13.4.2024 — 15.9.2024

National Gallery of Iceland

Steina’s magnificent video and sound installation Borealis is presented at the National Gallery for the first time since it was first shown in 1993, over three decades ago. Borealis, meaning “northern”, dates from a period when the artist turned her attention outside the studio to the natural world. Here, she returned to her native Iceland, where she made the video and sound field recordings of Arctic flora and of water cascading over rocks and soil that form the basis of the work. The videos are projected at an immense scale – each of the four screens measuring nearly four meters high – such that the viewer becomes immersed in a realm of turbulent movement and polyphonic sound. Moving back and forth between clear focus and blur, the imagery seems by turns representational and abstract. The work has been called “an ode to nature and its elemental forces.”

Borealis was created using several significant technical innovations. First was the rotation of the camera during recording, which resulted in tilted, omnidirectional angles that create a sense of spatial disorientation. Second, the video itself underwent in-studio manipulation, where at times the flow of water was reversed, subverting both narrative time and the laws of physics. In the installation, the video projectors are turned on end to orient the ratio vertically, not horizontally, as we are accustomed to viewing. Finally, the digital images are projected onto translucent screens so that each video appears in mirror image on the reserve side.

The screens, arranged in an architectonic configuration like an open-ended room within the gallery, compel the viewer to experience the work interactively. By walking between and around the screens, the viewer observes the video projections in endlessly shifting juxtapositions. In the darkened space, the translucent screens take on a kind of immateriality, further distancing the subject´s relationship to nature, emphasizing instead the inherent aural and visual beauty of the electronic medium.

Born in Iceland in 1940, Steina (née Steinunn Bjarnadóttir) grew up in Reykjavík, where she studied classical violin. Today she is regarded as a groundbreaking figure in the field of video art. In 1959, on a scholarship to study music in Prague, she met Bohuslav “Woody” Vasulka (1937–2019), a student of mechanics and filmmaking. They married and moved to the United States in 1965. After working as a freelance violinist, Steina turned to video and documentary filmmaking, ultimately creating an extensive body of work independently, and in collaboration with Woody. Since 1980 she has lived and worked in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

National Gallery of Iceland

13.4.2024 15.9.2024



Icelandic, born 1940


Pari Stave

Art Work

Borealis, 1993

Two-channel video with synchronized sound; 10-minute repeating loop

Borealis (1993) was acquired by the National Gallery of Iceland in 2007. This edition is a limited version approved by the artist in 2023. Courtesy of Steina Vasulka, BERG Contemporary and the Vasulka Foundation. 


Milos Strnad

Installation of Borealis at the House of Arts, Brno

Technical Supervision

Sigurður Gunnarsson

Logi Leó Gunnarsson


Magnús Helgason

Gylfi Sigurðsson

Indriði Ingólfsson

Andri Björgvinsson

Ísleifur Kristinsson

Treasures of Icelandic Art

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