Brynja Sveinsdóttir on the exhibition Shift/Hnikun at Slaturhusid Cultural Center.
The exhibition Shift contains works by Ingunn Fjóla Ingþórsdóttir and Þórdís Jóhannesdóttir, based on the history of Sláturhúsið. It intertwines the history and setting of the slaughtering and our ideas of perception, how we remember the past, and our efforts to create a system from our environment. Hnikun marks the reopening of Sláturhúsið, following extensive renovations that are meant to further strengthen the building’s role as a cultural centre. The title of the exhibition references how one thing shifts another – a transformation in society and activity.
The exhibition contains text works, photographs, sculptures, textiles and videos that revolve around structures that wind around the space. The structures reflect the processing belts that used to fill the room, around it we can sense an echo of the past. The works of Þórdís Jóhannesdóttir show a glimpse of the activity, where time, flow and the appearance of the surroundings are intertwined. Shift 1-6 is a series of photographs, showing close-ups from the processing room in a slaughterhouse. The intimate angle gives us a different view of the slaughtering process where events transform into colours and texture. We see signs of the meat production in red flows, see carcasses in such close proximity that our sense of smell can guess the rest. The photographs are printed on plexiglass and light shines through them, projecting and repeating each photo around the space. This duplication of the images is reminiscent of the repetition and mass production that takes place in a slaughterhouse, but the light also makes the subject vaguer, creating a feeling of fragments of memory and an echo of the past.
Þórdís’s video works, Flow and Process, show the flow and perpetual movement that happens in a slaughterhouse’s processing hall. The water that flows endlessly, carrying offal, and red patches on the floor. We see time pass through movement and repetition – everything is constantly being renewed but almost nothing changes. Countering the constant movement, we get calm and quiet in the photoseries Room 1-5, which displays empty spaces. The images could be displaying in-between spaces where not much happens, could be signs of what used to be but is no more. They remind us of spaces that have lost their previous purpose and are awaiting a new one. How do we perceive empty spaces? Does the calm make us think about the appearance of things, their texture and arrangement? Do empty spaces bring us peace, or do they scare us? No doubt, these spaces echo our emotional condition, our memories and experience – they become a carta blanca of sorts, for us to read our own perception from. Þórdís’s works introduce us to the slaughterhouse environment but we also get to ponder our reaction to what we see, and how we understand the visual presentation.
The works of Ingunn Fjóla Ingþórsdóttir are based on methods, vocabulary and systems surrounding sheep farming. The work Obituaries is a series of textworks, displaying words from interviews with former employees in the slaughterhouse. Fyrirrista, liðléttingar, fláningsmaður, rotklefi, strjúpi (gutting knife, flayer, knockout room, headless neck) – fragments from the slaughtering world are printed on architectural paper, layered to make parts of the text less visible. Some of the words, their meanings and connections are clear, some less so, like fragments of memory, hard to recall. The work shows us a reflection of the past and the activity that used to take place here. The work Flow also shows the time, in the form of the perpetual movement that characterised the process. It consists of painted cotton threads, in constant motor-driven motion, and echoes a processing belt that runs endlessly. The movement is accompanied by a steady droning which can be soothing or overwhelming – depending on how we perceive the work.
Ingunn Fjóla’s work, Warp I-III, interweaves the material world of sheep farming and crafts. It depicts woolly, braided tubes that might be used as warps in a loom. The warps have natural wool colours, as well as bright colours, creating a harmony of the natural and the manmade. They hang on meat hooks, which carcasses hang from in the slaughterhouse, thus referencing the process and the product of slaughtering. The work also marks a beginning, as creating the warp is the first step in the long process of weaving. Here, the warps are independent, carrying a promise of things to be.
The wall sculpture Hanging Weight has two parts, where stones from the nearby surroundings hang in cloths displaying two different weights. The work is a reference to the development of the hanging weight of slaughtered lambs in the last 74 years, from the time when the slaughterhouse was built until the present day. In 1947, the average hanging weight was 14.2 kg, in 2021 it had reached 17.4 kg. This development follows breeding where the emphasis is always on maximising capacity – we always want to do better, get more. The work makes us think whether quantity always equals quality. How do we measure results? What is our constant search for maximisation worth?
The paperwork Optimizing also references performance measurements, with information from the breeding value of ninety insemination rams from 1949 until the present day. The information comes from Fjárvís, a computer system where sheep farmers register data about their stock. Ingunn Fjóla presents the data in the form of a cardiogram of sorts, it doesn’t show the actual data but line drawing, rhythm and form. The work opens our eyes to the precision, registration, management and follow-up that sheep farming demands. For every subject, man has created systems and mapped out ways to appraise, document and analyse. We want to be able to measure, register results and improve our participation in the world.
The works of Ingunn Fjóla and Þórdís present sheep farming to us as a culture with its own language, specialised knowledge and unique methods. The processing that previously went on in the building is echoed in a different kind of processing, of culture. Instead of measuring and documenting livestock, artworks are created, displayed and registered. Instead of trying to breed bigger lambs, the focus is to increase the effect and the attendance of cultural events. Instead of the processing belt comes the quiet and random stroll of visitors around the exhibitions. Sláturhúsið’s former activity echoes in the cultural processing that has taken the building over