Sculpture and text work, 2016.
Marble, copper, aluminum plates, paint and mixed media.

The solo exhibition Unclear desires was presented in the Icelandic Printmakers Association Gallery in 2016. The exhibition consisted of a sculpture and text work. Photo credit Vigfús Birgisson.

Weather nostalgia - text by Auður Aðalsteinsdóttir

Time and weather are the subjects from Jóna Hlíf Halldórsdóttir in her exhibition Unclear Desires (Óljós þrá). This is reflected in the materials she uses. Solid works hanging on the walls, made from aluminium or from marble and weathered copper, are contrasted by a fragile sculpture in the middle of the exhibition space. This sculpture consists of a collection of small items or samples from nature - pieces of paper and silk, a living cactus and dried flowers -  that are carefully arranged on three high and narrow, three legged wooden tables.

The works on the walls are all text based, a familiar theme in Jóna Hlíf’s art. Short texts regarding time are cut out of copperplates showing various degrees of corrosion after being left out in Icelandic weather. The texts are arranged like lines in a poem, and in one text in particular is a reference to one of the most famous Icelandic verses about the weather, by Jónas Hallgrímsson: “Weather is neither good nor bad / hardly cold and not warm / it is neither dry nor wet / it is practically nothing”. The artist elaborates on this idea and adds a new dimension - time: “Without memory time is / just like the weather / practically nothing”. This interconnection of weather and time characterizes the exhibition as a whole and the interaction of solid and pure marble and the copper, that will continue to corrode and change as time passes, successfully captures the tension between our obscure desire for the eternal and lasting and the fact that “Time weathers / the soul / Life kills / time”. Time and material thus simultaneously cooperate and conflict in these works.

The same applies to the material and the words the artist uses; they are interconnected, but also in conflict in their resistance against time. “Water erodes the stone / words remain the same” spell the words on a rather shiny copper plate, while on another, more weathered plate: “Stone erodes time / words remain the same”. Thus we are reminded that immaterial words can resist time much longer than physical material that weathers and breaks down, a feeling underlined by the fact that the words cut out of the copper plates will remain unchanged for a long time although the surface of the copper slowly changes. Time and material may erode each other but the words remain untouched by both time and material. At the same time the artist is inspired by a book on the meteorology of the area underneath Eyjafjöll mountains, published by Þórður Tómasson in 1979, which is in some way a reaction to the perishable nature of words; for the “extremely rich” weather vocabulary of older generations is now being “blown away”. Þórður turns the vanishing words into solid material, as ink on pages, in an effort to preserve the old “language on weather […] for later times”. 

Jóna Hlíf was herself raised in the area under Eyjafjöll mountains and is familiar with its weather conditions and the strong tradition of constantly deliberating the weather and consulting the skies, an act Þórður describes in the prologue to his book: “The weather forecast was determined by land and sea, by the look of air in clouds and clear skies, from life’s behaviour from its highest level to the lowest. A man with foresight built his weather forecast on hunches and dreams and could see far into the future. A man’s body could become like a barometer to him, not least when he started to be plagued by fatigue and arthritis”. The role of weather and speculations on weather in our daily lives, as well as the vocabulary, superstitions and farm work related to weather, influence the words on white aluminium plates also hanging on the walls. They are especially focused on local weather, the art of reading it, and creating a place for it the language and in the culture. In this way Jóna Hlíf takes part in conserving beautiful and unique words like þerrifluga (dry fly) and deyfutíð (dull tide) and keeping them alive by using them. The works hang on white walls, white on white, but the cut-out words give a three dimensional depth. In that way, her works create an association with clouds, which are in fact the materialization of weather itself; the visible impression of otherwise obscure changes in weather.

In her text works, Jóna Hlíf has for the last ten years worked closely with her husband, Hjálmar Stefán Brynjólfsson. Together they have written a text that is available as a handout at the exhibition. They call the text a monologue and it is in the form of fragmented, personal wonderings on the exhibition’s themes, i.e. weather, time, and words that evoke longing – “whether it is longing for death or the past, for being away, for the weather or for home”. 

The sculpture in the middle of the exhibition space creates a wordless variation on these themes; it is a concrete portrayal of things that weather away in nature. The representation however, where small things are precariously arranged on fragile tables, give the words on the walls the effect of being more solid. The tension between transience and permanence, the solid and the fragile, and the obscure boundaries between them is thus repeated in various ways throughout the exhibition. We are left with an obscure longing for the past, and for preserving what is perishable, to counteract the fact that: “Time goes in one direction / No one can turn / back”. At the same time, it may be the fascination of the perishable, even a Freudian death drive, that creates the dynamics and importance of this exhibition.

 1 Taken from the book of Þórður Tómasson: Veðurfræði Eyfellings, Reykjavík, Bjartur, 2014, p. 58

2  The book vas republished with additions two years ago.

 3 Þórður Tómasson: Veðurfræði Eyfellings, p. 9-10 og 12.

 4 Ibid, p. 9.