Photo by by Kristinn Ingvarsson
Originally created for the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, BORDERS is a public sculpture installation created by acclaimed Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir. The eleven pairs of human-like figures will be on display along the levee in downtown Baton Rouge from late March 2017, right before the inaugural Ebb & Flow Festival, to June 2018. Thórarinsdóttir spoke to Country Roads in March.
CR: In each of the sculpture pairs, you use aluminum, as the material for one, and iron, for the other. What attracted you to these two materials?
ST: The two different materials are an integral part of the overall concept of the exhibition. They are opposing materials, heavy and light, heaven and earth, portraying the opposites in life. These opposing materials are united by the form, which is the same within each pair. So there is a union of opposites within the installation that is part of the fundamental concept of BORDERS.
CR: How has the sculptures’ installation in different locations changed the experience of viewing them?
ST: Each new location brings in a new experience. When asked “What is sculpture?,” [artist] Henry Moore replied, “Location, location, location.” Even though it was initially made for the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, the figures usually find their right place in new surroundings quite easily. Baton Rouge is the sixth venue for this exhibition, and I’m sure it will be a wonderful addition to its run.
CR: What do you think it will be like to experience the work on the Mississippi River?
ST: I think it will be amazing. Being by the water will be a new type of site for the work that I very much look forward to. I come from a small island, so I’m used being close to water and the ocean. It’s part of my life experience. I have a country house on the south coast that has rivers on both sides of our land. There is something very symbolic about the water’s flow to the ocean. Like the eternal cycle of life.
CR: Can you explain how the name, BORDERS, was chosen?
ST: The whole concept of the exhibition revolves around this idea of borders. The installation was made from 2009 to 2011 and first exhibited in 2011. Since then, as we all know, the idea of the border has taken on a whole new meaning and a very compelling one at that. The installation should challenge our perception of what borders are. That they are not just lines on a map but integral forces in the economic, social, and environmental processes that shape our lives. Therefore, it has been a great experience and brought additional meaning to the show for it to travel ... to migrate in a way and find itself in new homes.
CR: Have you been surprised by the way the public interacts with the pieces?
ST: The public´s interaction makes the pieces come alive and emphasizes this moment where life and art cross paths. The figures are life-sized and occupy the same space as we do. People engage with them without fear and feel that they can approach them, which, to me, is such an important part of public art. The figures are neutral, amorphous beings, they could be you and they could be me. They do not emit too much expression, leaving it to the viewer to find their own meaning. I do not want to rule what the viewer thinks and feels. I prefer the figures to whisper rather than shout.
CR: What has it been like for you to witness?
ST: Mostly, it’s been wonderful to witness. A few times people have become too familiar with them! But those are exceptions, and normally the public is very respectful of the works, and I’m sure that will be the case in Baton Rouge. I hope that everyone will take them to heart and become their friends, enjoy, embrace, and be empowered by them.