…and what then? at Nýlistasafnið

…and what then? at Nýlistasafnið

…and what then? at Nýlistasafnið

Entering Nýló I see a large clock, colorful drawings for musical scores, crumbling plastic containers, meticulously crafted bodies and utopian visions that explore what’s ahead by touching upon our modern and possible not-so-distant future positions, identities and situations. I sit down with curator Sunna Ástþórsdóttir and artist Rebecca Erin Moran for a talk which took the theme of innovation as its starting point to speak about the more personal anxieties of contemporary artists and the agencies that the arts have in our current political landscape. …and what then? Is Sunna’s curatorial debut with Nýlistasafnið, she has been studying and practicing art theory and curation in Denmark for the last eight years. Rebecca Erin Moran is an American/Icelandic artist currently living in Berlin.

The exhibition gathers a handsome roster of artists: Andreas Brunner, Eva Ísleifs, Freyja Eilíf, Fritz Hendrik IV, Huginn Þór Arason, Libia Castro & Ólafur Ólafsson, Rebecca Erin Moran, Rúna Þorkelsdóttir, Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir, Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson and Þórður Ben Sveinsson. 

B: The first thing I noticed when I walked in to Nýlistasafnið was a peculiar atmosphere. I somehow  felt an immediate connection to science fiction. Was this intentional?

S: The exhibition looks to the future and I think it’s a natural step to move into science fiction when it comes to speculating  things to come. The overall theme is glancing at things approaching us, how to approach them and exploring areas which are unknown to us at this date. We’re dealing with concepts of innovation, foretelling and poetically exploring what may or may not happen in our not so distant future.

B:  To me, the large painting by Þórður Ben seems to have the strongest or most literal connection to sci-fi. It depicts a temple-like architecture surrounded by dreamy meadows and a utopic landscape bathed in Icelandic summer light. Here we are proposed with an escape from reality in favour of something greater. Could you tell me little bit about how this work came to the show?

S: Þórður’s painting has that approach for sure. It imagines a place which could very well be derived from a science fiction novel. With all of these artists, dealing with the future has to do with each of their intentions. This painting, for example, is from 1983, and I believe that looking towards utopian futures seemed like a brighter vision at the time. Today it seems like a far out dream, because the end of earth is becoming increasingly more feasible to us. Those who understand it do everything in their power to protect while for many, the future is too dark or hopeless to see these utopian, alternative realities. On the other hand, the utopian vision seems to feed into younger generations of artists. Fritz Hendrik IV brought two paintings to the show which depict similar scenarios, but imply more of a dune-like, outer-space scenario. The human is still present in his portrayals, and like Þórður, there is a craving to escape the instability through the making-of a possible world.

R: I think innovation links to sci-fi, and it ultimately connects to creating the spaces where something new can happen. It reminds me a bit of the Dialogues between David Bohm and Krishnamurti, where the reader witnesses epiphanies happening in real time. He released a whole series of transcriptual writings where he spoke with scientists, theorists and spiritualists discussing time and existence. It’s an exploration into the space where something new is being created. Sunna and I had long talks about the role of arts within the political sphere through that lens of being-in-creation, a speculative fiction/reality which can only happen in media res, its process coming into the world… 

S: … and the show turned into a series of works which are glancing in to the unknown. I see each artist contributing richly to this as some works are in the midst of a decomposing process while others are proposing alternative, heterotopian and even utopian future scenarios. It opens up many discursive trajectories into means of poetically looking forward to what agency artists have today. The term sci-fi never came up in the process, but I saw it turning into a very sculptural, material speculation. We are interested in technology, robotics and ecosystems, but perhaps the role of the arts is to look into the thinking behind it. What the works in the show have in common is this speculative nature that image-making and representation have towards the question of and what then? We are all anxious about it and there is increasing worry and trouble arising in each of us as to how to solve current world problems. I found interesting to look into what contemporary artists could add to that dialog in their own way, without being guided towards making an exhibition strictly about the climate crisis, let’s say. This I feel made a poetic turn within my personal curatorial approach and I felt an increasing sense of trust in the fact that the works would evoke justful contemplations into these themes.

B: Rúna Thorkelsdóttir’s sculpture made of garden cress hangs gently and touches the floor of the gallery. It’s growing and contained at the same time, reflecting our relationship with nature and our longing to control it. The work has a life of its own, stripped from its natural setting and ultimately decomposes during the exhibition period. Can you tell me how our impact on the earth is effecting these artists’ thoughts?

S: Rúna’s work in particular makes the process of life and death visible. You can see the roots on the backside of the piece. The exhibition has only been going on for a week, and runs for six weeks! The cress will develop according to their circumstances, which are not ideal in this case. They’re supposed to be dying, but as with organic substances, it decomposes rather than rots. There is an element of chance here which allows things to take their natural course. 

B: Uncertainty is in the air, for sure. Our times are dominated by instabilities and ambiguities, as is visible in f.ex. Huginn Þór Arason’s work. His sculptures from 2002 display plastic containers with colorful play-doh sculpted around them, perhaps hiding the reality of plastic waste with ornamental and colorful gestures?

