For her first solo exhibition in Belgium, Katrín Sigurdardóttir is presenting two distinct bodies of work but the links and affinities between them are obvious. The title of the exhibition, Relics, clearly contains a dimension of time, since the relics are objects or fragments of a past to which a certain value is ascribed. The religious sense of the word also provides a hypothesis for reading the work.
On the left, the visitor finds three sculptures, which are scale models of the apartment where the artist grew up in Reykjavik in the 1970s. Made of plaster and fine wooden strips, they are neutral spaces, devoid of any affect or any personal anecdote. Through this deliberate neutrality, the artist is evoking more the place of childhood that everyone retains, a place that leaves its mark in a memory, no matter what happens afterwards. She makes no attempt to reveal her own experience, but rather to contribute to the process of recollection, of recall in other people. This activation of memory is probably increased by the work’s positioning on the floor that puts the viewer in a position of keeping a distance, a perspective. This rather unusual perception puts us in the posture of a giant, which is observing while having a capability to destroy.
Destruction is also on the agenda on the right. Since 2004, Sigurdardóttir has been particularly interested in the architectural history of her home town. With Unbuilt Houses, she began a mnemonic process of reflection, which is still ongoing and is based on architectural archives in Reykjavik. Her approach consists of making models of houses that were never actually built but whose plans, dating from the years 1925-1930, are kept in the archives of the city. One way to breathe new life into a past that was put on hold. After having meticulously built the models, the artist then demolishes them uncompromisingly. Whether they are broken or burned, these models are then reassembled somehow using the remnants that survived the destruction process. Besides the process of creation-destruction-recreation which may be considered a metaphor for artistic practice, Sigurdardóttir reopens many interpretations. The reference to the memory of a place is again present, but with an added element of drama. These houses were never built, but could have been or perhaps could yet be built. Facing a potential outcome, by drawing on an unrealised past.
Seeing these works, one cannot avoid the question of ruin in our society. The transformation of the urban fabric is so rapid and
irreversible it entails many errors that lead to ruin. Will these agglomerations composed of stone, concrete, wood, plastic and glass form the hidden side of the city? Do ruins become the shapeless, unconscious mass of a city?