Unnar Örn J. Auðarson
“Miðgarður - Blárauður - Afgirtur reitur“ / Central Park - Magenta - Hortus Conclusus
12. 11. 2005 - 04. 12. 2005
Opening Saturday 12th of November at 5 pm.

The Montana Plains

We parked the car, and walked. Even without signage the route was obvious, in the way that certain types of planning or architecture orientate you within a landscape or building. The road curved just before the Robert Adam bridge, allowing views to the house and lake. On the far side of the bridge there was a sign in the grass - it was more like a street sign than one you'd expect to encounter on an English country estate - it read The Montana Plains. We presumed it was connected to the exhibition we'd come to see - The American West. Our minds were sent spiraling to the prairies and roaming buffalo despite the neo-classical arcadia surrounding us.

To the right the ground was rough pasture, to the left the trimmed grass took the eye to a copse of trees and a lake, on the far side of which one expected a temple or a ruin - I can't remember if there was one. Compton Verney House designed by Robert Adam and its grounds planned and planted by Capability Brown have been restored in recent years, returned to their eighteenth century glory to exhibit historical and contemporary art. Brown's designs for the natural effortless perfection of arcadia, like that found in the paintings of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorraine, are themselves constructs of nature. Now bedded down, mature and real, as you stand within the landscape you are part of the construct an essential and expected actor within the scene.

In this recreation I looked for the gaps, some evidence of the construct, I wanted to find the view that hadn't been considered - where you glimpse behind the scenes, witness someone pulling the strings or something propping the whole thing up like in the Wizard of Oz or on a film set - the view that belies the façade. Like walking in this landscape, Unnar Örn Jónasson's exhibition at Kling & Bang Gallery constructs a view of nature within a finite space, implying there is more. At Compton Verney the construct lasts as far as the horizon, at Kling & Bang the environment is constricted by walls, yet made ambiguous by the disorientation of entering through a door not normally used, into a space not normally accessible, still crammed with the miscellany found behind the scenes of any gallery. The myth of the fully formed exhibition inhabiting the clean and sparkling cube, is laid bare by the simple invitation to enter through the back door, and see things from an other side.

The view Unnar gives us is also a construct, considered and edited to be just so, for the audience to encounter. Off the corridor, the basement room is crammed with houseplants borrowed from people all around the city. This room is off-limits to the exhibition audience, visible only through peep-holes: a secret cloistered garden; full of life, yet vulnerable in its contrived construction and dependency on artificial light. As with all houseplants the specimens originate far away from their Icelandic homes, in the tropical rainforests, deserts and temperate zones of the world. They are plants that need to be nurtured and loved, maintained at a certain temperature and humidity, out of draughts, in particular light to survive.

Those who have lent them have trusted Unnar to look after them, they have accepted the gaps in their homes while the plants are away, and they will welcome them back, and appreciate them anew when they are returned. Their trust is well placed, Unnar is the only person I know who has planted an acorn in a yoghurt pot and grown an oak sapling. He will not burden the plants with unnecessary care, and fuss, but will give them what they need. The oak grew in soil not compost, as it would've had it rooted where it fell from the tree. The houseplants in his care will suffer just enough to thrive and desire life. In all Unnar's work he accepts that it is impossible to control all circumstances, opting instead to create parameters to operate within. By gaining the trust of those who have lent the plants, and the institution whose space is turned inside out he extends trust to the audience who will people the environment, and encounter the strings and supports.

Lesley Young

October 2005

Lesley Young is a writer and curator based in Manchester, England.

Kling & Bang gallery is open from Thursday - Sunday from 2-6 pm
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Grandagarđur 20 - 101 Reykjavík