Photography is Katrín Elvarsdóttir’s chosen medium for addressing pressing questions about our experience in time and space, about memories and the indistinct boundary between the imagined and the real. In the last fifteen years, Katrín has won her place as one of Iceland’s foremost photographers and played a significant role in changing people’s perceptions of photography as an artistic medium. She has held several private exhibitions in Iceland and abroad, including Gerðarsafn in Kópavogur 2016 and the Reykjavík Art Museum in 2010. Her pictures have also been featured in numerous group shows, including Martin Asbæk Gallery in Copenhagen 2017 and Hillyer Art Space in Washington D.C. 2014. Katrín has also received awards for her work, being nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photographic Prize in 2009 and winning the prestigious EIKON prize in Vienna in 2017.
The exhibition at BERG Contemporary is titled The Search for Truth and sees Katrín exploring the blurred limits of imagination and reality and how our memories tend to gradually come free of reality until something in our surroundings – an unexpected texture, a glimpse of something, or a sound – brings the past back to life. In such moments, the past takes over our body and everything becomes clear for a second, before it recedes again to rejoin the narrative of our own life.
Photographs of white statues silhouetted against a blue sky and verdant bushes are the product of such fusion of the past and present, being taken over a twenty year period (1998–2018) in Ísafjörður, the town in Iceland’s western fjords where Katrín grew up. The statues were made by Martinus Simson (b. 1886), a Danish sculptor, photographer and circus clown. Katrín was drawn to them every time she visited the town, using them to compare reality to her memories. She recalls how, as a child, she would look at these statues, standing proud, yet vulnerable in their swimming costumes, staring into the void like people under a spell. “Perhaps this was my first experience of art,” says Katrín.
In Katrín’s works time passes as in a dream. The theatre of the past merges with the present and the familiar takes on an uncanny hue. We see this in her photographs of the statues but just as much in her video Solar Eclipse Shadow which documents how the strangeness of nature becomes almost palpable under certain conditions. The piece also refers to the beginning of photography when a photograph was seen both as a cultural product and something created by nature itself, much like a well-shaped blade of algae or a leaf. The video reminds us of the origin of photography and how a photograph always belongs to both the outer and the inner world.
In the exhibition at BERG Contemporary Katrín continues to work with themes she developed in three photographic series and books from 2008 to 2016. In a few, strong images we see how drapery can add mystery to everyday objects, showing how even our daily surroundings can take on a strange and unreal character. This evokes the feeling that there is, behind our familiar world, another, more complex and mysterious world that can at any time transform the quotidian into an unreal universe where the real and the imaginary merge into one, indivisible whole.
Katrín’s works reflect ideas that have come to the fore in Nordic photography in the last ten to twelve years and focus on notions of lyrical narrative. The photographer’s subject becomes, more often than not, the lyrical moment when the individual’s experiences cannot be separated from the surrounding reality. The photographs do not merely convey information about the external reality but also mediate a poetic feeling for the world and our physical and mental experience of the passing of time. The search for truth is therefore about how we encounter reality and how this search, begun already in childhood, shapes our vision of the world and our experiences as embodied beings in a world of things and memories.
Sigrún Alba Sigurðardótti