Surtsey Islands eruption began 14 november 1963.


1982.04.04. Little flakes of ash floated gradually downwards. Like the lightest of snowfalls. Within a few minutes the breakfast table was covered with a grey veil. The square in front of me was also veiled in grey in a matter of minutes. Visibility was still good. It was probably about nine in the morning. Everything was very still and calming. It was very strange that everything that had been going on in the square gradually stopped. My strongest memory is precisely this frozen state; cocooned in grey.

After a while we started discussing what it was. Still calm. Suddenly somebody came rushing out of a building and shouted: ”It’s a volcanic eruption. El Chicon has exploded. He had probably heard it on the radio. Nobody was entirely clear as to where the volcano lay and that served to increase the panic that was spreading. From total calm the square was transformed into a cacophony of cars, buses, screaming people rapidly gathering together what they had brought to the market and the noise of shops and cafés that were being closed. Everyone spoke of how to get out. The giant buses raced their engines and people rushed onto them carrying what they could. I ran back to my hotel and collected my case and was quickly back with the noise. I threw myself onto a little bus. 

The caravan of vehicles snaked its way down the ridge towards the plain. Nobody asked the direction the bus was taking nor its destination. By this time the road, the fields and the horizon were all grey. And it started to get dark although it was only eleven in the morning. The hours in the bus passed slowly. It was quiet inside except for our exclamations as we caught sight of car accidents caused by the poor visibility and the covering of ash. Many cars broke down when ash got into their engines and these cars stood on the roads leading to further accidents. All the while the bus was picking up more and more people waiting by the side of the road. The bus was on its way to the nearest bigger town. I now know that we were driving in the direction of the eruption, but it was impossible to find one’s bearings at the time. The radio keptgiving differing instructions and information.

At four o’clock the bus reached Villa Hermosa. It drove into the vast bus terminal only to find that here the journey definitely ended. The modern long-distance buses suffered the same problem that had incapacitated so many cars. They would not go any more. Villa Hermosa is a large town. Everyone was busy trying to sweep the town clean from the ash that continued to fall uninterruptedly. It was a seemingly hopeless task. Darkness was total, just like night. People looked for shops that were open in order to buy food despite the difficulty in breathing. Many covered their faces with a handkerchief or scarf. When night really came, the ash fell so thickly that it had to be shovelled up.

I have tried to describe a catastrophe that I witnessed in Mexico in 1982. I was twenty years old at the time and these memories have remained in my consciousness. One can ask what permanent traces such an experience can cause or one can seek to face the event physically and, thus, relate to its reality. The second alternative has the advantage of being able to combine the two possibilities. Imagine a model of a volcano. A simulator. Built with a crater in which the heat washes over one in the form of steam, the crater being big enough to house a concrete sofa which is heated by coal which simultaneously heats the water. Smoke and ash spout forth out of the top. In the centre is a base for a conversation at the same time as one couples in all one’s senses.

Having the opportunity to build the model volcano for the joint Nordic exhibition Borealis this time held at Reykjavik on Iceland placed the work in very acute surroundings. Due to its geographical location along the spreading boundary between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate, Iceland is a recent and still active volcanic area. The idea for the work came from a conversation with my wife Sara in which I related my impressions of the volcanic eruption. She found a connection with the Fire Sofa that I built in Tijuana in 1992. The work was born of this conversation and the conversation has continued throughout the whole construction which was undertaken collectively with ten students of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. We had a fantastic month together in Reykjavik. Every day the project acted as a meeting place whose aim was to create a meeting place for the public. UR 1993


Group Exhibition BOREALIS 6, Listasafn (Museum of Modern Art), Reykjavik, Iceland.
Curated by Bera Nordal.

1993 VOLCANIC SOFA PROJECT. H 450 x W 1500 x D 1500 cm. Concrete, wood, steel, asphalt, water, steam, coal and fire. Technical Drawings by Rikard Silwärn.
Creation of the Surtsey Island, Iceland in 1967.
Studying volcanic ground.
Ten students from the Royal academy in Copenhagen. We spent a month together in Reykjavik building 1993 VOLCANIC SOFA PROJECT.
Jan Ekenberg, Mats Gamdrup, Nils Viga Hausken, Sophia Kalkau, Nynne Livbjerg Poulsen, Mona Salminen, Rikard Silvärn, Anna Rolf Sorensen, Magnus Wallin and Pernille Piergaard Worsoe.
11 empty chairs makes a round sofa. These were the moulds for our construction.
Most buildings in the city of Reykjavik are covered in corrugated steel. We found a lot of it!
TECHNICAL DRAWING OF 1993 VOLCANIC SOFA PROJECT.. Dimension undocumented. Ink on film.
The water tank.
Icelandic S A U N A
1993 VOLCANIC SOFA PROJECT. H 450 x W 1500 x D 1500 cm. Concrete, wood, steel, asphalt, water, steam, coal and fire.