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Published  03/05/2022
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Sigurður Guðjónsson: Perpetual Motion – Venice Biennale 2022

Sigurður Guðjónsson: Perpetual Motion – Venice Biennale 2022

In the darkness of the Icelandic Pavilion, Sigurður Guðjónsson talks about his monumental video work – a visceral experience, its scale and form resonant with its architectural setting and enhanced by a primal soundtrack

The combination of elemental, bass, rumbling sounds with the scale and bristling texture of the video installation Perpetual Motion, by Sigurður Guðjónsson (b1975, Reykjavík), brings visitors to an abrupt halt partway through the long, processional rollercoaster of art along Venice’s Arsenale. I noticed one visitor sink to the floor to sit in a meditative state of wonder. The monumental, visceral experience (and stunned reaction) is just what this Reykjavík-based artist hoped for as the piece gestated over the last two years.

Wanting to break out of the stereotypical presentation of video work – where people sit or stand passively in front of screens of varying sizes – Guðjónsson took advantage of the high ceilings and industrial materiality of this former boat shed to devise the two-screen format here: one long, thin screen extends up six metres, towards the timber roof trusses, while the other protrudes forwards like a catwalk, across the floor.



Sigurður Guðjónsson: Perpetual Motion, installation view, Icelandic Pavilion, 59th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, 2022, Courtesy of the artist and BERG Contemporary, Photo: Ugo Carmeni.

Each screen appears to display the same, or similar, landscape of metal dust, adhering in spiky clusters to a magnet that is rotating slowly on a belt. These magnets, however, are moving in opposite directions, one up to the heavens, the other to meet the visitor. The fact that they move at different speeds helps to create a compelling sense of tension. The combination of this slow-moving, magnified magnetic landscape with the Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson’s soundtrack - as if machinery is melding with geology, rocks grinding against motors - is mesmerising.

Two years ago, Guðjónsson took a trip to Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, based near Geneva, which hosts the world’s largest particle physics laboratory as well as the Large Hadron Collider (a machine that can replicate atomic conditions from billions of years ago). It has a programme of artistic residencies and collaborations (Arts at Cern), founded in 2011 and currently curated by Cern’s head of arts, Mónica Bello. Conversations with Bello helped to spark the creative process, though Guðjónsson says: “It’s hard to say how much of Cern is inside the piece.”

Sigurðsson is a good friend of Guðjónsson and it seems that the push and pull of ideas between sound and vision had a major impact on sculpting the sonic and visual results – the latter conjuring associations both with vast forest landscapes and magnified detritus from laboratory or workshop desks.



Sigurður Guðjónsson: Perpetual Motion, installation view, Icelandic Pavilion, 59th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, 2022, Courtesy of the artist and BERG Contemporary, Photo: Ugo Carmeni.

Guðjónsson studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (2003-04), after gaining a BA at the Iceland Academy of the Arts (2000-03). He was awarded the Icelandic Art Prize for Visual Artist of the Year in 2018 for his exhibition Inlight, featuring filming undertaken in St Joseph’s, a defunct hospital in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland. He has featured in numerous group exhibitions including the Liverpool Biennial (2012), and has solo shows coming up in 2022, at the Berg Contemporary in Reykjavík (where his solo show Unseen Fields took place in 2021), and Regelblau 411 in Thyholm, Denmark.

Sigurður Guðjónsson: Perpetual Motion
Icelandic Pavilion, Arsenale, Venice
23 April – 25 September 2022

Interview by VERONICA SIMPSON
Filmed and edited by MARTIN KENNEDY

Click on the pictures below to enlarge

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