Chromo Sapiensby Polly Leonard
As the visitor walks into the converted warehouse, they are confronted with a cavernous space drowning in colour. In this multi-sensory installation, three distinct chambers surround the visitor with synthetic hair, which has been dyed all the hues of the rainbow.
Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, or Shoplifter, as she is known professionally, is one of Iceland's leading contemporary artists. Based in New York, she builds scuptures out of synthetic and natural hair, exploring themes such as vanity, fashion, self-perception, and beauty. Hair is her primary material because Shoplifter considers it to be a creative fibre that allows people to express their individuality. In many ways, our hair can be viewed as a canvas on which to create art - or with which we can create art. This subversiveness and challenging of expectations is a key part of Shoplifter's artistic persona and humour plays a large role in her art.
The aforementioned installation is named Chromo Sapiens - playing on the human species name Homo sapiens and the prefix chromo-, which comes from the Greek word for colour. It is on display as part of the 2019 Biennale di Venezia (Venice), for which, Shoplifter was chosen to represent Iceland. Made up of three distinct parts, Chromo Sapiens first takes the visitor through a dark passage resembling the interior of a volcano. This is Primal Opus, where the music of Icelandic cult metal band HAM provides an extra sensory dimension to the experience.
Next is Astral Gloria, which explodes into bright colours and provides a stark contrast to the previous chamber. Cathedral-high and opulent, Astral Gloria is almost euphoric in its design. Somewhere between the two extremes, lies the third chamber: Opium Natura. This cave is shimmering white and pastel-coloured, perhaps showing a glimpse of the artist's vision of Heaven.
View Shoplifter's installation at the Pavilion of Iceland at the Biennale Arte 2019, Spazio Punch, Giudecca, Venice, Italy. Until 24 November 2019.