Arctic Art Summit 2019: The Arctic as a laboratory for sustainable art and cultural policy

Arctic Art Summit 2019: The Arctic as a laboratory for sustainable art and cultural policy

Arctic Art Summit 2019: The Arctic as a laboratory for sustainable art and cultural policy

The Arctic Art Summit is a biennial event established in 2017 which brings together art professionals, academics, artists, and those involved in the cultural field from Arctic countries to discuss shared challenges and to both encourage and support the establishment of circumpolar collaborations. The Summit was created to strengthen the art community in the north of the world, to focus on local art and to create infrastructures and opportunities for the nordic art to develop. This second edition was held in Rovaniemi, Finland, the capital of Lapland and homeland to the indigenous Sámi people, with conversations centered on the theme The Arctic as a laboratory for sustainable art and cultural policy. The event stretched over three days with conferences, discussions, exhibition openings, and artistic event where Arctic art and artists were protagonists.

The characteristics of arctic countries such as isolation, extreme weather, small communities do not affect the quality of art production, on the contrary art in these countries has maintained throughout the years certain specificities related to the particular history of those populations, characteristic which make it highly valuable. It is hard to define what arctic art is, to whom or what the term applies and how strict this definition should be, however we can assume that arctic art generally addresses indigenous and non-indigenous cultures in the nordic region. Thanks to their similar characteristics and histories, the arctic countries constitute the perfect ground for arctic artists to share their works, and for communities to establish horizontal orientated bonds which would disrupt the north-south movement of art. Creating microcenters outside of the traditional international art routes would counter the conglomeration of art in the big European or American capitals. 

In a thoughtful speech, Dieter K. Müller, professor in Human Geography at the Umeå University, Sweden, highlighted that the arctic circle is “moving south”: more and more countries want to identify themselves as part of the Arctic region because that denomination would make them look more attractive to tourists’ eyes; “the Arctic is hot, in many senses” he said. The Arctic is hot because it represents the promise of adventures, stunning landscape, and exotic populations, therefore tourism has been on the rise in this part of the world during the last decade. Global warming is affecting the North faster than other parts of the world, the Arctic is literally hot and environmentalists look at what is happening up here in order to predict the trajectory of climate change throughout the world.

Dieter K. Müller giving a speech on the second day of the Arctic Art Summit. Photo credit: Kaisa-Reetta Seppänen.

Müller expressed his concerns that this interest in the Nordic countries from the rest of the world might instill  misrepresentation of those countries’ identities: Arctic populations need to define themselves by themselves, their image shouldn’t be shaped by the rest of the world. These beautiful lands so attractive to tourists are in fact inhabited by people, sometimes indigenous people, and instead of stereotyping them to attract more tourists we should learn from them, and leave them free to define themselves and to share their understanding of the lands they have engaged with for generations. 

In the publication What is the imagined North? presented during the last edition of the Arctic Art Summit in Harstad, Norway, author Daniel Chartier, professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada, wrote that there are two visions of The North: the one from the outside, the representation of not-Nordic people, who arrived one hundred years ago, but have been imagining The North for many hundreds of years, and the one from the inside, the actual culture of the Arctic, which stems from the indigenous or native populations’ understanding of their lives in these lands, a knowledge passed through generations of inhabitants, shaped through years of living there and adapting their lives to the geography and environment. The indigenous framing, experience and definition of landscape and the Arctic has long been ignored by colonial history, and as such the idea of an uninhabitable Arctic took hold. The colonial voice dominated. 

The management of cultural institutions and museums which gives more space to internationally recognised curators was raised as a concern by Müller, the implication of this is that they are more skilled and capable of representation in major institutions then local practitioners. Müller highlighted that it is fundamental to value local art professionals and to develop a stronger awareness of local culture and art, focussing effort on studying and researching them, to provide artists’ with platforms and opportunities to show their work. The main goal should be to reach a balance for local and international professionals who both have something to offer and the reciprocal benefit that can manifest. Cultural products from both sectors should be presented on the same level, to pursue post-colonialist values and restore a balance of power between dominant and marginalised communities. 

Panel discussion Sustainability through Art and Culture in the Arctic. From left to right: Tuuli Ojala, Jan Borm, Gunvor Guttorm, Daniel Chartier. Photo credit: Janne Jakola.

