Last week the Faroese Sculptor Hanni Bjartalíð was in residence at the Curated Place Studios in Federation House working as a part of our ongoing Residency Programme. The results will see the artist realise one of his sublime floating worlds sculptures at a larger scale than he has ever attempted before creating a major new light installation at the heart of the Nordic House in the Faroe Islands as part of the Bókadagur festival. The artists will explore the connections between storytelling and light in the environment that creates the unique flavour of Faroese literature.
Hanni rarely names his works and is often illusive when it comes to pinning a narrative on his work that isn't open to interpretation by the viewer. Rather, he explains that many thoughts, stories and plans go through his mind when he’s creating a piece – all of which are somehow encapsulated in his process and the resulting multi-layered nature of his works. One thing that is always present though is the capability of his work to entrance audiences - his openness to interpretation and his ambivalence towards the pedagogical leaving space for the imagination to flourish, guided rather than constrained by his craft.
Floating Islands in Literature
The Faroe Islands like the other Nordic countries, are not known for their mild climates. The islands’ near-mythic winter darkness or the periods of 24-hour light that characterise the midnight sun have had a great influence on its inhabitants – and the stark contrasts of continuous darkness and near endless light stimulate the imagination. Islands have a long history in literature and are often represented as sites of magical transaction or exchange, places where individuals encounter different cultures and find that they can no longer relate in the same way to the places they have left – whether that’s the hedonism encountered in the impossibly opulent caverns of Dumas’ Monte Cristo, the insanity visited upon Ben Gunn while stranded upon Stevenson’s Treasure Island or, at the pinnacle, the perfection of More’s Utopia. However, the idea of an islands floating in the sea without being fixed in place seems impossible, yet feature regularly in the inventions of poets or mythologists creating narratives that that demonstrate the great desire for transformation and transgression.
The resilience of the mythical accounts of floating islands in literature often adds an element of cultural criticism - where inhabitants are sealed off from influences from the rest of the world. One of literature’s most recognised floating islands, Laputa in Swift’s Gulliver’s travels, adds a layer of control to the dream - seeing the island maneuvered by its inhabitants free from the constraints of our day-to-day using magnetic levitation. Its population consists of educated people, fond of mathematics, astronomy, music and technology, but in a crushing bursting of the imagination’s bubble - expert in none. They fail to make practical use of their knowledge seemingly detached from the intellectual prowess that allowed their magical kingdom to exist. Swift was trying to show how an excess of speculative reasoning can also be negative by cutting one off from the practical realities of life which doesn’t serve learning or society. It’s perhaps telling that Hanni can be similarly dismissive of much of the arts establishment when discussing the trappings of living an artistic life.
It is the reality off our modern global society that makes the mystical islands ever more appealing than before. We have become so closely connected and meshed together that the Northern Atlantic islands are increasingly viewed as enticing elsewheres – that offer some relief from the never ending steams of death, destruction and Instagrammed dinners that invade our lives 24 hours a day. However, as this desire to be cut off from outside influences is becoming ever clearer – the modern urge to escape from one another is in stark contrast with our great need for connection as cultural beings. A connection that is perhaps the only feasible route to understanding and adapting to the modern complex and contradictory world we inhabit.
Our connection is our stories and the spaces we tell them in. Hanni’s work creates both.