Who’s Afraid of Red…
THE RED PERIOD,
EVER since her graduation from the Sculpture Department of the Icelandic College of Arts and Crafts in 1994, Thóra Thórisdóttir has been immersed her art, participated in numerous joint exhibitions and organised private exhibitions here in Iceland, in Norway and in Hungary – Not to mention her outstanding initiative in the establishment of Gallerí Hlemmur in association with Valgerdur Gudlaugsdóttir.
In the years that Thóra has been exhibiting her work, religious symbols have featured prominently. Exhibitions that come to mind are the Blood of the Lamb in 1994 and a video produced in a Hungarian vineyard in 2000, where Thóra is seen bathing in wine, which was subsequently bottled and sold as bath wine. Her current exhibition at Hlemmur is titled “the Red Period”, with all kinds of connotations. The works at the exhibition are created using menstrual blood, red wine and ink, and no doubt it is the use of materials which explains the reference to feminism in a press release announcing the exhibition. The fascinating question now is what constitutes feminism in art these days. Although some things have changed since the time of the radical Red Stockings, there are many things that have remained the same. I can well imagine that the use of menstrual blood will still be enough to shock some people, but to call material use of this kind feminism in art is a bit of a throwback to the sixties and seventies. Even so, it is impossible to ignore the feminist implications of the materials use – unfortunately. When that time comes, it will represent some progress. In my mind, Thóra’s true feminism is revealed in her operation of Gallery Hlemmur; it is the growing proportion of women in managerial positions in the world of art collections and galleries which will gradually secure the position of women in the art world – and in the annals of art history, not to mention the role of all women artists and women art critics.
Thóra’s exhibition in Gallery Hlemmur is in three parts. Empty or half empty red wine glasses from the opening of the exhibition fill the shelves of two walls. Several works in menstrual blood on paper are shown on two walls, in addition to a stack of similar works intended for browsing. The third work is based on photographs of the visitors at the exhibition, taken by means of a digital eye. The photographs are printed using red ink and mounted on the wall.
The exhibition as a whole is a sort of “trace” – here was life, a moment now past. The wine glasses evoke thoughts of past times, fleeting moments. The work produced in menstrual blood is fraught with emotions; all women possess memories connected in one way or another with menstrual blood. The blood causes relief or brings out tears. The blood is not life’s blood, says Thóra, quite correctly. But it is not only the ungrasped opportunity of an unborn child; menstrual blood is also a frightening herald of death, of broken dreams and aborted hopes. The work is certain to elicit strong emotions in those who observe it. The third part, the photographs of visitors at the exhibition, fits well into the scene as a whole, and a living dialogue is created among the three works. If there is any problem, it is that the photographs react so strongly with the menstrual works that they gain too much control of their interpretation, narrowing the observers’ vision of the works. Their placement opposite to one another makes this impression even stronger. I also wondered a bit, inconclusively, about the somewhat institutional presentation of the works. No doubt the presentation is conceived as balance against the personal allusiveness of the works. The stack of menstrual works meant for browsing seemed to me a step in the opposite direction.
Thóra’s works are always strong and interesting, and the same is true of this exhibition. The Bible, which I can’t be the only person not to have read from cover to cover, is at the foundation of society, the National Church is part of our life from cradle to grave, and its symbols have long since merged into our mode of thought. It is an exciting prospect to focus attention on these symbols, ponder their meaning and significance. Thóra’s works are simple, but open to an array of interpretations relating to art history, feminism, Christianity and modern society, in addition to their emotional impact. As I was looking at the works, I was reminded of Gerhard Richter’s words, which I happened across the other day: “Art takes place, happens, (…) – rarely and always unexpectedly, but never because we force it to take place, happen.” Thóra’s works are to some extent thought-out, but they also have the characteristic of appearing to the viewer independently of their creator’s intentions. Thóra uses the qualities of her materials, which are both personal and universal, and presents them in such a way that they touch everyone’s heart, although undoubtedly in very different ways. Art happens. And the Bible has found its way to my bedside table.
Ragna Sigurðardóttir, art critic, in Morgunblaðið, 12 October 2002
© Morgunblaðið, 2002