That’s a Very Large Number – A Commerzbau in Venice


Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir is known for her nuanced practice, which critically examines the global systems of production and distribution and the bizarre lives of the products they create. Her work calls attention to the objects that exist at the periphery of our vision, often the throwaway accessories of material culture: packing materials, price tags, signage and systems of display. 

She looks for the beauty inherent in these objects, which have been shaped through countless aesthetic decisions, material limitations, production conditions, moral codes, deals, desires and mistakes. Birgisdóttir uses these human systems and interactions to create her artworks, harnessing the cultures and capabilities of manufacturers, fabricators and commercial firms as part of her artistic process.  

Birgisdottir’s presentation That’s a Very Large Number – A Commerzbau, fills the gallery space with the artist’s appropriations of the materials, products and language of mass production. She creates an immersive environment, inspired by the tradition of the ‘Merzbau’, pioneered by German dada artist Kurt Schwitters. Schwitters began using the term ‘Merz’ in his work, after discovering a fragment of newspaper printed with the end of the word ‘Commerz’. Birgisdóttir reintroduces the ‘com’, creating a ‘commerzbau’ from commercial fabrications and castaways of commerce, tailored to the architecture of the pavilion.

Birgisdóttir playfully subverts expectations of beauty, value and utility within the framework of an international art exhibition, making clear the hidden commercial systems involved in exhibiting at a global art event. The artist’s work reflects the tension between the personal pleasure to be found in our world of material objects, but also the consequences of a world full of these objects.

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