Submission
Hildur Henrýsdóttir

CHRYSALIS

The new solo exhibition of Hildur Henrysdottir "Chrysalis" is site-specific, consisting of a performative video work and a series of sculptures and photographs. These newly commissioned pieces can be understood as a step further from Henrysdóttir’s previous work, as she seems to enter a new phase, by explicitly comparing her own evolution to a metamorphosis within a chrysalis.


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Referring to a transitional state, a chrysalis is also known as the hard cocoon protecting a developing moth or butterfly. Similar to moulting, i.e. the shedding of a skin or shell commonly associated with the life cycle of invertebrates, it is a process of transformation from one form to another, into an alternative and often more evolved creature.

Approaching a thematic through the concept of arthropods is common in Hildur Henrýsdóttir’s artistic expression, as she frequently uses insects in her works, where they represent her inner realm, that repulsiveness and shame she believes to carry. However, within this exhibition, the focus is no longer the repellent nature of an insect, but its capacity for growth and transformation. CHRYSALIS is site-specific, consisting of a performative video work and a series of sculptures and photographs.

Addressing topics such as vulnerability and the temporality of human existence, the large-scale sculptures are created with found objects and materials; plaster and iron assemble with the softness of skin-coloured fabric in humanoid forms, unnervingly challenging artificially constructed power structures. Crawling on unnaturally long insect-like limbs, one of the sculptures is on the verge of shedding its cocoon, its flesh bulging through every possible extremity. The emerging creature is unapologetic, twisting and arching to take up its space, spreading out like a smaller and softer version of a Louise Bourgeois spider.

Vacuum Venus (2019) is a series of three photographs mounted on an aluminum support. Borrowing recognisable elements from Henrýsdóttir’s older works, in particular her painted self-portraits, they renounce any attempt at seduction or flattering angles. Instead, they reveal the grotesque reality of human physicality, shoving it in the face of the viewer with such vigour, that it seems to burst out of the frame. The tormenting presence of the triptych is palpable, despite the protagonist being immobile and silenced, trapped inside a cellophane chrysalis.

Realised in collaboration with Icelandic sound artist Sigurlaug Gísladóttur (aka Mr. Silla) and two performers, Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson and Borghildur Indriðadóttir, Chrysalis (2022) is a video work shot and edited by film maker Álfgerður Malmquist. The piece is activated through the performance of Henrýsdóttir, filmed in the process of herself becoming a sculpture; gradually covered in plaster, she is slowly disappearing under layers of the white paste. In this context, the statue, a symbol of classical beauty and often associated with Greek and Roman art, acts as an ideal but suffocating mould, which the artist eventually shatters and breaks out of.

Initially a passive being, who allows things to happen or a mere passenger in her own life, the newly emerged artist is reinventing herself through a radical transformation. Although the video might suggest that she has to change or become someone else to fit into an unattainable mould, in this case a figure of Alexandros of Antioch’s Venus de Milo, she eventually steps back from all expectations. The death of the old body or the old self grants space for a new one to form, while similar to an insect’s life cycle, some of the tissues and cells remain, passing onto the creature’s new body. A remnant of the shedding process, Skin (2022) has been discarded and left to hang, evidently purposeless for the organism which it once enveloped.

The exhibition’s newly commissioned pieces can be understood as a step further from Henrýsdóttir’s previous work, as she seems to enter a new phase, by explicitly comparing her own evolution to a metamorphosis within a chrysalis. The exhibition is part of an ongoing process of personal transformation, self-realisation and growth. Henrýsdóttir examines these intimate mechanisms through her artistic work, shamelessly, but full of self-doubt.

Text © Linda Toivio