2019 is the United Nations’ year of indigenous languages, this was acknowledged by Arctic Art Summit through giving prominence and focus on indigenous art, culture and language. Recurrent conversations asserted the importance and understanding indigenous language in order to understand indigenous art and culture. Gunvor Guttorn, professor in Duodji (Sámi arts and crafts, traditional art, applied art) at the Sámi University College in Guovdageaidnu/Kautokeino, Norway, highlighted the importance of keeping Sámi languages alive since they are key to understand the development of Sámi culture for they are strongly intertwined with the history and lifestyle of these communities. The Sámi University College, in facts, offers education in Sami languages, providing Sami people with the opportunity to be educated in their own language, a right of which everyone should be entitled. Tiina Sanila-Aiko, president of the Sámi Parliament of Finland, emphasised the importance of indigenous languages by giving a speech in Sámi language, an interesting experience for those in the public who didn’t speak the language, the particular sound of Sami words did however unveil certain characteristics of the culture itself. She stressed that language constitutes a mirror of a culture, it reveals the philosophy of existence, the values, and the perception of things. Language is a powerful tool giving insight into a culture, and for too much time indigenous’ languages have not been heard. At this year’s Summit, David Chartier empathized that “we have to preserve languages for ecological reasons, if we lose languages we lose ideas”. He explained that we are all connected within the world, and ecology is not just about nature and environment, but it is also about preserving humans’ cultural heritage. We need an ecology of the real, which takes into account everything existing around us.

Panel discussion Decolonizing Research Practices. Speakers: Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Charissa von Harringa, Pia Lindman . Moderator: Heather Igloliorte. Photo credit: Kaisa-Reetta Seppänen.


Panel discussion Duodji in Contemporary Context. From left to right: Irene Snarby, Duojár Katarina Spiik Skum, Svein Aamold, Gunvor Guttorm, Anniina Turunen. Photo credit: Janne Jakola.

People from different Arctic indigenous communities and people from dedicated art and cultural institutions which support indigenous’ art and culture took part to the summit, discussing the situation of the communities they work with and sharing how they operate with respect to indigenous communities, raising consciousness and discussing better ways to valorise indigenous art and promote an understanding of it from inside the community, avoiding displaying such works from a western standpoint, as mere exotic object. Indigenous’ art requires specialized engagement, and at the same time it’s important to open these dialogues to the world and placing them in conversation with mainstream art. Such works demand a presence global art community and to be engaged with at an international level. 

The situation of indigenous art is delicate, in fact in order to understand and connect with their art one needs to be familiar with their culture and the way they live, indigenous art is often inseparable from indigenous people’s lives, their art is often expressed through objects used in everyday life, art research and functionality are often combined. Therefore, indigenous people should be included and consulted when art from their communities is the subject. Indigenous art professionals exist, and art institutions who wish to work with objects from indigenous communities need to have members from that specific communities operating on all levels of the institution. This falls within the process of de-colonisation, a hot topic in every cultural and non-cultural sector. Giving opportunity to those who had been deprived of any kind of powership over their own land, culture, image, of taking back their histories and validating their specialised knowledge and skills is important to re-establishing a balance between powers in the world.

The Arctic Art Summit left everyone with a positive feeling for the future of the Arctic. Thoughtful conversations, inspiring speeches, and insights into institutions who are really making a difference though their work with and for indigenous communities’ cultures, left participants of the summit hopeful that a future based on respect, understanding, and inclusivity can and will exist and that the research of and engagement with marginalised cultures will keep them alive.


Ana Victoria Bruno

Sámi band Soljio playing on the last evening of the Arctic Art Summit. Photo credit: Janne Jakola


Arctic Art Summit website:

Cover picture: installation view of the show Fringe at Galleria Valo, Arktikum. The exhibition focused on art and crafts from the Arctic periphery runs from June 4 – August 11, 2019. Photo credit: Kaisa-Reetta Seppänen.

Isle of Art: an interview with the author Sarah Schug

Isle of Art: an interview with the author Sarah Schug

Isle of Art: an interview with the author Sarah Schug

Sarah Schug is a German journalist based in Brussels who has been traveling in Iceland since 2009, after noticing the lack of books about Icelandic art she decided to take action and fill the gap. Her recently published book Isle of Art constitutes a comprehensive manual for those who want to get an insight of what is going on in the island’s art scene. 

Sarah, when did you come in contact with Iceland for the first time? When and why did you decide to write a whole book about its art scene?

The first time I came in contact with Iceland was at the age of 7, when the TV series Nonni & Manni was broadcasted in Germany, and I fell in love with the horses and turf houses and waterfalls. It is since then that I wanted to see Iceland, and I did so for the first time in 2009, if I remember correctly. I totally fell in love with it again, and returned several times. As I’ve been working as an art and culture journalist, and Icelandic artists started popping up in exhibitions in Belgium, where I live, I started to put the two together and wanted to find out more about it. I actually searched for books about the subject, and couldn’t find much, except for monographs. I really felt like there was a gap to be filled. When I told my friend Pauline Miko, a Belgian-Hungarian photographer about the idea and she said she’d do the photos, I decided to just go for it.

