Hreinn Fridfinnsson

Hreinn Fridfinnsson’s raw materials include photographs, fossils, chicken wire, wood, fake crystals, Play-Doh, and plentiful dreams; if he were a generation or two older, he doubtless would have been a Surrealist. Coming of age as he did at the end of the ’60s, however, he became a Conceptual artist. It may not be coincidental that his plunge into the (artistic) life of the mind in 1971 corresponded with the move from his native Iceland to Amsterdam, where he has lived ever since; then again, it could be argued that the remote and disembodied quality of his work is typically Icelandic, relative to New York Conceptualism at any rate.

In his work of the ’70s, Fridfinnsson used photographs as a means of visualizing the invisible—notably folklore, literature, and dreams. Since then, he has been working directly with materials and objects, and paying more attention to formal structures as well; still his preoccupation with the intangible aspects of tangible reality remains the same. The best of his latest works are disarmingly simple; for example, Un palais (A palace; all works 1990), which is basically a large triangle of chicken-wire modules—12 horizontal rows containing from 1 to 12 modules, composed in turn of 1 to 12 of the standard chicken-wire hexagons. Even at first glance, there is more palace than chicken wire to the elegantly bowed shape, for the individual modules, in their delicacy and their diversity, become every bit as intriguing as the ornamental details that make a palace palatial. Similarly, Paysage (Landscape) consists of nothing more than flattened blobs of Play-Doh on small wire armatures; but once again, grouping them in modular units—primary-colored rows of triangles and diamonds functions as a visual catalyst. Then there is Fragment, which consists of a tick-tack-toe grid of wire strips bordered by rhinestone snowflakes—a fragment of geometry that leads, if the mind is willing, to infinity. Other works are even more complex and contemplative: Small Streams, for example, frames a photo of a moving stream with a vertical “stream” of colors on one side and a stream of light emanating from a grid of rhinestone balls on the other. Une étrangère (A stranger) pairs a sepia photograph of a woman’s closed eye with fragments of real fish fossils in wooden frames.

Time is omnipresent in Fridfinnsson’s art and, according to him, photography always contains an element of time. In the most recent works, the underlying notion of temporal continuity finds other forms of expression as well, beginning in the most literal, visual way, with the use of modules, series, and fragments. What is most appealing is a cumbersome wall piece called Esquisse (Sketch), composed of alternating framed pictures of blown-up thumb-prints with interlaced wire curves. There is also an untitled wall-floor piece combining three cardboard panels stained in bright purple with groups of wire tubes, containing little framed photographs of light and shadow; it is the lack of pretension that permits these works their uneven eclecticism. Here photography and geometry alike are a means to an end, which is not necessarily art (as in conceptual) but a vision: Fridfinnsson himself has spoken of establishing contact with indefinable, underlying forces—the links between nature outside and the nature of the psyche. That he is able to transform chicken wire into palaces, Play-Doh into landscapes, and rhinestone snowflakes into a universe is nothing short of magic, albeit in a modern form.

Miriam Rosen