When time stops
“When time stops” is the title of the latest exhibition of artist Erla S. Haraldsdóttir, taking place at gallery Portfolio in Reykjavík from October 15 until November 5. In it, the artist showcases a number of recent series of works made in Johannesburg, South Africa. Time ending also implies time beginning, or in the Abrahamic religions Genesis. This is a previous cycle of work by the artist which has not been shown previously, but nevertheless lends import for understanding the foundations for the current works on view.
Time ends every night for humans when we fall asleep and dream, the subjective experience of time during dreaming states is hard to pin down, and this stoppage is one that Erla S. Haraldsdóttir is keen on exploring. She offers scenes from her dreams, and their representations as an embodied experience of the rough — or to borrow Kant’s terminology — sublime Icelandic landscapes. The seven windows into the dreams of the artist also unconsciously reflect the creation of worlds in her second iteration of Genesis, which was exhibited at the Cathedral of Lund in 2017.
Time stops for the artist during flow states of concentration; naturally these are linked to the process of making art, but she seeks to paint states of concentration in her subjects in a series “Transformations” which was also exhibited at the Cathedral of Lund, in 2021. Even when there is no human portrayed in the paintings from this series like “the threshold” or “the wound in the sky”, anthropomorphic forms like the vaginal abyss or a banal pair of white shoes bring us back to everyday human life. A man reading on a mobile device, or a woman holding two doves, further underscored the meanings and symbolism of the series “Transformations”: namely how to convey in everyday 21st century relatable terms the mystery that surrounds the holiday of Easter.
Time is arrested in writing. Recording the speech act for posterity or recording the reminiscences of your mother as she is dying are a way to stop time. Time stopped in this way for Erla Haraldsdóttir’s great grandmother, whose dream was recorded by her daughter Þóranna in her diary. This dream served as the impetus and inspiration for the exhibition and book “My mother’s dream” that was shown at Norrtälje Konsthall in December of 2021. “My mother’s dream” was translated into Swedish, German, English and IsiNdebele – a seemingly random assortment of languages, but these are languages that the artist has encountered during her life, these are languages, especially IsiNdebele, one of the 11 official languages of the Republic of South Africa that are minoritarian, and like the original Icelandic of the remembrance of the dream, spoken and written by few people on the globe.
Time is halted in traditions. Customs and costumes are thought to be timeless, or could in fact be invented traditions. This link to an immemorial past is utilized by political regimes and institutions in general to show a legitimacy concerning what culture is. This question of culture and custom has preoccupied Erla S. Haraldsdóttir also in her most recent work. gouache paintings and prototypes of the “traditional” Icelandic folk costumes for women are compounded with anatomical diagrams of women’s reproductive organs. Anatomy being a recent science in history is conflated with the constraints of timeless culture. The women’s folk costumes are a focal point for showmanship and competition: they are what Alfred Gell would call a technology of enchantment. Which both seeks to impress, and psychologically overwhelm others.
Time stops in art. The sequence of events and story board of the dream of Þóranna are depicted in graphite on paper drawings. Each of the drawings points to a moment of time remembered and recovered from an unconscious subjectivity. These are also a means by which the artist Erla S. Haraldsdóttir can reconnect with her foremothers; it is an invention of a tradition of her own. Yet it is not a closed process – it is open for “My dream”. the dreams of others who read the book “My mother’s dream”, and it is an open set of events for exhibition attendees to explore “when time stops”.
Dr. Craniv Boyd