“I THINK , I AM VERY POLITE, BUT I’M HARDLY A COSMOPOLITE” – BIRTA GUDJONSDOTTIR

Birta Gudjonsdottir is a real Wunderkind. Now relocated back to her hometown Reykjavik after having worked and lived widely in Europe as an artist, curator and lecturer. After curating over 30 exhibitions indipendently she is currently working as chief curator at the National Gallery of Iceland and is one of the co-curators of Momentum 8 – Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art in Moss, Norway.
Curator and Artist Birta Gudjonsdottir | Photo: Sigurdur Gunnarsson

Curator and Artist Birta Gudjonsdottir | Photo: Sigurdur Gunnarsson

You work both as an artist and as a curator. Do you prefer one profession over the other or do they complement each other?
As I see it, an artist is always an artist, whether or not actively exhibiting. A curator might always think as a curator, but unless he/she engages in an active curatorial dialogue, the curatorial side of him/her is not nourished, and the same goes for artists. For me, I enjoy and I am nourished by both roles. They do compliment each other and increasingly so, as I give more attention to the artist-curator role as a specific one; a curatorial practice informed by an artist sensitivity. However, as boundless dedication of time and energy is required by both professions, one needs to train the ability of letting go and creating headspace.

Over the last 15 years you worked within the field of art as an artist, curator, lecturer and more. Do you still get surprised by an artist or exhibition?
Yes I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. I’ve been an avid art lover since my childhood and I’m aware of how the arts can bring one in touch with one’s own feelings and also instigate critical interrogations of systems, ethics and perspectives in life. The more one is exposed to various levels of life through the arts, the more one’s inner-life grows therefore requiring art for further nourishment and reflection. It’s a cycle.

How do you protect yourself against a certain routine and stay motivated and open for something new?
Well, now that I’m back living in my small hometown of Reykjavik in Iceland after living in Berlin and elsewhere in mainland Europe in the past years, I depend more on art magazines and recent publications to keep track of the art world. However, Reykjavik has a highly active and interesting art scene, of which I am an active part. Motivation comes from within, and it is maintained through communication, constant seeking and allowing your findings to lead you to more findings.

Hrafhnildur Arnardottir a.k.a. Shoplifter at Elemental exhibition, at Havremgasinet Art Center in Boden, Sweden 2013, which Birta Gudjonsdottir co-curated with Gregory Volk.

Hrafhnildur Arnardottir a.k.a. Shoplifter at Elemental exhibition, at Havremgasinet Art Center in Boden, Sweden 2013, which Birta Gudjonsdottir co-curated with Gregory Volk.

You are quite a cosmopolite. Beside most art museums in Iceland you worked in a couple of cities all over the world like Berlin, Boden, Copenhagen, Oslo, Melbourne, New York, St Petersburg. Have there been favourite cities?
I think I’m very polite, but I’m hardly a cosmopolite. Travel is inherent in the curator’s practice, as it has everything to do with channeling a state of being in the world. As a curious person, the curator needs to be exposed to art, have analytical qualities and dialogues with artists and an appetite for new experiences. All of the above leads one to different places.

What are the contributing factors that define different places and their art scenes?
I assume you are referring to the places I have worked in so far. A difference between political systems, historical background and cultural vision is a framework for each art intervention. I am interested in the notion of entering established frameworks and learning from them while challenging them with interventions. Curating exhibitions in various places and circumstances can become an intensive learning experience, provided that there is mutual engagement and integrity.

What was your favourite project so far?
My favourite project is always the one (or several) which I’m working on at any one time. I’m super excited about Momentum 8 – Nordic Art Biennial, of which I’m a co-curator. Momentum 8 will open June 13th this year and we’re working with 28 amazing international artists. We have commissioned more than half of the works, which is really exciting and challenging. Momentum was founded in 1998 and has since grown to become one of the most important art biennials in the northern hemisphere. It allows us to be in dialogue with its history as well as to make it our own and manifest our idea of what an art biennial can be today.

Objects in the front by Ivar Valgardsson; photos in the background by Maria Friberg, from the elemental exhibition, at Havremgasinet Art Center in Boden, Sweden 2013, which Birta Gudjonsdottir co-curated with Gregory Volk. | Source: Birta Gudjonsdottir

Objects in the front by Ivar Valgardsson; photos in the background by Maria Friberg, from the elemental exhibition, at Havremgasinet Art Center in Boden, Sweden 2013, which Birta Gudjonsdottir co-curated with Gregory Volk. | Source: Birta Gudjonsdottir

What are you up to next?
I work as a chief curator at the National Gallery of Iceland, and I’m also looking forward to working on three upcoming exhibitions there, set for mid-summer and autumn, which include a work by Pablo Picasso, portraiture history and a female canon of Icelandic art, Nina Tryggvadottir. I’m also looking forward to working on a small exhibition at the Rappaz Museum in Basel in the winter, and then looking forward to all the projects of the unknown future!

For further informations about Momentum 8 check out their homepage here. Victoria Trunova interviewed Birta about Momentum 8 and her work there for talking about art and you can find it here.

Interview: Skadi Borchert
Editing: Rosalie Delaney