Saturday 9th November 2002 – ART Review in (Morgunbladid)

ART - Gallery Hlemmur – Reykjavik - Iceland

Cigar smoking elf-girls at Hlemmur



Until 10th November. The exhibition is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 2-6pm.


This is Iceland. She is an Icelander. She is an elf. She is healthy. She smokes cigars. She is cold. She is alone.

Erla S. HaraldsdÛttir was born in 1967, has her arts education from Gothenburg, San Francisco and Stockholm, and has been actively working as an artist for the last six years. Within this period she’s had five solo exhibitions, six including this one, and participated in many shared exhibitions in Iceland and abroad. A series of photographs she created in collaboration with Bo Melin got noticeable attention when they were exhibited at Gallery Hlemmur, Reykjavik, in 2001.

Erla has developed an excellent portfolio, which gives us a good perspective into her work from the past six years, and when examined more detailed, her pieces often deal with perception and the borders between reality and imagination. In the same way the photographs of Erla and Bo Melin dealt with daily reality and society by manipulating the photographs in a very subtle way to create a doubt about what is real and what is not. Erla’s photographs of Icelandic nature, where an exotic bird is flying over SkÛgarfoss, UFOs take off in the Icelandic highlands etc., are created in a similar way.

In her new exhibition ‘What you actually saw’, where the main piece is a video installation depicting rolling waves at Myrdalssandur and, very briefly, a girl passing by, Erla, again, is dealing with the nature. The video is beautiful, the rolling waves are soothing as always and the velocity does not reduce that effect. The girl that appears and disappears just as quickly gives yet another layer to the piece - you are actually not sure of what you saw and what you didn’t see.

The video is projected onto a wall. When I saw the exhibition it was not very visible due to the sun shining through the window, which was very disturbing. It’s without doubt stronger on a cloudy day. Today so many people create video installations. Maybe that is the reason why they are sometimes produced without regards to their special features. The visual potential of the media often disappears and the video camera is mostly reduced to a kind of portable camera, with a primarily documentary value. In this case, it would have been much stronger to have a more determined presentation. Videos by artists as for example Marijke van Warmerdan give us a very good idea about how the video can be used to its fully potential in the most simple way. I also felt that hints about hydropower plants were unnecessary in the piece and narrows the potentials of interpretation too much.

Erla invited two artists to each create a piece of art inspired by her video; Joshua Trees wrote a text describing what he thinks he sees in a still screen taken from the video, and the young graffiti artist ArngrÌmur Borg_Ûrsson created a piece of graffiti on one wall of the gallery, based on the same still screen. Trees’ text really makes you think about what creates the image of Iceland abroad – if the Sugarcubes, and later Bjˆrk, really have played such a big part in that development. Trees writes about both elves and cigars, which without doubt is a big clichÈ, but the elf-girl Bjˆrk did indeed sing about smoking cigars in the old Sugarcube-song, a long, long time ago.

I find this idea of collaboration the most interesting part of the exhibition, and something that is very exiting to work with – although the outcome this time is not particularly spectacular. The Soviet artist Ilya Kabakov for example used this possibility in a very fascinating way by involving his spectators¥ reaction to his pieces of art in his shows. Thus, his work has shown a clear difference between spectators’ reaction from the East and the West, plus hilarious responses of the public to very inapprehensible art. Collaboration is very highly appreciated today, both between artists themselves and between artists and the public, and it will be interesting to follow the development further in the near future.

Despite these obvious presentative problems and the fact that the addition that developed through the collaboration was not very stimulating, Erla’s pieces are full of interesting features, the borders between reality and imagination are intriguing and the idea of collaboration is fertile. And lets hope that the sun doesn’t come out of the skies for the next couple of days.

Ragna Sigurdardottir (Translated by Hera Olafsdottir)