Can you tell me something about the process of researching, selecting and interviewing artists and the people of the Icelandic art community?

First there was a lot of reading and desk research, and then I went to live in Reykjavík with my boyfriend for two months, from February to April 2017. I remember, the day we arrived, we directly went to an opening at i8 gallery. During these two months I attended lots of openings and exhibitions, visited art spaces and galleries, and talked with so many people from the Icelandic art world, getting to know the scene from the inside. The lack of existing literature on the subject meant that word of mouth was the principal source of information. In the end you quickly get a grasp for what’s important, which names come up again and again, and so on. Regarding the selection: I spoke to newbies and old timers, Icelanders and foreigners, young and old artists, students and stars. The idea wasn’t to show “the best” artists (whatever that even means), but to paint a full picture of the art scene as a whole by bringing together a rich canon of different voices and perspectives from inside the Icelandic art community.

From left: artists Sara Riel and Ragnar Kjartansson, collector Pétur Arason.

What makes the Icelandic art scene interesting in your opinion?

I think it’s a really intriguing and unique case to examine, not only because of its remote geographic location, but also due to its short history. And of course it’s incredible how vibrant and active it is, how many great artists it has brought about, despite having such a small population. It has all the ingredients necessary for a vibrant scene: commercial galleries, museums, art schools and a multitude of independent art spaces. At the same time, it’s still somehow positioned on the sidelines of the international art market, which is interesting as well. 

How does the Icelandic art scene differ from the one you experience everyday in Brussels?

I think there is a spirit of creative freedom, playfulness, collaboration and fearless experimentation that you hardly find anywhere else. Of course there is also no doubt that globalization, digitalization, and the explosion of international travel have caused the island’s art scene to become bigger, more professional, and more diverse. But I found it very pleasant how accessible and welcoming it was, which facilitated the creation of this book extremely. In places like London or Paris, which have very closed-off art scenes, the process would have been very different and more difficult. In Iceland, everyone is just a phone call away; everybody knows each other. News travel fast, and when we arrived up north, we were stunned to find out that people had already been tipped off about us. In that sense, it’s not too different from Brussels or Belgium, whose art scene is also quite open and accessible – I think it’s typical for smaller countries.

The biggest difference is probably the existence or development of an art market and a collector base. Belgium has one of the highest collector densities in the world together with Switzerland, and in Iceland there are maybe five serious collectors. Belgium has a massive number of commercial galleries, Iceland has three. There are no art fairs in Iceland like Art Brussels. It’s a completely different situation. But this positioning slightly on the sidelines of the art market also has its advantages: a certain creative freedom and fearlessness and confidence come with it, which a lot of artists actually mentioned in their interviews.

Installation view: Slæmur Félagsskapur / Bad Company, at Kling og Bang, March – April, 2017.

How do you see the future of the Icelandic art scene?

I think it’s in the process of growing up. Just take the opening of the Marshall House, which happened while I was living in Reykjavík actually. I was lucky to witness this pivotal moment first-hand. Many artists I talked to described it as a game-changing, and I think it has the potential to be a new destination on the international art map. At the same time, many voiced concerns about the grassroots scene. With Nýlo and Kling & Bang in the fancy Marshall House – who will fill that gap? And how will the grassroots scene be strong when there’s a housing crisis going on and space has become unaffordable? But normally art always finds its way – I think we will see more initiatives outside of the city center, and places such as RÝMD or Midpunkt are signs for that. And I think there will be more and more art spaces in the countryside and outside of Reykjavík, a movement which has already begun as well. I was amazed by the high-quality exhibitions I found in small villages such as Hjalteyri or Djúpivogur.

The book is already sold out in Iceland, this constitutes a really good feedback. What do you feel the book has accomplished? And is there something you regret you didn’t manage to include in Isle of Art?

I feel, and that’s the feedback I have been getting by a lot of people from the Icelandic art scene, that the book is a kind of time capsule, showing the Icelandic art scene in its full splendor at this certain point in time, while also looking back on its past and trying to have a look at its future as well. I think the book is valuable to everyone who wants to learn more about what’s going on in Iceland when it comes to art, but it can be also an interesting basis for discussions within the Icelandic art scene itself.

I don’t have any regrets, but of course there are many artists whom I love and respect that are not in the book, because you just can’t include everyone. The more pages you print, the more expensive it gets, and as it is self-financed, we couldn’t afford more pages, 256 is already quite a lot, I think! I would love to do a second book at one point with all the artists I haven’t been able to give pages in this one – so, if someone wants to sponsor or fund it, I’m all ears.

Sigurður Guðmundsson, Eggin í Gleðivík, Djúpivogur, 2009. 