S: Huginn’s work came from the archive of the Living Art Museum and I saw it bring the discourse around the conservation of an art work. The sculptures were much fresher when first made. When unboxing them, the crafted clay had turned soggy, crumbling and collapsing on top of their supports. It’s interesting to place together these different processes, between the natural and plastic, man made material. In both of these cases, we can wonder how time treats art works, and how we experience works from the past today if they are intentionally or non-intentionally supposed to change over time?

B: Would you say it’s a bit like unfreezing something?

S: In a way! As someone from the cultural sector you find yourself constantly dealing with this maintenance in art works such as these. You unfreeze them, blow the dust off and constantly check if something needs repairing. Often the works need re-adjusting or re-making the work all together! However, for Huginn’s piece it became necessary to show them as they came out of the box, as a slightly altered version of the works that were made a few years ago. With both of these artists, I see them creating a space for the viewer to contemplate this change in relation to their own body.

Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson’s video is another great example. His Most real death (2000) shows people taking turns staging their own death in front of a camera when shot at by a finger-gun. It exhibits this type of anticipation we live with, this knowledge we all have. In a very bodily way, you are confronted with your own reaction of the work. You might laugh at the first three enactments during this simple game of pretending, but then the violence kicks in. It’s a total of 37 people staging their death in front of the camera. I feel this work describes very well the overall approach that the artists took to the show’s themes. There is a lot of color and humour before the terror reveals itself to you. The viewer realizes that experiencing art changes over time, just like the artworks are evolving, decomposing and taking new shapes as the exhibition continues. 

R: I feel it’s also interesting to look at the impact of humour that Thorvaldur’s work has. It’s meant to questions our ethics, but through this very specific style that he shares with his generation. It has this slap-stick like quality and a visual poetry. It reminds me a bit of Bas Jan Ader and how he staged emotions like sorrow or grievance. This particular body humour and gestural action had a lot to do with these artists. It is a very different type of humour if you compare it to the younger artists in the show. I feel that contemporary artists are faced with a totally different type of anticipation. Maybe one which places the body in relation to its environment, or attempts at contemplating, in a physical manner what is to become of this relationship. The younger generations seems to have a much darker or dystopic view of things.

S: Definitely. I see your work, Rebecca, along with Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir’s and Andreas Brunners as contributing to another conceptual thread of the show. I think that artists today are faced with the contemporary worries brought about by the human’s imprint on nature and other people. We seem to be haunted by guilt, on top of our anxieties, and we perform these socio- and political acts of undoing what we’ve done wrong. Perhaps even to see at what point in these complex relationships we actually belong?

B: Here we can transition from the utopian to the more contemporary idea of gender and the body, which I see resonating in Rebecca’s works. Would you like to tell me about the somatic onesie?

R: I just have this small anecdote before we go into that. I have a good friend in Berlin, who is 25, and getting her PhD in astrophysics. She is working with potential future environments for planets, and other complexities beyond my comprehension. One day, I mentioned that I was envious of her generation, as everything seems to be so possible in terms of creating new living conditions,  gender fluidity, open communities. She turned to me and said bluntly: “but you will die a natural death, and our generation will witness the earth die first”. She is busy exploring the nuts and bolts of how to survive the earth’s destruction and what consequences it has for its inhabitants. When she said this, I was just like “woah…” She is in the science world and she’s confronted with these really real problems. The time is running out and figuring out an alternative before the 2050 deadline is just a very high, practical priority for her and the contemporary science world. 

S: And here the anxiety kicks in again…

R: For sure! I had just never, thought that far!

B: Is the youngest generations of art students and scholars more inclusive because of this hidden knowledge? Is it because we are running out of time and they realize that it’s best to just join forces?

R: It’s something we can’t understand. In the past, there were generations that went through wars and saw the potential end of the world. But those were all very hypothetical, man made conclusions. We found ways to continue because we still had enough resources to re-build what we destroyed. Now the problem is actually real. The sciences today are actually trying to understand how to slow down this process or find an alternative in a new ecosystem. I found this extremely interesting.

My work, as in the Somatic Transit Onesie, romanticises evolution. I made it in 2015 for a show about the EU in Lichtenstein. It was presented with a sound piece called Stop belonging now. At that time I was idealizing if we could evolve in to a male/female/land-animal/sea-animal type of body. A hybrid of some sort, but seeing this body as already belonging to a past. The onesie piece therefore exists and is presented like a skin someone has already shed. So what comes after is unknown, and does not need to be visually represented.  It aims to create a jumping off point for the imagination, I’m always looking for a state of potential; where a work creates an open ended process that is inclusive to the viewers experience. The onesie is perhaps the last point of materialization, what comes next is open.

S: This work is also about removing external markers through this dialog with the viewer. We have so many borders, there has always been this connection between the “one” and the “other”.

