Liza Voetman & Halla Einarsdóttir
On the 21st of July, Halla Einarsdóttir and I met on Skype.
It was four days before her presentation at Kunsthuis SYB that concluded a work period of – let’s say – three short but productive weeks. At a physical distance, from my kitchen table in Brabant, we talk about the space between in- and outside, fiction and reality and text and images. I ask her how the external circumstances in Friesland affected Einarsdóttir’s internal, artistic practice. And what becomes visible in her artistic process regulated in this distanced space in Friesland – as she described SYB in her proposal – during COVID-19, as well as the influence of a changing environment on the public ‘surface’ of her artistry.
0/ (Before Skype)
Originating from Iceland, Halla Einarsdóttir (1991) went back to the highlands of Iceland several times after graduating from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 2016. At the moment she is pursuing a Masters degree at the Piet Zwart Institute, in which she investigates the ways in which external environments can influence our (internal) perspective and behaviour. Starting from this visible shell of something or someone, she embraces the power of storytelling. A surface, whether from an object or person, on the one hand exposes the reaction to an external state of power, on the other hand it exists as a border to the underlying. I think that patterns within this surface, as a crack in the visible, could be seen as a metaphor between those two separated ‘spaces’: it illustrates the space between the internal and external, between what ‘is’ and what hides deeper underneath, touching an interesting tension we’re centralizing today.
1/ Portal Scroll video, duration: 9 minutes
Shortly before our conversation, Einarsdóttir emails me two videos which she will present at SYB this weekend. First, she invites me to watch Portal Scroll (2020) – preferably with headphones. After downloading the video(s) seated at my kitchen table, I’m ready to watch it. Being constructed as a video from a ‘first person’ perspective, the video has a strong connection to video games. Therefore Portal Scroll immediately takes over my whole environment. During this virtual journey, I’m accompanied by two voices, respectively female and male. They’re guiding me to a few squared rooms. The rooms are small, with high walls full of veins, textures and patterns – like mountains, or a freckled skin. The walls are mostly light, and so are the cracks, though a few are coloured yellow, green or red. The gaze I follow, my gaze for a while, moves shakily through the squared spaces, like a robot.
“Fighting for the scare sockets – Living in each others pockets – Pickpocketing my thoughts – Compensating for poor plots”, the man reads loudly while welcoming us as a player of the game: we are about to start.
“One day, the walls became thinner than my patience”, a woman’s voice speaks loudly, filling the same space.
The woman told us to hear the man, filled with curiosity. She listened, heard him take pen and paper. She knew he had a plan and heard him thinking: How to put it into words? She heard him hesitate and wondered: ‘Could he hear me as well?’ Like a voyeur through the walls, in an empty room, she heard him shift his concentration from what to write to what to eat for dinner and pretended she hadn’t heard him think how to describe what he was thinking. She replied that she wanted to eat onion soup, like grandmother did. He replied as if he was not present, and disappeared into the kitchen. The walls, thinner than her patience, would provide all the parts to collect in the kitchen. My eyes are shakily moving to a clothing reck, dishcloths draped over it. She waited a long time, saw the dishcloths dry. Her patience was not inadequate: he stole opinions, her opinions. He would listen to them as if they were his, but, in addition to those opinions, the crawl space – she mentioned – is the place where the contents guts of the house are hidden. She disappeared into the crawl, alone.
Liza Voetman – In the proposal you’ve applied a while ago, you’re mentioning your focus on text, the different forms of narratives you explored and the possible replacement of text by the material, without losing the narrative thread. As you wrote: “By allowing my work to be shaped by a floating ‘word of mouth’ communication, an object’s narrative power and/or an alternative navigational method, I as the maker hand over a certain authorship to these aforementioned ‘tools’ which I believe creates an interesting and often unforeseen outcome of the work.” Portal Scroll has a lot of layers, both virtually and textually, narratively spoken by a female and male. Can you explain something about the emergence of the fictional narrative of Portal Scroll in SYB?
Halla Einarsdóttir – “Before SYB, I had already started creating physical textures on a cardboard, thinking about various surfaces and veneer”, Einarsdóttir explains, while placing her laptop on a table somewhere in the back of the building in front of raw brick walls. She has barely been outside for the past twenty-one days, due to the bad weather and the Corona crisis. While getting to know this interior space in detail, with its crumbled walls full of veins and patterns, she worked together with her partner, artist Faysal Mroueh, who helped create the digital environments in Portal Scroll. Einarsdóttir continues: “I was going to have a group show a few months ago, which moved online because of COVID-19. We decided, as a group, to have this exhibition on the platform Twitch. It’s basically a platform for people to broadcast themselves playing video games; there is this culture of people watching other people playing games, you know? [I nod]. Along with Faysal, I had already been thinking about the idea of a video game as a narrative form. We tried to render the physical cardboard surfaces into a digital platform. Along with that I started writing the script of my video. A previous work of mine Spies Lies and Sunken Subs, was an interactive eBook as PDF which marked the beginning of this interactive way of thinking through work, it encourages the viewer to navigate freely within the file, searching for clues and variables, whilst evaluating both what to believe and how they prefer the stories to go. […] What I find interesting in Portal Scroll is that due to this first person perspective the viewer gets hints of an interactivity although in reality they don’t have any real agency. I think this tension creates an interesting distance, between the viewer and maker, here you don’t necessarily assume that the narrator is the artist herself as you might, if this was simply an animation video.”