The book will launch at the Living Art Museum on the 28th of May, right? Would you like to tell us something about the event?

Yes, exactly. When the first books arrived in Iceland a lot of people were asking about a launch event and so I decided to organize one. I wanted it to be at a space that is part of the book, and The Living Art Museum has had such significance for Iceland’s art scene that I am very happy to be able to do it there. I’m also super happy about all the support I’m getting: Icelandair offered to ship more books from Belgium, and Reykjavik Roasters are providing coffee. The idea is to create a kind of informal „round table“, an art café if you will, and everyone is invited to stay and chat about the state of the Icelandic art scene (which is something I realised Icelandic artist love to do). One wall will be covered with posters displaying decisive quotes by artists, gallerists, curators, etc. taken from the book, as an entry point and food for thought. The whole idea is not only a nod to Guðmundur Jónsson’s Listamenn, whose frame shop serves as a bit of the living room or of the art scene where everyone hangs out and chats and drinks coffee, but also to the research process of the book, which largely consisted of conversations over coffee.

Is there something else you would like to say before we end the interview?

Just a big thank you to everyone – I’m amazed how warmly I’ve been welcomed by everyone, and how helpful people are, especially the artists themselves. Takk fyrir!

Ana Victoria Bruno

Sarah Schug (1980) is a Brussels-based German journalist who writes about art, culture, design and photography. Her work has been published in The Word Magazine, The Bulletin, H.O.M.E. Magazine, Previiew Journal, Crust Magazine, Tique Art Paper, and others. In 2014 she launched independent online magazine See you there, putting forward Belgium’s cultural scene, and curated the exhibition “No place like home” at Brussels Art Department.

Isle of Art website:

Photo Credit: Pauline Mikó. Ragnar Kjartansson’s portrait: Lilja Birgisdóttir.

The book will launch on Tuesday the 28th at 18:00 at Nýlistasafnið / The Living Art Museum.

About science, emotions and the Roman Empire: a conversation with Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar

About science, emotions and the Roman Empire: a conversation with Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar

About science, emotions and the Roman Empire: a conversation with Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar

A few weeks ago I had a chat with Geirþrúður Finnbogadóttir Hjörvar about her show Desargues’s Theorem Lecture and Three Other Sculptures at Kling og Bang. Some sculptures would welcome the visitors into the exhibition, playing on the concepts of two-dimensional and three-dimensional, real and unreal, questioning what existence means. The video work Desargues’s Theorem Lecture would then give an insight on the process the artist went through, a sort of key to read the sculptures. Geirþrúður’s mind seems to be an unresting machine which absorbs, processes and reformulates realities in an extremely mathematical and logical way. Through this conversation I tried to grasp her creative process and her understanding of art.

I would like to start this conversation by asking you to explain a little bit further the first sentence of the text in your show’s pamphlet “Desargues’s Theorem Lecture is a video that relies on the assumption that ideas have shapes.”, I find the concept of art dwelling in space between ideas and the physical world really interesting. Where does this idea come from?

At that time, and still maybe now, I was thinking about the relationship between science and alchemy, since alchemy has as forefather a scientific thought, even though this connection is really suppressed. They have a common impulse to do analytical things and to get into a state of mind which contemplates the possibility of figuring things out. I wanted to see what I could do with that, there is a kind of mysticism inherit in all sort of sciences and it is interesting to see how and if they can be brought together in a way that is useful. Everyone who goes into art or who appreciates art is aware that there is some kind of underlying relationship between forms and a more abstract sense, feelings and thoughts. It‘s a bit hard to trace where this idea came from, but at the basis of this work there is a very sincere impulse.

What do you mean by “useful”?

Well, useful as it is not about making fun of science or to try to disqualify it. Science and mysticism are intertwined and you can‘t really go further in either direction without accepting both. On one hand science is a very enclosed system, it would support itself, but on the other hand if you want to get all mystic you will probably end up joining your cult and then whatever you say becomes so enclosed that even talking to other people doesn‘t make any sense anymore. But between these two systems there is something really interesting.

I am also thinking about quantum physics which explores how something thought impossible could actually exist in other quantum realities.

Yes exactly, the further science goes the further it goes back to incredibly metaphysical understandings and statements about how nothing is real after all. And I think if you are serious and eager to discover, then you are following the same track someone in the 15th century would be following when they were making gold, which is also an allegory for knowledge. But it feels like, especially in a social sense, science is used to scare you away from wanting to know something, they say you have to know the scientific method and you probably need ten years of studies to be qualified for it. So this playfulness is not really allowed.

 Your work is also quite ironic, right?