R: Stop belonging now, the sound piece, creates the notion of ending belonging in order to belong everywhere. Without perspective, point of view, in order to perceive all viewpoints. Erasure as a way of empowerment. As soon as you come to one end of the spectrum you’ve gone full circle. Identifying in the middle is where you get stuck. Fixed positioning is just a very strange and dangerous concept to me! Conservatives, who have fixed opinions about the LGBQT communities and then these same communities have fixed ideas about how a conservative thinks… our societal standards are always to reject a notion, or fight against a norm, the position is always fixed against something. I’m looking for a non-binary positioning which is neither on the offense nor defence. A place which is neither/and/or. A non-binary positioning which can’t be polarized.

B: Would you say this is totally neutral ground? What does this new life-form present itself as?

R: I don’t really believe in sameness, I believe in fluidity, process, and continual flux.  But it’s just the level of which one zooms in or out. We talked a lot about non-being, about consciousness, about wholeness. There are many theoretical discourses about parts of a whole, but why do we constantly speak about parts? We’re always dissecting, categorizing, and picking at things on such a zoomed in level. It somehow takes away from just being in my view, takes away from the interconnectedness. 

S: The print that Rebecca presents in the exhibition is a work in progress that might take on another form or become a part of a larger series in the future. I’m pleased to include this work in the show, as it strongly suggests a new kind of animal/human ambiguity and questions notions of intimacy and our preconceived notions of gender or our place in the natural world. On the side that faces the window we see a human holding this dog, but we can’t really see its a dog. You can sense that it’s an animal, by our reading of creatures. There is a beautiful collision that happens.

R: It was a great process working with Sunna. She understood the works before they entered the exhibition because she had this overview of what it could become. I was very happy to hand the choosing to her and where the print ended up being in the space.

S: Each artist added to the discourse of the exhibition, and its ideology was shaped through the unfolding of dialogs and experiencing the works themselves. It became important to me to keep the dialog open towards the end. This photowork is just, really, sensual and materialistic, it fell in to place after having strong dialogs throughout the entire process.

B: So, in the beginning the concept of the show was very open, and it’s theme’s come more through working with the artists?

S: I had specific questions that were related to the landscape of exhibitions happening in Iceland when I started working on the show. I knew it was going to have a socio-political angle to it. The framework shaped itself through having discussions and actually seeing what each artist contributes instead of forcing them in to a specific curatorial agenda. 

R: Our first conversations were about doing a political show. But you were not really interested in overtly tackling contemporary politics, as in, protest, or propaganda let’s say…

S: It is about what we perceive as political art today and what role art can play in the political landscape. If you place something in the world, it always says something and that’s what we wanted to bring attention to. The works reflect on and invite you to re-think our current situations, deal with your anxieties, engage. Not in a didactic way, they propose what political positioning artists may be taking and have an inclusive positioning towards the viewers own time and place.

R: I think it’s overtly political to be against something. That is the easiest positioning, to be against something or with something. As a contrast to this show we can recall an infamous moment that Nýló had in 2011 with Koddu. It was a politically charged exhibition. Much of that work was radically against something. This was important at the time of course, as we were facing financial crisis. Right now, however, I think that political art should be about engagement and discourse; finding ways to form connections, even just being intimate. 

S: The presences of the works in this show are strong. They can be evocative, questioning and disturbingly confronting. The atmosphere of the show is thought to offer this type of open engagement…

R: … and I really feel like this show escapes all tag line theories, which has a positive impact. It’s liberating to participate in a show that does not associate itself with a specific theoretical model or an -ism.

S: The anthropocene was a topic that came up frequently in my conversations with Andreas Brunner and I think that many people might discover that, while others discover something else in his work. Some people are engaged with choosing -isms and theories attached to exhibitions and I know that the risk of not having such strict tag-lines or themes might result in a chaotic exhibition. 

B: I think that with this positioning, the poetry of the exhibition reveals itself. Coming back to Andreas Brunner, it gestures at our attempts to undo the things we have done to nature by covering up our workings and re-workings in to the earth’s layers. He reflects on this through small marble pieces, which is usually thought to be a very sacred material, something which can’t be manipulated. We’re always dealing with these gestures of undoing, as artists, as people.

S: There is almost no untouched surface on the earth left, and at the same time we’re very unapologetic about it, we seem to constantly be in the process of covering up our own traces. It is as if we were idealizing our own absence and idleness at these places, as if nothing ever happened.

R: There’s also a trend now in idealizing native and indigenous traditions, and it’s usually done by white people. I find this trend not only awkward, but also total cultural appropriation.  This show, on the other hand, is more about looking forward instead of trying to get back to. I do think we need to unlearn industrialization and recognise our animalistic sides and deeper connections to the earth and all living things: but without trying to emulate the past. 

B: There is constant guilt in the air of those who have oppressed and suppressed, for example how the colonisation of Suriname or the Dutch Caribbean in the Netherlands is being undone through the renaming of places or the revisiting of their culture by white people. It does lie on a very sensitive border and has an awkward feel to it. It’s part of the process of becoming guilt-free of the past, of righting wrongs. But honestly, how else to do to it? What comes next?

