The list of their upcoming shows is extensive, and this doesn’t make it any easier to meet up with Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson in Berlin, where they are currently living, following a yearlong residency at the city’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien. Madrid, London, Linz, Milan, Warsaw, Rotterdam – and all since September! Castro & Olafsson really are international artists, quite aside from the fact she is from Spain and he Iceland, and that they studied and lived in the Netherlands for several years. They are currently also nominated for the Prix de Rome, the Dutch prize for contemporary art.
Much of their work, in a wide range of media, investigates the structures of contemporary society, the effects of globalisation and of territorial exclusion. In their ongoing series of filmic interviews, Avant-Garde Citizens, (2007–), they record the histories of people classed as illegal immigrants – why and how they got to live in the Netherlands and how, as unwanted aliens, they manage to get by – aiming to familiarise a general audience with men and women whose only crime is the absence of a stamp in their passports.
Sometimes Castro & Olafsson’s work takes a more lighthearted form, as in Uterus Flags (2008), small triangular pennants carrying emblematic renderings of female reproductive organs and strung across streets. This piece, part carnivalesque celebration of femininity, part starting point for a discussion about public space and its designation, comprises the physical materials as well as the process of the ensuing public debate.
What is it that makes a society? What are the rules that underlie communal coexistence? The documentary Caregivers, premiered in 2008 at Manifesta 7 in Trentino, Italy, documents the lives of Eastern European women who work as poorly paid carers in the homes of the elderly in Northern Italy – migrant workers without whom the system of generational independence would quickly collapse. The seriousness of the subject is, however, quickly subverted by the sung commentary, which was set to music by the Icelandic composer Karólína Eiríksdóttir. Another collaboration with Eiríksdóttir is The Constitution of the Republic of Iceland (2008), a piece about national community and identity in which Iceland’s constitution is set to music and sung by professional singers. For possibly the first time, the text is perceived less as a dry sequence of legal terminology than a piece of culture worthy of appreciation.
This article was first published in the March 2009 issue.