Introduction to the Work of Hrafnhildur Sigurðardóttir
by art critic Eva Heisler
for The Icelandic Textile Group catalogue 2004
Textile production has played a central role in the cultural history of Iceland since the country was first settled in the ninth century. Sheep, brought to Iceland by the first Viking settlers, were key to survival in the harsh climate. As the cultural historian Hjálmar R. Bárdarson points out in Iceland: A Portrait of Its land and People(Reykjavík, 1982), until well into the nineteenth century, most of the clothes worn by Icelanders were woven in hand looms with stone weights; and during the first four centuries of Iceland’s history, homespun cloth was the primary export. Today, textile artists in Iceland draw on a rich legacy of handcraft practices at the same time that they are actively exploring the conceptual and material boundaries of the functional object and the art object.
Hrafnhildur Sigurdardóttir uses traditional textile methods in the service of cultural critique. The ambiguities of sexual politics are alluded to in “Nightshift;” this work consists of a large circle of netting stretched on the wall from which dangles a limp, phallic form. The artist’s use of traditional knotting techniques associated with the construction of fishnets puns on the view of women as “catch.” The work “Loa, Loa, Ludmila” is a three-meter boa-like form constructed of plastic tubing and plastic packaging string /such as those used to bundle newspapers). “Loa” is the name of a prostitute in a popular song by Icelandic poet-composer Megas. The artist’s transformation of “Loa” to “Ludmila” in the work’s title refers to the recruitment of Eastern European women as sex workers. “Free fall” is a 300 meter rubbery cascade constructed of looped and tied rubber bands. As with “Loa, Loa Ludmila,” the artist is playing with material and conceptual notions of “binding.” In “Loa, Loa Ludmila” the detritus of consumer society is fashioned into a feminine accessory that denotes both the trappings of gender and the “trap” of sexual politics. In “Free fall,” the use of flimsy binding is prompted by the artist’s feeling of being vulnerable and safety net-less as an artist. She is conceptually bound by, and vulnerable to, the conventional dualities of art and craft, as well as the binaries of male and female. The artist’s use of the repetitive gestures of knotting and other forms of handcraft not only address issues of the invisible work of women throughout history but also attempt to test, as the artist puts it, “the borders of textiles and sculpture.”