Recent Acquisitions: The Custodian by Judy Natal

Today we continue the new Recent Acquisitions series, which highlights recently acquired works in the Everson’s collection. Last year, the Everson included Judy Natal’s video The Custodian in the summer exhibition Time Returns: A Continuous Now, a mostly photo-based exhibition dedicated to exploring representations of nature in photographs made in the past 150 years. After the exhibition closed, the Museum purchased the video for its collection. Natal is an adventurer. She lives and works near the south side of Chicago in the Bridgeport neighborhood, yet her work is based on stories she gathers from people she meets traveling throughout the world. While she has decades of experience photographing the landscape, The Custodian is Natal’s first video work. The initial inspiration for The Custodian came from a dream. Immediately upon waking, Natal knew she had to make the piece. Natal spends years developing a single series. Filmed between 2014 and 2016 during three separate visits to the south of Iceland, The Custodian features the gorgeous landscape of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Covered in volcanic ash, this incredible charcoal palette was the exact setting Natal envisioned in her dream. For the video, Natal enlisted the help of her close friend and Icelandic native Sigrún Thorsteinsdóttir, whose family has farmed the same land, located not far from the glacier, for generations. In five separate vignettes, Sigrún’s character, acting as a metaphorical custodian of the land, ceremoniously sweeps, tends, and mourns the landscape. Through attention, care, and labor she becomes a representation of the Icelandic psyche. For Natal, Sigrún’s actions are metaphors for supernatural beings known in Icelandic folklore as Huldufólk or “hidden people,” creatures that behave similarly to humans but live in a parallel world and help to instill respect for the incredible power of nature. The acquisition of The Custodian continues the Everson’s longstanding commitment to supporting experimental work and collecting video art engaging with environmental content. Stay tuned for a future blog post that discusses how The Custodian inspired the theme of Time Returns: A Continuous Now.

-DJ Hellerman, Curator of Art & Programs

Judy Natal, The Custodian, 2012-2016, video, Everson Museum of Art; Museum purchase, 2019.32