Hildur Bjarnadóttir
substans: tofarvet pil, kvan, engnellikerod, åkersnelle, gulmaure, almindelig  mjødurt, aksblomstret frytle, fruebær, almindeling løvefod, storkenæb, (2014) — Hildur Bjarnadóttir
Sansing: Åkersnelle og Festgress (2014) — Hildur Bjarnadóttir
Installasjonsfoto fra utstillingen (2014) — Hildur Bjarnadóttir
Installasjonsfoto fra utstillingen (2014) — Hildur Bjarnadóttir

Subjective systems
Utstillingen Subjective systems utforsker fargers egenskaper med utgangspunkt i planter fra Hildurs jord syd på Island og akrylfarger som er industriellt produsert. De to forskjellig fargesystem har meget ulikt innhold; den industriellt lagde fargen er kjemisk fremstilt mens plantefargene bærer i seg omgivelsen de vokser i. Hildur utforsker de forskjellige kvalitetene og innholdene i disse fargetypene gjennom vev, maleri og innfarging av tekstiler. Plantene på Hildurs jord er sentral i denne utstillingen. Å undersøke et stykke land gjennom plantene som vokser der er både en subjektiv og en systematisk prosess. For Hildur betyr også jordstykket noe spesielt, et sted som er hennes eget.

Mapping a Piece of Land: Color, Material, and Earth in the Work of Hildur Bjarnadóttir

There is something very familiar and immediate in the work of Hildur Bjarnadóttir. Varicolored cloths, in solid colors or checked. The texture and weave all but ask us to touch, to feel how the fabric handles. Cut in simple shapes and arranged on the wall, the cloths all come across as paintings. Unassuming canvasses
veiling the great concentration and thought that went into their making.

Hildur Bjarnadóttir creates her works from the ground up in an almost literal physical sense. Her raw materials are linen and wool yarns and silk fabric. She weaves the linen and wool and dyes the silk. In one respect she has gone further than even the most dedicated craftspersons. For some of her works, which may truly be called investigations given the research and
experiment involved, she has made her own natural dyes, gathered the plants, boiled them down, and extracted their juice as the basis of dyes for use in coloring her yarns. It is scarcely possible to imagine getting closer to the origin of a painting than to weave the canvas and color it with one’s own dyes.

Hildur Bjarnadóttir gathers the material for her dyes at Þúfugarðar, her five-acre landholding in the Flói area, east of Selfoss. She has systematically recorded, photographed, and collected the wild plants growing on her plot of land, such as angelica, tea-leaved willow, and meadowsweet, and made from them the dyes used in the works displayed here. The works in silk are dyed in extracts of single plants. The linen and wool cloths are multicolored and woven from yarns colored partly with herbal dyes and partly with acrylic paints. They combine natural dyes, which Bjarnadóttir has handmade on her own land, with ready-made, mass-produced synthetic pigments from the realm of modern technology. From this description one might guess that the encounter of two such different worlds would lead to dissonance and conflict. On the contrary these colors of unlike derivation entwine to create color-tones that easily balance and agree.

Modern art is built on a clear separation between fine arts such as painting and sculpture and applied arts, the so-called craft and design fields, which involve useful activities such as weaving and embroidery. Hildur Bjarnadóttir dissolves this boundary by turning applied-art techniques into methods of painting. These works may be termed woven paintings, as the basic form of each is inseparable from traditional textile methods practiced by people in Iceland and elsewhere for centuries.

Bjarnadóttir does not begin with the empty canvas or cloth as the starting point and ground of a painting. The ground itself has been taken apart and put back together, as a reminder that the free, fine arts rest on the work of those never valued at full worth, the skill and training of craftspersons and industrial workers. Women’s crafts have not been placed high in art´s ranks of honor.

A certain ambiguity resides in the composition of the picture surface. The monochrome ground gains new meaning through the patterns resulting from
different methods of weaving and crocheting threads. A multicolored pattern of vertical and horizontal bands may be seen as either a colorful table linen or a geometrical-abstract painting. The familiar checked tablecloth that is sometimes allowed to peep from the still-lifes of French Cubists or Icelandic abstract painters here takes center-stage and assumes
independent life. The roles are reversed. We are
invited to view an abstract painting in a checked cloth, not a checked cloth in an abstract painting.

Hildur Bjarnadóttir’s work is remarkable for the way it evokes the complex relationship between color, material, and earth. In our modern world natural colors live in constant close quarters with the synthetic color-systems that surround us. Natural colors have lost ground to synthetic colors and the endless
possibilities that technologized color-production offers. The relation of color to material is particularly striking and strong in these woven paintings because it has to do with their origin and meaning. These colors manifest the earth, not the colorless world of technology but the mortal earth we belong to.
Bjarnadóttir limits herself to organic colors, crushes the essence from that surface of earthly flora that thrives in sunshine, and indeed her works reveal a sympathy with the life-supporting earth that
nourishes not only vegetation but man and beast. Here color is something more than an impression of the countryside; it is a relic of the land in condensed and dried form.

For artists, pigments are material resources just as plaster, marble, paper, and pencil are. In Hildur
Bjarnadóttir’s work colors are not merely material resources but benefits of the land. Dye functions as both a visual and physical conduit to the land where the plants grow. It maps the land with color. This is quite removed from the view of color as a technical aspect of executing an artwork or as a product to be chosen from a catalogue or palette. Our age is
perhaps jaded by the glut of synthetic colors that have strayed far from their origins and soils. If so, it rests solely in the hands of artists to rediscover the source.
Gunnar J. Árnason

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