichotomy: absence/presence. Fourth wall/immersion. Private/public. Primal/pedestrian. In/visible. Un/veiled. Absent/formed. For Haraldur, “the person who hides herself in public becomes social sculpture.” The artist becomes illusionist, “shaman, conjuring expeditions to other worlds and bringing back signs or symbols, opening up channels, inviting audience to join.”

In the moment of the gallery opening, an opening. With the onset of performance, do we leave or do we leap?


It is my second visit to Berg Contemporary to view Haraldur’s exhibition, which is also the first exhibition of the new gallery. I came first for the opening, and now I’ve returned for conversation and a private experience of the work. The second walk-through varies from the opening in two distinct ways—less people, and two additional works installed that were derived from the performance at the opening.

The first of these works is “Leiðsla”—video documentation of the walk. The video commences with security-camera footage of the gallery visitors mingling from the moment the doors open. During my second visit, I watch the video and spot myself. There we were. Poet Snorri Páll, bookbinder Sveinbjörg, and I popped Vitamin-C tablets sans water to experiment with healthy versions of Pop Rocks. We were in the centre of the opening’s crowd, unexpectedly performing our bodies’ interiors in a collective experiment. Our unofficial health experiment was captured on camera, as was the later tête-á-tête with Valur Brynjar, projected in video loop as the final installed work post-opening. The wound opened, X-rayed, projected onto a wall for re-examination by every subsequent gallery visitor.

The second new work I spot on the wall post-opening is “Svipur,” a polaroid capturing the moment when the red blanket was pulled from Haraldur’s sister. The blanket’s caught mid-air in a bullfighting sweep, with the gallery dark in its background. The polaroid becomes a vial of drawn blood, a portrait of emotional weather, a narrative without words.

What does anyone watch then they watch the veiled performer? I walk the space and sister and brother walk the space in the video. By watching them walk, I grow awareness of my own passage through the gallery space. I think of my first and second fleshes and their flashes.


In the final room of Leiðsla / Channel, “Dimmur” lays stark the poet’s performed book object, so heavily marked with imagined affect and ink the pages have soaked to their solitary darknesses. The installation covers most of the floor in the gallery’s smallest room, standing in contrast to the expansive larger space colonized by all other artworks in the exhibition.
“Dimmur” materializes as black construction paper folded into maps. The paper arches up like mountains. Outside the gallery, a horn sounds three times. Then an explosion. More mountains unfold on the south side of the room. The resulting sculpture could be island or lake, with the incidental distant soundscape crafting narrative around the paper.

For years before and after the exhibition, in the East Fjords of Iceland, Haraldur mountain-guides. Guides through the gallery, guides through a valley. As a mountain guide on the east coast, Haraldur describes the experience as somewhere between literature by Franz Kafka or Samuel Beckett—“somewhere between the end of the world and the beginning of the world.”

Farther east of the fjords, across an ocean, in Bergen, in another decade, Haraldur shook hands with a king in an emotional space constructed by an us. West of the fjords, in Reykjavík, Haraldur invites us to bring us to us. To make ways that sense the immaterial material betweennesses of our interconnections. We improvise a path, and leap. And leave.

Text by Oddný Eir Ævarsdóttir

Text by Oddný Eir Ævarsdóttir


Beware! If you wander around during the opening, that certain something – that some days is mundane, other days not- will alter itself. It charges itself with yet another layer of question. Until what, artist? Until the bundle of questions blows up the certainty of those in charge of what the day should be like? And the night. Blows up the certainty of those that maintain the norm at the expense of everything else. But is it only an inner explosion, without a bang, dampened by the accumulation of a thousand rubber sheets?

Gate (interior paint)
When you enter, through the opening, the blood-red opening, the invisible wound, you will find yourself in a precarious situation and you will never get to the bottom of it. Since the entrance is not based around fantasies of virgins, but a challenge to self-responsibility. A project for a lifetime: To read apart and to break protective membranes and expanded, fused senses. Weave it once again, patch and glue. Wrap a cloth around the vulnerability, the subtleties in the perception, and the conclusion.

Vertigo (soundproofing carpet, velcro)
Carpeted two-dimensional sensory spaces. Sándor Ferenczy was a Hungarian psychoanalyst who Freud tried to write out of psychoanalysis history with the help of co-dependent colleagues, because Ferenczy based the therapy too firmly on love and empathy. In a chapter titled Psychosoma Ferenczy writes: “When the pain is “unbearable” … there still remains a potential of life with the help of spiritual force – in psychosomatic asphyxiation, the patient still seems to feel and function, telepathic organs of sorts start to come into being, due to mental power.”

