Venice Biennale Report: Icelandic Pavillion

Situated away from the main exhibition space of the Giardini and Arsenale, the Icelandic pavilion sits in the tranquil gardens of Palazzo Zenobio along a quiet canal-front street at the Venice Biennale. The installation, entitled Foundation is placed in the Palazzo’s old Lavanderia, or laundry, a seemingly unusual space for a country that one would assume would be exhibiting in the Giardini with its Nordic neighbours. The rapid expansion of the biennale forced Iceland’s pavilion out into the heart of Venice in 2007, and this theme is touched upon in the work. The artist, Katrín Sigurdardóttir, has created a sculptural piece that plays with the idea of scale. The Baroque tile design reaches out past the confines of the Lavanderia building much like the biennale itself stretching past the limits of the Giardini.

The audience approach the building up a small flight of stairs that lead to a miniature doorway through which individuals are forced to bend down on entering the space, which creates an Alice in Wonderland-esque sensation of dislocation. The opulence of the tile design is such that it would not look out of place in the Palazzo itself and this contrasts with the bare walls of the laundry.

The exhibition is on two levels; the lower level immerses the viewer in the work, whilst the upper level provides perspective and a chance for viewers to experience to a fuller extent the geometry of the shapes created. Although an aesthetically pleasing piece, there is not much in the way of innovation. The work continues themes, such as distance and memory and their relation to architecture, that Sigurdardóttir has worked on throughout her career.

Foundation presents themes that can be both appreciated and understood, altough there is an emotive element in the work that is slightly lacking. The expansion of the tiles beyond the building walls puts the mind at work reconstructing the more lavish surroundings of its “previous” location; however, it falls slightly short of the mark in doing so.

Foundation at the Icelandic Pavilion, Venice Biennale, until 24 November.

Rhiannon McGregor

1. Katrín Sigurdardóttir, Foundation, 2013, artisinal tile construction and mixed media installation, Photo by ORCH_orsenigochemollo, Courtesy of the artist and the Icelandic Art Center.