Berin Golonu on Ragna Róbertsdóttir

Berin Golonu, ARTFORUM

Ragna Róbertsdóttir’s recent exhibition brought together four decades of work, with sculptures and site-specific installations placed inside and outside the confines of the gallery. The preceding generation’s Minimalism, Land art, and process art had revolutionized artistic production by the time Róbertsdóttir started working in the 1980s. The artist’s conceptual and formal frameworks may allude to these predecessors, but her training as a fiber artist, which informs her meticulous process of shaping her materials by hand, sets her work apart. Róbertsdóttir’s use of materials—such as volcanic stone, shells, and turf—sourced from her native Iceland further distinguishes her work by referencing an extraordinary terrain shaped by unique geological circumstances.


Untitled, 1981/2021, made of woven and wound linen threads, formed the chronological starting point of her exhibition. The wound threads are piled on top of one another to evoke a rooflike shape, while the woven textiles resemble miniature floor mats. Róbertsdóttir utilizes similar methods of binding or rolling to recall traditional modes of architecture in later pieces such as Untitled, 1991, consisting of five identical rolls of turf situated on the floor. The artist refers to such pieces as “cutouts” from nature. With materials recalling the traditional turf structures that housed rural Icelanders prior to urbanization and industrialization, as well as the peat moss that was a necessary source of heat on an island with limited raw materials, the piece evokes the painstaking labor of fashioning a living amid the most unforgiving conditions.


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