It is actually weirdly not ironic. It seems ironic because it is really sincere. The impulse is to create some kind of a narrative, a sort of suspended belief, and to see science as a narrative. If it seems ironic it is because I wanted to do that, since I‘m very ironic.

In the text you talk about the work in terms of a coded love letter, how did you weave together science and emotion?

In a way that is what I am saying in terms of that it is completely sincere, I did go through all this process that I described in the video. At a certain point I was a bit addicted at looking at all these images of certain things so I just did it more and more, and there is a point in which you exhaust certain materials visually on google and then you start to have a real eye for what brings you into a new place. I think there was something going on in that theory that I just found interesting to explore and then I just kept thinking about that and I really started making this model. On one hand it was a little bit of a joke, the theorem is completely abstract and I was making a thing out of something completely immaterial, I was completely aware that it is kind of funny to try to do that, also because I used whatever was in the kitchen. It was really playful, and I think that was also part of it, this will to take something really scientific and doing something so playful with it, so irrelevant about it. But it was part of something a little bit more concrete, I wanted to make a sculpture out of the theorem, and why did I want to do something which doesn‘t make sense? Well, in part because it didn‘t make sense, if it did make sense then it would have been so pointless. I think the reason why anyone has a passion for something remains inexplicable, and I suppose the only way to grasp it is to make this analogy with things that are part of an emotional landscape. The scientific world says that we have to separate science and emotions, but I don‘t agree with that, I think things going on in the mind can be very passionate in a very abstract way and I think passions can be extremely rational.

 There is also a kind of instinctive side to discovering how things work.

Well, you know, the mind is the biggest sexual organ, they say. We use all kind of ways to seduce who or whatever we are interested in. In the background of my mind I was also thinking about the implicit masculine nature of scientific discourse, which is very much ego-based and willing to dominate, the scientist is this alpha male who seduces with his great brain. To me it was interesting to see what it feels like to take on that position.

And how did you feel in this alpha man/scientist role?

It was fun, I’m still trying to have a dialogue with that scientific part of myself, I think it is something that everyone should do. It is conditioning for a woman to think about science as a complicated thing. Wanting to shy away from technology is really common, as it is scary, but it is important to be able to take something scientific and make it yours, play with it, you don’t have to be afraid of not being qualified. And this is also part of this desire of creating this scientific discourse and being convincing, because it is just a theory.

Talking about being convincing, you state in the show’s pamphlet that the piece is very much inspired by the 20th century communication, I think the format you have decided to use for this video is really interesting. In which terms are you interested in the 20th century communication?

I think it is about being contemporary, the modern communication defines the era on every level. Concretely, it represents also an interest in science in terms of knowledge and how it is communicated. I never stop being amazed by how easy it is to have information nowadays compared to how it was before, I managed to master four different programs thanks to Youtube tutorials. I think the piece is a kind of celebration of that, I find interesting the relationship between the word and the images that we have become able to recognize, and this is completely new. It is part of mass culture: now everyone knows how to get a picture from google and put it in a powerpoint, and that produces this logic which is part of our consciousness now. On the other side, I’m interested in the narratives in these kind of media which are really competitive so within a certain amount of time you have to gain the viewer’s attention. But also, considering the social-political climate, these media are quite dangerous, the flat earth theory is the perfect example of how we just apparently got back to the middle age all thanks to precisely this kind of presentations of information. Sometimes I can just watch these videos and sincerely be a little bit scared, because I can feel critical about them, since I’m visually trained to be able to understand all these subtleties, but I wonder if all of the millions viewers who have seen the video are also trained or maybe they just believe it for what it appears. I think there is something about artistic education which is quite valuable in terms of decoding presentations of information, and it actually would be useful for people to navigate those media.

Talking about the importance of art history, I was browsing your website I noticed that there are recurring symbols of the Roman Empire, architectural elements like the Ara Pacis and the columns in Desargues’ Theorem Lecture.

I’m really fascinated by the Roman Empire because you could decode or you could foresee a lot of things about history’s unfolding by learning Roman history. You can actually understand today so much better by understanding Rome than by understanding any contemporary theory. I have also being concretely influenced by the financial crash in Iceland, I was in Europe at the time and it was a very strange sensation because at that point no one in the rest of Europe could perceive a social movement as being anything other than populist and I had really mixed feelings whilst I felt there was such a huge possibility to create something, but then again there are so many things that can go wrong if there is not an understanding of historical perspectives underlying mass movements. On one hand there is a lack of class-conscious reading of history in the general education, on the other hand those training to be part of the upper classes universally receive a classicist education which provides them with a playbook to maintain power, they just don’t have to come up with a new strategy if they know the history, it is all there, like a toolbox for countering the next move.

