Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir / Shoplifter: Chromo Sapiens
Chromo Sapiens is the work of Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir / Shoplifter (b. 1969) and was the contribution of Iceland to the Venice Biennale in 2019. Icelandic band HAM creates a soundscape for the installation.
Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir / Shoplifter’s practice overlaps many different creative fields. From fashion to fiction to furry action to tactile friction, her oeuvre encompasses ways of making that belong to the visual arts and to design. For her installation, Chromo Sapiens, she continues to develop her unique textile techniques and specialized manipulations of her signature material; multi-colored synthetic hair extensions, creating a large-scale environment that can be compared to an overgrown plant-like organism or an inverted hairdo. Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir / Shoplifter invites you into a multi-sensory environment, “a journey into the center of a new hypernatural world”, to use her own words. As you explore it, you might very well find yourself becoming one with it, immersed in a dynamic field of vibrant color, textures, light, shadows and sound.
Chromo Sapiens is formed of three cave-like spaces. On entering the first, the Primal Opus, you are met with quite earthy, dark colors, subdued surfaces with flashes of neon peeking out. The pre-recorded soundscape of Icelandic cult metal band HAM can be heard, but furthermore, it can be felt by the body. Continuing into the second cavern, Astral Gloria is a spacious dome-like space with bright intensely loud neon colors and hairy stalactite and stalagmite-like formations. The third cave, Opium Natura, is somewhat of a garden of ethereal delights, a haven for breathing and contemplating, an airy space where the color palette is very light, with a range of whites mixed with pastels, soft on the eye and emanating light.
For Chromo Sapiens, the Icelandic band HAM was commissioned to create a special soundscape and an ‘Anthem’. The group has played an important role in Shoplifter’s creative processes ever since she was a teenager. She is enormously influenced by how HAM’s dynamic sound takes over our senses and echoes the darkness in all of us. In HAM’s own words from the Chromo Sapiens Anthem; You’re doomed, you’ve got no bloody chance. Until you open up your heart to Chromo Sapiens.
Birta Guðjónsdóttir, curator of the Icelandic Pavilion in Venice, reflects on the work: “Shoplifter has developed unique methods working with textile in a site-specific way, receiving much deserved critical praise and enjoying public renown. It is wonderful that our collaboration has brought us to Venice, where she has created her most ambitious project to date; an installation that challenges thought and perception of visitors. And now in the Reykjavík Art Museum. You enter the work as Homo Sapiens but you exit as Chromo Sapiens.”
The Venice Biennale was opened to the public on May 9, 2019 and was open until November 24. Chromo Sapiens has been widely praised by the 40,000 visitors to the Icelandic Pavilion in Venice, and reviews of the work have appeared in nearly one hundred international art magazines and newspapers, as well as the majority of visitors reflected on their experience on social media. It is a great pleasure for the Reykjavík Art Museum to invite viewers to experience the work in Iceland. The exhibition is a collaboration with the Icelandic Arts Center.