Lund Cathedral: Transformations – Erla S. Haraldsdóttir

In the spring of 2020, we were planning to show an exhibition of Erla S. Haraldsdóttir’s
paintings in the crypt of Lund Cathedral. Then the Corona pandemic
broke out and the exhibition had to be postponed. This year, we hope to welcome
Haraldsdóttir to Lund Cathedral.
Since exhibiting her work for the first time in the crypt in 2017, Haraldsdóttir has gone even further
in her exploration of the Biblical and visual symbolism running through the history of Western art.
This symbolism includes pomegranates, palm leaves, the dove and the lamb, the wings of angels, as well
as details of the wounds of Jesus Christ. These symbols can be seen both in the miniature paintings of
medieval manuscripts and in contemporary art.
Haraldsdóttir views the crypt as a secret, holy and mystic underworld, with many layers of history
embedded in its architecture. Its columns are reminiscent of a forest; the Romanesque vaults evoke the
crowns of palm leaves. The life and death of vegetation are inscribed in the architecture and thus become
part of the process of transformation of the space.
“The crypt makes reference to the mysteries of birth and the Resurrection. The image of the seed planted
in the earth that then becomes a plant and then a tree that today gives us life evokes both death and the
Resurrection to me”, the artist said.
This theme and its positive message have become even more important for the artist after all we have
experienced this year.
“I have learnt a lot about myself during these times of Corona; I did not travel as much as
I would have normally; I have not spent as much time with other people and I have tried to stay in my
little neighborhood in Berlin where my flat and my studio are located on the same street. I have spent a
lot of time looking inwards. Even if I am normally quite an introverted and sensitive person, I have been
even more introspective than usual; I’ve meditated and read a range of spiritual texts. Every morning I
write a list of the things I am grateful for, and I have reflected on what is actually important in life. I don’t
overexert myself; I need all my energy for my work in the studio. I could say that I have become gentler,
both towards myself and to those around me. I have also become more aware of the injustices in my local
environment that make me feel sad and angry”.
The exhibition will be shown in the crypt during the transition from Lent and Easter when the crypt
takes on a special role as the site of transformation. It will represent the tomb of Christ and one of the
Good Friday services will be held there, when we reflect on the burial of Christ. The crypt will be locked
and, like the tomb of Christ, sealed with a stone during Holy Saturday. The congregation will make its
way down to the crypt during the Easter Vigil, and the Paschal candle will be lit. The Gospel and the
greeting “Christ is risen. Truly he is risen” will be read at the empty tomb.
“I have this composition in my mind when I am painting and this influences my work. I have read the
stories in the four Gospels of how the women went to the tomb; it is fascinating to see how this event is
told in different ways. Throughout history, many paintings have depicted the three women at the tomb of
Christ who see an angel there. The work that I have studied most closely is a miniature illustration from
the 12th century. It portrays the three women carrying herbs and incense, standing before the angel, next
to the open tomb. The Biblical texts and the miniature illustrations were the inspiration for my work, as
well as the space of the crypt itself”, said Erla S. Haraldsdóttir.
Normally, she applies certain artistic restrictions to help her begin the creative process. In this case, she
focused on the pictorial symbolism she visualises when she reads texts, here from the New Testament.
She draws inspiration from metaphors and similes.
“I am fascinated by the mystical that can be found everywhere in our everyday lives, in the commonplace.
If we take the dove, for example, also known as a pigeon, and in cities often described as a flying rat.
When I see these birds now in an urban space, I am struck by how beautiful they are. The sounds they
make, or the flapping of their wings; the way they never give up and how their wings evoke the way the
wings of angels are represented in art. There are some wonderful stories in the Bible about doves, like the
one Noah sent from the ark to find dry land. The dove returns bearing an olive branch; this image has
become a symbol of perseverance and hope. The dove of peace. Simply by looking at a pigeon or a dove,
you can bring magic into your daily life”.
Erla S. Haraldsdóttir’s has been working on the series Family Patterns since her first exhibition in the
crypt. This series consists largely of figurative paintings depicting her ancestors, framed by a geometric,
abstract pattern inspired by the patterns of the Ndebele people in South Africa. The paintings were
shown in a solo exhibition at Reykjanes Art Museum in Iceland in the summer of 2019. The exhibition
showed mostly paintings whose visual inspiration came from studio photographs of female members of
the artist’s family, taken in the years 1890 to 1950. In many of the images they wear Icelandic folk costumes.
The paintings’ backgrounds allude to the Ndebele patterns, which are part of women’s cultural heritage
in South Africa. In this way, the cultural heritages of women from the north and south of the world are
brought together.
Haraldsdóttir spent three months as artist-in-residence at the Bag Factory artist studio in Johannesburg.
During this time in South Africa, she met and interviewed many Ndebele women. In doing so she learnt
about the complex nature and political significance of the patterns. A project catalogue was published in
connection with a smaller solo exhibition at the Marniere Noir Gallery in Berlin in November 2019. In
the spring of 2020, Erla S. Haraldsdóttir worked again at the Bag Factory artist studio in Johannesburg.
She worked there on the paintings for the crypt of Lund Cathedral.
Now, a year later, the artist has returned to the paintings and has realised how the intensity and presence
experienced when artist is painting seems to be embedded in the works. Perhaps this is why a painting
can breathe and feel alive.
Living with Corona has made Haraldsdóttir aware of the importance of her art practice.
“Life can feel very fragile and my art helps me to give expression to myself as an individual,” she said.
Painting as a process is an act that brings an idea to life. It is a process of moving from a word or idea to
a final work. Painting is meditative and is in itself a transformation.

Below is a link to a video of a conversation between Erla S. Haraldsdottir and the curator Dr. Lena Sjöstrand in the Crypt of Lund Cathedral

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