Skammdegi series: Vilma Bader

The series of Once upon a Time in Iceland

“Very intense and highly productive.” ~Vilma Bader

1. Can you share with us your background and how it relates to your artistic practice?

I did my undergrad at the National Art School in Sydney where I majored in painting. NAS is an atelier style art school and unique in many ways with its strong tradition in drawing. 

We had twelve hours of compulsory drawing a week – observational, general and life. Itwas as well compulsory in first year to take on all disciplines of Fine Arts including not only drawing but also painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, ceramics as well as Art History. The three years at NAS were a big influence in my formative years but by the end of my third year my practice was getting increasingly conceptual. I went on to do Honours, a Masters by research and a PhD on an Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship at Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney. While process was the focus at NAS, my years at SCA was research based. My time at SCA was about critical and rigorous thinking. I like to think that my time at NAS taught me my craft and my time at SCA gave me wings. 

2. Can you tell us more about your work?

I am a research based visual artist and my work is fundamentally a discourse on representation. My practice embraces a variety of disciplines that include installation, painting, sculpture, photography and performance as well as a plethora of influences from various movements. It is not so much the ideologies of a certain movement that interest me, rather, they are above all else, repertoires of forms to make use of. Framed by linguistics and semiotics, my work looks at the mnemonic function of space in the construction of identity. Most of my work is installation or serial-based. While the simulacrum in my work serves representation and makes a unique assertion, the similitude within serial repetition creates a multiplicity of assertions. This refusal to allow interpretive prominence and acknowledge any single example at the expense of another brings a dialectical tension. Linkages are made between parts only to be lost. The viewer enters into a continuous cycle of engagement and disengagement. This cycle is not neutral. As a formal device, it challenges the viewer to the temptation of systematic thought and categorization. It also questions the division between the personal and universal. It invites the viewer’s interaction and own meaning. While my work has an implicit social thrust, it is not explicitly political. Since it is not possible to speak from a position outside the system, my work endeavors to speak within its own system. This creation of systems takes the form of lists, enumerations and reiterations, serialities, labels and tags. It urges the viewer to work through and be attentive to the mnemonic messages disclosed and revealed through the work. 

3. Why did you decide to join the Skammdegi Festival?

I was totally intrigued by the idea of immersing myself in the dark winter of North Iceland for an extended period and making work during the duration of my stay.

4. Is Listhús your first residency?

I participated twice in residencies in Australia which is my home country. Listhús is my second overseas residency. My first international residency was in 2016 at Arteles in Finland.

On a practical level, residencies abroad are more challenging. One does not have recourse to an unlimited supply of art material. Instead, one has to look more closely and be more inventive. Less somehow becomes more.

The Comparisons between Ólafsfjörður Iceland and Hämeenkyrö Finland cannot be more striking in difference. While both locations are rural, Ólafsfjörður is a small town with limited amenities but all the infrastructure is within reach. There is one of everything -­‐ a library, a supermarket, a cafe, a restaurant, a sports complex which includes a swimming pool, gym etc. Most importantly, everything is within a few minutes’ walk. Transport to elsewhere is somehow difficult and has to be carefully planned, particularly in winter. Hämeenkyrö was even more isolated in that the village did not have an infrastructure (such as a food store etc.). The resident artists had two cars at our disposal. Distance was manageable as a vehicle gave us access to bigger neighbouring locations to access our daily needs. That was in some ways distracting and took away from the intensity of the experience. Ólafsfjörður is self-­‐ sufficient and one can fuse in the pace of every day life. 

5. Is Skammdegi Festival the first festival you participated in?

In 2012, I participated in a number of festivals in the Czech Republic. They involved seven performances at Letní Letná Theatre and Circus Festival, the Kutná Hora Summer Festival, and the VyšeHrátky Puppet Festival. The Skammdegi Festival in Iceland and the Summer Festival in Prague operate on different platforms. My experience in the Czech Republic and Ólafsfjörður cannot be compared, not even remotely. Both are equally unique.

6. How do you feel after living in Ólafsfjörður/Iceland for a month (December) so far?

Very intense and highly productive.

7. What is your plan for the second half of Skammdegi, in January?

Complete focus in developing and finishing my project and show the result at Skammdegi Festival.


8. What are you going to create/present during Skammdegi Festival?

A series of tableaux that extend to story telling. In these tableaux both the past and the present as well as myth and reality merge.

Many of my interests feed in this project. I am interested in the role of myth, psychic phenomena, alternate states of perception and consciousness, magical or superstitious beliefs and their place within peoples’ knowledge. Characteristics of the Icelandic sagas fit in categories of the marvelous. The decision to use textile in this body of work is its association with warmth, comfort and storytelling.

9. What is your plan for 2018?

After Skammdegi I definitely want to show the work in Australia and elsewhere in Iceland.

Vilma Bader is a painter and an installation artist from Australia. Her research-based practice is informed by a wide variety of modern and contemporary issues. Framed by linguistics and semiotics, her multidisciplinary work moves between figuration and abstraction, and questions the nature of representation.


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