Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson:
Stories from the Hidden Spaces of European Society
Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson studied together at the Frank Mohr Institute in Groningen in the Netherlands in the late 1990s and have continued to work together since, building up a strong body of work which focuses on social issues and the sharing of life experiences. They attracted attention at the 2005 Reykjavík Arts Festival with their exhibition Chapter3: The Noise of Money, which explored changes in Icelandic society in relation to the country´s opening up to globalization and consequent migration, by focusing on changes in the fish industry, traditionally the hub of Iceland’s economic life – the place where money was noisily created out of the fish that the country’s fleet brought in. The exhibition consisted mostly of sound with the noise of the factory, flowing through the museum, providing a background for more intimate stories that the audience could listen to through headphones spread over the museum terrace and surrounding garden.
Libia and Ólafur themselves travel extensively and work in Iceland, the Netherlands and elsewhere, combining exhibition work with workshops and teaching. In a very short time, they have developed a highly recognizable approach and a very impressive roster of exhibitions. In 2007, they had a major show at the Málaga Contemporary Art Centre, which presented an overview of their work with a extensive accompanying catalogue in which the director of CAC Málaga wrote: “With their works, the artists attempt to take the spectator to new realms of reflection and to question truths that are generally accepted as absolute without reasonable doubts ever being raised as to their veracity. Immigration, seasonal employment, cultural differences, the world of work and globalisation are the basis of the work of this duo of artists; issues that prompt a vision of art that aims to reflect the world today in all its brilliance and its darkness that is so close to artists and their audience alike.”
They took up the theme of migration and political asylum in an extensive project for the Centre of Visual Arts in Rotterdam in the autumn of 2007. They called the project Avant-Garde Citizens and the material for it consisted mainly of extensive video interviews with people living in the Netherlands without a residence permit, people who have been denied asylum by the authorities but continue to hang on, unable to return to the countries of origin but also unable to find a new place in the West. Many of these people have been in and out of detention centres or prisons. Ólafur and Libia presented this material as a series of videos.
Their most recent project in Iceland is an unusual one and draws attention to the question of civil society and civil rights in a roundabout and quite humorous way. They worked with well-known composer Karólína Eiríksdóttir to produce a song version of the Icelandic constitution, all 81 articles of it, for soprano, baritone, piano, bass and choir. The work was premiered in Akureyri in Northern Iceland in the spring of 2008.
Libia and Ólafur tend to work locally, focusing on finding the stories and the social situations they present in the area where they are to exhibit. Bik van der Pol wrote about their projects, highlighting their working method: “These projects are examples of how the artists create a bridging situation between different spaces, in this case the actual concrete space of the art exhibition-context and the grassroots space of society; the hidden space of the immigrant worker, the hidden space of the undocumented. It is in the invisible space – not in the overexposed space of our world-leaders – they believe change and a consciousness of alternative models can develop.”
For their participation in Manifesta, Ólafur and Libia explore the industrial history of Trentino Alto Adige which was a major centre of manufacture. Indeed, Manifesta will be partly housed in disused factories. In this way, Ólafur and Libia continue to explore the hidden spaces in our social situation, to seek out and highlight the stories of working people, migrants and refugees around Europe.
LIST Icelandic Art News. Page last updated 29 May 2008. Texts and images copyright © 2008 by the authors. For inquiries and contact information see about us.