Your book Mindgames, published in 2012, brings together John Lennon, Henri Lefebvre, Halldor Laxness and Caligula, it looks like you are taking fragments from different areas of knowledge and mixing them together. What was your aim? And why did you choose these four subjects?

The idea was that they represent different spheres in society, it was a sort of mathematical formula which brings together the politician, the musician, the theorist and the writer, I was fascinated by this relationship they had with recognition and with their audience. It is a lot about time, repetitions and patterns. I was thinking in a cybernetic kind of way when there is a feedback and when there isn’t and how the author transmits information to the reader and that this would produce something new, a feedback which then will influence the author. These are all kind of subsystems, and I suppose I was trying to figure out my position and wondering what the contemporary artist could hope to achieve by creating new work, if artists can really influence anyone at any level, if that’s actually the aim, and how quality is created.

And did you find an answer to these questions?

Yeah, in my own kind of mathematical way, in terms of theory, I found the mathematical kind of calculations to figure out the probability, the correct proportion between the different elements you need to communicate something. I probably figured out for myself what I wanted and how I wanted to make art.


My last question does not really relate to your own work, but since you have been living abroad for about ten years, in Holland, Germany and Colombia and you had the chance to experience different art scenes, I would like to ask you what you think about the Icelandic contemporary art scene.

I think it is pretty good, you can actually see some pretty good works and shows. There are a lot of big cities where a lot of things are happening and you really have to try hard to find good exhibitions, while in Iceland the art scene is at a surprisingly good level considering its size. I think there are a lot of artists doing super interesting things. If I wanted to make a critique it would be that in the past there has been a quite strong impulse to try to suppress any kind of intellectual sensibility. But this is changing though, there is more space now, because it’s just a matter of having a wider spectrum, and I think it’s also quite valuable that there is a lot of room for people who are not into this super intellectual/critical/reading kind of discourse, while in a lot of places, for instance in Europe, you have to make sure you’ve read certain books and check out certain things to be allowed to this sphere, and that art under those conditions can be boring because that doesn’t come from an inner desire of the artists. So I think it is nice that here there is that side of the spectrum, but I think it’s also good that you can include in something more intellectual or conceptual and to try not to dismiss that, and I think that’s becoming more accepted than it was before.

Ana Victoria Bruno

Photo credits:

Stills from the video: courtesy of the artist.

Photos of the sculptures: Vigfús Birgisson.

Website of the artist:

Mary, a revolutionary feminist?

Mary, a revolutionary feminist?

Mary, a revolutionary feminist?

Having grown up in Italy, where the Roman Catholic Church is such a powerful institution and it is deeply rooted into the everyday lives of everyone, I can’t help seeing in Mary a symbol of a submissive femininity, an objectified woman, a tool through which the Church has kept women in a position of inferiority for centuries. Mary, even though she is worshiped by Catholics, has never reached the role of goddess, she constitutes a body through which God acted. In fact, women in the Catholic Church are prevented to take on high positions in the ecclesiastical system: they can be nuns, but not popes, not bishops, not even priests. My position in this regard is closer to Simone de Beauvoir’s ideas, she wrote in her book The Second Sex that “Beyond question the women are infinitely more passive, more subservient to man, servile, and abased in the Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain, or France, than in such Protestant regions as the Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon countries. And that flows in large part from the women’s own attitude: the cult of the Virgin, confession, and the rest lead them toward masochism”. That is proven by the fact that women didn’t even have the right to vote until 1945 in Italy, while in Iceland they got it in 1915.

However, regardless my opinion, reviewing those stories which shaped our culture and heritage is a way to correct people’s behaviours and misbeliefs, so I will put my personal feelings aside and try to look at Mary as a revolutionary woman, like the Icelandic Love Corporation presents her in their show The Newest Testament at Hverfisgallerí.

Mary accepted the role of mother of God given to her by God’s messenger without asking any questions, without thinking about how her life was about to change, she accepted her fate and accomplished God’s will. That acceptance, that “yes” said without questioning anything, is proof of her courage. That “yes” constitutes a declaration of acceptance of all the pain which was about to come, a sacrifice for the sake of humankind, she didn’t ask for such a responsibility, but she embraced God’s decision anyway.

Acceptance is a value which is often forgotten, we live in a society which tells us we can do whatever we want and encourages us to pursue our dreams and desires. But life is not all sunshine and roses, learning how to process disgraceful events and keep your head up in difficult times is of vital importance. We need to be flexible, adaptable, ready to accept what life confronts us with.

Mary’s capacity of accepting and adapting to situations is symbolised, in the exhibition The Newest Testament, with water. Liquids are highly adaptable to different containers’ shapes because the links between their molecules are not really tight. They can change their physic state depending on the temperature and conditions, e.g. freezing into ice or evaporating when the temperature is high enough. Water also means life, when exploring new planets astronomers look for residues of water, no matter their physic state. Water is the means by which they determine if planets have ever been suitable for life or will be in the future.

