Opening at the AGO on July 22, Hrafntinna (Obsidian) is the artist’s first work to be acquired by a museum internationally.
TORONTO — A unique sensory experience from one of Iceland’s most acclaimed artists and musicians, this summer the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) invites visitors to step inside a volcano. Created by Jón Þór "Jónsi” Birgisson, Hrafntinna (Obsidian) (2021) immerses visitors in a dark ring of sound, scent, lighting and reverberation, for a dramatic re-imagining of the 2021 eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano. Curated by Xiaoyu Weng, the AGO’s Carol and Morton Rapp Curator, Modern & Contemporary Art, this is the first artwork by Jónsi to be acquired by a public museum internationally. Free for AGO Members, Annual Pass holders, all Indigenous Peoples, and visitors aged 25 and under, the installation opens to AGO Members on July 22 and to AGO Annual Pass holders and the public on July 23.
Internationally renowned as the lead singer of the band Sigur Rós, for more than two decades Jónsi has collaborated with musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers to create a robust body of work across disciplines. “Trapped in Los Angeles by the pandemic, unable to witness the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano, Jónsi was inspired to find a way to overcome geographical limitations,” says Weng. “With this immersive installation, he demonstrates the power of non-visual senses to connect and move us.”
Making its debut in the AGO’s Signy Eaton Gallery, Jónsi: Hrafntinna (Obsidian) invites visitors to undertake a uniquely multisensory art experience. Sitting on a bench surrounded by a ring of 195 speakers in moments of total darkness, visitors can expect, says the artist, to be engulfed and transported by sound and smell.
“Despite their invisibility, scent and music have so much capacity to make us feel,” says Jónsi. “They engage us physically, trigger us physically, while simultaneously allowing our minds to wander—through memory, across landscapes—which is really therapeutic. Throughout the pandemic all we did was look. We looked at screens, looked at what we’re missing. I believe scent and sound are an alternate, more exciting way of ‘seeing’.”
Inspired by Icelandic choral music, the installation’s electrifying soundscape intricately melds natural, man-made and machine sounds, including Jónsi’s own voice, lava flowing and rocks crumbling. In the air hangs the sweet and smoky scent of fossilized amber. Overhead, intermittent flashes of light break the darkness, suggestive of the volcanos own mouth. The work, like the Fagradalsfjall volcano itself, concludes its performance, not with a fiery visual display, but with silence.
Jónsi: Hrafntinna (Obsidian) is expected to remain on view through 2023. For more details on how to book your tickets or to become a Member or Annual Passholder, visit ago.ca.
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Jónsi: Hrafntinna (Obsidian) is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Contemporary programming at the AGO generously supported by the Canada Council of the Arts.
Based in Los Angeles, California, Jón Þór "Jónsi” Birgisson (b. 1975) is an Icelandic interdisciplinary artist. He first gained international recognition as the lead vocalist of experimental rock band Sigur Rós. In recent years, he has attracted global attention not only for his innovative instrumentation and vocal ability, but also for his emerging multidisciplinary visual art practice. Over the past two decades, Jónsi has collaborated with musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers to create a robust body of work. Working with creative figures like Doug Aitken, Cameron Crowe, Merce Cunningham, Olafur Eliasson and Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Jónsi’s artistic collaborations have resulted in prestigious awards and critical acclaim.
In addition to his Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song, Jónsi is the winner of the 2015 Annie awards for Outstanding Achievement in Music in an Animated Feature Production for his work on How to Train Your Dragon 2, and the winner of the 2012 BMI Film Music Award for his score of We Bought A Zoo. In 2018, Jónsi contributed an original song titled Revelation to the soundtrack of Joel Edgerton's successful film Boy Erased, for which he was nominated for the Golden Globe and the Awards Circuit Community Awards. He is the composer of the score of Cameron Crowe’s 2012 film We Bought a Zoo, and musical contributor to the films How to Train a Dragon (2010) and How to Train a Dragon 2 (2014), and Vanilla Sky (2001).
Solo and group exhibitions of Jónsi's immersive audio installations and sculptural works have been held at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York and Los Angeles: Obsidian, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2021); Return of the Real, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2020); Jónsi, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles (2019); and Songs in the Dark, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2019).
ABOUT THE AGO
Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually. The AGO Collection of more than 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. In 2019, the AGO launched a bold new initiative designed to make the museum even more welcoming and accessible with the introduction of free admission for anyone 25 years and under and a $35 annual pass. Visit AGO.ca to learn more.
The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors and private-sector partners.
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