For the 19th Biennale of Sydney, Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson spent time in Sydney, extending on their earlier ‘Bosbolobosboco’ works, to create a large new biomorphic audio sculpture. In collaboration with The Refugee Art Project and psychologist Nina Melksham, Castro and Ólafsson have produced Bosbolobosboco #6 (Departure–Transit–Arrival) (2014).
Constructed with large amounts of humble sticky tape, the sculpture resembles a giant root cluster with tentacle-like spaces in which viewers are invited to sit or lie and listen to the embedded audio through headphones. Using methods of relaxation and memory visualisation, four refugees from diverse backgrounds describe, in dialogue with Melksham, images of departure, transit and arrival, from memories of their journey to Australia. The work is the latest in a series of unique sculptural installations which incorporate audio components that include the voices of people from different layers of society, discussing issues of citizenship and the connected themes of belonging and exclusion.
The nonsensical term ‘Bosbolobosboco’ stems from a playful tradition in Castro’s family of inventing gibberish words for loved ones as well as animals and personified objects; a kind of surrealistic or dadaist approach to one’s world and intimate relationships. For Castro and Ólafsson, the title describes the works’ existence – their shape, material and content – somewhere between a strange, artificial artefact and a living, endearing being.
These works speak conceptually to Castro and Ólafsson’s ongoing critique of insatiable capitalism and the effects of globalisation on local culture and industry. Their first Bosbolobosboco works were intended as spatial interventions, unapologetically occupying their environment and seemingly swallowing its contents whole. Later iterations incorporate audio components that give voice to people on the margins of society, such as migrants and the elderly. Bosbolobosboco #4 (2004), for example, includes an audio account of an undocumented asylum seeker from Sierra Leone. Having survived civil war and an escape from rebel forces, now sick with AIDS and cancer, she is still fighting for the right to stay in The Netherlands.
Castro and Ólafsson have been working together since 1997, building a conceptually rigorous practice that draws on their diverse backgrounds and transnational experiences. Their work is invested in deconstructing the very notion of nationality, in highlighting matters of labour, migration, identity and citizenship, and the connected themes of belonging and exclusion.
Another work, Avant-garde citizens (2007–), depicts undocumented people living in The Netherlands, Egypt and Cameroon. The video portraits filmed in The Netherlands are monologues set in the countryside – that quintessential signifier of ‘Dutchness’ adopted by seventeenth-century landscape painters. With their backs to the camera, Sam, Leyla and Janneke tell their stories of displacement, hardship and uncertainty, all the while looking at the land that denies them asylum. Everybody is doing what they can (2008–09) is similarly composed of a series of individual portraits, yet here they comprise a collective of Icelandic citizens from a wide variety of socioeconomic, cultural, political and racial backgrounds.
Solo exhibitions of Castro and Ólafsson’s work include ‘Asymmetry’, TENT, Rotterdam (2013); ‘Under Deconstruction’, National Gallery of Iceland, Reykjavik (2012); ‘Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson: Tu país no existe’, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville (2011–12); and ‘Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson: Recent Works’, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (2008). They have also participated in prestigious international group exhibitions, including 7th Liverpool Biennial (2012); 5th Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art, Moss (2009); and Manifesta 7, Rovereto (2008). In 2011, Castro and Ólafsson represented Iceland at the 54th Venice Biennale.