May 14, 2015

Museum Cinema: Analyses of Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir’s Development

For just under one month, January 17 to February 15 of 2015, the main exhibition space in Hafnarborg Museum was transformed for artist Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir’s show Development (in the native language Framköllun). The relatively small but influential museum[1] but faces the ocean on the main street of Hafnarfjörður, a small town on the outskirts of Reykjavík, Iceland. Hekla Dögg[2] is a well-known Icelandic artist whose work has been internationally exhibited. She often works in sculptures and installations, and the installation on display here can be called her largest and most ambitious project to date.[3] She has attempted to capture moments of the unexpected in her work and uses multimedia installations to this end.[4]
Development captures the unexpected in new ways as she creates a version of a site-specific collaborative installation with the participation of 36 artists. The show can in fact be looked at as one piece of art presented as an installation and composed of different multimedia elements. Film as a medium for art and a site for creativity is at the center of the piece and becomes the carrier of creative thought. The collaborative aspects of the show reflect Hekla’s career, which is marked by interaction with other artists on many levels of the Icelandic art scene. Besides working as an artist, Hekla teaches at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and has curated exhibitions of other artists work. Furthermore, she was one of the founders of the influential Kling & Bang gallery in Reykjavík.[5] Her established relationships with other artists become an important function of Development.
Picture 1: This is a rough scetch of the installation from above. The curves in the top right and bottom left corners represent the curving of the walls which end where the curve meets the outer line. The other end of each wall is at each square’s opposite corner. The image is courtesy of the Museum’s webpage.

Walking into a large space of 380 square meters the museum guests are greeted by what first appears to be a large white sculpture. It is in fact an installation of four rooms divided into two halves, which fills almost three-fourths of the hall. It soon becomes apparent that these are movie sets, one white and one black. Guests are not guided through the space in any particular way. Instead, the show invites inspection of the space at the visitor’s convenience. The space is located on the second floor of the museum. On the lower floor is an exhibition of the work of artist Hanna Davíðsson, whose work in decoration, painting, and drawing from the early 20th century creates a sharp contrast with Hekla’s modern installation.[6] The floors are parquet and the ceiling is rises to a high beam. Facing the entrance is a long and tall, partially curved white wall and a raised white floor. The floor is strewn with white pedestals in various sizes, tripods, lights and one camera. In the middle of this set hangs a very large white sphere, around one and a half meters, suspended from the ceiling. Moving around the sculpture one comes to a small doorway in its side. Half of the doorway is painted white, but after that the wall is painted black. Inside is a small editing room filled with equipment and unused films. Further along is the other half of this structure, identical to the white set except painted entirely black. It has a similar black sphere hanging from the ceiling, but less filmmaking equipment and no pedestals. Outside this space stand two black monoliths. Moving past this black set one is greeted by another door as well as a tall pedestal on which stands a 16mm projector. It is projecting into the small theater on the other side of the doorway. Inside is a conventional, if very small, cinema complete with red leather chairs on loan from the National Film Archive.[7]                                                                      

Pictures 2 and 3: The black and white sets.