S: Exactly, why is there this need to become guilt free? We’re in a place where we can’t undo more. We are acting oblivious to what comes next. I had a talk a few days ago and they asked me what if all these terrible things happen and we just survive? 

B: You mean, what happens when we actually inhabit a place we can’t imagine what is like at this time?

S: Precisely, what happens beyond this beyond?

B: I think one of the stronger points in this show is to refuse a single categorical umbrella. It brings forth the personal anxieties in each participant and invites more intimate readings as to look into the role of art within all these contemplations. The universal is explored through the personal. There is more space to think about the possibilities than what should be or what we should have done. I find this very important, to localize these problems and share them.

S: We hear about the artist as being a mirror of society, but we seem to have lost what the mirror shows us. So my question becomes, what is the errand of art in society today? There has never been a reflection which shows you the real, so the creation of personal, alternative heterotopias become a way to actually explore this question. Ultimately, the artists here are exploring their role just as it is important for everyone to attempt a private understanding within our current state of things. The reflection is found in the artworks and I have found great readings in each of the works here. As a curator I’m interested in seeing how an artist can make political art without overtly educating and narrating an audiences experience. How to make an artwork which is not with or against, and actually trusts the experience that the work brings about in itself?

R: We’re not here to tell you how it is. We like things to have a life of their own and trust in the life that the art piece can have. Sometimes the artist sets limitations with their intentions by using text or didactic forms. Sometimes we don’t realize it, but at most times an artwork can have a much bigger identity than the one the artist insists on. Using naming, or words, can be a limitation. It’s time to celebrate the situations that an artwork can set up with any crowd without leading them to a certain conclusion or opinion. Many people come up to me and they say “oh you had that guy on the floor! It looked great!”, and instead of being like “well, actually, it is a… and it means this, and you should interpret it exactly as I do”. I just don’t like to be told when to change my position, my reading, my experience. 

S: The truth is, logic just follows what you experience, directly. You should always trust the viewer to make their own conclusions, based on their experiences. They should not be controlled, and my intention is making a show which is accessible to people who don’t necessarily visit art galleries on a regular basis. It is important for the arts to participate in any contemporary political discourse we are facing, be it a local or a global one. What is even more important is that the arts should be inclusive and welcome to different readings. We are all facing these problems and I find it interesting to see what the arts can show within the current spectrum. With such a diverse group, who all contributed greatly to this journey of speculations and questions, I wish to create a fertile, poetic ground to contemplate what is to come. This is what I hope translates in to the viewer, who always adds something to the dialog just by experiencing. 

Bergur Thomas Anderson


The exhibition …and then what? runs until 4th of August 2019.

Photo credits: Vigfús Birgirsson

Inclusive Nation: Cycle Music and Art Festival 2018

Inclusive Nation: Cycle Music and Art Festival 2018

Inclusive Nation: Cycle Music and Art Festival 2018

This year’s edition of Cycle Music and Art Festival is titled Inclusive Nation, and it aims to place the festival in a larger context, looking at what is happening in the rest of the world and reflecting on how countries and individuals deal with issues like immigration, integration and cohabitation of different cultures. Iceland has been isolated for many years, and just recently started to be a dream destination for migrants who choose Iceland for its nature’s stunning beauty and for the country’s welfare.

Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir of the Socialist Party, the youngest city council member and the first black woman in the Icelandic council ever, took part at the panel discussion Inclusive Flow at Iðno, and she unlighted how the homogeneous population of Icelanders is now facing a change: immigration is growing and cultures are getting mixed, the typical Icelander with blue eyes and blonde hair is no longer representative of the whole nation. However, Iceland had never really started any conversation about diversity, because it had never had to face this situation before. Cycle is taking place at the right moment: as immigration grows, racism starts to pop up here and there. About a month ago local newspapers reported an investigation about immigrants working in Iceland, showing to the Icelandic population a silent exploitation happening in front of our eyes.

Melania Ubaldo has been working on her personal experiences as victim of slight racism for quite a long time. The work consists of a huge collage of different canvas, assembled together through a long process, creating a dissonant unique piece in which the diverse parts find a kind of harmony despite their diversity. The bits of canvas sewed together are topped with a sentence written in quick movement “Is there any Icelander working here?”, a question the artist got asked while working, as she wasn’t Icelandic enough just because of her Filipino’s somatic features. Her work is part of the show Exclusively Inclusive, and it hangs on the wall of the Gerðasafn, just next to the reception, to contextualize the work in a physical place which recalls the one where the incident happened.

Meriç Algün, born and raised in Istanbul but educated in Sweden, lives between Turkey and Sweden, a living in the in-between condition which led her to explore concepts as identity and belonging. She contributed to Cycle with a series of billboards spread around the public spaces which report questions people got asked in the visa application forms to enter a foreign country. Questions like “Are you and your partner living in a genuine and stable partnership?” arise reflections about the travelers’ identity value, especially in the airports, places where privacy is suspended and the individuals are invasively checked and questioned, diminished, simplified to fit in a pre-established grid which will determine a person’s adequacy to enter the country. Airports fall under the definition of non places a category Marc Augé created to refer to those anonymous places of transition where the human beings just pass by without building any kind of emotional interaction with the surroundings, so that it doesn’t matter if you are entering France or Norway, in any case you’ll be asked “Do you speak english?”. This question also deculturalizes and reduces the values of the hosting country, affecting the experience people would get from it, emphasizing they are allowed to enter the country just as tourists, they are expecting to act as tourists, to have a touristic experience of the country, they are under control.