Sonar (silk screen)
A child feels obliged to stay silent when something serious is committed against it. Ferenczy researched this silence meticulously. Decades later, Michel Foucault writes in his Histoire de la folie that he is not interested in writing yet another chapter about the language of psychiatry, instead, he wants to write the history of speechlessness, to write about words that are silenced by dis-ease.To open the ears to persistent mutterings within the scorched root of meaning, to write the archaeology of silence.

Tongue (rubber, wood)
A sheet of the same stuff that surrounds the jaw before the twisted iron drill breaks through. From the thick, yet flexible material that envelops the abdomen to protect the womb from radiation. The black tongue, it speaks in the language of confidentiality. What language is that again? Did the tongue intend to speak on our behalf, but went limp under pressure? Towards what was the confidentiality meant then?
How can a tongue-tie be broken? „Don‘t say anything, say something instead “, the children‘s book on bullying reads. But do not say anything foolish. Let me see your tongue! Go straight to the naughty chair, your tongue is black.

The fantasy of relating an indiscretion and the fear of saying something foolish: will the tongue flutter like a white flag or a red one above a new-found land of a sacred mystery. Or is your tongue twisted? It is worth remembering that super imperialists made the black tongue the emblem of abnormality and unreliability, and the supposedly lying tongues of natives were pierced, discarded, or cut from the mouth, buried under the surface of the earth.

Aim (plexiglass, wooden poles, make-up)
The rubber seeker finally finds the tree in the darkness, aiming its light and saber with a swerved blade. Working carefully: cuts a particular pattern in the tree: a few holes with the same exact space in between (like a French barrel-organ musician who punctures holes in porous paper with a scalpel. Because, if the tree is wrongly cut it has nothing to give, or way too much and it dries up, empties itself. When accurately perforated the rubber flows into a zinc container, a liquid called milk, and it stacks up into balls, rubber balls which later are flayed apart, turned into rubber-skin attached to a raft that tends to disintegrate in harsh rivers. The milk-membrane ruptures and the native tongue streams from the ball. Into the water. You dip your tongue through the surface: it is a mythical passage. The primary structure of genealogy.

Apertures (pvc canvas, projection)
Anemia. Vertigo. Surrender without devotion. But forward we go. Opening after opening. You are an aperture, lighting up the ambiguous relationship between the artist and Loki, to be able to perceive it in its delicate origins – if that is possible at all. Artist, the aperture is turned towards you and you open your mouth humbly. Move the rubber-tongue in rhythm with the second indicator that touches the skin, tickles. The nose is itchy, it is black, from a material that surrounds the nostrils of sensitive animals which know precisely what is what and stand by the entrance gate, a disease control gate in airports. A drug or virus detecting dog sniffing until it finds your innermost obsessions and desires. Through the cracks in the make-up of icons and gaps in masks the light seeps. And blasts the defensive walls, in lust, love, and unrestrained laughter.

Oddný Eir Ævarsdóttir

Text by Drew Daniels

Text by Drew Daniels

Galaxies and Black Holes

Haraldur Jonsson’s “Galaxy” greets the viewer with a dense star cluster of lamps, huddled together to give and receive warmth, a temporary community of designed commodities not yet sold, arbitrarily joined by function. Despite the clamour of incommensurable “styles” of lamp, upon closer examination a touching kind of family resemblance emerges, the lamps quietly arguing amongst themselves, as families do. While the switched on appliances exchange opinions about design principles, their darkened cousins dream of the offices, homes, and apartments they may someday inhabit. Someday, but not tonight, not in the still, electric night that Jonsson observes. Seen under plexiglass and separated from the viewer by a kind of virtual storefront, the possibility of ownership is deferred and held at bay. Some of the photographs in the group push this gambit further by including the reflective storefront glass, metal panes splitting the image in half, and locking the viewer out. Prodded via email about his lamp photographs, Jonsson confirms this tactic, and expands it: “I wanted to document them as light chapels, baroque temples of vanity but also as the temporally lost paradises of the closed light shop.” When viewed en masse these lamps threaten to drown the viewer in a tide of non-differentiation that is far from cozy, a paratactic plenitude of all styles ( . . . and . . . and . . . and . . . ) whose open-endedness leaks outwards and grows fuzzy as it recedes into the darkness at the back of these shops. Sidestepping the branded rationalism of Ikea or the aura of exclusivity proper to a dealer in antiques, Jonsson’s light shop teems with gloriously incompatible merchandise, and this dissonance is what makes the photographs so richly dense, and more than a little ridiculous: plastic wrapped lamp shades squatting above faux-Grecian urns recline next to sleekly phallic Art Nouveau trifles, basking under the glowing jellyfish of crystal chandeliers, beside would-be rustic columnar braziers, while amoeboid modernist art glass seems to swim beneath a dense foliage of electrified rococo candles. Jonsson’s reference to the baroque is telling: this overripe cornucopia of immaculate electrical commodities mirrors (ie. doubles and reverses) the shattered, fragmentary eloquence of Piranesi and Salvator Rosa’s penchant for artfully disintegrating classical bric-a-brac. If they pined for a lost golden age and registered their own historical absence from it by limning its decay, Jonsson locates such emotions squarely within a marketplace in which consumer choice promises the possibility of a customized regulation of the particulars of one’s designed environment, but remains haunted by the impossible superabundance of that marketplace as a totality. Choosing one lamp is no substitute for choosing ALL the lamps in the shop, and yet it is what we as consumers resign ourselves to, lest we succumb to the storefront’s interminable seductions. If, as Kierkegaard tells us, “the moment of decision is the moment of madness”, Haraldur Jonsson’s “Galaxy” series suspends us at the the brink of such a madness, hovering in the moment of flickering consumer indecision, basking in the imagined community of objects.

