H O M E
Gudrun Nielsen aligns herself with a modernist-based formalism with minimalist overtones. Producing large-scale sculpture in a variety of media, Nielsen uses geometrical forms which reflect elements of balance and movement. Drawn to clear and harmonious proportions, as well as cultures, elements of her practice echo Japanese attitudes to mass and shape. Gudrun Nielsen graduated as a sculptor in 1989 from the Icelandic College of Art and Crafts. She studied at Chelsea College of Art and Design London 1990-1992 and graduated with an MA in Art in Architecture from University of East London 1995. Based in Reykjavik, Iceland, Nielsen has exhibited extensively, with selected and invited exhibitions few: Reykjavik, Berlin, London, Paris (2019); CHANGES a solo exhibition SÍM gallery, Reykjavík (2018); SKULPTUR an RBS exhibition of contemporary Nordic three-dimensional practice in London (2015); Þorfinnstjörn, Hljómskálagarðurinn Reykjavík (2014); Edsvik Art Gallery, Sollentuna (2012); Harold Martin Botanic Garden, University of Leicester (2005); A one day solo exhibition Millennium Dome, London (2000); A Festival of Scandinavian Design, the Design Museum, London (1992).
THE BARREN WASTELAND SERIES 2019 GZ. SANS TITRE Intern. Collective Exhibition of Contemporary Art. LE MARAIS Paris 16 - 19th September
“The influence of the Barren wasteland series is a Jökulheima trip last July with my father Ólafur Nielsen, who is one of the co-founders of the Iceland Glaciological Society and the Air Ground Rescue Team of Reykjavík. Jökulheimar is located in the lower part of the Tungnaá river at the former edge of the Tungnaárjökull west in Vatnajökull. The area around Jökulheima is a wasteland, black sand and lava.
The trip had a great impact on me as dad explained that the Jökulheima cabin was built in 1955 by the river and at the foot of the glacier. Back then they drove on snowmobile from the cabin across the river Tungnaá and straight onto the glacier Tungnaárjökull. Today is a different story, black wasteland the glacier has retreated ~10 km and the river follow the constant change. Those early work of the Barren wasteland series 2019- expresses a collision of journeys 1955 and 2019, where one is white and the other one black”.
THE MOUNTAIN SERIES 2014 - 2018 The Association of Icelandic Visual Artists, Reykjavík, Solo Exhibition 4th - 24th September 2018 Catalogue
TÍMABUNDIÐ LANDSLAG / TEMPORARY LANDSCAPE IS text Arndís Arnardóttir freelance art historian and curator
Breytingar / Changes “This waste are the ruins of consumerism in the contemporary world, ruins that are in constant motion, becoming mountains that lasts only for a certain amount of time, then moved or disappears by human involvement. Gudrun pauses at this momentum of transformation, in this gradual process that is on slow but constant drift. Like Robert Smithson, was fascinated by the impact of industry on the environment and the city, Gudrun points out to us the human impact within the city landscape”. Aldís Arnardóttir art historian and curator.
Formalism The title of When a Country... raises the question of when a country does fall in love with itself. Possibly when it has satisfied its narcissistic tendencies, when it formally looks how it thinks it ought, when it has its desired outward composition. The attraction of compositional and for- mal perfection is clear in the works of Jacob Dahlgren, Michael Johansson, and Gudrun Nielsen.
Jacob Dahlgren, fascinated by the work of Swedish abstract painter Olle Bzertling (1911-1981), translates the geometric colour planes of pure formal abstraction into a three-dimensional sculptural experience. For The Wonderful World of Abstraction (2015), the viewer steps inside a world of straight lines, of colour, of satin ribbons meticulously hung. This work in its glorious three dimen- sionality achieves all that a painting cannot.
Michael Johansson’s cheekily named Facelift (2015) is a site-specific work which fills the niche between the two parts of the facade of the Royal British Society of sculptors. Working with objects no longer needed by their owners but beautiful in form, colour, or function, he places each ina perfectly balanced matrix framed by the architecture of the building. Passersby marvel at the new use of familiar objects and the humour of the work. As for Gudrun Nielsen, she harnesses Japanese minimalistic form for Labyrinth (2015), inviting the viewer to change their perspective on the sky and the relationship of space to their own bodies. Labyrinth acts as a haven within a secretive enclosed garden only one step removed from the millions of visitors passing down Exhibition Road. Timo Heino'’s work takes an impeccable visual form where every aspect of balance, scale, and tension is carefully consid- ered. However, it is not until one shares a space with it that one understands the work as a whole. Each dust bale in Gravitation (2015) weighs the same as a man and is made of the dust collected from seventy apartments in Helsinki. The enticing forms, effortlessly suspended, jar with this repulsive, malodorous material. Comprising traces of ordi- nary people's ordinary lives — the streamers from Easter celebrations, the hairs of dogs — it is organic waste made to look as perfect as an industrially-produced counter- weight. This play of material and form urges us to question the cultural ideals of purity and concepts of boundaries between form and content.
