Yarat Contemporary Art Space, Baku, Curated by Suad Garayeva Maleki, 2019

Audiences enter an octagonal, pavilion-like structure and sit in dark, semi-private spaces. As a soundtrack (voice and music) begins to play, eight performers execute a 12 minute-long action by moving segments of the structure from the outside. The displacement of layers of the pavilion makes for slivers of light to appear, move and combine. Steel spheres throughout the space knock constantly on the walls and pavilion by use of electromagnets. Sleipnir draws from the contested theories of the Norwegian migratory theorist and pseudoscientist Thor Heyerdahl, who claimed that Scandinavians descend from people near the Caspian region, in what today is Azerbaijan. Sleipnir refers to the god Odin’s eight-legged horse, which might actually refer to a ship. The central text in the sound element is an adaptation of Norse mythology, Heyerdahl’s writings and Jorge Luis Borges’ story The Aleph which tells of an object where one can see every place on earth at the same time. The music is composed after research on musical figures that allegedly evidence links between distant parts of the world.

From review by Leslie Ann Gray for Art Asia Pacific

“In this work, the Copenhagen- and Bergen-based, Colombian artist delves into a theoretical cultural and mythological link between Norway and Azerbaijan through a massive installation of a pavilion created at the intersection of three elements: Jorge Luis Borges’s 1945 short story “The Aleph,” about an eponymous point in space through which everything in the universe can be seen simultaneously; the Norse mythology of the wise god Mimir, whose severed head serves as a guide for Odin; and the writings of Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, who hypothesized that the Scandinavian people originated from what is now Azerbaijan, based on what appear to be ancient rock carvings of Viking ships throughout the country. Though Heyerdahl’s theory lacks any scientific basis, he was popular in both the Soviet Union and the West for his attempts to bridge ostensibly disparate civilizations through imagining possible points of shared knowledge and culture.

With reference to its namesake, Sleipnir features eight black legs suspended from the top of a large red pavilion, which is spacious enough to encase eight people for the duration of the ten-minute sound performance within the structure that mingles Gómez-Egaña’s narration and a composition drawing from traditional Norwegian and Azerbaijani folk music. Black dividers inside the pavilion separate the participants, who are immersed in complete darkness, barring moments of filtered light emerging through small windows manipulated to the rhythm of the soundtrack. Eight assistants engage in their own performance of signaling to one another as they operate the large, black, exterior levers that open and close the pavilion, which in turn are connected to wires that extend across the ceiling and down the pavilion walls, suspending metal spheres that softly and rhythmically thud against the structure. Inside the pavilion, the levers can be heard groaning against the structure as they move, evoking the sensation that one is within the hull of a ship, on a journey through autobiographically-inspired recollections of people and places that appear in the artist’s narration. His tale is of the desire not only to see but also to control and consume the entire world at once, revealing in the end the shortcomings of such endeavors. Incorporating excerpts from the texts that inspired the piece, Gómez-Egaña explains how Odin wished to possess all of the wisdom contained in Mimir’s head and finds parallels with Borges’s Aleph, a symbol for man’s arrogant ambition to understand the universe in its entirety. This desire is manifested in a fictional house built by the narrator’s father for his mother on a private island, in total isolation from the world—a dream that is recast as a nightmare when the island is overrun with scorpions and the family is haunted by the creatures, suffering for the father’s hubris.”

Photos: Courtesy YARAT Contemporary Art Space, Photographer PAT Verbruggen