Elín Hansdóttir (b. Reykjavík, Iceland, 1980) is a multidisciplinary artist working at the intersections of installation, sculpture, and photography. Her work explores the phenomenology of experiential perception, spatial emptiness, and conceptual openness while foregrounding peripheral, relational, and embodied aspects of the artistic encounter.
Hansdóttir’s immersive, site-specific installations leverage sensory limitation, spatial reconfiguration, distortions of scale, and optical illusions that alter the viewer’s perception of space. By thrusting the viewer into a liminal uncertainty about what they are perceiving and why it feels subtly different, Hansdóttir draws out the viewer’s reflexive awareness of their own presence within the aesthetic encounter.
In foregrounding the palpable, yet ineffable, feeling of being present in—and moving through—a space, Hansdóttir displaces traditional notions of artistic meaning that center on the representational content of artworks alone. Like earlier light and space artists who champion art’s phenomenological capacity to highlight the connection between perceiving and world-building, Hansdóttir cultivates a heightened sense of presence and conceptual agency in the act of perceiving. The viewer isn’t drawn into the art space to observe and uncover specific meaning in discrete artworks. Rather, the artworks invite the viewer to sense their own, embodied presence in the art space and tangibly experience their own participation in the hermeneutic loop between artist, artwork, and viewer through which meaning arises.
Hansdóttir’s commitment to conceptual openness is similarly reflected in her artistic process, which privileges seeing, searching, finding, and organically ‘happening upon’ materials, sites, and media that become integral to her installations. Her ethos aligns with theorist Michael Polanyi’s view that we grasp a “tacit” or ineffable sense of knowing from our embodied presence in the world which underscores how we see it, shaping our experiments and discoveries. Hansdóttir allows congruences to emerge from her symbiotic encounters with a space, connoting a conceptual open-endedness in which the viewer is invited to participate as a crucial catalyst in the cultivation of meaning, through their own haptic awareness.
For Hansdóttir, liminal awareness yields a diffusive power that extends beyond the gallery walls and into the world at large, channeling Pallasmaa’s thought that “peripheral vision integrates us within a space” and “envelops us in the flesh of the world,” while the narrow scrutiny of “focused” attention “pushes us out of the space, making us mere spectators.” The critical upshot of Hansdóttir’s work is the empowering realization that the world (like the art space) is not a static structure that we merely confront as passive outsiders. Instead, we are perceptual participants in a space of possibility that we are integrally connected with and have the power to collaboratively shape.
She has created and installed work in a number of international venues including KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Marta Herford, Hamburger Bahnhof, ZKM Karlsruhe, Frieze Projects, The Marrakech Biennale, National Gallery of Iceland and the Reykjavik Art Museum. In 2016 she was awarded the Optimism Award for Culture, patroned by the President of Iceland, as well as the Gudmunda S.Kristinsdottir Art Prize, founded by artist Erró.