SKULPTUR: Curatorial Overview Claire Mander, selected p.73
Culture in a Cold Place
Just a few decades ago Iceland was a cultural backwater, chiefly remembered, when at all, for its medieval literature. Now it has become something of a hotspot with international music, film, and arts festivals. lcelandic bands tour the world, writers are translated and read by millions, and Icelandic artists exhibit internationally and gather enthusiastic reviews. There has been an explosion in tourism with more than one million visitors last year (to Ilceland’s 330,000 inhabit- ants), many of them citing not just the arctic landscape but also culture as the reason for com- ing. As someone who has worked in the cultural sector in Reykjavik for more than thirty years, | have applauded these changes but they have also left me wondering what happened.
it was a gradual shift and as it took place there was little to indicate that the changes would lead to any mainstream success. For younger artists working today, the 1980s form an important cultural horizon. The decade saw the emergence of many new artists, writers, and musicians: a whole new cultural scene that seemed dedicated to making ever-edgier art. Bjork. who has become the international face of this generation, has explained what happened in typically direct terms: they knew that they would never sell more than a few hundred copies of their records or books and never do more than break even on a concert or exhibition, so they just did what they felt like doing. The new scene developed without a market and without much public support. Artists created their own infrastructure of small venues and exhibition spaces, most of them working second Jobs to support their cultural work. They saw themselves as continuing an avant-garde tradition, looking back to the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and further back to the Surrealists and the Dadaists. They renounced the division between the arts and their events mixed music, readings, performance, film, and visual art. Most importantly, it was avery inclusive and diverse scene that provided an outlet for anyone with an idea and a need to express it.
The rebels of the 1980s are now leading the field and teaching in universities and the Academy of the Arts. In many ways, the spirit lives on but circumstances have changed. The market in Iceland remains weak but artists found, perhaps to their surprise, that there was a small but growing international audience for the new art they had developed, almost by acci- dent, while doing ‘what they felt like’. It also inspired wide-based renewal in the arts and the rapid expansion of the art scene. New art, installation, video, and performance art were grad- ually accepted by museums and critics, and even painting and sculpture were taken up and transformed by the younger generation. The resurgence of sculpture was covered in a major exhibition at the Reykjavik City Museum in 1994, which revealed an extraordinary diversity of approaches and influences, not only from international styles but also from other cultura! sources, including feminism, punk rock, and Icelandic folk and outsider art. It also revealed that very few of the artists were willing to limit themselves to a single medium or form of expression and participating in a sculpture exhibition was just one way of getting an idea across. The 1990s showed that there was no stepping back from the cross-disciplinary spirit that had developed gradually in the 1970s and 1980s.
Visitors from abroad are often surprised by this diversity and by the relaxed attitude of Icelandic artists to genres and media. This is the legacy of a long incubation period when they worked without much hope of reward, a kind of prolonged adolescence where they pursued whatever ideas they liked.
Circumstances have changed. Iceland is, despite setbacks, more prosperous and the cultural infrastructure is vastly improved, with new museums and concert halls as well as improved public support for the arts. The biggest change affecting the arts has been increased international participation, allowing Icelandic artists to get their works to a wider audience and benefit from the presence of international artists (and an increasingly international audience) in Iceland. In former times, this would have been a one-way street with Icelanders having to settle abroad to study and to have a chance of an international career. They went to Copenhagen or Paris, later to New York, London, and the cities of Germany. This was the traditional relationship of peripheral cultures to the great centres of culture, a kind of cultural colonialism where the cen- tre fed on a steady stream of new talent from the outlying countries to renew the art world and appease the market. This was, paradoxically, the relationship that allowed for the long incubation of the Icelandic art scene in the remote and tiny capital city of Reykjavik. It is also the gradual breakup of this system that has allowed Reykjavik to experience the current cultural surge and increased international recognition.
