Different art disciplines come together in the installation Lusus naturae, creating a flowing experience of a fascinating world of sound and image. Music and images combine in a 3D animation projected onto screens with the accompaniment of a live music performance. The work is collaboration between the visual artists Ólöf Nordal and Gunnar Karlsson and the composer Þuríður Jónsdóttir.
Lusus naturae presents a dreamlike vision of the deep seas. It tells the story of the circle of life: the birth of fictional beings, their existence, death, and rebirth. The course of events is slow, like in the pressure areas in the abyss. Sound and images pull the audience into territory that borders on the natural and the supernatural, figurative and abstract. Exotic creatures that are still completely rooted in reality conjure up a place of strange encounters of the past and the future, tranquillity and instability, a beginning and an end. Are they prototypes of life or visions of an inescapable future? But as with any lusus, playfulness is never far away and fantasy merges with reality.
Lusus naturae is a Latin concept; lusus means ‘joke’ and therefore lusus naturae is a joke of nature, when nature shows its playful side. Within biology the concept is often used to describe unexplained phenomena in nature, the inexplicable and unclassifiable, all kinds of distortions and disfigurement, either caused by man, coincidence or deviations from normal development. In this work we sink into the abyss and watch the bizarre beings living there, their appearance and construction characterized by mirroring, repetition, and symmetry. Meaningless repetition is both mesmerizing and enchanting, and we are simultaneously reminded of how the tiniest deviation from otherwise perfect cellular activity can have peculiar effects.
The shape and construction of the creatures, which are both familiar and strange to us, are puzzling as they comprise different aspects such as humour, horror, and beauty. The creatures remind us of the grotesque, a term originally used for vivid Roman murals with monsters and beings such as centaurs and satyrs. Presently, the term rather refers to bad taste, ugliness, disgust or excess, evoking the discomfort we experience when the laws of nature are broken. The creatures in Lusus naturae lead us into grotesque territory, evoking feelings of discomfort, pity, and unexpected empathy.
The soundscape of the work underlines the weight of the deep, and is inspired by the same concepts as the visual aspect of the work, body sounds running through the entire piece. The music is written for a tenor, contra bassoon, and flutes, and it is also developed from basic sinus frequencies. The music is twofold, on one hand there is a soundscape which is a permanent part of the installation, on the other is a live performance on three occasions during the exhibition period.
Ólöf Nordal has a successful career as a visual artist in Iceland and abroad. She uses various media to channel her work, primarily sculpture, photography, and video installation, in addition to creating works for public spaces. She has tackled various topics regarding culture, origin, and folklore, working with local and global matters. Gunnar Karlsson is a pioneer in Icelandic animation and works both as director and creative director on his films, which have received numerous awards at international film festivals. His latest full-length animated feature was Thor – the Legend of Valhalla. Gunnar Karlsson is also an avid illustrator and political cartoonist as well as a painter. The composer Þuríður Jónsdóttir has written various types of compositions, some include electronic sounds, audience participation, dramatics, and sounds from nature. Her works have been performed by Icelandic and international orchestras at renowned music festivals. Þuríður Jónsdóttir has been nominated for the Icelandic Music Awards and the Nordic Music Prize. Gunnar Karlsson, Þuríður Jónsdóttir, and Ólöf Nordal have collaborated before, on Nordal’s video work Sealmaiden (2006–2009), the audiovisual happening Cock’s Egg (2005), and the multimedia project Hafurinn og hallarfrúin (2009).
The artists received support from the National Artists Fellowship and The Icelandic Visual Arts Fund. The exhibition is a part of Reykjavik Arts Festival 2014.