Iceland is the newest country in the world. Not in the sense of being newly sovereign (independence from Denmark happened in 1944), but the land itself is the youngest. Comprised of a string of volcanoes at the cusp of the Arctic Ocean, the island is situated in the last breath of the Gulf Stream, covering the landscape in bright green lichen and making it one of the most geologically striking places on Earth. Perhaps most commonly known to outsiders as the stopover between Europe and North America—a place to have a quick dip in a hot spring before catching your next flight. This coming and going, like the pulling apart of its two tectonic plates, echoes the constant energy of renewal churning just beneath the land’s surface. Created during a summer residency in Reykjavik, Lee Henderson’s exhibition, To Step From Shadow Into the Warmth of the Sun, takes Iceland’s landscape as its subject matter, but complicates its representation through various strategies, interrogating the mimetic impulse and desire for permanence.
Forecasts (2016/18) consists of a series of images taken from the front pages of the now-defunct Icelandic newspaper Fálkinn between 1938 and 1940. The pages have been matted to crop out the text, leaving only blue-ink images, then placed in frames mounted perpendicular to the gallery wall, so that both sides of the pages are visible. Strangely, despite the Fálkinn issues dating from the midst of World War II, they all feature striking images of the Icelandic landscape—hidden lagoons, geysers, and sweeping dales—instead of the tumult happening outside its borders. Henderson highlights these images to point to a distinctly Icelandic history of self-reflection, and the ongoing desire to see oneself (vis-à-vis the country) represented in images.
Recently, the dramatic increase in tourism has continued this proliferation of landscape imagery and its further circulation across the web. Untitled (Deluge) (2016/18) presents a literal cascade of images sourced from Google, flickering on a monitor with a gif-like quality, showing countless pictures of the Skógafoss waterfall and its nearly ever-present rainbow created from the mist. The accumulation of images portrays an algorithmic and digital permanence of the area, despite the fact that it has long suffered from erosion. Disrupting the visual clarity of this tourist imagery, a projected video, What Time Is It on the Sun? (2016/18), captures the twilight of the unsetting sun during the summer solstice through a blurred lens, and a series of photographs titled Northern Epic (2016/18) presents, in microscopic detail, the thick layers of street paint marking the centre line of a road. From this perspective, the accretion of paint layers recalls geological stratification, or the soft rolls of lava flows—suggesting both the potential monumentality of everyday things and the complicated desire to fix their permanence. Much like the ever-changing Icelandic topography, the works in this exhibition attempt to distill an essence of the landscape while suggesting that it may always be just outside our grasp.