Reykjavík Arts Festival

Various Venues

Requisitioning nearly every art venue in the capital and across Iceland, the Reykjavík Arts Festival turned the whole island into an art gallery featuring mostly new work by thirty-four artists, including Carsten Höller, Lawrence Weiner, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Olafur Eliasson. The focal point of the project, its link to other places and other times, was the work of Dieter Roth. The German/Swiss artist who made Iceland his home from the mid-’50s on was extensively presented in several Reykjavík venues under the title “Dieter Roth—Train.” In addition to Roth’s well-known studio environments, film and video diaries, and installations of perishable and decaying materials like chocolate or spices, the exhibition contained early pieces relating to his background in printmaking and design. Interestingly, his son Björn, who curated the Roth exhibition, is still finalizing some of the works, such as the photographic record of all shops and gas stations on the coastal ring road around Iceland. This continuation of Roth’s ideas, and the huge influence he has had on the development of Icelandic art since the ’60s, makes him a pivotal figure in the present.

The festival’s other main component, “Material Time/Work Time/Life Time,” curated by Jessica Morgan of Tate Modern, also highlighted the role of individuality in a continuous exchange and production of ideas. Iceland seems to induce creative collaborations between strong individuals. In the northern town of Akureyri, Hoist, 2005, a new video installation by Matthew Barney based on material shot in Brazil for his film De Lama Lâmina (From Mud, a Blade), 2004, became spatially and thematically interconnected with Operazione Oesophagus and the Foodprocessors, 2005, a new composite installation work by Gabríela Fridriksdóttir. Rather than exploring notions of the geographical outside, both artists look at the internal fluidity of the body and its relation to the surrounding world.

Time, the exhibition’s overall thematic concern, is also Roth’s. His work can be read as an ongoing production of ideas, situations, and artifacts. He didn’t worry about permanence or sustainability; instead he embraced time, allowing it to interfere with and make necessary corrections to his output. The documentary and narrative strain in the exhibition emanated from Roth, but it was taken up and twisted by others, including Elke Krystufek, who tells her own story through an extensive, even excessive, series of self-representational photographs—shifting the focus from the world around oneself to oneself as the manifestation of the world. Haraldur Jónsson’s work also has a strong temporal and documentary dimension. His slide show Arctic Fruit, 2000–2005, shows images of midwinter electric decorations in Reykjavík. It was projected onto a window that let in strong spring light around the edges, playing with the idea of contrasts that is part of what makes this place special.

A segment of “Material Time” shown in the suburb of Kópavogur offered an interesting combination of artists from various countries. Its eschewal of any easily digestible format or thematic reading became a suggestion for visitors to get involved and look for meanings themselves. A sketchy film made with a light touch by Wilhelm Sasnal—one of three he collectively titled Love Songs, 2005—had viewers humming along to the old jazz standard, “Blue Moon.” As the lyrics were sung on the sound track, the words depicted on a sheet of paper were crossed out. Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s Fossil Fax, 2005, a normal fax machine encased in rock, had paper rolling out of it from time to time as if someone were sending faxes from unknown places to this strange artifact. With its well-framed but easy approach that communicated an unusual interconnectedness of place and time, ideas and materials, “Material Time/Work Time/Life Time” made for thought-provoking viewing and gave a vivid sense of the artistic potential and institutional density of the Icelandic art scene.

Liutauras Psibilskis