Terra Firma, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir Speaks about Art and Earth
Gabríela Friðriksdóttir is a texture expert and an intrepid explorer of mystical worlds. The Icelandic artist traverses disciplines and materials, crafting music videos, drawings, installations, and sculptures that are inspired by the materials of the earth. She’s achieved great artistic heights—representing Iceland at the 2005 Venice Biennale, exhibiting at Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou, and La Biennale de Lyon 2014, to name a few—but she has never sacrificed her fascination to work across mediums.
For her 2011 film work, Crepusculum, she created an installation at Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle, combining medieval Icelandic manuscripts with animated drawings and surrealist films set in the desert. Like much of her work, this film is visceral and organic, filled with undefinable creatures and earthen imagery. Whether it is working with living animals in a music video for Björk or creating her own breed of creatures though sculpture and illustration, the artist builds a new world from primal imagery. But no matter the form, Friðriksdóttir’s work revels in creation, birth, and the dark corners of her own imagination.
What was your relationship with art growing up?
As a kid, I was always making something out of all kinds of material. I had a lot of imagination but I think that drawing was always closest to my heart. I didn’t draw princesses or girls with hairdos. I made really surrealist stuff and abstract scribbles with experimental smudging and glueing. Often I would manipulate the drawing to the edge, and the result would be a totally torn piece of paper. Later, I discovered paint and play dough, and would produce a whole bunch of creatures—families of weird lumps. I’d play with them and give them voices, names, and emotions.
Much of your work is textured using earthy materials. How do you choose your medium?
The idea kind of chooses the material. When I get an idea, or when I’m creating a concept, it’s really natural how the material seems to dress the idea by itself. Sometimes the material comes before the idea and comes alive, deciding a certain character and behavior by itself. The organic material that I tend to fall for, like hay and mud and bread-dough, is really amazing of fun to work with, but it can be hard to manipulate, since it is alive and doesn’t obey certain rules and sculptural gravity. Nature has the most beautiful textures. It’s magical—the way things grow according to mysterious secret codes of the golden mean—it’s really symbolic, but in a bizarre, humble way.
Your video with Björk is set on a horse farm. Do you think animals have a place in your work?
We filmed the video just outside of Reykjavík. I shot it there because I liked the barn and how it was really raw visually. It was important for the idea to be able to use the hay freely since we exploded the stacks at the end and made a mess.
Animals are a big part of my work; they are a big part of human life, so it is natural that they play a role in my art-making. Nature’s creatures inspire me, and I love watching them when possible. Of course, I’m a big fan of Sir David Attenborough and his great way of interpreting the behavior of animals and nature’s phenomena.
Matthias Wagner called you Iceland’s best-known young artist. How do you feel you’re influenced by Iceland?
Iceland is kind to those who have the advantage of a big family and closeness—closeness to the heart of people and closeness to nature. It is hard on people that like to mind their own business. It is tough to live in the cold darkness during winter, but I like it. And I’m one of the lucky ones who has a big, amazing crowd of family and friends.
I was privileged to have access to work when I was a kid. I went to my grandparents every summer to stay in the north Westfjords, where they lived in a place called the Valley of the Knives. I worked there in a fish factory. I loved it, gutting fish and making fillets out of cod and halibut and having a serious task at hand; it made me who I am. My work is surely influenced by those places in the Westfjords where people are strong and work hard. I learned discipline and learned how to appreciate the ocean’s gifts.
What are you inspired by at the moment?
I’m inspired by the sun. After the dark Icelandic winter it is so inspiring to enjoy the light and the rays of the sun, to see how it paints everything in green and pink and yellow.
What is your WILD Wish?
To be able to breathe underwater. To roam around under the sea without an oxygen mask and admire the wonders of the submarine world, and go out dancing with a handsome octopus.
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