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27 Sep 2019

Interview: In Conversation with Shoplifter

Featured Image: Chromo Sapiens by Shoplifter / Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir for the Icelandic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2019. Image by Elisabet Davidsdottir.

Shoplifter/Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, is a New York-based Icelandic contemporary artist. She is known for creating immersive sculptures out of natural and synthetic hair, touching on themes of superficiality in modern culture.

Tell us a bit about your work and what you do:

For years I’ve been feeding my curiosity for color, texture and shapes as well as my fascination for human behavior, pop culture, mass production and the centuries old concepts of man vs. nature. In order to relay my interests and philosophy I’ve found an outlet in making artwork. I create everything from tiny sculptures and wall artwork, from various found materials that I tame or manipulate to the desired effect, to large scale hyper natural environments out of synthetic hair extensions.
I’ve frequently found myself working with fashion and pop culture and collaborate often with other artists, designers and brands.

How have you created a space for yourself, both in your work specifically and more generally as an artist?

It takes a while to find the right “shelf” for yourself in life and profession. It takes courage and a lot of carving out and testing the “rightness” of this shelf. I’m glad I gave myself a lot of headspace to do so. Good old intuition works wonders if you are in align with yourself and sincere. You gravitate towards places, people, materials, objects and ideals that shape your life philosophy and concept in your artwork. Slowly the boundaries between you and your artwork disappear and what remains is a personal harmony between life and work.

You work with an extraordinary color palette for many of your projects. What is the process in deciding which colors to use?

All colors are inspiring to me and when I use synthetic hair extensions I use the colors I can find. I do not color it myself so I am bound by the variety that already exists. First it was a lot of primary colors but soon I found out where to get more nuanced tones. By now I’ve figured out a way to blend different colored threads together to create new shades of color, without losing control over the fibers that tend to get so easily tangled into a mess. You can say I’m taming colors and looking for new and curious combinations.

 A lot of your work addresses themes of vanity and our obsession with self-image. With that in mind, what do you think of Instagram (and social media in general) being a tool for many emerging artists today in getting their work out? 

When I started addressing vanity in my work, our search for identity and group mentality I like to call modern tribes, we had no computers, no smartphones so the output was not possible. The work existing in the realm of social media adds a whole new layer to my work, especially since I consider myself a textile pop artist. Instagram and other tools of communicating with friends and strangers are fascinating, even the exhausting phenomena of selfies. I choose to use social media to promote my work because it works and is in alignment with my interest in human behavior and modern culture. I can communicate and reach a wider audience but more rewarding is the fact that I can experience and observe the reaction to the work after I leave it behind to be on display and I get to experience the reaction of the viewers.

Is there a particular artist who inspires you, or whose work you’re excited about?

On numerous occasions I’ve collaborated with the artist collective known as a.v.a.f. (assume vivid astro focus) most notably on our window installation at MoMA in 2008. The artwork produced by a.v.a.f is so flamboyant and maximalist, shockingly colorful and you can’t find more playful artwork. I am excited about the vast output of their work, it’s so immersive, interactive and inspiring on endless levels.