great auk


geirfugl / great auk

120 x 40 x 40 cm
reykjavik art museum


Walking along Reykjavík’s south coast, one encounters a penguin-like bird on a boulder in the sea (see editorial). Clearly artificial—metallic, smooth—it is a duplicate of the extinct great auk. Out of reach in the cold sea, Ólöf’s sculpture is a beaked ghost located at the coast off of which the last known nesting pair of great auks was killed in 1844. Aware that the great auks were near extinction, collectors offered large sums of money for display specimens, and the pair was killed by Icelanders for a foreign collector. More than a century-and-a-half after the last great auk was killed, the nation’s reassessment of its past took the form of a campaign to acquire a stuffed great auk reputed to have been “from” Iceland. Both the 1844 killings and the 1973 purchase from Sotheby’s involved dealings with foreign collectors; and Ólöf’s representation of the extinct great auk, about twice the size of the actual bird, is cast of aluminum, a material whose production for foreign interests has led to further impoverishment of Iceland’s natural environment. The irony of the great auk’s extinction is that its rarity was its demise: it was the desire to display the rare bird that contributed to its value and hastened its extinction. The politics and aesthetics of display are central preoccupations to many of Ólöf’s works. In a 1996 exhibition at The Living Arts Museum, animals associated with Icelandic folklore are represented in plaster and displayed as if neoclassical figures. In the 1998 Corpus Dulcis, fragments of an idealized male body are cast in chocolate and heaped on a podium for the consumption of viewers.
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