A few of Steinunn Thorarinsdottir “Borders” sculptures in Grant Park.
“Borders” — hosted by the Chicago Park District in conjunction with the Grant Park Conservancy and the Icelandic Ministry of Culture, and sponsored by Bloomberg — will remain through spring, the sculptures looming with pupil-less gazes over park visitors. (Each aluminum piece weighs 180 pounds; each iron piece weighs 440 pounds.) Thorarinsdottir, who sometimes “stands and peeks” at passers-by, said she enjoys watching her art evoke different reactions from people.
And that’s the fundamental idea of this exhibition: Viewers make what they will of it. The pieces can be poked, stroked, cuddled — so long as the art stimulates some kind of mental and physical response, Thorarinsdottir said she considers her mission accomplished.
Her artwork, which took two years to complete, was first installed in 2011 at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Thorarinsdottir said she consciously placed her figures in that socially and politically charged environment, and her choice to install them in Chicago’s Solti Garden was just as careful and deliberate.
Days before “Borders” was installed, she sat on one of the garden’s benches for hours considering how her sculptures would fit into her surroundings. She recalled listening to the languages spoken by people of all sizes and colors, and she knew she had found her gallery space.
“I wanted the installation to relate to people that wherever we come from, whatever our life experiences, we’re all connected in shape and spirit,” she said. “This garden was my first choice, a natural choice.”
The park, situated just south of the Art Institute of Chicago, provides the intimacy of an enclosed room in an area heavy with foot traffic. The lattice of tree trunks forms the walls, brambly branches netting up into a leafy canopy.
“Some sites are too big, but this garden had a nice body. I like that it forms a natural ‘border’ that the viewer can cross and connect,” Thorarinsdottir said.
Thorarinsdottir purposely left her androgynous figures “neutral.” Some may be sitting, a couple kneeling, others standing, but their faces are left enigmatic. Her Icelandic background influenced her philosophy, she said: “In Iceland, it’s an island with lots of space, very few people, tons of organic nature. So everyone in Iceland gives this feeling that what you are, what you do, matters. We are individuals, but we are also all connected, we are all part of humanity.”