Hello Akureyri 2004: On the Work of Anna Líndal by Eva Heisler

In Anna Líndal’s installation Hello Akureyri, a pop up camper, opened and ready for occupation, is parked in the gallery space. The campsite faces the video of a construction site with its racket of diesel engines, metal wheels, and warning beeps. Typically a pop up camper is encountered indoors only when on display in a store. The camper promises mobility and domestic comfort, an experience of nature without inconvenience. By parking the pop up camper in a museum, Líndal appears to be drawing a parallel between the experience of the viewer facing “art” and the experience of the viewer facing “nature”; in this case, “nature” is as slippery and contested a term as “art”, and the position of the viewer is entangled in his or her position as a consumer. Most viewers of Líndal’s installation will recognize the video’s footage as that of the construction of Karahnjukar dam which, when completed, will destroy an enormous area of Iceland’s highland wilderness. A radio playing in the campsite underscores a connection between the installation and the real time of the viewer. The installation is a reminder that it is a country’s industrialization that generates the affluence necessary for its citizens to purchase the collapsible homes-on-wheels with which they then imagine themselves to be able to escape the stresses of modernity. At its most obvious, the racket that is at the heart of Hello Akureyri is a keening for the loss of a wilderness that the artist considers integral to national identity. Líndal states, “We have a huge space inside Iceland that is like another world; we have been scared of it, and we have loved it, and we are now willingly throwing it away without realizing that at the same time we are throwing away part of our identity.” The term “wilderness” is etymologically related to the word “bewilder.” Central to the concept of “wilderness” is the experience of bewilderment–wilderness is overwhelming and discomfiting and one is at risk of losing one’s way.[1] Wilderness, rendered intelligible with roads and signs, becomes landscape–a series of views to be consumed.
Hello Akureyri, considered within the larger context of Líndal’s career, indicates the artist’s ongoing preoccupation with the ways in which identity–in particular national identity and gender identity–is shaped by both the constraints and the excesses of one’s culture. In early works–such as the installation The Mender (1994) in which a gallery’s walls were veined with the threads of over one thousand spools, each hanging by a single needle–the measured gestures of the caregiver unravel. Domesticity, the ordering of daily life, becomes disordered and takes on a life of its own. In these works, the artist denaturalizes familiar, everyday gestures. Likewise, in Borders (1999-2000), Líndal denaturalizes the experience of “nature.” In this installation, the central image is that of a young girl reading from Njal’s Saga. She reads in a hesitant monotone, not fully understanding the language she speaks even as its themes and images continue to circulate in the society that she, at confirmation age, is about to enter. Three other video monitors in Borders show footage of the 1998 volcanic eruption at Vatnajökull, a research expedition with the Icelandic Glaciological Society to Vatnajökull, and a woman’s body in nature. The image of a scientist transcribing measurements of a snow core; a young girl reading of betrayal and honor; the red-painted toenails of a foot sloshing in muddy water: Borders juxtaposes different ways of knowing and resists the temptation to place nature and culture in opposition to one another. The installation’s video monitors are situated among knick-knacks and embroidery, evoking not only different ways of knowing nature but also the ways in which ideas of nature are absorbed into the domestic. The term “nature” is duplicitous, as Kenneth R. Olwig has argued. He writes, “Despite the fact, then, that nature is one of the most abstract and complicated concepts we have, nature nevertheless signifies all that is concrete, unmediated, and naturally given.”[2] Nature as a concept, however, is not naturally given. Líndal’s works attempt to restore conceptual complexity to a term and to an experience that has become a commonplace. For example, the recent sculpture In the Backyard (2003) consists of a laptop computer on which a screen saver displays images of the construction of the Karahnjukar dam (the same footage seen in Hello Akureyri). Next to the computer’s key pad is a tea cup from which emerges a blanket with long embroidery threads like hairs, a monstrous but amusing bit of domesticity that accompanies the automated view–a view that, according to the artist, is the legacy her generation leaves for the next. A screen saver is a program designed to automatically come up within a set period of inactivity–it is what appears when we are not working, not paying attention to the screen. In this work, the view-as-screen-saver serves as a metaphor for the ways in which one’s experience of nature–especially that which is in one’s own backyard–is an automatic response that is purchased at the expense of attention.
–Eva Heisler
[1] This is discussed at length in William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” in Uncommon Ground; Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. William Cronon (New York and London: W. W. Norton and COmpany, 1996) 69-90.
[2]“Reinventing Common Nature: Yosemite and Mount Rushmore–A Meandering Tale of a Double Nature,” in Uncommon Ground; Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, 379-408.