Melania Ubaldo, Er einhver íslendingur að vinna hér? (2018)

Meriç Algün, Billboards (2012)

Ragnheiður Getsdóttir, Who created the timeline? (2016) and Meriç Algün, Billboards (2012)

Magnús Sigurðarsson, Requiem for a Whale

Childish Gambino, ZEF – This Is France (2018), Falz – This Is Nigeria (2018), Fox – This Is Turkey (2018)

Magnús Sigurðarsson, Icelandic Parroty

Inclusive Nation aims to open up a discussion about our approach to the otherness. If we look up for the world “nation” in the dictionary we will find “A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.”, a definition which underlines the importance of descent, history, culture, all characteristics which can be inherited and can determine a person’s belonging to a certain nation. That definition could, on one hand, sound kind of problematic nowadays when people move abroad so often, and, want it or not, they bring their motherland’s culture with them. On the other hand, exclusiveness is a logical consequence of the existence of borders, countries need to be exclusive in order to define themselves and their population. We ourselves are defined by a process of exclusion: we build our identity by excluding what we are not. The main venue of Cycle, Gerðasafn, hosts the show “Exclusively Inclusive” which, by playing with the words, invites us to reflect about those two important concepts: can we a nation be inclusive while maintaining its identity? If yes, how? At what point exclusiveness becomes racism? And so on.

This year Iceland celebrates the centenary of its independence and sovereignty, and its relation with Denmark as well as the impact of its colonial history are taken into account in the festival. The work of Sara Lou Kramer, Norröna Voyage, on show at Gerðasafn, developed from a theory which says that around the 16th century the Danish colonists collected all of the silver goods from Iceland and brought it to Denmark, where they melted the silver and probably used it to make the three lions which are nowadays in the “Knights’ Hall” at Rosenborg Castle. Kramer has been traveling from Denmark to Iceland on the Norröna ferry, she documented her journey and edited the material to make a video of the three silver lions returning back to Iceland and melting again on the Icelandic land.

Standing right next to Norröna Voyage, Bryndis Björnsdóttir’s installation De Arm started with an act of reappropriation: the artist picked a splinter off a plantation master’s chair from the Danish West-Indies colonies, which was exhibited in a historical show in Copenhagen. The colonists used to withdraw the sulphur from Iceland to make gunpowder, an extremely important resource to maintain their colonies under control and to conquer more territories, and Björnsdóttir unified these two symbols of the colonial time – the wooden splinter and the sulphur – in a match. A third element closes the conceptual circle of the installation: a rope on the floor. During the opening ropes were ignited just outside of the museum: the performance invites the viewer to reflect on the double usage of gunpowder presented in slow matches, a bivalent element which, on one hand, ensure that the explosion will take place and, on the other hand, guarantees a safe time frame between the ignition and the explosion.

Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir’s work The Little MareSausage is an ironic sculpture of a sausage with an elegant fish tail, sitting on a rolled hot-dog bread. The piece is placed in the Tjörnin pond, and it has been broadly discussed, dividing the inhabitants of the capital in two groups: those who love it and those who criticise its phallic shape. The statue is a sort of new creature which merges the Danish iconic The Little Mermaid sculpture and one of the more famous  Icelandic dish: the hot-dog. The work provokes in the viewer reflections about the particular connections arising from coloniser-colonised relationships, cultural exchanges, appropriations, revisitations and new developments are unavoidable, interactions which influence the identities of the involved nations and individuals, determining cultural contaminations which will soften the borders between the countries. But if the Icelandic history and culture is tied to the Danish one, does this make Icelanders a bit Danish and Danish a bit Icelanders? After all, a nation is “A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture […]

Bryndís Björnsdóttir, De Arm (2018)

Bryndís Björnsdóttir, De Arm (2018)

Bryndís Björnsdóttir, De Arm (2018)

Sara Lou Kramer, Norröna Voyage

Sara Lou Kramer, Norröna Voyage

Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir, The Little MareSausage (2018)

Jeannette Ehlers, Black Matter

Jeannette Ehlers, Black Matter

The definition of “nation” given by the dictionary mentions also the role of language in delimiting a culture, and in fact the first problem the team of Cycle (the curator Jonatan Habib Engqvist, the artistic director Gudný Gudmundsdóttir, the co-artistic director Tinna Thorsteinsdóttir and the co-curator and researcher Sara S. Öldudóttir) had to face was the lack of an Icelandic word corresponding to “inclusive”, so that in Icelandic the festival is called Þjóð meðal þjóða (A nation among nations). This led them to reflect upon the role of language in terms of defining the nature of a country and of enlighting peculiarities of a given culture. Ludwing Wittgenstein states in the Philosophical Investigation that the meaning of a word lays in the use of the word itself, and in order to grasp its meaning in any given context we need to look at the non-linguistic activities in which a given group of people engages. These activities plus the specific use of language of the community create a “form of life”. Our understanding of the world is therefore shaped by our language, since it is the means by which we represent the information we get from our experiences. Language became a sort of red thread in this edition of the festival, because of its qualities of being both the consequence of the development of a culture and, in some way, the cause of a population’s understanding of the world.

