This August, an exciting new festival comes to Kópavogur. Cycle Festival, a four-day interdisciplinary arts extravaganza, will showcase unconventional works and collaborations in unfamiliar performance venues, with the goal of making audiences reconsider their preconceptions about genre, discipline, and the spectator’s role. Acclaimed artists from around the world will exhibit works that serve to blur or erase the boundaries we draw between visual art and music, classical and popular modes, and audience and performer. If this sounds super theoretical, that’s because it is; but Cycle’s exploration of these broad concepts aims to be both accessible and participatory. With workshops, site-specific performances, and interactive art pieces, the festival will, indeed, be a hands-on affair. We sat down with Fjóla Dögg Sverrisdóttir, the festival’s managing director, and Guðný Guðmundsdóttir, one of the two artistic directors, to learn more about the festival.
So, how did you come up with the idea for Cycle?
Guðný: We started working on this one year ago exactly. I’ve been organizing the Icelandic Chamber Music Festival for eight years and been working with people from abroad. About a year and a half ago, some partners from England and Norway applied for the EU’s Creative Europe grant to fund residencies in England, Norway, and Iceland, and our festival was supposed to exhibit what was produced in these residencies. But I had this passion for visual art and the mixing of art forms, so instead, we decided to put together a new festival which mainly focused on interdisciplinary work.
So the grant was originally for residencies, but you decided, “Hey let’s just do a festival?”
Guðný: Yeah. Also, when you get one big money supply, it’s very easy to get others. Doing a festival in Iceland where there’s not so much money for culture, you need to be clever to get money from abroad so that we can enrich the cultural scene here.
So are both of your backgrounds in classical music?
Guðný and Fjóla: Yep.
I was trying to figure out from looking at the website whether this was coming out of visual arts or music. But it’s hard to pin down.
Fjóla: That’s really good to hear!
Guðný: It’s a different sort of festival. In the new music scene, the focus is completely on the music. Even if composers and performers are doing something which is a little more in the realm of visual arts, it’s seen through the music frame. And then we have the visual artists working with music and it’s still seen through the visual arts frame. So there’s a lack of platforms for mixing the two.
Fjóla: We’re taking away the frame and giving artists a platform to explore this new medium.
And you’re also getting rid of, or bringing attention to the physical spaces that we associate with these media.
Guðný: We wanted to mix music, visual arts, and architecture because in our minds it’s one thing. If you have music in a concert hall, people know how to react, how to see what they’re presented. But if you present it in an art space, maybe it frees the way you perceive things. So I think the architectural factor is extremely important as well.
Fjóla: So by using spaces with a specific role in a different capacity, you see things differently. For example, not having a concert with seats and a stage, but having it in a museum.
I saw there’s also an event in a former asylum.
Fjóla: Yeah, we’re bringing music into an asylum that has a dark history and that history becomes part of the performance. We’ll also use the Kópavogur Townhouse, which is one of the oldest stone buildings outside of Reykjavík, a farmhouse, and an old apartment building. And Gerðarsafn, the Kópavogur Art Museum, will be our home base.
Was Kópavogur an obvious place to hold the festival?
Guðný: When I started the Icelandic Chamber Music Festival, Kópavogur was the only place with a real concert hall. Then with Gerðarsafn and the Natural History Museum and the library, it’s a hotspot for culture and education. Since I’ve been working with these places for so long, it made sense. Also I like bringing cultural events into the suburbs. Everything is so easy in 101. In Berlin, you can see how, when you inject culture into a neighborhood, services and cafés and such follow and change the environment.
Fjóla: Kópavogur was the first place we presented this idea to and they welcomed us immediately.
So a lot of the performers have classical music backgrounds, but will the festival have anything classical about it?
Guðný: Not at all!
It’s classically trained musicians who go experimental?
Fjóla: We even have classical composers coming from pop.
Guðný: Like Páll Ragnar Pálsson who’s composing for the Ólafur Eliasson piece, he has a doctorate in composition, but started his musical career being a rock star in Maus.
Will any events look like traditional events?
Guðný and Fjóla: Not at all.
Guðný: I guess we’re trying to open up and make people experience something different that opens up the possibility of further discussions. Maybe more people will do things in this experimental way. Are we calling this a new discipline?
Fjóla: That’s what we’re exploring: is it a new discipline?
Guðný: I want to call it a new discipline with many aspects, but it’s one whole.
The way you talk about it is very holistic, like it’s one thing.
Fjóla: That’s how the projects are created. For example Þráinn Hjálmarsson, a visual artist, and Sigurður Guðjónsson, a composer, connected on their own. There’s a natural instinct to work together, to create one piece together.
Guðný: It’s more interesting when the creative process starts together. It’s not like, “Hey I have an idea. I need a musician.”
How did the artists get involved with the festival?
Guðný: We picked and commissioned them. Some projects are performances that have already happened, but we’re recycling them in new ways.
How would you explain Cycle to a friend in a few sentences?
Guðný: Cycle exhibits intersections of music and art in as many ways as possible. No, that’s too big. It’s this experiment to try to involve the audience in this interdisciplinary experiment.
Fjóla: I see it as innovation and entrepreneurship, creating something new.
Guðný: And we’re three women doing this, that’s important to say.
Is it going to happen next year?
Fjóla: We have funding for these two years.
Guðný: … and hopefully we’ll get on to a bigger milk cow after that.
And beyond that?
Guðný: Everything has its time and place. This is what we’re focused on now.
Fjóla: As long as its lifetime allows.
The festival is jam-packed with workshops, exhibits and performances. “New Release,” an exhibit of the (nonperformance) works in the festival, will remain on view at Kópavogur’s Gerðarsafn through September 27. Here’s a small sampling of the festival’s performance events. Check out www.cycle.is for the full programme.
German artist Christina Kubisch invites you to put on a set of headphones, specially wired to pick up the electromagnetic waves around you. Follow a map, on your own (or guided by the artist) hearing the hidden music of everyday life.
August 13, 18:00 Guided walk with the artist
August 14 – 16, 11:00 – 18:00 Independent walks
Spiegeltunnel (Mirror Tunnel)
Composer Páll Ragnar Pálsson performs works in conversation with Ólafur Eliasson’s mirror installation while members of the Skark Ensemble invite the audience to interact with the sculpture.
August 13, 20:00
A variety of video art projects, including “Loud and Clear Too,” a bizarre collaboration between video artists, musicians, and (yes) advertising agencies.
Salurinn Music Hall
August 16, 14:00 – 18:00
Cycle Music & Art Festival runs August 13 – 16 in Kópavogur.
See our listing here for more info.