It has been a long time since I felt happy to describe an experience like indescribable, but it was the word that presented itself most forcefully after entering the first New York exhibition of Icelandic artist JÃ³nsi. After a pandemic-induced spell limited to restricted screens and home stereo equipment, it’s truly something to walk around in the global presence of the sound generated by some 200 loudspeakers roaring in total darkness. At first there is nothing to see, as you walk thoughtfully, unsure of what might be in your midst. But then a light slowly comes on, and as the eye adjusts it becomes clear that you are surrounded by a ring of room-sized speakers on metal risers arranged in the service of Hrafntinna (Obsidian), an installation created to summon a volcano.
“Did you sit down? You have to sit down, it’s about putting the bass in your ass, âJÃ³nsi said during a recent presentation of her exhibit to Tanya Bonakdar, who first showed the Sigur RÃ³s star at her Los Angeles location. Angeles in 2019. Although I had wondered about the functionality of the sculptural bench-like intervention in the center of the room – a pristine black circle that somehow looks blacker than black – I hadn’t sat down. , preferring instead to bask in the uncertainty of not knowing in a state of such an immersion of signal jamming. But the circle hides a subwoofer, a type of speaker that emits bellowing bass – and also presents a good position to enjoy another sensory offering: a perfume pumped into the gallery, made from fossilized amber.
âIt’s basically a 35 million year old tree resin,â JÃ³nsi said. âThey mine it and distill it through a process called destructive distillation. You get a lot of smoke because it’s rock hard. It’s hard to do.
The smell of smoke, suggesting something not only burning but having started to burn a long long ago, mixes with sound to create an experience that JÃ³nsi hopes could transport gallery visitors to his homeland. “It was mainly me who was stuck in Los Angeles for two years because of Covid,” he said of the inspiration behind his artwork in the exhibit, which is on view until December 17. “I couldn’t see my family and friends because of the lockdown” – and he couldn’t see the eruption of Fagradalsfjall, the Icelandic volcano which began to spew lava after thousands of years of dormancy last spring. âI saw this rash happening through all my friends and family who went there,â JÃ³nsi said. “I was in LA, with the sun shining, I was just looking at this stuff and I wish I could see it and feel it.”
Sounds reminiscent of volcanic activity appear in the Hrafntinna (Obsidian) installation, which is partly inspired by the music from JÃ³nsi’s new album Obsidian. And the smell permeates the whole show, from the fossilized amber in the centerpiece on the ground floor of the gallery to the different scents at work in two separate rooms. upstairs. One room houses four murals, all textured and dark. “It’s a more normal piece of art, I guess,” JÃ³nsi said in front of Eldfjall (Volcano) 1, a framed panel made of resin and moss and something rotten inside. âI grow mold, then I put the resin on it to cover it. I put all kinds of shit in a plastic bag for a few weeks, fermenting stuff like yogurt. It smells absolutely horrible. In fact, you can still smell this one. I don’t know if you want to, but … “
Each of the two Eldfjall (Volcano) the works also incorporate sound, through directional loudspeakers emitting melancholy and melancholy ambient music beneath their surface. But two works entitled HrafntinnublÃ³mstur (Obsidian Flower)– with shards of obsidian blades arranged like flowers on burnt wood – stay silent, out of the imagination of any sounds they might conjure up. âObsidian is so sharp that they use it for scalpels for surgeries,â JÃ³nsi said.
In a separate room, SÃ³lgos (solar flare) is another installation with powerful sound and strobe light effects in the midst of another scent, this one called geosmin – “like the smell after a rainstorm,” JÃ³nsi said. “It’s one of the easiest molecules people smell.”
Although he did not mix geosmin himself, JÃ³nsi is an avid perfumer who started his hobby about 10 years ago. âThe scent is really interesting and really difficult to make,â he said. âIt’s hard to find information, and it’s really private. You start with essential oils and then you reach a peak, but there are thousands of aromatic molecules. I’ve been playing with them for a long time now, but there are so many, and there are different strengths, different [levels of] volatility. You have to be really patient, and I’m not a patient person. I want results now, but with the scent, you have to let it ripen so that all the aromatic molecules can mix.
Results can be inconsistent. âI always call it a bottomless pit of disappointment,â he said with a fatalistic Icelandic laugh. âI might be mixing it a day with say 30 to 50 molecules, but if you put in a drop of something and it’s too strong, you have to start over. But I love it, and I’m a little addicted.
The same goes for work in the art world, which JÃ³nsi said he turned to after making a name for himself musically with Sigur RÃ³s and on his solo records, in addition to the collaborative music he composed with Alex Somers and as part of the duo Dark Morph (with sound artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff). âWhen I was a teenager I painted and always did stuff. If I hadn’t gone into music, I probably would have found something like painting, âhe said. âBut music took over and has been doing it for 25 years. Now I’m trying to experiment a bit more and diversify into the gallery space. It’s scary but fun.
He continued, âAs a touring musician, you’re always in a new place. Every night you put on a show and then you go. But in a gallery space, you have months to really control a space, polish it, and do whatever you want. It’s interesting to do something exactly the way you want it to be. As a musician, you never have time to make things perfect or to make them very complicated.