The piece Mother Tongues and Father Throats by the art collective Slavs and Tatars, which is part of the show Exclusively Inclusive, reflects on the “khhhhhhh” sound that is used in many Arabic languages but does not exist in most of the Northern European ones. The work presents a diagram of the mouth where different letters from Middle East alphabets are placed to indicate which part of the mouth is used to pronounce them. The piece is also a tapestry, it hang to the wall and it goes down to the floor forming a sort of soft bench for the viewers to sit and rest. The “khhhhhhh” is usually perceived as  an abstruse sound from non-Arabic people, it sounds primitive and strange as it’s not completely understood, but the piece combines this sound with a space for people to relax and to feel comfortable in, attempting to modify the perception of that sound and of linguistic in general, which is usually seen as a tough subject to the exclusive competence of academics. During the opening of the Cycle Bendik Giske performed playing his saxophone while walking around the exhibition. He goes beyond the classical way of playing the instrument by incorporating sounds of the mechanics and his own breath. At some point he stood on the work Mother Tongues and Gather Throats and created an interesting and intense interaction between the particular way he uses his mouth and his throat to produce a wide range of sounds and the mouth and throat diagram behind him.

Jeannette Castioni & Þuríður Jónsdóttir have collaborated on the work “Sounds of Doubt”, a piece which investigates the possible connections between the sounds of a certain language/country and the local culture, asking through their work if such a connection exists. A microphone placed in the room detects the sounds from the surroundings and passes the information to a projector which creates a visualisation of the sounds we produce, while models of the seabed surrounding Iceland are scattered in the space. One of these models in particular has been made by merging the submerged peaks and the sound waves of the Icelandic national anthem, showing the similarities of their profiles and shapes. A video work presents the culmination of a process started during Cycle 2017 when through Sounds of Doubts – Workshop groups of artists worked with participants from different Nordic Countries. The aim was to unveil the influences of natural and cultural environments on the participants’ behaviour. The video shows alternately an interview with two Greenlandic ladies, holding inflatable balls depicting the planets of the solar system, and recordings from starships traveling through the universe. Sounds of Doubts creates a parallelism between our existence in the world as highly evolved creatures, with our cultural and knowledge luggage, and the universe invisible structures, primordial forces moving by nature’s laws which constitutes the starting point of it all. There is a flux of life which unifies everything existing in the universe, which we can’t avoid because we are part of a wholeness. We tend to forget where we come from, blinded by idea that we are some kind of superior beings just because we can build tools and we have technologies, but we just assemble or transform preexisting items. As Aristotle’s theory of act and potency says, every substance existing in nature has already the potentiality to become the actual objects in which they develop / are developed by the human beings. We are, indeed “[…] such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”, and here is where inclusiveness becomes a matter of accepting and embracing the wholeness we are part of.

Jeannette Castioni & Þuríður Jónsdóttir have been working together as an artist and a musician, bringing together different experiences and points of view to create a multi-sensorial work which communicates through different media and through different languages. Cycle, in fact, embraces the idea of language in a comprehensive way, languages are not just about spoken or written communication, they are also about the individual’s different ways of expression: the festival brings together visual art, music, design, poetry and even architecture, artists are encouraged to maintain the characteristics of their own art, but also to open conversations and to work across the borders of nations and arts.

Slavs and Tatars, Mother Tongues & Father Throats (2012)

Bendik Giske

Jeannette Castioni & Þuríður Jónsdóttir, Sounds of Doubts, (2017 – 2018)

Jeannette Castioni & Þuríður Jónsdóttir, Sounds of Doubts (2017 – 2018)

Exclusively Inclusive, installation view

Exclusively Inclusive, installation view

The Circle Flute

Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson, In Search of Magic

Pinar Öğrenci, A Gentle Breeze Passed Over Us (2017)

The Circle Flute is the perfect example of a borderline object placed on the edge between art and design. It has been designed by Brynjar Sigurðarsson and Veronika Sedlmair to explore and expand the possibilities of a normal flute: the instrument combines four flutes to form a one big and circular instrument which needs four people to be played and it’s able to produce a wider interaction of sounds than a simple flute. The work opens up to a collaborative use of the object, four people need to coordinate their movements and their actions since the Circle Flute is a combination of four curved flutes attached to form a single instrument. The Circle Flute is thought to be played for one listener who is supposed to stay in the middle of the instrument to get an immersive experience of the music, embraced by the flute and its sounds.

