Published November 2, 2015
You don’t usually find yourself pressed up against a rack of jaw-droppingly expensive down coats to watch the performance of a Faroese electro-pop band—or sitting on your hands to keep them warm while a drummer improvises rhythms to accompany the lilt of poetry being read in an assonant language you don’t understand. Those times you do, it’s at Iceland Airwaves. From its humble beginnings, the festival has challenged the traditional confines of musical performance throughout.
This year, the festival has taken yet another new turn for music by announcing a new collaboration with the German arts organization Urban Nation Berlin. Dubbed WALLPOETRY, the project is series of murals based on the lyrics of some of the artists performing at the festival. With the assistance of Henný María Frímannsdóttir, the project is the brainchild of one Yasha Young, curator of Urban Nation.
Based in Berlin, the non-profit promotes installation and street art amongst international artists. By inviting creators from across the globe to place and exhibit their work on the walls, pillars, and bridges of their city, they aim to transform its urban spaces.
One series of these works is ONE WALL, which aims to engage artists with the specific challenges of Berlin’s more diverse neighbourhoods. It started in the outer fringes of the city and is slowly working its way in, “one wall at a time.” Collaborators on this series have ranged from emerging artists to design icons like Shepard Fairey (of Obey Propaganda and Obama’s “Hope” poster fame). Another series, M/, places murals on the walls of buildings under construction, acting as a “creative cocoon” mirroring the inner transformation.
Reykjavík’s own mural series commenced last year when Yasha Young attended Airwaves. Thinking it would be an ideal place to branch out from Berlin, she approached festival director Grímur Atlason with the idea. It’s taken a year of planning and development to connect the musicians to the artists, as well as fourteen days of fighting the wind and rain to install the work, but the results are here to stay. There are even plans to add new work to the collection next year.
The work comprising WALLPOETRY is as visually diverse as the music on which it is based and the architecture which surrounds it. ELLE, an artist known for her images of women and animals, gives us a slightly ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ treatment of Úlfur Úlfur’s “20 og eitthvað.” In her piece, a woman draped in wolf skin rides a wolf and howls at the moon.
Right on Laugavegur, a psychedelic, almost monochromatic wraparound mural by Caratoes of a Valkyriesque woman is styled on “Óður til móður” by Ylja. If the musical inspirations weren’t Icelandic enough for you, British artist D*Face (aka Dean Stockton) has provided a Pop Art reinterpretation of both Agent Fresco and the medieval Laxdæla saga. These are only three of the ten new additions to Reykjavík’s bourgeoning street art collection.
As a part of the collaboration process, many of the musicians involved have been invited to play at the upcoming inauguration of the Urban Nation Museum in Berlin in 2017. But you don’t have to wait that long to appreciate the work at hand. It’s up and available now. The concept was simple: “No entry fees no tickets no opening hours.” The result, however, is beautifully complex.