Hrafnhildur Arnardottir aka ShoplifterThu 08 Oct 2009 - Sat 14 Nov 2009
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Trolley Gallery is proud to present the first London solo show by Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardottir. Also known as Shoplifter, for this exhibition we have invited SHOPLIFTER to BURN TROLLEY.
Trolley Gallery is proud to present the first London solo show by Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardottir. Also known as Shoplifter, for this exhibition we have invited SHOPLIFTER to BURN TROLLEY.

For several years Shoplifter has worked exploring the use and symbolic nature of hair, and its visual and artistic potential. It started as a discovery in an antique shop, a lock of hair encased as a keepsake and shaped as a flower, and has since evolved as an exploration of hair's meaning - from strength, self-image and beauty, to vanity, decoration and fashion. Against the backdrop of darkness, the gallery is transformed to the lair of a wild and hairy mythical bear. The creature emerges from the floor, like an old colonial tiger rug, conjoined to the base of a pronged lightning tree. Combatting the beast is a shield of hair, a protective forcefield or 'hair-field', a backdrop of a shimmering waterfall-cum-yeti, drawing on the element of the freaky fairytale, and recalling Rapunzel with her flowing cascades. The scene is cartoon-like, but full of raw energy and unpredictable and unexpected narrative.

Visually, hair being a vital and fascinating aspect of identity and the individual, Shoplifter seeks to ask what extent it can be used as a material to reflect this. "I am occupied with human behaviour, how the environment affects us and where we get our ideas of who and how we are as individuals." As such the bear is given a badly styled haircut, instantly transforming it into a 'vanity beast from hell.' A reflection of self, hair holds the essence of empowerment of the individual - angered that someone has attacked its prowess and virility, the bear would also not be so powerful, if it were not so hairy.

In the window of the gallery, a sprawling combustion of colours invites the viewer to enter a ring of fire, as they step into the darkened room before coming face to face with the beast. This firewall of hair is complex and interweaving, as various coloured plaits and ropes entwine and writhe with each other, the colour scheme of red, orange, white and yellow evoking the sun in a fireball of fibres. This work follows from a collaboration last year which resulted in a huge installation of brightly coloured hair in the window of MoMA, New York. Shoplifter comes from a background in painting, the brushstrokes now replaced with the organic textures of fibre, and the ego-expressionistic gesture with the feminine craft and care of weaving; the blocks of colour expressed not through paint but strands and strands of coloured synthetic hair. Working also in the two dimensional, a wall-piece here explores painterly aspects of abstraction and colour through composition and form, dictated by the colour of the hair in its geometric arrangement as it is strung across the gallery.

The belief that an obsession with hair and appearance is a vanity is often subverted in her work, hence the excessive abundance of hair transformed into a thing of beauty, or the amplification of a traditional braid into miles and miles of intricate and seductive tapestry. "Vanity is to a different extent on the surface of my work and sometimes it appears only vaguely or in an abstract way, but it plays a role whether it is visible in the work or only in the air when I make it. [...] I really respect the human need to decorate oneself and one's environment, be it driven by vanity and obsession or sincere love for beauty, which in and of itself is vanity at its best."

The creation of mythical and fantasy characters, as in the bear and its hairy tableaux, also reflects other contemporary Icelandic artists' utilisation of stories and landscapes to create a personal symbolism, echoed in the work of her contemporary Gabriela Fridriksdottir, and seen in the influence of the country on artists such as Matthew Barney.

The nature of hair being both natural and artificial, brings a duality to proceeding, the real is a harness of a precious, fragile and personal material, the synthetic synonymous with wigs, characters and fake appearances that could be deceptive. The inability to tell real from fake also lends a sense of mystery and curiosity. The hair is at once a human and real entity as well as a fantasy on which to project out human fascinations and rituals. Though her Shoplifter moniker has little to do with kleptomaniac tendencies, it however does lend itself rather well to the anarchy in creativity present in the exhibition.