The silent film shown repeadetly throughout the day, in this small cinema is composed of black-and-white segments, each of them around two and a half minutes, roughly the length of one 100 foot 16mm Kodak spool each. Every segment is created by an artist or a performance group following simple rules: they are allowed to use one black and white film roll and must use the black and/or white sets built by Hekla in the museum. In the days before the opening 9 artists took turns individually bringing their creative input to her sets and adding their voices (or rather visages) to the film.[8] A few of the participants are generally known for video art, but their techniques and focus varies from one to the next. This makes their joined parts variegated and distinct from each other in execution and subject matter.
Picture 4: Inside the editing room.
This set, editing room and cinema sculpture becomes its own contained black and white universe into which artists are invited to participate, bringing their own artistic vision into Hekla Dögg’s rule-bound world. The product is then edited and exhibited right in this same space, and even though it is brought out of the sculpture, to a lab for photocemical processing. The editing room thus binds these tree areas together and the process into a totality in the middle of the space physically, and in the middle of the temporal process from shooting to viewing. Visitors are invited into the piece as well to view the result of this merge from the safety of the familiar cinema seats. The only things that are not either black or white in the piece are these seats ant the yellow boxes around the film cartridges and a few other objects in the editing room. The red color of the chairs, seen despite the dimness inside the cinema, accentuate the spectators place as an outsider, invited into this domain and watching from an outside point of view. The very act of watching, situated inside the piece, therefore becomes a part of the art-performance itself. Spectators become participants in a performance of creation and reception. Without them the self-contained universe would collapse.
Picture 5: The projectionist preparing to change reels. On the other side of the projector is the entrance to the cinema.
After the opening of the exhibition, more artists joined the creation and both asked and were asked to participate by filming their own contribution in the same rule-bound manner. These parts to the piece were filmed both when the museum was closed and when it was open, depending on the artists time and caprice. Some of these became performances in themselves, though the act of filming them was the main focus. Each time the piece was added to the end of the collection/film, making it four reels, each comprised of 9 rolls, by the time the show was closed on February 15th. As more and more artists joined the creation they became a somewhat more diverse group. The original group consisted of artists in circles close to Hekla herself, often related to Kling & Bang Gallery which she co-founded. By the end of the show a total of 36 collaborators from a wide spectrum had added their voices and an interesting cross-section of the Icelandic art scene at this time had been carved.
The participating artists experimented with a medium not familiar to most of them in the process of making this installation and by asking them to do this Hekla posed questions as to the nature of filmmaking and production as an art form within the museum institution. She contacted friends within the film industry in Iceland asking them to join the project, however, they were unwilling to participate according to the artist, who was present in the exhibition on both of the days I went there. The divide between filmmaking and the art world that she encountered and questioned in this piece is a prevalent one in Iceland. Filmmaking and video production are not included in the Academy of the Arts, which has widened the gap between these two areas, which would seem to overlap. Further, Hekla brings the cinema into the museum space and establishes it as a place to witness art. The red chairs, brought into the space and expanding it beyond the common and simple viewing hall prevalent for video art and normally containing only of one black bench at the far end of the room.
Hekla questions the relationship between cinema and museum, but it can be argued that there is another gray area in her piece. In a sense there is a question about the nature of curating art and film to be found in the execution of this piece. Through her personal vision Hekla brings together artists and arranges their work in an order. However, the resulting film is in fact put together almost randomly. Each of the artists chose a time to film their contribution, and Hekla edited these parts together according to the order they were shot in. This creates an uncertain element in the piece and some randomness in the films construction. Is Hekla then an artist curator?
In relation to this is may be of use to look at Terry Smith’s book Thinking Contemporary Curating (2012) where he situates the artist-curator historically and criticizes the blurring of these boundaries. Smith comes to the conclution that the artist curator negatively subverts the appropriate relationship between artist and institution.[9] Hekla’s ambiguous relationship with the institution comes from her arrangement of other’s work, yet this is in the interest of her own artistic vision, and thus can rather be likened to a collaborative piece than a curated one. The question is an interesting one though.
This question can be argued both ways and could perhaps be a topic for a much longer paper. For now, Development can at least be called a thought-provoking piece that questions creative space and its own nature of becoming. By blurring boundaries and examining the function of creative spaces Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir created a compelling exhibition in Hafnarborg museum. The searching nature of her show Development thus finds moments in the unpredictable as other artists bring their unique creative talents into her prepared and rule-bound universe.
Picture 6: The artist on her set.

Work Cited
Hafnarborg online. “Development – Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir.” Accessed march 1, 2015.
Iceland Art Center. “Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir.” Accessed march 1, 2015.
“Nýr Safnstjóri Listasafns Reykjavíkur,” Reykjavík city official website, May 4, 2015.
Smith, Terry. Thinking Contemporary Curating. 2nd ed. ICI Perspectives in Curating. No. 1. Independent Curators International: New York, 2012.

Further reading of interest
Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir.
Hafnarborg. “Spark – Hanna Davíðsson.”

Appendix: The 36 Collaborators in Development – in the order of their participation
Kolbeinn Hugi Höskuldsson
Claudia Hausfeld 
Sigurður Guðjónsson

Erling Klingenberg 
Gjörningaklúbburinn (The Icelandic Love Corporation)
Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir 
Unnar Örn J. Auðarson

Hannes Lárusson
Rakel Gunnarsdótt
Hulda Stefánsdóttir
Sara Björnsdóttir
Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir 

Sunneva Weisshappel
Klāvs Liepiņš
Halldór Úlfarsson
Aki Asgeirsson
Páll Ívan Pálsson
Haraldur Jónsson 
Óskar Kristinn Vignisson 
Auður Ómarsdóttir 
Sigga Björg Sigurðardóttir 
Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir
Hrönn Gunnarsdóttir 
Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir
Ragnar Kjartansson
Bjargey Ólafsdóttir

Sirra Sigrún Sigurðardóttir
Lukka Sigurðardóttir
Þórdís Aðalsteinsdóttir
Ilmur Stefánsdóttir
Ólafur Sveinn Gíslason
Páll Banine 
Katrín I. Hjördísardóttir
Magnús Helgason
Anne Rombach

[1] In a recent article about the museum director on the Reykjavík city’s official website , the museum was touted as an important and influential part of the Icelandic art scene. “Nýr Safnstjóri Listasafns Reykjavíkur,” Reykjavík city official website, May 4, 2015.
[2] In Iceland, people are always referred to by their first names (sometimes their middle names as well) since surnames are a parent’s first name.
[3] “Development – Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir,” Hafnarborg online, accessed march 1, 2015,
[4] “Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir,” Iceland Art Center, Accessed march 1, 2015.
[5] . “Development – Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir,” Hafnarborg online,
[6] The fact of their positions as women in the Icelandic art world is also worth noting. This creates another contrast as their work is devided by circa 100 years of (women’s) history. This also marks 100 years of women’s sufferage in Iceland.
[7] According to the museum director, Ólöf Kristín Sigurðardóttir, from whom I got a guided tour of the exhibition. Full disclosure; she is my mother.
[8] See appendix for a full list of collaborators.
[9]Smith, Terry. Thinking Contemporary Curating. 2nd ed. ICI Perspectives in Curating. No. 1. Independent Curators International: New York, 2012.