The ingenious experimental photographer Nina Zurier and Daria Sol Andrews teamed up to curate a luminous premier exhibition (“INNFÆDD//NATIVE”) at Stúdíó Sól in Reykjavík’s artsy warehouse district, Höfðabakki.
With the exception of one image, Nina Zurier’s photo exhibition, “INNFÆDD//NATIVE”, expresses the world in black and white, two essential species of light that strip things down to the most basic shapes. In black and white, we begin to see content and context: parked cars—our usual focal point—lose their significance in relation to the shallow footprints in snow in a parking lot. Black and white add to the complexity of the world by returning us to what is native: the bare bones of the things, the outlines.
Zurier’s fascination with darkness and light befits an island in the far North where half the year is lived in a wavering state, oscillating between twilight and darkness. Her high contrast imagery is strangely familiar in its focused study of the magnificent within the mundane. It seems to say: This island is made of light. It is entirely probable and enormously unlikely.
As I looked at Zurier’s photographs, I found myself wondering about probability. If the place of our birth is coincidental, can we become native to another place in the way that light, in its prolonged absences from the island, again becomes native to Iceland each summer?
Zurier has been a long-time traveller to Iceland, living five months of the year in the country and the remainder in California. Her most recent book, Ef ég hefði verið… (“If I had been”) structures a fictional world in which the artist was born Icelandic, instead of American; it explores the nature of memory and imagination, and the dynamic between the two.
When Zurier first came to Iceland in 2002, she felt as if she had returned home. So her fascination with the native/nonnative binary comes as no surprise: it’s a continual obsession in her work. Is imagination native to memory? Is dark native to light?
Zurier doesn’t simply rely on the idea of extreme contrasts: in some of her photographs, a feather of light sweeps across a light sky (we can’t see if it’s blue), indicating a belief that native and nonnative are not each other’s opposite, but extreme points on a spectrum.
Zurier is not native to Iceland; but she isn’t nonnative, either. She is partially the light that overtakes the country in summer, and partly the darkness that broods over it in winter. The twilight that settles here in between seasons—perhaps the deputy of the immigrant, the settler—is a part of her identity as Icelander.
One particularly notable segment of Zurier’s exhibition is an amalgamation of images from the 1920s by Eggert Briem, called Uppvakningar, which Zurier began to work on in the summer of 2013. In reappropriating and reframing Briem’s work, Zurier is making a statement about the continuity of cultures: without Briem, Uppvakningar wouldn’t exist. It wouldn’t exist without Zurier either. They were born into completely different worlds, in very different time periods, and they’ve coalesced in what Zurier calls “a collaboration across time.”
Zurier photographed xeroxes (high contrast) of contact sheets from negatives of Briem’s work. “Some were almost all white with one or two images visible, some were almost all black. All high-contrast,” Zurier clarified. “The title, Uppvakningar, means to awaken the spirits, and I [later] discovered that Eggert was for many years quite active in the Icelandic Association for Psychic Research, serving as the director from 1932 to 1938 and again in 1949-1965.”
And yet, some of the photographs in Uppvakningar are not from Iceland, though they are all taken by an Icelander. This simple fact woke me to one reality, and one that I think is crucial to the exhibition: INNFÆDD arrives at a historical moment in which the definition of ‘citizen’ is changing along with the rise of populism across the world. We’re seeing how flimsy guarantees are—how easily held captive, thrown in the garbage. In a global state where ‘naturalization’ increasingly amounts to an empty promise and immigration means imprisonment, Zurier’s exhibition makes a thundering contribution in its discussion of identity politics, and identity within politics.
The exhibition will be on display at Studio Sol in Höfðabakki from July 28, 2018 until Sept. 15, 2018.
ABOUT NINA ZURIER
Nina Zurier is an artist living and working in California and Reykjavík. Her work includes books and installations of her photographs as well as projects involving images from archives and other sources. Several years of research in the Reykjavík Photography Museum’s archive resulted in the book Ef ég hefði verið … Reykjavík 1950-1970, published in 2015 by Crymogea in Reykjavík, as well as an exhibition and large-scale artwork made up of small details from the archival photographs.
Vagnhöfði 19, 110 Reykjavik
Open for viewing by private appointment