Prior to her residency Einarsdóttir already realized a simplified version of Portal Scroll. At SYB she rewrote the script for this four-minute video and sharpened the choice of objects in the spaces. “I came across this folklore figure in the English tradition, called Brownie”, she tells, smiling. “It’s a creature that stayed in houses where it would clean and attend to chores during the night. Allegedly it was a very sensitive and touchy creature who became easily offended and would leave the house it stayed in when it became too offended. But when doing so, it would leave rhymes around the house. In my video game, these rhymes give clues for you as a spectator. As a side note, I find it quite interesting that these are all very feminine qualities: staying within the house, cleaning, being easily offended – all these cliché’s but according to the tradition this creature was most commonly known to be male. In my video some of this character’s attributes gets mingled with the different narrators. I have touched upon the trope of a ‘crazy lady’ or a ‘crone‘ in my previous works and in some way it returns again, in this video, where the viewer might not necessarily trust the narrator of the game, hopefully asking themselves why. I also hope there is some suspicion on the seemingly super dull partner while watching! It was already an idea to develop and explore the videogame as a narrative form and due to the lockdown we simply had more time to work on it together. Thematically it also had an effect, for instance, I never worked within a domestic setting until now, which happened almost without me noticing. I guess, like most people, I was in a slightly different mind space these past months.”
LV – Because of Corona you dived into the virtual realm?
HE – I guess, yes, although I think it would have happened eventually. But now, given my partner and I have been working in one room together — since I didn’t have access to my studio and school — it might have happened a bit faster.
2/ Carpet Beat, duration: 2 minutes
A wooden stick strikes against a dust-covered carpet, one that we’ve kept in the shed for years and show the light after it has lost its glory. With each stroke, the dust emerges from the surface, from within the texture – upwards. It meets the wind – the reality? – and disappears. When hitting the carpet the video image freezes a few seconds. The interval of being in the material and being in the air is visibly staged by Einarsdóttir, focusing on this moment of in-betweenness. These seconds, somewhere in between fiction and reality, are what Carpet Beat investigates. Both videos narrate the cloak released under the surface in a fictional manner without becoming literal. “You’ve centralized the internal and external as co-operated powers who cannot exist without each other within both projects,” I define carefully. “How is this reflected in the physical presentation in SYB?”
[Einardsdóttir smiles, answers:]
HE – Portal Scroll will be projected on a wall every 15 minutes, Carpet Beat will be looped on a screen, covered with the same material I use for my sculptures, which also echo the rough walls of Kunsthuis SYB. The sculptures are a somewhat distorted scale model of the room that Portal Scroll takes place in, although this time the viewer is standing outside of the structure. I really appreciate how the interior of SYB seems to be in dialogue with the work both thematically and materially.
I have to think about the first page of the proposal that she submitted for a working period in SYB. I looked at a photo of a mountain landscape in Iceland on the first page, being an illustration of patterns in surfaces. The contrasts between the dark mountain and white veins of snow represent hard boundaries between two spaces. Working in the Icelandic highlands as a warden of huts, it strongly influenced her work practice. Einarsdóttir: “It’s also a very immersive environment to be in. Usually, within my work I’m situated in some sort of nature. For this work [in SYB], however, I feel less [influenced], although there are some organic elements within my sculptures. ”
3/ Set of sculptures, showed during Skype
We’re looking at some scale models that Einarsdóttir colours with pen. Working on rewriting the narrative script and designing the props in the video, she also started a few weeks ago with realizing these material objects with textures on the cardboard. “I guess, in terms of what I wanted to discuss in the narration, I think it will be the physical presence of this space that has affected my sculptures, rather than the narration of the video. Being displaced from the big city during Corona, I actually enjoyed the bad weather here, it is such a great house itself to focus on.”
Einarsdóttir’s residency ends the 25th of July. When we reach SYB and open the front door, we walk to the central middle stage. This is where Portal Scroll is shown, as the first impression of spatial patterns in a space full of imperfections themselves. In the backspace, Einarsdóttir presents Carpet Beat in a play with sculptural, textural elements that she is currently investigating as a dialogue. Both narratives, material and visual, come together, she concludes, but at the same time they narrate their own narrative. The spatial objects that she now physically examines in dialogue with the two videos, broaden parts of the narrative. This isn’t because her work exists by words, but by seeking a balance between narrated fictions and textural sculptures without becoming illustrative.
LV – You’re mentioning the patterns in a cardboard as a crack. I think it represents an interesting tension: the place of a crack. Does it represent something beautiful for you?
HE – I started with the word ‘veneer’ as a material and a method to use on walls or furniture, but likewise as something we put on ourselves, as the stories we tell each other as well as ourselves. Inevitably there will be cracks in these surfaces and stories, which can be beautiful, but not necessarily so.
Text: Liza Voetman
Editor: Brenda Tempelaar
Images: Halla Einarsdóttir
Circles graphics: Maarten van Maanen
This text was written as part of SYB Circles (2019/2020).