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At Seljavegur, Iceland, a week into the unthinkable war and displacement in Ukraine, and with little hope for a return to peace, news of an event circulated, which has a profound impact on the artist's work.  Organized by the singer Guðrún Jóhanna Ólafsdóttir, a gathering, a peaceful protest, a SINGING FOR UKRAINE, by local people was to take place, outside the Russian ambassador's residence on Túngata, 200 people then walked to the Russian embassy on Garðarstræti and sang again, in support for the people of Ukraine. Following this event, (listening repeatedly to the recording of the song for Ukraine), Buttner began giving form, (through the exposition of materials to hand), to ideas of the human condition, of the body, of displacement, of seeking the familiar in a foreign landscape, of shifts between the expected and the unanticipated. 


Through a process of critically engaged contemporary art, abstract, hybrid sculptures, paintings and performance works evolved. Graphite on paper, (women carried on the backs of other women), worn fabrics, neatly folded, placed on the floor and hung on the wall. A mix of Icelandic culture, regional differences, local aesthetics, graffiti, foam heads, half woman/ half fish, nipples exposed, (resourceful and industrious), the Herring Girls. Native plants, Hárbrúða (fruits of creeping Avens), its seeds, primitive and sensuous. Volcanic eruptions, toxic gases, new land forming, aurora borealis,  Steinvarða (stone cairns) stacked, finding a path, through jagged lava fields, through mosses, and through sodden grasses.  


Chasing the Blackbird, a film, outward facing, framed by a window, a pinhole wooden box, yellow tissue paper, seeking the familiar, sounds of nature, a live collaborative performance, a blurring of boundaries, a social gathering, resistance, a response to place, ‘a recognition of the connections between events’.

During the live performance, the distribution of roles is blurred, and spectator boundaries cross. Buttner invited the spectator to take her place, to crouch down on the floor, hold an awkward body pose, and watch the film from within the pinhole wooden box. Reactivating the form of the artwork, and blurring boundaries coincide with the artist’s belief that contemporary art in which roles swap places and powers, highlights the borderless, transgressive aspect of institutional critique and appropriates shifting the space from institutional to social.


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SINGING FOR UKRAINE; Source (RÚV News Agency, Alexander Elliott)


Susan Buttner, Chasing The Blackbird,, 2022, HD video  02.42min with sound. 

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