‘Mom’s Balls’: A Dialogue Across 3 Generations

Video by Berlin Art Link Productions, Text by Isabelle Hore-Thorburn // Dec. 20, 2018

‘Mom’s Balls’ is an intergenerational dialogue between Ágústa Oddsdóttir, her mother, the late Elín Jónsdóttir, and artist Egill Sæbjörnsson, the son of Ágústa and grandson of Elín. The exhibition was curated by Sæbjörnsson, together with writer, curator and the co-founder of Modern Painters magazine, Karen Wright. Visitors were led through an opening day program, which began their exploration of the family’s integrated bodies of work at the Old City Library, where works by grandmother and mother, as well as Sæbjörnsson were exhibited side by side. The tour continued on to Hótel Holt, home to hundreds of works by some of Iceland’s key twentieth century artists. Next, they travelled out of Reykjavik to the future site of Skúli Mogensen’s sculpture park, which also displayed works by Ágústa and Elín amongst works by contemporary Icelandic artists within an interior exhibition space. The program then ended at Nedri-Hals i Kjos, the family’s old farm house. Here, works by grandmother and mother were installed in an immersive environment, recreating the atmosphere of their domestic life and Ágústa’s childhood.

The title, ‘Mom’s Balls’, recognises the ingenuity and resourcefulness of female artists, who have laboured to maintain their artistic practice, notwithstanding the demands of domestic life and limited resources. While raising six children with her farming husband, Elín Jónsdóttir wove, sewed and found innovative channels to express herself. Like many Icelandic women, she was thrifty – recycling clothes and old socks and making new wearable objects.

Nothing escaped Elín’s resourceful eye; reused Christmas ribbons were woven into colourful shopping bags and old stockings transformed into carpets. Domestic debris was perpetually turned into both beautiful and utilitarian objects. By transforming her family’s old clothing into literal “balls,” Ágústa continued Elín’s remarkable legacy while developing her own distinct practice and methodology, in which each ball would contain the secrets of their origin.

The exhibition at Nedri-Hals i Kjos includes archival material relating to the creation of the balls, collected by Ágústa. Karen Wright has incorporated works by all three family members. Egill also assisted in the creation of the installation and contrasted an interactive map with the help of his “trolls,” Ūgh and Bõögâr, who were first presented as part of his Icelandic Pavilion exhibition at the 2017 Venice Biennale. The map was designed to attract visitors to the site, and encourage them to leave Reykjavik for the surprising beauty of the landscape and thereby extend the area of art exhibitions from Reykjavik.

The defining attraction is nevertheless the work of artists Elín and Ágústa. Their work—though never exhibited in a museum—bears far closer attention, particularly at this moment. It is through the women who worked at home that crafts were preserved and passed down through generations. Their life’s work is a testament to that legacy. The art is compelling and particularly timely at the moment as recycling, crafts and textiles attract greater attention from institutions. ‘Mom’s Ball’s’ should be seen as a precursor, a teaser for the bigger show ‘Lasso’ that will take place in 9 different countries, starting in 2019.

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