Ragna Róbertsdóttir is a landscape artist; however, her works are not images of landscape, she brings landscape into exhibition spaces and private homes. Her works are made from natural materials: mud, stones, sand, which she collects on her frequent walks in Icelandic nature. She is mostly attracted to volcanoes by their energy and power of transformation, construction and deconstruction, and overpowering force to humans. Another attraction of volcanoes is the great heat of its inner core, which causes transformation of the earth’s materials from molten to a cold fixed form. A dominant subject of Ragna´s has been the concept of time and transformation. The magma thrusts through the conduit pipe to the surface of the crater. Shape, texture and composition of the lava is decided by viscosity and cooling speed. The material then continues to change in the hands of Ragna as she separates and cleans the lava at the very roots of its origin; the volcano. She chooses rectangular forms for her wallpieces of mud and lava; which refer to something artificial and away from the natural. The arresting chaos of nature is framed. These works bring the attention to our personal attitudes towards nature in the broadest sense; the connection between Man and Earth.
Ragna Róbertsdóttir (1945) is among the most well known and respected contemporary artists in Iceland, active in her art practice since the early 1970´s. Her works have been exhibited widely. Locations include all major museums and exhibition spaces in Iceland, such as The Reykjavík Art Museum-Kjarvalsstaðir, The National Gallery of Iceland, The Living Art Museum in Reykjavík, as well as in various museums in Scandinavia, China, USA, Canada, Scotland, Austria, Germany, France and Japan. Concurrently another exhibition of Ragna, together with Icelandic artist Birgir Andrésson, is on display at SAFN Contemporary Art Collection at Laugavegur 37 in Reykjavík, open until November 18th.
At the exhibition space of i8 Gallery, Ragna presents works from 2007, which she has made especially for this exhibition. Her works evolve on one hand around Nature and Time, on the other hand around Nature and the Man-made. Two of her works at the exhibition are her homage to two artists, who have had important influence on her artistic practice and her attitude towards art. One of these works is an homage to early 20th Century grand Icelandic architect Guðjón Samúelsson titled “Homage to Guðjón Samúelsson”; a large wallpiece made from Icelandic obsidian from the Hrafntinnusker area. Ragna received a small amount of the obsidian from one of the men in charge of recent restoration of the Icelandic National Theater, designed by Samúelsson in 1950, which has shards of crushed obsidian on its outer surface. Ragna has clear memories of builders throwing different kinds of crushed stones onto Samúelsson´s buildings at later stages. Today, Ragna uses the same technique for bringing landscapes into interiors by gluing small rocks onto walls and windows.
Another homage of Ragna´s is for mid-20th Century American artist Donald Judd titled “Homage for Donald Judd”. Ragna has been very much inspired by the works and writings of Judd, as by her personal contacts with him on his frequent trips to Iceland. The homage formally refers to some of Judd´s works where he had a few boxes made from plastics or metal and placed them vertically onto a wall. For this work, Ragna uses plexiglass and earth materials with different natural colors. From the colors one can read through the different metals and minerals that they consist of and where in the country they are from. These are from Bjarnarflag close to lake Mývatn in the N-East.
In “Lava Landscape” Ragna uses earth/mud as a color-pigment, which she grinds and mixes with water and glue and paints it directly onto the wall with a painting brush. Her approach brings this work close to the ancient tradition of fresco painting, for which painters would mix their own colors from ground stones, such as semi-precious stones.
For her wallpiece “Crystal Clear Landscape” Ragna uses crystal, which she received from a Chinese crystal factory. It is less clear than the crystal most sought-after for decorative objects, but this raw material more resembles ice, a feeling of cold air. Crystal is as well a natural material: sand, silica, and metal transformed at high temperature just as the glass material obsidian. Ragna had long been searching for such a material and found it in Xiamen, China where she worked in an artist residency in 2004. The Chinese crystal is in fact leftovers from a crystal factory. Ragna´s choice of this industrial material indirectly refers to works of American Minimalists, such as Donald Judd, who used materials and methods of industrial production.
Ragna´s floor sculptures are from basalt lava which has been cut for her into cubes of different sizes. She has used cut lava before in her works but not in as large dimensions as now. The Lava is cut into perfect cubes, which can be understood as total opposites to natural forms, although the cube form can be seen naturally in several stones high in metal. In these works, Ragna explores the inner landscapes of the stones and how they break in various ways depending on their inner composing. In these works the lava is in fact dissected, an autopsy is made, and its interior is inspected.
Leaning against the walls are plates from silver, which are made for Ragna and polished to great shine. She then brings the shining plates into the exhibition space, some recently polished, others slightly oxidized. Time and the environment constantly change the work. The more time that the silver is exposed to oxygen, the thicker the cloudy layer on its surface becomes. Next to the silver plates there is a date, the date of the day it starts to oxidize. Each silver plate is like a Time-landscape. As with strata of earth, the viewer reads into the date and cloudy layer, which is testament to the effect that Time has on this material. Artist Ragna Róbertsdóttir leaves it up to the environment to transform the material and lets the outcome surprise herself, similarly to when she looks for material, which the fiercely powered nature has transformed into unforeseen forms.