Katrín Sigurđardóttir, Foundation (detail), 2013, wood and concrete, dimensions variable. Installation view.


Katrín Sigurđardóttir’s site-specific installations often address collective memory and architecture. For the Icelandic Pavilion at the Fifty-Fifth Venice Biennale, Sigurđardóttir debuted Foundation, 2013, a raised, decorative floor inserted into the former laundry of an eighteenth-century palazzo. The work is currently on view in her solo exhibition at the Reykjavik Art Museum until April 13, 2014, and will travel to New York’s SculptureCenter. She discusses the piece below.

BY CONVENTIONAL LOGIC, you could say that floors don’t move. We think of the ground underneath our feet as the parameter of movement rather than a moving entity in itself. When we travel, it is the fact that there is a different territory under our feet that bears evidence of our journey. Foundation takes this truth and turns it upside down. People still move to see the work, but it represents a static place that does the impossible: It moves from one place to the next.

The work is comprised of pieces that are designed to exist in modules that come apart and reassemble seamlessly. It is a megapuzzle of close to nine thousand handmade tiles preserved in about 150 sections. When I was preparing this work, I researched decorative floors, focusing mostly on the eighteenth century. I looked at every floor plan I could get my hands on and composed the outline based on pavilions and other types of nonresidential structures in central Europe. Once I had the footprint of the piece, it became a mathematical task to figure out a pattern that works within the shape––it’s not a given. It was a sort of geometrical footnote to the process. Neither the outline nor the pattern is based on a specific place. I found the pattern that is most akin to what I came up with on a small, heavily retouched photograph of the interior of a building that had been destroyed. So you could say that the floor no longer exists; the building no longer exists; even the empire where the building was situated is gone. The floor derives itself completely from a constantly floating referent.

Working with a horizontal surface makes the implication of a moving locus even more dramatic because it is the floor that the viewer walks on; it is the very parameter that we use as evidence of our movement. As the work travels, I wanted the imprint of its past to be visible—not only its fictional eighteenth-century origins but also its recent history, the way it develops as it moves from place to place. In Reykjavik the work is positioned both indoors and outdoors, similar to Venice. However, the difference is that now the outline of the laundry of the Palazzo Zenobio in Venice—where it was first located—is apparent on the surface and starts drawing out a new pattern, in stark contrast with the original rococo-inspired design. Because I had already decided the piece would travel, I wanted to work with its peripatetic nature. The floor is inserted in three different buildings, and I didn’t want to camouflage or ignore that.

What does it mean when a place moves? Can we imagine, while sitting in this room, that the room is now in a different country? No, we are in Paris, and Paris is in France. Or we are in New York, or we are in Reykjavik. Everywhere, we are bound to the laws of time and space. How can we break out of this truth?

— As told to Julian Elias Bronner