A Grapevine service announcement Pay attention: Eruption Pollution Likely To Hit Whole Country
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Before Björk There Was…

Before Björk There Was…

Published July 28, 2009

It has always been an Icelander’s greatest dream to be accepted by big city folk. The Sagas are full of stories of Icelanders’ triumphs abroad, be it at the court of the Norwegian king or the Byzantine Emperor. These may have been a tad embellished, as reports of Icelanders’ triumphs in the last few years certainly were. It was artists such as Sigur Rós and Björk who were the first Icelanders in modern times to really conquer the world. But long before them, a man by the name of Sveinn Kristján Bjarnarson had New York at his feet. No one, however, seems to know about him.
Early 20th Century quarter life crisis
Now that Iceland’s reputation is in tatters, it is a welcome opportunity to revisit one of our countrymen’s more successful exploits. In the documentary “From a Turf Cottage to the Cover of Time,” filmmaker Hans Kristján Árnason does just that. At the age of 27, having what would now probably be called a quarter life crisis, Sveinn knocked a few years off his age, passed himself off as being born in the USA and changed his name to Holger Cahill.
As such he became director of the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York City and supervised a program to help starving artists during the Great Depression. Now that depression is upon us again and artists are starving even more than usual, it is a worthwhile reminder of how even the Americans thought is necessary for the state to chip in to save the arts.
Cahill is also credited for helping to move the world capital of visual arts from Paris to New York. Whether this was a good idea is another matter, but probably inevitable. If Cahill was the “pull” effect of moving visual arts across the Atlantic, Hitler was most certainly on the “push” end of things.
Art in the time of depression
 Nevertheless, Cahill deserves credit for his work as a real patron of the arts who cared equally much during bust or boom. The story is told in a straightforward documentary style, which is almost a relief these days. It often seems to be the case, especially when dealing with the visual arts, that the filmmaker sees himself more as artist than chronicler, with the inevitable result that the point gets lost along the way.
Hans Kristján and filmmaker Guðmundur Bjartmarsson resist all such temptation, instead concentrating on the story at hand. The film includes interviews with surviving family members and art historians. The full version was debuted at the Gimli film festival in Winnipeg in late June, having received rave reviews in Fréttablaðið. The DVD is available in Reykjavik bookstores and select music stores.



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Independence Is Not A Disaster:

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After decades of discussion on the political and economic details of a theoretically independent Scotland, the Scottish citizens finally face the vote that could bring this country into reality. The vote on the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, asking “Should Scotland be an independent country?” will take place this Thursday, September 18, 2014. “We have a shared interest” As part of the discourse on their potential independence, Scottish political leaders are looking to the Nordic countries as models in developing their social and economic policies. In addition to potentially modelling welfare and taxation on Nordic systems, other involvement ranges from applying

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Funding Dries Up at the Library of Water

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Didaskophilia

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The Biophilia project has extended its tendrils into many unexpected areas. Its accompanying education outreach programme aims to encourage creativity, whilst using new technology as a gateway to science and music learning. This approach combines the use of cutting-edge apps based on Björk songs like “Virus,” “Crystalline” and “Moon,” with simple exercises designed to be engaging and fun, such as marking a baloon with dots and then blowing it up to illustrate the Big Bang. The education programme went on the road as part of the Biophilia city residencies—runs of three to ten shows that took place in cities like

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News In Brief: Early September

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Remember last issue when we complained that the Bárðarbunga volcano was a huge disappointment for not having the decency to erupt? Well, apparently the volcano gods read the Grapevine, because a huge fissure opened up in Holuhraun and began spewing forth some very photogenic magma. Icelanders were quick to ask the most important question: What are we going to name the new lava field when all is said and done? The jury’s still out on that one, but for now, this is proving to be the ideal volcanic situation: pretty lava, no airplane-choking ash clouds and no one hurt or

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Why You Can’t Go See The Eruption

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In the middle of the night on Saturday, August 16, an intense swarm of seismic activity began in the area of Bárðarbunga—one of many central volcanoes nobody can pronounce—under Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Since that day, my co-workers and I at the Icelandic Meteorological Office (aka the IMO) have been working day and night to monitor the activity, holding daily meetings with the Civil Protection services, and trying to figure out the possible outcomes of these events, which might just be the start of something a lot bigger. When the activity began, it was incredible how we could follow the

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A Volcano Bigger Than Timberlake

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The most prominent, truly devastating volcanic eruption in Icelanders’ public memory is arguably the late-18th century eruption in the volcanic ridge Lakí, followed by the Móðuharðindi, two years of all-over brutal hardships. The sky went dark, and the sun faded, while ashes destroyed pastures, and temperatures sank, leading to the death of an estimated 75% of the country’s livestock and a fifth of its human population. Then there was the late-19th century eruption, after which a fifth of the island’s populace moved to Canada. The ashes from the sudden 1973 eruption in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago destroyed 400 homes. One person

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