Drew Daniels

Eftir Evu Heisler

Eftir Evu Heisler

Haraldur Jónsson

Haraldur Jónsson (f. 1961) er mjög næmur á það sem hann kallar “landslag heyrnarinnar” og víxlverkun tungumáls og skynjunar. Í gjörningi í Þýskalandi árið 1989 sem nefndist Hallisch (umbreyting á gælunafni listamannsins í orð sem líkist heiti tungumáls, til dæmis “Deutsch”), gekk hann inn á dimmt svið og talaði íslensku. Líkami Haraldar var ósýnilegur bakvið bláa súlu ljóskastara sem varpaðist ofan á hendur hans. Þær fálmuðu um loftið til þess að reyna að draga fram það sem hann var að segja. Í fyrstu voru handahreyfingarnar hægar og reyndu að setja fram útskýringar en síðan jókst hraðinn og spennan. Þær báru smám saman röddina ofurliði og urðu að lokum gegnsær birtuhjúpur. Í blálokin rofnuðu öll rökræn tengsl milli handanna og raddarinnar og mikið misræmi myndaðist milli máttlausrar raddarinnar og ágengra handanna.

Þó nokkur verk listamannsins hafa fjallað um íslenska tungu. Til dæmis sýna Fontur (Þ) og Fontur (ð) (1996) þessa tvo íslensku stafi sem skírnarfonta gerða úr sama texefninu og gjarnan er notað í hljóðeinangruðum upptökuverum. Áhorfendur geta smeygt sér í huganum inn í báða fontana en trauðla hreyft sig þegar inn er komið. Eins og listamaðurinn orðaði það: “Íslenska orðið þjóð byrjar og endar á stöfum sem ekki eru til í neinu öðru tungumáli (nema færeysku).”[1]

Haraldur hefur áhuga á því sem hann kallar “hljóðmúra eða heyrnartakmörk íslenskumælandi fólks”. Um miðbik tíunda áratugarins varð Haraldur til þess, fyrstur íslenskra listamanna, að skapa verk sem fjallaði um tilraunir innflytjenda til að takast á við þessi heyrnartakmörk. Íslenskt málver (1996) samanstendur af tólf ljósmyndum af útlendingum að læra að bera fram íslensku í básum í málveri. Hljóðverkið Hreimur var gert fyrir Gallerí Hlust og snerist um uppspunna persónu leikna af finnskri konu sem ræðir hversu erfitt það hafi verið að hafa fæðst á Íslandi en hún hafi flutt til Finnlands á unga aldri og síðan aftur til baka. Hún hafi smám saman lært að tala íslensku en einlægt með finnskum hreim. Persónan veltir fyrir sér viðbrögðum íslenskumælandi fólks við hreimnum: “Þegar Íslendingar heyra hreiminn, þá verður maður óraunverulegur; þú ert alltaf innilokuð í hreimnum hérna á Íslandi.” Verkinu lýkur með tilboði á kynferðislegum nótum sem gefur til kynna löngun til þess að losna úr helsi hreimsins: “En það væri gaman að hittast og spjalla nánar saman.”

