Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir (aka Shoplifter)

Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir (aka Shoplifter) / Nervescape IV, installation view, Punkt Ö, Moss, Norway / Image courtesy: The artist / © The artist

Nervescape V by Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir adorns the walls of the Long Gallery, transforming GOMA as we celebrate our tenth birthday. Exuberant, tactile and sprawling, her installation is constructed from massed bundles of synthetic hair. Under her influence, the smooth white walls of the gallery become something much more animal, untamed and surreal. 

Arnardóttir works with the unusual medium of hair, her bold application of colour reminds us of dynamic painting traditions such as Fauvism and Abstract Expressionism. Here the colour has a life force and energy all of its own, gaining volume and texture as it spreads across the wall.

Many of us tend to our hair every day: brushing, fluffing, smoothing, curling, clipping and colouring. This can be a way of projecting a story about who we are – perhaps signalling that we are a unique individual (crazy purple), or a member of a club (neat trust me). Underneath this outer layer of hair, immediately beneath our skull, is the nerve-scape of grey and white-matter from which a more internal sense of self develops. Long hair-like neurons hum with electrical impulses as we process sensory input, access past memories, appraise complex situations and make new decisions. Our nervous system underpins these mechanisms and governs more unconscious bodily processes also. Nervescape V is a super-sized nervous system connecting people and ideas within the 'body' of the gallery.

Arnardóttir invites visitors to be embraced by the abundance of Nervescape V. The work is sensual and enveloping, its softness evokes maternal comfort, suggesting a child cuddling a soft toy. It is also unsettling. To see such a volume of hair is strange, even grotesque. Immersive and tactile, Arnardóttir's work invites a return to our primal instincts.