New York

Katrín Sigurðardóttir, Dinning Room, Hallway, Bathroom, Coat Closet, 2012, Hydrocal, wood, 46 x 28 x 24".

Katrín Sigurðardóttir, Dinning Room, Hallway, Bathroom, Coat Closet, 2012, Hydrocal, wood, 46 x 28 x 24".

Katrín Sigurðardóttir


Katrín Sigurðardóttir, Dinning Room, Hallway, Bathroom, Coat Closet, 2012, Hydrocal, wood, 46 x 28 x 24".

Ellefu,” an exhibition by Katrín Sigurðardóttir, comprised three structures representing cross-sectioned portions of the artist’s childhood home at Langahlíð 11, Reykjavík, Iceland. Ellefu means “eleven” in Icelandic, and its consonance with the gallery’s name, Eleven Rivington, was entirely appropriate to the various keys of order and disorientation that the installation produced.

The four-foot-tall structures are made of plaster poured into basswood frames, chalky white and adorned only with the natural lines of the wood. They resemble overgrown architectural maquettes, more ideal than real. Parts of each are missing—a floor here, a wall there—and the roofs are gone; doors open on to other doors, stairways mount to tiny platforms. The act of comprehending how these segments fit together, of mentally constructing a floor plan, is difficult, in part because our usual recourse to understanding space—moving through it—is closed off to us, both physically and imaginatively. We walk around and around the works, but the multiple points of view do not enlighten. Eventually, we abandon the attempt at order and entertain the possibility of some further fracturing, of architectural entropy.

These models are based on photographs and on the artist’s own memory, which explains some of their quirks. It is one of memory’s terrible tricks that it prevents us from reconstructing how two rooms we walked through every day of our childhood were connected. Here we are asked to project ourselves into a space that has been incorrectly or incompletely remembered, a perceptual impossibility that mimics the impossibility of entering or inhabiting the memories of others. (In Boiseries, Sigurðardóttir’s 2010 installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the dislocations of time and space were enacted through a pair of rooms based on eighteenth-century Neoclassical interiors in the museum’s decorative-arts collection. One room was accessible only through two-way mirrors, and the other opened out as a series of panels descending in size. The viewer’s physical relationship to these spaces mimicked the way we reduce, diminish, idealize things as they recede from us in time, and how those things, in turn, become closed off to us.)

The dimensions of the sculptures in “Ellefu,” roughly those of a young child, give them a human presence, but their smooth white surfaces bear no evidence of actual life. This profound simplicity is also discomfiting, showing how the mind’s attempts to whitewash life’s messiness (and our recall of it) are never quite complete. The result is a keenly felt rupture between present and past as well as between viewer and artist. The sculptures are not unlike works that depict childhood spaces as sites of enchantment, such as Deborah Mesa-Pelly’s photographic works of girls discovering secret worlds in their closets, or Mike Kelley’s replica of his childhood home, left unfinished at his death, but which was to be an exact copy except for tunnels burrowed underneath it, in which the artist would have worked on secret projects. The excavation of secret spaces in “Ellefu” is a private, perhaps futile affair. For works representing home, they are remarkably unheimlich.

Emily Hall