States of the Arts


Distant Activities

by Steina Vasulka
Video art

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A whimsical shape shifts on the screen before us. It has the malleability of a lump of clay, mushrooming on a potter’s wheel. It could be a glowing amoeba, swelling and engulfing smaller blobs, which are unable to resist its quivering form. It may be a light display, an unfamiliar aurora throbbing with the changing of colours. In reality, it is live video feedback, controlled by the artist via a video keyer. An audio synthesiser converts the signals into an atmospheric drone, with the resulting hum acting as a soundtrack to the visuals. Here, Steina Vasulka performs video as if it is a musical instrument, with mesmerising results.

Words by Emma McKinlay

Of Horses and Men

directed by Benedikt Erlingsson
Feature film

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As sunlight washes over the muted tones of an Icelandic valley, binocular lenses flash. In this remote community, people watch each other from a cautious distance. Humans are not the only quiet observers; horses also survey the land. The two species are bonded by the tragicomedy that plays out on this rugged stage. Their relationship is encapsulated by the spectacle of a galloping hybrid beast. Six tethered horses fly in formation, twenty-four hooves pounding against the ashy soil. Two riders join them for the journey. A girl assists a lopsided man, bleeding and recently blinded. Just as recurrent close-ups capture the glassy glint of equine eyes, Of Horses and Men sparkles with dark humour.

Words by Emma McKinlay


by Jakobína Sigurðardóttir

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‘My farm / my farm and yours / sleeps happily at peace’. Winter’s icy chill is no match for the warm words of ‘Vigil’, a lullaby set against the backdrop of rural Iceland. Soothed and silent in ‘arms of snow’, the earth is as restful as the narrator’s daughter, to whom the poem is addressed. This idyll is threatened temporarily, when the distant world wakes from its own slumber in the third stanza, uneasy and ‘mad with grim enchantment’. Yet the anxious activity going on elsewhere does not cause much disturbance. Catching sight of their child’s bright blue eyes, ‘fearless and serene’, the narrator soon nestles back into a scene of familial bliss.

Words by John Wadsworth


by Sigur Rós

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We float in a serene, suspended soundworld, swaddled in a slow harmonic rhythm and smooth, soothing reverberations. An electric organ sustains simple chords in the key of E major. A cello bow strokes the strings of a guitar. A resonant tone pulses at regular intervals, reimagining the faint bleeps of hospital equipment as sonar beeps. Above, a swooning, soaring falsetto sings of the safety of the womb.  The song’s climax sees the intrauterine tranquility disrupted as our narrator is born, but we are soon calmed once more by comforting coos: ‘tjú, tjú’. To an Anglocentric ear, the single word may morph into two, ‘It’s you’, inviting us to imagine ourselves in the infant’s place.

Words by John Wadsworth

More to discover

Distant Activities: View the artwork on the Daniel Langlois Foundation’s website here.

Of Horses and Men: Watch the trailer here. Carlos Aguilar has interviewed the director, Benedikt Erlingsson, for IndieWire.

Vigil: Read the poem here. In its original Icelandic, ’Vigil’ (‘Vökuró’) was set to music by composer Jorunn Viðar, and was subsequently covered by Björk. Listen to Björk’s version of ‘Vökuró’ here.

Svefn-g-englar: Listen to the song here.

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