Blue Sky Thinking

Ragnheiður Harpa Leifsdóttir ushers her dreams into existence
5.6.2014
Words by John Rogers
Deciding on a finale for a festival whose theme is ‘art as a living process’ must have been something of a challenge. What could be a fitting work that’s at once suitably celebratory and attention-grabbing, and yet ephemeral, temporary or open-ended?

Enter young Icelandic artist Ragnheiður Harpa Leifsdóttir, whose practise fortuitously engages with all of these aspects at once. Her 2012 installation “Together We Are Nobody,” a collaboration with fellow artist Ragnheiður Maísól at Kaffistofan, used confetti, paper crowns and childhood toys to evoke a feeling of shared experience, remembrance and celebration. An ambitious theatrical piece entitled “The Void: A Family Show,” produced as part of the Lókal festival in 2013, saw performances and readings by her parents, siblings and other relatives, creating a warmly heartfelt and humane familial tableau, musing on the shared but differing experience of children leaving the nest.

Celebrating Time

“I do love the idea of celebrating time,” Ragnheiður smiles. “We all celebrate moments in our lives, and as we do, we somehow bring awareness to that very moment. Each one is special, even the difficult ones, as without them we wouldn't grow. In a way death is a beautiful reminder of the joy of the moment, because as we accept our mortality somehow, everything becomes precious. We create rituals around moments, and in repeating them we meditate on wonder, on time, and somehow we collectively celebrate that we’re alive together in that very moment.”

This understanding of shared moments extends to the idea of art as something that’s made collaboratively, with the artist as instigator, and the audience’s presence as an essential element.

“When you make something—a moment, or a performance, anything really—you do it together,” Ragnheiður expands, “because the person who perceives it takes it with them in their mind, and it becomes something else—maybe a story told over dinner or a crown left out by a white fence. It's a gift in some way—we're always giving each other something—thought, ideas, or just our presence. I love this conversation between the viewer and the pieces, because the viewer gives you just as much by their presence and attention as the artist gives to them. It's a constant dialogue.”

Dancing Planes

One particularly ambitious such conversation will close the 2014 edition of the Reykjavík Arts Festival, when two airplanes take to the sky to create a memorable spectacle entitled “Flight Trails.” The airborne performance is scheduled to happen over Kollafjörður by Sæbraut between June 2 and 5, weather-permitting.

“I got the idea for this when I was studying the so-called ‘Songlines,’” Ragnheiður says. “Have you heard of these? They’re invisibles lines the Aboriginals in Australia use to map the country. Within their belief system they’re also called dreaming tracks. The paths reach across the whole country, or sometimes even the sky, and mark the route followed by localist "creator-beings" during the "Dreaming." They are used for navigation, as the paths are recorded in song, stories and dance. Somewhere I read that they were also a way of the people for dealing with sorrow or grief. They become a sort of meditation of repetition, of song and walking.”

To reflect the idea that something needs to be expressed to be cognised, the performance also incorporates an aural element via the simultaneous broadcast of the Katla choir, live on the RÁS 1 radio station.

“Just as we can think of a thing, we need a word to really see it,” Ragnheiður says. “Like that story of the Native Americans who couldn't see a ship, because they had never seen something like that before, and so they called it a cloud—they lacked a word to know it by. So the “Flight Trails” will be sung into existence, at the same time they’re drawn. The lines the airplanes will make imagine what the God particle sounds like—an extremely beautiful and feminine form, wavy like the sea, flowing like the wind. We will never see the whole of the drawing because the wind will take it and create its own wave, and the smoke will disappear. What we’ll see is a constant work in progress, as everything is in a way—a constant flow, in constant shift. It will be a kind of dance by two airplanes—a conversation about the unknown, and a dance to celebrate just that.”

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Flight trails can only be performed under particular weather conditions, its performance will take place June 6 at 17:45 at Sólfarið við Sæbraut.



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