The space beyond boundaries
︎Lucy Cotter



In the video work that forms part of Rosie Heinrich’s multidisciplinary project, “We always need heroes” (2020), a middle-aged Icelandic woman narrates the story of the nation’s economic crash in 2008. Listening to her undulating fairy-tale-like voice, we become children again, wanting to be carried away to a fantasyland. But the narrator’s exaggerated facial gestures and slow de-constructive pronunciation of certain words alert us to the slippery nature of narrative. As the screen cuts to sedimented reams of white paper and geological abstractions of solidified black lava, we hear the voices of other unseen protagonists. These bankers, historians, folklorists, scientists and fishermen recount in snippets the largest systemic banking crash experienced by any country in economic history. But the core of their narrative revolves around the emotional journey of a nation blindly led by national myths and promises that were never grounded in reality. We are invited to sit in the psychological aftermath of the crash, sifting through the emotional and political debris together – not as strangers, but as fellow human beings navigating the fragility of our own narratives.

Although we never see these protagonists, their recollections are subtitled with a specially devised notation of excessive body movements, stutters and exhalations that subtly conveys the existential impact of the crash. The population’s euphoric and sublime experience of identifying with politicians’ and businessmen’s spun tales invoking the pride of Iceland’s Golden Age transforms in the space of 24 hours into bankruptcy and a hole at the centre of Iceland’s national narrative. That void in the population’s sense of reality is echoed in subtitles of recurring empty circles and blank spots. The lack of any future narrative is marked emphatically by shots of black and white spheres, floating, planet-like on Iceland’s geological landscape, as if the gaps and holes in these narratives of reality have been made to physically manifest. In this abstracted yet material context, we are invited to take stock of our reflexes as listeners complicit in the construction of the real. As the black spheres bob gently on the volcanic rockscape, white circles appear on the screen, forming outlines that seem to narrowly miss the objects they propose to frame. It’s as if reality is always off-centre of our perceptions and here we catch ourselves in the act of mental intervention.

Despite the specificity of its socio-political context, the “We always need heroes” project echoes a number of other works by Heinrich that poise us in a place in which we must contemplate the borders between reality and delusion. In her film “It’s possibly the only way that I can walk through myself”, alternating fragmented observations by two individuals recounting their manic, depressive and psychotic daily life experiences are juxtaposed against photographic images these protagonists have made of their home interiors. Innocuous objects appear overwhelming in some, while others lend the sky overhead a religious significance. The film plays subtly with our tendency to identify with stories; challenging us as listeners as normality veers into mental instability. Through her testing of the phenomenon of belief, a similar effect is achieved in “It was big enough to get me completely inside”, a 10” vinyl with an accompanying 16-page booklet that forms an assemblage of interchanging voices telling of esoteric and shamanic rituals and training exercises in pursuit of transcendence. In both works, we are invited to walk together to the other side of reality; sensing that the boundary between reality and delusion is subjective and open to re-imagination. Even when things are strictly logical, the delusional is always latent, a possibility evoked by “Rational Inattention”, a choral work from the “We always need heroes” project that synthesises an economic behavioural model with a beloved Icelandic lullaby.

While Heinrich’s interests in listening and the self-narration of stories remain constants in her practice, her recent work points to a more precise dis-assembly of language itself. Her “We always need heroes” book captures the narrative non-sequiturs of the video work through the graphic presence of the subtitled psychophysical notations and the unexpected use of perforations throughout the text. The disorientation of habitual modes of reading and listening is a central aim of her current sound, music and performance works-in-progress. In a yet-unfinished video work, entitled “Eat My Words”, we watch a woman articulate words in what appears to be unfamiliar language. Slowly their meaning becomes intelligible through a series of phonetic turns that prompt us to recognise both the strangeness of comprehension and our agency as co-authors of meaning. Rather than producing speech effortlessly through the mouth, the protagonist masticates on words, hinting at the ways that speech utilises the digestive pipe as much as the windpipe. Language returns to the stomach, operating beyond the boundaries of the rational mind.