Zurich

Gabríela Fridriksdóttir

Galerie Bob van Orsouw

Images reveal something and show themselves, and therein lies their power. Gabríela Fridriksdóttir’s extraordinary iconographies, developed in drawings, paintings, sculptures, and, most succinctly, in technically impeccable films, draw upon a complex network of sign systems found in various cultures’ myths and sagas. But the Icelandic artist narrates her films, in which no words are spoken, through the immensely beguiling power of images alone. The fifteen-minute video Ouroboros, 2007, was the heart of her recent exhibition, shown inside a large wooden cube erected in the middle of the gallery space. The pervasive smell of the untreated wood filled the gallery, markedly intensifying the experience of the work.

Ouroboros, like many of Fridriksdóttir’s pieces, is worked through with numerological references. The number seven, together with the ancient symbol of the ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, form the film’s leitmotifs: The film is cyclical in form and composed of seven episodes. Each of these scenes is self-contained and none pursue a straight narrative; they create a dream structure or encoded allegory. Fantastic creatures, chimerical beings that sometimes resemble Matthew Barney’s characters, perform grotesque actions in archaic, mystical landscapes and interiors. In the third episode a sibyl sits on a crag and “gives birth” from her mouth to black, glistening stones; they fall into a nest made out of wreaths of her hair, which hangs down to the floor. A deathlike figure robed in black appears, and the sibyl places a stone on his robes, which spread themselves across the ground to form the distinctive figure of the ouroboros. In another scene, a human-size conical shape on an abandoned sea harbor suddenly sprouts hands out of symmetrical openings, while at the top a woman’s head juts out, as if from a tortoiseshell; the composition recalls a surrealist object. Another episode recalls the work of Paul McCarthy: A couple covered in muck gnaw at bones and pieces of flesh that lie in front of them; we can see their brains glistening inside their open skulls. After an argument over their meal, the woman helps herself to the brain of her spouse. Yet the abject, a recurring theme, is belied by the film’s aesthetic and technical immaculacy.

Fridriksdóttir’s paintings—mostly of amoeba-like organisms somewhere between ornament, animal, and human—always form the basis of her work, and here they are clearly connected to the imagery of the film. Her sculptures, too, typically employ organic and ephemeral materials such as bread, dough, or earth. Creation Out of Destruction, 2008, an organically sculpted table supported by two anthropomorphic legs, displays props from the film almost as if they were relics. The sibyl’s black stones are shown, as well as loaves of bread marked with dappled ink signets (which were baked by an uncanny masked pair in one scene in Ouroboros); objects finished in wax and reminiscent of the fossils of dinosaur nests also echo the film through their tactile components. Fridriksdóttir’s visual language weaves together private and collective myths: As with the self-devouring serpent, becoming and passing away, creation and destruction, are, from this perspective, seen as one.

Valérie Knoll

Translated from German by Emily Speers Mears.