This parallelism between Mary and the vital fluid is presented in Aqua Maria, a video work showing a lyric singer who emerges from the darkness and sings a song entitled Aqua Maria, a remix by Ólafur Björn Ólafsson of Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria and the Sigvaldi Kaldalón’s version. To access the work we have to pass through thick curtains of the same intense and bright blue color of Mary’s veil. The curtains look like some sort of artificial waterfall: they are dense and heavy but made of threads, a delicate material which become stronger when weaved together, like water does when streams converge into larger and powerful rivers. The singer, Agnes Wästfelt, performing in the video sings passionately and water is sprayed over her, yet she does not react to the water, she accepts it as it soaks her wet whilst continuing to sing. This willpower she shows by pursuing her intent without getting distracted by what is happening around her and on her unveils a certain perseverance, a strength and a will to accomplish her duty no matter what. When acceptance segues into perseverance it mutates from being a value for a peaceful existence to a necessary quality to carry out a fight and an attempt to change our society.

Liquids are present in the show also within the series Pissed Off!, works made with urine. Urine, along with those other substances through which we expel unnecessary micro-elements, is culturally considered repulsive, in fact they smell bad and they affront our senses just by seeing them: they are something to be ashamed of. Nevertheless, these natural needs are necessary for the body to keep working properly and it is also thanks to them that we can achieve all the great things human beings have done and are proud of. By deciding to use urine as material for their pieces, the Icelandic Love Corporation is elevating the idea of urine from a mere despised element to an artistic tool. They seem to suggest a change in our perception of our bodies, again by reviewing our cultural heritage. Just like Mary accepted her destiny, we need to accept ourselves completely, embrace everything about our body, this constitutes a rebel act against centuries of prudery and self-disgust.

The textile work Consent, hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room where the Pissed Off! works are displayed, recalls the traditional feminine craft of weaving. Weaving has always been associated with women. The Cretan princess Ariadne helped Theseus to find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth by using a ball of thread, Arachne was transformed into a spider because she challenged Athena in a weaving contest which she lost and was therefore transformed into a spider – and that’s why spiders weave their webs. Women in the past were in charge of weaving clothes, a domestic labor which alienated them from the real world, because outside the front door it started the men’s territory. But also, women would soon start to meet up to weave and knit together, an innocent act that allowed them to group and band together. This art piece is made by using wool and nylon tights, merging together tradition and the modernity, the neon colors of the piece and the use of tights mark their belonging to contemporary times but the technique recalls the traditional women’s duty. Women are mothers and weavers and both roles are connected to creation.

The theme of rebellion is the focal point of the whole show and it is clearly stated at the entrance of the gallery in the work Rebel Kit. The Rebel Kit contains tools which are metaphorically fundamental to be a rebel according to the Icelandic Love Corporation. The kit provides: two caps, a crochet hook, scissors, blue sewing thread, a pencil, a small edition of Pissed Off!, some nails, a hammer and a blue lipstick. This work contains references to all of the other works presented in the show, and brings them together into a conceptual pocket revolution, putting together elements from the feminine world, such as the lipstick, supplies for sewing, and elements connected with art and craft, such as the small watercolor, the pencil, the nails and the hammer – although these can be seen also as a reference to Jesus’s Crucifixion, a symbol of his suffering and of what Mary has to go through because of her acceptance.

This piece seems to shout out loud that being a woman is OK, that there is nothing wrong about wearing lipstick and sewing clothes, and there is nothing wrong about having those characteristics typically associated with women. The whole show seems to work towards awakening consciousness that in order to become rebels, women just need to embrace the way they are, no change is required but on the other hand awareness is: in order to be rebels we simply need to be conscious of our values and our power, because so often the main enemies of women are just women themselves, falling under the weight of the cultural heritage that taught them what is wrong and what is right, how women should be. 

Ana Victoria Bruno

The Newest Testamen by the Icelandic Love Corporation is on show at Hverfisgallerí until Saturday the 2oth of March.

Photo Credit: Vigfús Birgirsson, artzine

Snip Snap Snubbur: a shift in Guðmundur Thoroddsen’s practice

Snip Snap Snubbur: a shift in Guðmundur Thoroddsen’s practice

Snip Snap Snubbur: a shift in Guðmundur Thoroddsen’s practice

Guðmundur Thoroddsen is best known for paintings and sculptures which used to embrace the irony and dreamy qualities of surrealism, opening a window to a parallel universe where absurdity is presented as ordinary, works which have been often connected to a critic to masculinity and to our patriarchy society. His solo show Snip Snap Snubbur at Hafnarborg features some new works which demarcate a new step in the development of the artist’s practice, a shift towards a more abstract aesthetic enhancing the material aspects of the works.