Libia Castro and Ólafur Ólafsson’s contribution to the festival fits into this process of unification of different forms of art. They started the project In Search for Magic in May 2017 with a group of musicians and composers, bringing together people with different approaches to music to compose songs on the Proposal for a new Constitution for the Republic of Iceland written in 2011 which was approved by the Icelandic population through a referendum in 2012 but hasn’t been approved by the parliament yet. The idea behind the constitution is to give voice to the people, the constitution has in fact been created through a collaborative project, people would bring new ideas and would discuss them together, everyone was welcome to contribute to the drafting of the constitution. In Search for Magic moves toward the same direction, the project is rooted in a collaborative effort which engages with the public, in fact viewers were invited to take a look at the workshop when musicians and composers were working, and to actually take part in the work by reading a sentence from the constitution which was recorded and will be edited in a single recording which will literally unify the individuals’ voices. The project embodies the utopia of a different world in which people take actively part in the building of their future, and the borders between artists and non-artists are torn down.

The artworks presented in the show Exclusively Inclusive and in the public spaces stay true to their nature of artworks even when the subject is placed in a social/political context. The video work by Pınar Öğrenci, A Gentle Breeze Passed Over Us, reflects about the terrible journey people from the Middle East have to go through to reach Europe’s lands, the piece is based on the story of a professional musicians from Iraq who was forced by human traffickers to leave behind his oud in order to fit more people in the ship. Despite the strong thematic, the video treats the episode in a highly delicate way, it does not show violence, but it communicates through poetic and emotional images, addressing the story to our humanity. Art doesn’t need to become a cold documentary about political and social situation in the world, there are many ways to tell stories, and art needs to keep its own touch.

Manifesta 12 in Palermo has been dealing with similar issues, but the biennial consists of mostly video works documenting the immigrants’ life in Italy or their original culture, a format which tends to repeat itself and does not fit such a big exhibition. Moreover, the works are often reduced at pure documentation, the glimpse of art and creativity is hidden somewhere behind technology, the message keeps repeating itself in each video, progressively losing its emotional impact on the viewers. Exclusively inclusive, instead, takes the opposite approach: the selected works do deal with tough themes, but the re-elaboration of the material made from the artists, the multiple collaborations which bring to multimedia outcomes, the way artists address their works to different senses to get the viewer/listener/smeller totally involved, all these qualities manage to give a new conformation to those images to which we are so inured, a comprehensive experience which talks to us on a new level.

Ana Victoria Bruno

Photo credits: Ana Victoria Bruno,  Anita Björk, Leifur Wilberg

Website: www.cycle.is

Beyond Human Impulses goes to Greece

Beyond Human Impulses goes to Greece

Beyond Human Impulses goes to Greece

The performance arts festival, Beyond Human Impulses, began at Mengi in Reykjavik on February 2nd, 2016 as a monthly performance series occurring on the first Monday of the month. Between its inaugural performance and July 2017, 75 performances were realized. The festival was initiated by five female Icelandic artists: Bryndís Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir, Ingibjörg Magnadóttir, Eva Ísleifsdóttir, Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, and Katrín Inga Hjördísar Jónsdóttir, who all share equally the role of curator while also performing in the festival themselves.

Before Beyond Human Impulses, a disparate group of artists established Leikhús Listamanna, a platform for performance artists in Reykjavik that began in 2003 and lasted on and off for the next decade. Other than that, there have been no other platforms of this kind devoted to performance.

When Eva Ísleifsdóttir opened A-DASH, an exhibition space and art residency in Athens, Greece in 2017, it became an obvious place for the next incarnation of the festival. On the weekend of April 12th-14th, Beyond Human Impulses held its first festival in an old paper warehouse in the commercial district of Athens along with the help of Athens Intersection, Athens Trigono, and CheapArt, an organization that secures short-term art venues in empty buildings in Athens.

The festival opened on a Friday night with the performance Apogee or Nobody by Bryndís Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir. A fitting inaugural piece, the robotic vacuum that roamed the floors of the old warehouse seemed to bring awareness to the little corners and crevices of the decaying building, showing the viewers a new point of reference for vision that would set the tone for the rest of the festival. The saucer-shaped vacuum with its internal whirring motor spun in circles and sensed the space´s corners, the columns that stood under the balcony, and the feet of viewers who followed its movements patiently as though being sniffed by a wild animal. As the robotic vacuum explored the space, it sang a melancholic song in acapella through a speaker placed on top of it, echoing throughout the building.

Humming of Venus by Berglind Águstsdóttir.

The Storm is Coming by Maria Nikiforaki.

Reflex by Yiannis Pappas.

Ego Friendly Love by Katrín Inga Hjördísar – Jonsdóttir.

Radar LXXVII by Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir.

B – Be – Bee – By – Bí – Bý – by Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir.

Braid Choir – Solidarity by Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir.

Apogee or Nobody by Bryndís Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir.

Exiting… by Eva Ísleifsdóttir.

Reality in other words by Rakel McMahon.

Homo Bulla Est by Erin Honeycutt.