Haraldur kemur hljóðverkum oft fyrir á tilkomulitlum stöðum. Innsetningin Moment of Truth (2008) útvarpaði frösum sem innflytjendur skynja sem séríslenska. Frá brunarústum í miðborg Reykjavíkur, bannsvæði sem margir ganga framhjá, gaf hljóðverk Haraldar við og við frá sér klisjur sem eru límið í félagslegum samskiptum. Á göngu um stíg við Gróttu mátti heyra undarlegan harmagrát, hljóð sem var mitt á milli væls í vindi, gaggs í tófu eða snökts í barni. Hljóðverkið Útburður (2006) vísar til gamallrar vögguvísu sem á rætur að rekja til leikrits Jóhanns Sigurjónssonar, Fjalla-Eyvindur, frá 1911. Það vísar líka til dæmigerðs íslensks svars við umkvörtunarefnum annarra: “Hvaða útburðarvæl er þetta?” Eins og önnur verk Haraldar leikur þetta verk sér að fáorðu æðruleysinu sem kennt er við íslenska þjóðarsál og kallar fram litróf tilfinninga.

Verk Haraldar spanna allt frá teikningum og skúlptúrum til gjörninga, hljóðinnsetninga og ljósmynda. Þau kanna margbrotin tengslin milli tilfinninga, skynjunar og líkamans. Innsetningin Herbergi (2006) á sér stað í geymslurými og þaðan berst rödd sjö ára drengs sem les upp lista af tilfinningum í stafrófsröð. Þegar hlustað er tekur maður eftir tengslaleysinu á milli tilfinningar sem orðs og tilfinningar sem reynslu. Það eru engin tengsl milli tilfinninganna, sem sumar hverjar eru flóknar og tilheyra heimi fullorðinna, og sakleysislegrar raddarinnar sem mælir orðin fram, en flestum þeirra er barnið greinilega að kynnast í fyrsta sinn. Eins og mörg önnur verk Haraldar kannar Herbergi að hvaða marki tungumálið kemur á undan raunverulegri reynslu og mótar huglæg viðhorf.

Fyrir innsetninguna Glætan árið 2008 voru gluggar gallerísins klæddir álpappír. Byrgðir gluggarnir voru í Keflavík, samastað bandarísku herstöðvarinnar til ársins 2006,  og kallast á við bernskuminningu listamannsins um herstöðvarbyggingar þar sem starfsmenn bandaríska hersins reyndu að verjast miðnætursólinni á Íslandi. Göt á álpappírnum á gluggum gallerísins eru gægjugöt; þau líkjast einnig stjörnumerkjum eða punktum á herkorti. Endurkast af bílljósum utan við galleríið bregður flöktandi birtu á myrkvað rýmið. Innsetningin kallaði fram fortíð bæjarins sem viðkomustaðar milli Bandaríkjanna og Evrópu, en var líka lítið herbergi fullt af krumpuðum pappír. Pappírinn er í stærðinni A1 og er mattur og hálfgegnsær, eins og pappír sem notaður er í teikningum arkitekta. Innan úr hvítri krumpaðri hrúgunni berst rödd ungs barns sem er að telja upp að hundrað: ánægja hennar og stolt yfir að nefna hverja tölu gefur til kynna að hún sé nýbúin að læra að telja. Þetta er talnagleði sem hefur ekki enn verið njörvuð niður við peninga eða hlutföll eða tímann. Upptalning og endurtekning barnsraddarinnar sem telur glaðlega í sífellu eru í algjörri mótsögn við vitnisburð handa listamannsins sem krumpuðu aftur og aftur auðan hvítan flöt, hvítu sem kallar fram bæði yfirborð til að skrifa á og krumpaðan hvítan lit handklæða og sárabinda.

Krumpun sem merki um bæði tíma og yfirborð kemur líka fram í verkinu Krumpað myrkur sem var fyrst sýnt árið 2005. Krumpað myrkur er hrúga af krumpuðum svörtum pappír. Í sumum innsetningum ræður pappírinn ríkjum í rýminu; ekki sést í kringum hraukinn af krumpuðum svörtum pappír. Í öðrum innsetningum eru ekki nema 150 blöð og krumpaður pappírinn minnir á efni sem hefur bráðnað. Áþreifanleg margræðnin er Haraldi mikilvæg: að krumpa er hugarástand  og krumpaður pappírinn er sýnileg verksummerki um tilfinningar. Eins og listamaðurinn segir: “Þegar höndin grípur og krumpar eitthvað, þá myndast um leið afsteypa snertingarinnar við efnið”.

Sýnileiki þess sem byrgt er inni er iðulega til skoðunar hjá Haraldi, einkanlega í syrpunni Blindnur frá 2008 sem samanstendur af lófastórum leirmunum sem listamaðurinn formaði í höndum sér með lokuð augun. Hann mótar og setur ósjálfrátt merki sitt á leirinn án þess að hugsa um útlitið. Útkoman er nokkrir tugir leirmuna sem líta út eins og beinflísar eða úrelt verkfæri með íhvolfum flötum, dældum og framskotum sem gefa breytilegt hugarástand til kynna.

