Reykjavik, Sept. 2013
To be an Icelander is perhaps in sum an endless wait. To wait for spring, wait for summer. Eternal optimism despite frozen ground and mounds of ice that seem rooted deep in the bowels of the earth, so firmly that the thought of living things in the ice-capped farmyard seems far-fetched, a daydream of the romantic sort, a flight of fancy.
For those who wait pining with summer-thirst, who hoping against hope scan land and sea for early signs of life in blasted fields and quiet woods, in silenced summer, who seek evidence of life, of a summer that seems determined not to come – when summer does come it comes so softly that it almost slips past, like a fragrance of summer in the offing, gone in the time it takes to pluck and chew a blade of grass, distractedly, in the dwindling hope of one who seeks and waits upon silent signs of warmth and life.
Summer’s arrival, instantly gone.
Yet its traces are perceptible. Shifts in earthen colours, the changing light; all that will go dormant again, fade and die. Seasonal dwellings: humanity itself is evidence.
We carry the vanished summer inside us and summon its images, late-summer sun striking a new-mown field, ruddy steam curling from a stream at the edge of the woods.
Life’s summers, vanished like everything else that never amounted to more than a promise. And again we drink in autumn’s arrival.
The land lies quiet and poignant.
The first time I set foot in Katrín Elvarsdóttir’s studio, three years ago, I felt as if I were stepping into a literary work. Her works tell a story and yet the story remains untold. It’s like stepping into a narrative, into surroundings that are foreign and yet familiar, perhaps because of how very familiar the subject matter of Elvarsdóttir’s photographs is.
An Icelandic mobile home in an unspecified locale in a grove of trees so nameless that you feel as if you were last there yesterday, however unlikely that might be.
A grove, the side of a house, a livingroom window, tidy carpeting neatly fitted to teak corner trim.
Fragments of reality. Traces of life, of habitation long or brief. Life at a remove, almost like a stage set yet not quite.
Plant-filled windows so quintessentially Icelandic, they’d be unmistakeable anywhere.
From up west in Bíldudalur? I ask. No, up west in Flateyri, says Katrín Elvarsdóttir, and we smile – of course. But I always think of Bíldudalur when I look at that photograph.
Stories that remain untold, that you inwardly compose as you look at Elvarsdóttir’s work.
That autumn day when I first visited her studio I felt as if I were re-experiencing these photographs though I was seeing many of them for the first time.
It felt just like stepping into the writings of Gyrðir Elíasson.
A half-told story, ending at the full stop but leaving you hanging, with questions on your lips and the uneasy sense that something has been left unsaid and lurks below to creep up on you, like the sneaking suspicion that things are not as they seem. Better shut the lid on all those uneasy chilly thoughts, and not let your imagination run away with you. Something might be hiding around the corner, behind the door.
We stand and ponder these windows with their potted plants and lace curtains that block the view, but maybe we are the ones being scrutinized, from beyond the houseplants and sheer curtains.
The Katrín Elvarsdóttir photographs presented here were not made as accompaniments to Gyrðir Elíasson’s work; rather the spirit of his work has been a companion to Katrín Elvarsdóttir in her travels around the countryside, like a feast moveable in space as well as time.