His will to engage in a more material-orientated practice has been hindered by his parallel need for a narrative, an important part of his practice which he couldn’t let go completely, and which functioned as an anchor to prevent him from sinking into the uncharted waters of abstract art. Through the use of the oil paint on canvas the two urges converge into pieces where subjects and recognisable elements are present but unified in a single level of existence: characters, objects and backgrounds cohabit blended in masses of colours where shapes are defined not by distinct boundaries but by the diverse patterns and textures. The same process is visible in his sculptures: he has ceased using the wheel, an instrument which used to give some kind of stable shape to his works, and decided to make them manually from start to end, playing with piling up clay in different layers. The sculptures, just like his paintings, look like melted, collapsed, formless objects made by children in a kindergarten, suggesting a certain enjoyment and lightness behind his practice, but prompting an uncanny feeling in the viewers because they resemble human beings and familiar objects, but deformed and not quite matching the way we see people and objects in our everyday life.

In his new works the focus on material aspects gained more importance in the composition of the paintings, taking over the meaning of the works themselves: the references to the real world are reduced to echoes, mediators in this shift from a figurative practice to a more abstract one. His new works feature men smoking, walking around anxiously, in small interior scenes or in imaginary landscapes, deconstructed and melted within the background, like visions from a different universe where there is no third dimension, no perspective and no physical borders between entities.

The technical aspects of his new paintings have been influenced by Andreas Eriksson, Swedish painter whose practice focuses on landscapes transformed into abstract representations in which viewers can recognise their own places. From Erikson’s painting Thoroddsen took the ability to synthesise the variety of nature’s color gradients and shapes into simplified masses which abstract the original view, creating a sort of new nowhere land. In Eriksson’s paintings the brushstrokes are visible, a style which uncovers the importance of human gestures over a realistic portrait of reality, of human instinct over rationalism. Guðmundur Thoroddsen follows Eriksson’s research for a primordial act, an impetus which comes directly from inside the artist, whom is not trying to emulate but to create, an attempt to produce something beautiful, when „beautiful“ is understood as natural and honest.

Thoroddsen’s new works are reminiscent of the series of paintings Otages (“Hostages”)  by Jean Fautrier, paintings with great material qualities representing humans’ featureless heads and torsos floating into a no-landscape, barely recognisable as parts of a human body. Jean Fautrier was active during the post second world war, and he, as many others, was dealing with the lack of faith in humanity following the brutality of the war, which he experienced in first person. In Jean Fautrier’s work the dematerialisation of the body, the fade of the subject into the landscape, was a metaphor for the cancellation of identities, and therefore humanity, in the context of the war. Guðmundur Thoroddsen’s work does not have such a dramatic implication, but there is something in those interiors scenes of men smoking which recall a sort of subtle and sneaky universal anxiety in regards of modern times.

The figures in his paintings seem to illustrate what Noam Chomsky reflects on in the documentary Requiem for the American Dream (2015). Noam Chomsky talks about the changes in the contemporary ages through a comparison to what was happening in the 70’, when despite the economic upheavals that followed the postwar economic boom and the war in Vietnam, fights for the rights of mistreated social groups such as black people and women were taking place all over the world, and people believed that the situation would get better at some point. Nowadays, Chomsky says, we are hopeless in regards to a world where conditions are not improving, on the contrary humans rights are called into questions by politics, the environmental problems are growing, and, as a result we don’t see anymore the light at the end of the tunnel. The characters in Guðmundur Thoroddsen’s paintings can be read in relation to this new human condition: they are hopeless, trapped into a room or in a nowhere landscape, overwhelmed by the surroundings, unable to find their identities, lost in the liquid modernity’s flow, the characters are eventually frozen in a time with no future.

In Guðmundur Thoroddsen’s opinion art is about having fun and he switched to a more abstract approach because he felt his practice was becoming repetitive and he needed to engage in more stimulating work. This prompted his desire to dig deeper behind the surface of his imaginary world and to experiment with a more complex physicality in his practice. The show Snip Snap Snubbur presents a new exciting stage in Thoroddsen’s art, a new direction which could bring to deeper explorations of the material if he continues walking this way. These new works represent a starting point for something new and we are thrilled to see how it will develop, if characters and objects will disappear completely absorbed into the abstract, or if figurativism will take over again. The path is open, Guðmundur Thoroddsen just has to decide if he wants to walk it all the way.


Ana Victoria Bruno


Photo credits: Ana Victoria Bruno



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