“I look back. I do so because I like to have firm ground under my feet, to know and try to understand where I come from, why and how the past is shaped like it is, and to see how time affects people’s life and work. That sounds like a security council for a united past, present and future.”These words spoken by Þórdís Alda Sigurðardóttir tell us a lot about the temperament of her work. She evokes a sense of times long passed but also connected to the passing hour. In her quest for material, Þórdís collects utensils from her environment, both those that have aged into old scrap iron that has almost been welded into the landscape, and personal objects retrieved from acquaintances. She picks up these objects and examines them, places them in a new context and then connects them back into time. All these items have one thing in common: they have been left behind by us, whether it be out in nature or at the bottom of a drawer. Their role is finished, they’ve been abandoned but they’re still with us, dispersed in our environment. They raise questions about our consumer society and its exponential growth. This rapid consumption leaves traces that become more and more noticeable as time goes on. If we look forward we realize that consumption speed will only increase, a message transmitted to us from the present. Germination, Overflow and Kitchen Life (2004) are all on the subject of the relationship between man and nature, and on the effects of man’s consumerism on nature. The traces man leaves behind, how he weighs down the earth with his rich and rapid consumption.
Þórdís interprets nature in her work, mainly from the idea of Mother Earth, man who is dependent on nature because it breeds and nurtures him. Rest (1984) is in essence a simple poetic fantasy – where a light blue bed covered with grass floats on a pond. The grass symbolizes vegetation and the base for all life. Rest is important to man, not only to regain physical energy but to create mental calm and ability to roam and be nourished with ideas. Dream Feathers (2004) was created through her certainty that a dreamy vision of the mind is as necessary to man as the all-encompassing love and compassion of motherhood. The vision exalts, and brings a new vision or new world to humans. In a similar vein, in Moment (1998), Þórdís projects the question of what it is that drives us. Fruit and vegetables are tied above a bed like bait and we wonder what it really is that raises us out of bed and makes us face the day? Cut, which was featured at the outdoor exhibition in Dalland at the same time as Rest in 1984, shows vegetation as a covering layer on earth’s surface. An oversized needle has been stuck into the grass in the middle of a field but a nearby ditch has been stitched together with a rope. The meaning is obvious; it portrays the artist’s great love for Iceland’s nature, which continues to inspire her. The presentation is not without humour, but the work is typical for the methodology that Þórdís has made her own, drawing out meaning and criticism with a dose of humour.
Iceland’s thousand years was made for an outdoor show by the Icelandic Association of Sculptors in 1998. An embankment made from white canvas bags full of sand were piled up at the coast in Reykjavík. Each bag bore the inscription Íslands þúsund ár ( Iceland´s thousands years) which is a line from the national anthem. The presentation undoubtedly points to the importance of defences, the piles of sandbags are reminiscent of mountains and the inscription refers to the nationalistic romanticism of earlier centuries. The dangers featured in the work wear many cloaks. Íslands þúsund ár refers in a wide sense to national defences, defence for vegetation, against wind, against flood. To counter this danger, one has to replant the earth, take care of it and guard the right mindset towards it. Placing the work by the coast bears a romantic reference. It is a place where different forces meet and clash with the ever-changing turbulent ocean. These opposites, the soft and the hard materials, are something Þórdís creates in many works, especially in her bas-reliefs (for example Merger (1994),Shreds (1997)). It takes great precision to combine such materials in a successful manner and tension is created when Þórdís connects soft, pliable materials with heavy, dense ones.
The exhibition Washing and Cleansing from 1998 and installation with the same title, from 1998 is a controversial piece on war. In it one can find strong references to the role that women play so often during times of war – the role of the healer. After bombs rain down, women are there to help the sick, they nurse, clean and rebuild. The part of the exhibition that especially dealt with washing and cleansing made one think of the chemical process that washing is today. It has become a threat to our natural environment. Facility (1997) strikes a similar note. The main theme of the work is how humans and human actions leave traces in nature and how manmade structures are joined to untouched nature. In the work Storytellers, which was exhibited in Australia in 2001, Þórdís contemplated the common heritage of the world, a heritage not based on history or culture, but in our nature. On the Australian coast she set up a table with Icelandic and Australian sand in linen bags. The sand symbolized these two different places and the poetic image of the work was also obvious in the living environment created by the sea. It erodes cliffs in very different places and connects continents. The symbolic presentation of the work belies a message of peace with the proof that no one place is superior to another.
Þórdís examines many contemporary issues in her works. In them one can find a poetic interpretation or a powerful message, depending on how she approaches the materials for her work. She contemplates the connections between man and nature going back to the time when humans wrote poetry to nature with awe or prayer. Her need to look at these connections is also a way to raise many important questions on the increasing burden that man is on nature. Not only man’s incessant consumerism but his intrusion and attack on many of the sanctities of the natural cycle, threatening all balance.