The two Icelandic artists in the exhibition Skulptur have different experiences of this devel- opment: Gudrun Nielsen studied art in Iceland in the 1980s and completed her studies in London, while Siguréur Gudjonsson did his studies in the first years of the new century in Reykjavik and Vienna. Both, however, take a very free approach to traditional distinctions between different media and genres. Gudrun’s sculptures are often as much about architecture or the environment and Siguréur’s work spans video, sculpture, and, recently, extensive cooperation with musicians and composers. Different as they are, they both reflect the free attitude to rules and historical precedent that may be the greatest strength of the Icelandic art scene.
Bjork’s generation did what they liked and if somebody else liked it that was a bonus.
In the three decades since, some have managed to build international careers and have even found success. For most artists, however, the reality is still a second job and the struggle to find time for your art. In this, Iceland is like anywhere else.
SKULPTUR: National Perspectives ICE Jon Proppé p.78-79
CHANGES SITE SPECIFIC SCULPTURE FOR NEW GREENHAM PARK, BERKSHIRE, ENGLAND. Commission 2010
http://www.artsindustry.co.uk Simon Tait's Diary Issue 263 http://www.artsindustry.co.uk/features/simon-taitsdiary/45 17th November 2010
GREENHAM - A LONG TIME ACHANGIN'
“This is Changes by the Icelandic sculptor Gudrun Nielsen, a monumental piece that has just been unveiled at Greenham Common where US bombers used to land – you get the references just by looking at it. Since the Greenham Common women saw off the last of the Right Stuff in 1988 the trees have returned along with the birds and the rest of the flora and fauna, and the military buildings have either been demolished or converted by the Greenham Common Trust which now owns it. Nielsen won a competition along with the late Michael Kenny, but that was 12 years ago and while Kenny’s large geometric form, Broken Symmetry, was unveiled almost immediately by Ringo Starr (a Kenny fan and local resident), Gudrun’s was a little tardy in taking off, as it were. The reasons, the trust tells me, are a mixture of funding difficulties, siting problems (“given the heroic scale of the proposal” – it’s 24 metres long and in nine parts) and planning issues, and it now stands – or lies - at the entrance to the once loathsome site. But the unveiling also marks a coming of age for New Greenham Arts because the former military base is now a mixture of business estate and arts centre, under the chairmanship of the hotelier, wine importer and sculpture freak Sir Peter Michaels. It now has a studio theatre, used by the Corn Exchange at nearby Newbury which effectively runs the centre for the trust, and the trust contributes £200,000 a year to the artistic programmes; an exhibition space for its programme of visual art; and studio space for everything from life drawing to stand-up comedy rehearsals. There are also four resident theatre companies. “It’s been an extraordinary transformation, bringing this place to life, and a long journey, but it’s been worth it and Gudrun’s piece is rather the end of the beginning for us” Michael told me.
Text Simon Tait a freelance journalist, writer and editor. The former arts correspondent of The Times.
CHANGES New Greenham Park 2010
Steel and concrete may not be among the elements that first come to mind in relation to the term ‘changes’. However, creating her public artwork with the same title, Icelandic artist Guðrún Nielsen used these very materials in a remarkable manner. Nine Cor-ten steel plates were folded differently, placed on as many concrete slabs and lined up in the New Greenham Park. Visitors can walk along the massive yet playful objects or follow them back and forth with their eyes from a distance. On each end of the line the abstract shapes are simple, becoming more elaborate in the center where one of them takes the clear form of a fighter plane. The heavy-metal origami reminds us of the fact that this park was once a military airbase and the regular sculpture plinths are in fact recycled from the debris of the old landing strip. Together with the direct material reference, the systematic growth and unfurling of the geometric shapes symbolize the park’s history of renovation and improvement. Expressing the folding and unfolding of the past, Nielsen’s visual loop brings material life to the words of the poet William Cowper describing the wheel of time: ‘Still ending, and beginning still.’
The Icelandic Medical Journal, issue 10, Vol 96. cover and page 595, text Markús Þór Andrésson art curator, writer.
photographs Leigh Quinnell. www.laeknabladid.is
Japanese Teahouse Series 2005 - 2009 Gallery Sævars Karls, Rvk. 17th - 30th October. Catalogue text Aðalsteinn Ingólfsson Art historian, writer
S C U L P T U R E S E N V I R O N M E N T A L I N S T A L L A T I O N S 2 0 1 9 - 1 9 9 2
Selected sculptures 1989 - 2019 photos by Gudrun Nielsen. AK.Purkiss 2015, Stuart Hollis 2009, Benson Sedgwick Engineering Ltd, V.Gudnason and Leigh Quinnell 2010, Roger Hoare 2002, Nick Morris 1992
Artworks © 1989–2019 Gudrun Nielsen. No images to be used without express prior written permission.