600 b/w giclée prints
gold plated five leaf
Trifolium Repens
8 channel surround system
Installation shots: 
Vigfús Birgisson


Meaningful Spaces and the Spaces Between Meaning

AD INFINITUM, opening at Gerðarsafn on January 14 th 2022 is a thought-provoking collaboration between visual artist Elín Hansdóttir and composer/sound artist Úlfur Hansson. Together, the Icelandic duo (and siblings) explore subtle phenomenological aspects of spatial orientation. Hansdóttir and Hansson invite the viewer to dwell in a liminal space that evades concrete meaning but is rooted in the embodied awareness of being present in an environment. Hansdóttir’s immersive installations leverage sculpture, photography, and exhibition spaces to explore uncertainty, disorientation, sensorial limitation, and visual illusion. Hansdóttir’s aesthetic centers not on prompting discomfort, but rather on triggering modes of perception that draw out the palpable, yet somehow ineffable, experience of presentness in space.

“It draws attention to yourself as a viewer. It speaks to you on a visceral level, touches on a different level of experience.” - Elín Hansdóttir

Hansson’s multi-channel looping composition (comprising this installation’s sonic arm) similarly functions less as a soundscape and more like an active force that orients the viewer’s awareness to the act of traversing the exhibition space.

“The sound is like a traveling entity that is looking for the guest. I mainly wantedto create something that feels like an autonomous entity that is guarding thecenter, like a minotaur that’s following you, moving around you in the darkness.” - Úlfur Hansson

The installation’s visual components, featuring six hundred images of rubber bands that Hansdóttir encountered and spontaneously photographed while taking walks over severalyears, are mounted on concave walls that visually allude to the gallery’s large circular window. The photographed objects and the walls they are mounted on echo elements of circularity in the exhibition space that houses them, blending distinctions between the objects being viewed and the space that they are being viewed in. In this deft but subtle move, Hansdóttir and Hansson invert historically dominant formalist aesthetic theories (rooted in European enlightenment thought) that privilege the concrete representational or formal significance of artworks over other, perhaps more subtle, aspects of the encounter with art.

In AD INFINITUM, the viewer isn’t drawn into the art space to uncover specific meanings indiscrete artworks. Rather, the artworks invite the viewer to contemplate their feeling of self-awareness in the gallery space. AD INFINITUM thus directs the viewer’s attention towards experiential aspects of the gallery encounter that formalist aesthetic conventions tend to edit out.

“I think it’s really beautiful to think of the sound trying to find you, but when youenter into the middle of the space, you’re actually looking for something andyou’re not sure what it is.” - Elín Hansdóttir 

In drawing out phenomenological encounters like the viewer’s awareness as they travel through (and dwell in) a space, Hansdóttir and Hansson suggest that seemingly peripheral perceptual experiences are not really peripheral at all, but rather, central to the viewer’s experience.

“For me, it channels something that’s hidden inside the unconscious: this darkspace that’s like cloudiness or something that obscures what’s inside the center.My feeling is that it’s always stronger than something that affects you cognitively.” - Úlfur Hansson

In a similar vein, Hansdóttir reveals that her artistic process rests less on finding objects to convey specific meanings, and more on the process of perceiving itself, foregrounding the significance of looking for something without knowing what it is.

“I’ve been collecting these images on my walks for the last five years. It’s an immediate reaction to what I encounter on the street. I don’t know exactly what itwas that I was looking for, and I can’t say why I kept on doing it, but the urge was immediate, without being rationalized beforehand.”
- Elín Hansdóttir

In this sense, Hansdóttir and Hansson’s aesthetic draws parallels with the history of phenomenological thought, in which the visceral experience of sensing oneself in space itself facilitates the capacity for concrete meaning to arise.

Beyond visually and sonically capturing an opening up of space within which meaning can arise, AD INFINITUM offers another reflection on the curation of meaning, suggesting that the most complex ideas have a profound simplicity at their core.

“I think a lot about the quantity of the photographs connecting to some kind of alphabet. This, I think, is really beautiful. The circle is one form that, through the navigation of space, gets distorted: there are countless articulations that this one single form can fall into.” - Elín Hansdóttir

Picking up the thread of Hansdóttir’s thought, Hansson speculates:

“There is a theory that the Hebrew alphabet was derived from different shadowprojections of how you position your hand in front of a fire. The form is the same,but each time uniquely distorted. Even the simplest things are full.” - ÚlfurHansson

Hansdóttir and Hansson thus suggest that there is a certain beauty in the deceptively simple—and often overlooked—experience of ‘simply’ looking, for artist and viewer alike.

“Art practice is like that: it’s the urge to look for that four leaf clover. And once youfind it, then what? Then you just keep on looking.” - Elín Hansdóttir

Dr. Erum Naqvi