Constitution is a Process
We produced the installation and public meeting/debate for the exhibition Sovereign/Colony, at Gerðarsafn Museum, which was the first chapter of a 3 year program of the Cycle Music and Art Festival. This first chapter was curated by Sara S. Öldudóttir.
For this work, we requested the National Archive of Iceland to borrow one original copy of each of the constitutions that have been in place in Iceland, as well as a copy of the Proposal for a new Constitution for the Republic of Iceland in 1981 and the very last one written in 2011. The National Archive agreed to lend the original copies they had in store, which are the current Constitution of the Republic of Iceland from 1944, The Constitution of the Kingdom of Iceland from 1920 and The Constitution on the Special Affairs of Iceland from 1874. From the National Library the artists are also borrowing a copy of the publication Tíðindi frá þjóðfundi íslendinga árið 1851, containing the Danish constitution Grundlov, from 1849 which also was a constitution to Iceland. They also display the cover of the first absolutist Danish constitution of 1665, which was also a constitution to Iceland as part of the Danish colonies.
The drift wood vitrine, conceived as a sculpture by the artists, presents for the very first time publicly all the Icelandic constitutions, Producing an image of the history of the place it’s decolonization and democratization process. The entire installation was in process until the 20th September, after the public meeting and debate on the History and Future of the Icelandic Constitution. The work served the purpose of reflection and research of the subject; on the history of Iceland, it’s decolonization and democratization process through the reflection on it’s constitutional processes. It also became a platform for a performative discussion and agitation on the subject with many of it’s relevant key players in law, history, politics and civil activism in the country. An artistic project where arts met history, law, politics, civil courage and the public.
A Constitution is a Process is a new work that we define as an artistic gesture, in bringing into public viewing, and thus making public, the original books of the Icelandic constitutions. It marks the first ever public presentation of four original copies of the Icelandic constitutions, with two copies of new proposals. The vitrine is a sculptural device that allows the ready-mades to become together one historic image, in the particular socio-political context of today.
This is an image that reflects on the different historic moments the country has gone through and on the construction of it’s narrative and alter narratives in it’s process of sovereign and national identification; via it’s grounding laws and it’s society’s juridical contracts, from being a colony, to it’s struggle for and gaining of it, to it’s struggle for further decolonization and for further democratization and civic rights. Making public those documents that lay the juridical ground and pillars of Icelandic society as one multilayered image is a gesture that we consider both artistic and political.
The content of these books that have shaped and are a result of the countries political structure, it’s cultural legacy and thinking processes, have influenced the life of it’s inhabitants through different historic periods. To reflect on them and to debate them today at a yet again political cross-road is for us an experiment in engaged artistic practice. Taking those documents out of the drawer to draw an historic picture publicly and to pursue the debate on the constitution also in the art context through visual language and through that context back into society is an artistic and social intervention, that uses the agency of art and the reflective and experimental possibilities of the space of art to participate and trigger in a larger than the art context urgent and passionate societal and political discussion. What we did not for-see is how spot on the work was and that we would be putting the books on the table for public display just before the government had to resign again and the debate on the new constitutional draft could and would have it’s first public appearance in our installation with the table as it’s center, exercising not only a symbolic role but a real concrete role as a magnetic energetic field for a concrete and real debate on the history and the future of the constitution in Iceland today.
The books and copies in display in the vitrine are:
Kongeloven / The King ́s Law (1665)
Danmarks Riges Grundlov / Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark (1949).
Stjórnarskrá um hin sérstaklegu málefni Íslands / Constitution on the Special Affairs of Iceland (1874).
Stjórnarskrá konungsríkisins Íslands / Constitution of the Kingdom of Iceland (1920).
Stjórnarskrá lýðveldisins Íslands / Constitution of the Republic of Iceland (1944).
Frumvarp til stjórnskipunarlaga / Proposal for a New Constitution for the Republic of Iceland (1983).
Frumvarp til stjórnarskipunarlaga / Proposal for a New Constitution for the Republic of Iceland (2011).