Ragnhildur Jóhanns

Saturday 23rd of January, an exhibition of new works by Ragnhildur Jóhanns’s will open in Hafnarborg’s Sverrissalur. Ragnhildur focuses on the language in her art creation where she strives to create visual poems in the form of sculptures, collages, drawings or prints to give a few examples.

Ragnhildur Jóhanns (b. 1977) lives and works in Reykjavík. Since graduading from the Icelandic Art Academy in 2010, she has shown her work in exhibitions both in Icland and abroad. She is a member of the board of the Icelandic Sculptors Society and has worked on various art related projects such as curating exhibitions, publicing art books as well as being the editor for the art magazine Endemi.


by angela rawlings

Iceland’s national identity is rooted in its literary history.
Stretching from early international saga infamy to a flood
of contemporary literature, the nation’s love of books is
eagerly supported by a small island population with a near
100% Icelandic-language literacy rate. For Ragnhildur
Jóhanns, hands-on engagement with literature forms the
corpus of her work – troubling the division between author
and artist. This trouble forms a refreshing makery in a land
with so much emphasis on the literary.
Ragnhildur sources books as pre-loved, abandoned
hardcovers, found throughout the country’s used
bookstores, second-hand shops, and booths of Kolaportið’s
flea-market. She then performs vivisections on these
texts. To animate the material body of the book, which so
often becomes a footnote to a foregrounded semantic, is
to pervert the utility of the familiar object. In Ragnhildur’s
hands, vintage books undergo transmogrification to give
them a second, sensorial, aestheticized existence.
In the fourth winter month of Þorri, when most people
slumber through the quiet yawning of increased daily
sunlight, Ragnhildur has been busy making things up.
Where að dikta is to compose or to write, Ragnhildur has
created the neologism diktur to signify objects made through
the act of composing or writing. Her bookworks are diktur,
unexpected objects resulting from her acts of composing
with an X-Acto knife.

Select a book.

Select a knife.


Say what you see.


Mean what you see.
Ragnhildur’s exhibition, DIKTUR, is installed in
Hafnarfjörður’s cultural and arts centre Hafnarborg, in
the ground-floor gallery room Sverrissalur. From an aerial
perspective, Sverrissalur holds the shape of a hard-cover
book popping open at window’s side. The window opens
onto the town’s main pedestrian drag, inviting eyes to gaze
into the room through the shape of a propped-open book.

Icelandic boasts one word to denote collection and museum:
safn. In Ragnhildur’s DIKTUR, the safn grows monstrous;
reformed book-flesh resonates as a Shelley-esque
experiment to reposition the view and tactility of a literary
corporeality in a safn within a safn. A collection of treated
and altered books, exhibited. Library in an exhibition.

To experience DIKTUR, one approaches Sverrissalur through
a door at the left edge of what would be a book’s spine.
One enters DIKTUR through the spine. Each body becomes
a needle threading stitches through signatures, threading
steps through safn. The body threads through the skin of the
text, each text a visual poem of Ragnhildur’s devising.

For every body’s arrival, Ragnhildur has arranged books –
books arranged into signatures, books post-binding with hot
glue, books pre- hard-cover application (or is it post-?), the
hard covers removed. In Sverrissalur, Ragnhildur presents
books in partial undress, exposing their seams and scars.

Cut down and coverless, ink bleeds to the boundaries
of some book-blocks, marking frenetic lines along the
fore edges and heads. Lines as polygraph, spectrograph,
seismograph, encephalograph. Rows upon rows of
off-cut black books, shaped to the unconventional size of
18 cm x 8 cm, stand slender yet stunted. Spine-edge
hidden, page-edge visible. A shelving reversal.

On another wall, sculptural poetry: On another wall,
sculptural poetry: phrases fray from between page edges.
The density of the phrases, excised with speed and
exactitude, offers an intense and unexpected reading
experience. Each carved book becomes a safn-in-miniature,
curating the contents’ interior into feathery visual poems.
Light filters through fragile paper, a translucent skin on
which words are tattooed.

twisted my head
and more and more
flinging himself into my

Ef þú hefur átt
Hvers konar ljóð
Each body becomes a reader, a threader, patching disparate
words and phrases to reassemble meaning.

Overseeing the safn-surgery, Ragnhildur plays the
role of an anatomist who carves books to expose their
constituents. The result of her surgery is DIKTUR
the book, remade. In DIKTUR, Ragnhildur re-envisions
ways to read, ways to write, ways to remake with voice,
and ways to rejoin the meaning.