 Eva Heisler

Text by Jón Proppé

Text by Jón Proppé

The Subtle Art of Haraldur Jónsson

Haraldur Jónsson has exhibited widely in the last two decades and developed a highly personal imagery and approach. His works are visual and engaging despite the fact that he often deals with presenting intangible and immaterial ideas: Silence or darkness or some vague intuition or thought. This contradiction makes his exhibitions all the more exciting. In an exhibition in ASÍ Museum in Reykjavík many of the themes that Haraldur has explored in recent years were brought together. His explorations of how we perceive and conceive our world includes no only the visual but branches easily into the world of sound or tactile sensations: Shapes reflect sound, objects suggest darkness, lines map thoughts. Haraldur Jónsson is an artist with a delicate touch and his works sometimes seem to have been made from nothing at all. His pieces and installations seem to map intangible webs and fleeting thoughts that hover at the edge of consciousness, the emotions that form the intangible accompaniment to our lives, sometimes fleeting, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes restrained, sometimes out of our control. Many of his sculptural pieces describe silence or darkness in one way or another: A large black rectangle of sound-absorbing material fixed onto a gallery wall; large shapes that seem calculated to channel, emit or cancel sounds but that remain obstinately quiet; a sealed box full of Icelandic darkness that was his contribution to a travelling exhibition in the United States; a pair of boxes that, if one stands between them, eliminate the sounds of the environment so one can hear one’s own heartbeat. Haraldur’s silences are pregnant with energy and ideas, things we don’t normally notice beneath the soundscapes of our life. His approach to conceptual art is unusual in that his concepts are always elusive, they shift under our gaze and can never quite be defined. In this his work may be compared to that of Hreinn Friðfinnsson, to name an older Icelandic artist, but Haraldur’s sculptures, installations and photographs also have a strange and sometimes almost uncomfortable physical association, insistent and demanding. This was particularly clear in his contribution to the exhibition In the Flesh in the Reykjavík Art Festival of 1998. Haraldur had curtained off a corner of the hall where a doctor in attendance drew blood from the visitor that he could then take home in a small clear vial. In effect, the visitor was himself the work of art, framed in the transparent plastic container. While Haraldur’s works are quite diverse – including sculptural objects, photographs, drawings and sound installations – they share a common concern to make visible our primordial, pre-conceptual response to our environment. This is very much reflected in installations such as his Crumpled Darkness pieces where he will fill a space with crumpled sheets of black paper, or in the actions where he plays on the audience’s own bodily presence, or when he uses lights and sound to transform our experience of a space, as in his exhibition at the European Kunsthalle in Cologne where he exhibited in an underground railway station. But he also creates works that respond more immediately to local situations or cultural tropes, often in surprising ways. His exhibition Glætan in Gallery South-South-West is a case in point, held in a town near the now-defunct NATO base at Iceland’s international airport. Here he covered the windows of the gallery with aluminium foil, blocking out the daylight in a move that recalled the time when American servicemen used to lodge in the town and used to same trick to block out the light of the midnight sun so they could sleep in summer. Tearing small holes in the foil, Haraldur then transformed the interior by letting flecks of sunlight play on the walls.

His sound installations also reflect a concern with local or even historical subjects, though their presentation is characteristically sparse. Visitors to an exhibition on the outskirts of Reykjavík a few years ago were suddenly surprised by the sound of a child crying, apparently coming from the rocks piled up along the coast. This was Haraldur’s haunting reference to the fact that in former times unwanted children were sometimes left out in lonely places to die of exposure – a complicate and painful part of the Icelanders’ tragic history. Other sound installations have explored the terms we sue to refer to our feelings or the words in Icelandic that immigrants from abroad find most characteristically Icelandic.

In his drawings, photographs and sculptures, Haraldur seeks out the vague thoughts and associations that escape our taxonomies, the lines that never quite meet and the thoughts that have no obvious expression. Sometimes the result conveys a wry humour, for example in the Arctic Fruits series of photographs which shows Icelandic gardens in winter, the trees laden with Christmas lights in lieu of the fruit that people enjoy in warmer climes. Haraldur works in many media but his artwork always has the look of having grown from the germ of an idea, almost without any intervention on the artist’s part. There is nothing there that is extraneous to the idea of the work but, in contrast to most minimalist art, the ideas remain free to meander and branch into new thoughts in the viewer’s mind.

Jón Proppé