With the space now mapped by these beyond human senses, the evening could begin in earnest. “Thank you for believing in the moment,” Eva Ísleifsdóttir announced on the opening night. Performance thrives in the moment, the fleeting image or sound or combined effect, the unique audience, the circumstantial arrangements of the space, the day, month, era – all a moment (that can’t be purchased, although for sale throughout the weekend were posters with quotes from each of the 18 participating artists.) The passing moment that is so circumstantial in performance art, although in some instances can be restructured in similar surroundings and set-ups, are inevitably tragic, in a way, as it can never be documented for posterity in its true form.

The decaying paper warehouse on the cobbled, winding street called Chrisospiliotissis set the stage perfectly for these fleeting moments to appear and then dissolve. The space was characterized by its high ceilings and ornate decoration encircling the lighting fixtures in a state of decay, the tall, obscured windows with iron bars crossing them, the dust that covered every surface, and the wooden staircase that was a little too noisy to imagine lasting many more events like this one. Even the part of the ceiling that came crashing down overnight in a crumble of pieces on Saturday was a performance on the part of the building, a reaction from the space itself.

What better location for three evenings of performances that all seemed to relay a comment on the tragedies taking place in the world outside and the inner catharsis that may seem personal, but speaks to those events as well. Since we are in the realm of performance art, however, we do not have to serve the proper function of tragedy, regardless of how eloquent our poetry or how fine our choreography because this was Beyond Human Impulses, which became a running question throughout the weekend. What exists beyond human impulses?

We decided it was, more or less, when we decided to go beyond the human impulses of anxiety and worry to embrace an impulse that is co-creative, empathetic to the world at large, and creating a container in which to perform and enact rituals that transform the performer and include the audience in the transformation. Consider Katrín Inga Hjördísar Jónsdóttir’s Sunday performance Ego Friendly Love: a ritual in the nude in which she placed flowerpots and triangular mirrors around the room with audience members involved in the reflections.

On Friday evening, Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir enacted Braid Choir – Solidarity, a piece that has been performed before in different compositions of choir members and lyrics. With a gathering of long-haired women standing outward in a circle, Gunnhildur stood in the middle braiding the hair in a single circular plait while the choir spoke and sang sometimes in unison and sometimes as lone voices. The piece was dedicated to the two young Greek soldiers who were taken into custody in March 2018 for allegedly entering a Turkish military zone on suspicion of attempted espionage and who still remain in custody.

However, in Dionysian fashion, tragedy is followed by dancing and rapture – this was brought in full aesthetic qualities of Beauty and Significant Form in a performance by Berglind Águstsdóttir titled Humming of Venus who opened with the recorded sounds of the planet Venus borrowed from NASA. In her flowering kimono, bubble-blower, tinseled rotating fan and bright red lips, she became a new kind of demigod, singing along to a track overlapping Indian ragas with the duet ‘Islands in the Sun.’

Imitation, Aristotle argued, is a natural human impulse that humans enjoy and is our greatest learning mechanism. In this way, he defended tragedies, stating that they could appeal to the mind, the emotions, and the senses, and if confronted in a healthy manner, bring about a cleansing emotional catharsis, which is definitely the experience of a performance by Berglind – propulsion by catharsis.

Saturday opened with Eva Ísleifsdóttir’s Exiting…, an embodiment of the human inability to escape from the signs and symbols that surround us. Eva lay beneath the humongous exit sign, surrendered to the external meaning it purported to portray. Following Eva’s contemplation under this very physical and heavy sign under which she literally lay crushed on the pavement was a performance by the author that also dealt with our connection to universal signs and the meaning we make from them. In a baroque hair-do of the same era in which the German Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin lived when he wrote in Athens in the early 18th century, whose writings were quoted throughout the performance, a series of planetary aspects of the day were read.

Mars trine Pluto, for example, was applied a meaning based on observations taken from walking around the city in the few days leading up to the festival. Does the brimming strawberry cart on the square imitate Venusian effects? Is that couple fighting by the fountain an imitation projected in our earthly reality of Uranus’ interaction with the moon today? While there are thousands of opinions by astrologers to be found especially on the internet, the real answer is not as important as the place the question takes us, which is back to the mythic imagination, a reminder that our 40,000-year-old brain has not changed since the time when we couldn’t tell the difference between mythic reality and reality – they were both an equal reality, just a moment in time.

Following are names of the artists that participated with links to artists websites:

Amalia Charikiopoulou, Aristeidis Lappas, Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir, Berglind Águstsdóttir, Bryndís Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir, David Kirshoff, Erin Honeycutt, Eva Giannakopoulou, Eva Ísleifsdóttir, Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir, Ingibjörg Magnadóttir, Katrín Inga Hjördísar Jónsdóttir, Maria Nikiforaki, Ragnheiður Sigurðardóttir Bjarnason, Rakel McMahon, Snorri Páll, Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir og Yiannis Pappas.

Erin Honeycutt

All photos courtesy of Georgios Papadopoulos.

Beyond human impulses


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