At first sight, the title of the exhibition “Mega vott” sounds like slang from English, an exclamation of “Mega what!?”, and should be followed by a question mark or an exclamation. The artists exhibiting under this title choose, however, not to narrow down its meaning in this manner. Perhaps that’s because the shock factor, one of art’s main rhetorical devices in the twentieth century, has worn itself out. So have exclamations of outrage and moralistic doubts towards the Zeitgeist. Mega this and mega that, bigger, better no longer surprises anyone and the pointed index finger of moralists who urge us to pause and watch our gleeful steps seems as effective as a bicycle bell on a roaring jumbo jet.
Our globalized world is characterized by mega-solutions, large-scale industries and all-encompassing technological systems that we find as natural as a cup of coffee in our kitchen at home. In world politics a cold war rages again between mega-powers and mega-ideological systems accusing each other of mega-evil. The mega-businesses offer market-friendly total solutions for the whole world, which at the same time seems to be turning into a village. This complicates things. Reality becomes a mega-reality where the boundaries between “them” and “us” become blurred, whether it’s the boundaries between here and there, national and international, material and spiritual, humans and animals, life and technology, which is a part of us just as we become part of it. The world flows into us and we flow into it.
Anna Eyjólfsdóttir, Jessica Stockholder, Ragnhildur Stefánsdóttir, Rúrí and Þórdís Alda Sigurðardóttir are large-scale artists dealing with large-scale projects in this exhibition. They present the world as a production site where build-up equals tear-down, one dependent on the other. Creation, construction, demolition, destruction, again and again.
Þórdís Alda Sigurðardóttir stages a laundry room, a kind of mega-laundry. The drum in the machine turns like the earth itself. The water pours out of it in wide streams, it foams, the machine empties itself and spins the laundry. It piles up, becomes a mountain and from its core a chant on the earth’s beauty sounds. Megawatts power the continual recreation of reality. The animal horns mounted on the cupboards in the laundry room give it an animalistic appearance as if the washing machine were a bull wallowing in mud. And the work evokes further trains of thought. One of the best-known definitions of art stems from Aristotle, but according to it, art’s role is to be a catharsis, a cleansing of one’s emotions. Art stages emotionally charged events, which the spectator experiences and thus is purged of her own emotions. One suspects that Þórdís plays with this mega-definition of art and takes it in unexpected directions with her mega-washing process. It’s possibly an encouragement for a clean up of the art scene by digging up and washing clothing that has disappeared in the laundry basket.
Jessica Stockholder also seems to dig into the rubbish heaps of reality. She’s aware that the shopping bags that we bring home today will be taken out in a year’s time to make space for new things. She takes mass-produced things that in their very creation are destined to become the rubbish of tomorrow; she fixes them up and places them in a spectacular interplay of light and colour. In this way, each object gains value although at first glance it looks like any other object on offer. At the same time one can see an opposition to viewing objects merely as a commodities and viewing us exclusively as consumers. The unfathomable titles of the works underscore her attempt to unsettle and dissolve accepted patterns of meaning. She gives objects a new ontological position than we are used to. This is visible in the contradictory title of the work exhibited here, “Air Padded Table Haunches.” The tables have something to do with premonitions in her work and she seems to imply that a concrete material object such as a table is no less a spiritual reality. She demolishes the dualism of matter and mind even further with the title of the work, which tells us that the tables are padded with air.
In her work “Megaself” Ragnhildur Stefánsdóttir applies similar means to the human body. The boundaries between material and spirit, inside and outside, nature and technology are dissolved. So are the traditional differentiations between “myself” and “others”. The self is not limited to “myself”. It is continually becoming something, a collection of many layers of past experience and unmade plans. These layers are visible in shreds of clothing that have defined the silhouette of an individual at different life stages. The self has no middle or core; the only thing that connects these different layers is the fabrication we call our “life story” and the imagination that moves through time and space. This “me-self” becomes a cairn that we raise to separate us from others. “Myself” therefore always points to others and is just a stage in a life that extends to before our birth and beyond our death as individuals. Ragnhildur is intent on metaphorizing how our self is merged with everything that exists. She observes the energy in everything – humans, objects, machines, nature and ourselves – and creates a connection among all of them.
Rúrí’s contribution to this exhibition touches the core of the pain of our contemporary times. In a video work on the war-torn regions of Bosnia-Herzegovina the spectator is led through a dark tunnel of nightmarish places. Wars are mega-solutions that lead to destruction. Here you can also see photos of waterfalls about to be made quiet, photos of broken glass. The work shows us in a tangible way that the dam project in Iceland’s highlands is warfare against our own country. It reminds us that the powers behind the construction project are connected to the mega-powers that carelessly tread over our earth.
A series of photographs shows us stones where words from the national anthem have been inscribed, stones placed on the earth at Eyjabakkar. The “Ó” on the first stone is no longer the beginning of an exclamation in praise for Iceland’s unspoilt nature, but a cry of anguish. The mega-construction becomes an “omega”, the end of the untouched wilderness that is the heart of Iceland. In these works the destructive power of man is evident. They also remind us that the powers that rule brainwash the public and divide people, such as happened in Bosnia, or in Iceland with the division of the rural and urban population on the issue of the dam. Soldiers in Bosnia were urged to kill and rape with extreme nationalistic thinking, and the highlands of Iceland are destroyed for multinational corporations. The works evoke a longing to stop by, to look at, to contemplate and to learn from.
Anna Eyjólfsdóttir, with her installations, points her vision to man’s need to construct. Gigantic concrete moulds seem to shout, “More, bigger, higher, better, faster.” It is impossible not to admire all this power. Objects fill up space, but still there’s just too much of everything, everything overflows. On the opposite side of this surfeit Anna places objects that reflect hunger, need and desperation. The moulds show that there are two sides to each wall. Goods are unequally divided within walls and outside them. With her work, Anna implies that both conditions are bad options, whether you’re inside or outside.
As with further works at the exhibition, Anna’s installation implies that we are not just “me myself and I,” but “me about you from you to us.” We are all dependent on each other and in the same boat. If we realize this we can change things. But there are no mega-solutions on how to stop injustice and oppression. A one-solution-for-all is neither possible nor desirable. It is naïve to believe that it is enough to change ourselves for the world to become better. Jessica Stockholder hits the nail on the head when she writes that she has not been able to find herself in the conflict of ideas on resolution in American culture, which she believes to be divided between idealistic ideas on one hand and pragmatic ideas on impending problems on the other. The former is too airy, the other too spiritless. Therefore Stockholder prefers to bet on imagination and resourcefulness with her art. She uses available materials to finish her work, at the same time creating something new, which functions and offers the promise of something better. Ingenuity means creating something that leads to change, that can be a creative opposition to the tyranny of controlling powers. Therefore the exhibition is, all at once, a power station, a laboratory, a construction site, a mirror of our times and a recycling plant.
Dr. Sigridur Thorgeirsdottir