These days, it’s not uncommon to see recent art school graduates finding strength in numbers and opening a studio together—it is unusual, however, to find them still running years later. This makes the Kunstschlager collective particularly unique. In the span of three years, the group, originally composed of six friends who rented an apartment together on Rauðarársstígur, has grown in size and moved into Reykjavík Art Museum’s Hafnarhúsið.
We sat down with two of the newer members, Þórdís Erla Zoëga and Sigmann Þórðarson, who both graduated in 2012, from Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and the Iceland Academy of the Arts, respectively. They say the original group struck gold when they found an affordable studio space big enough for all of them, just a stone’s throw from Hlemmur in downtown Reykjavík. The place was run-down and gritty, but had enough extra space for a fifty square metre exhibition space and bazaar alongside the studios.
Fast-moving and friendly
As the core of Kunstschlager expanded and more members joined, Þórdís says they decided instead to work as a collective. “We started hosting group shows together and offering people we knew to join in,” she says. “The bottom line is that we’re artists, and we want to contribute to the community.”
From then on the group’s identity quickly formed. Þórdís and Sigmann debate where the name originally came from before agreeing that it was probably a play on the German words “kunst” and “schlager” (which translate as “art” and “play”). They even got their own mascot—the Kunstschlager rat—a playful cartoon character.
While Kunstschlager occupied a space on Rauðarársstígur, the collective held a total of 37 shows, including eleven group shows. Þórdís says there is no formal modus operandi for Kunstschlager, leaving artists free to experiment: “it allows me to work differently than I usually do, which is really fun!”
The collective has made numerous trips around the country and journeyed internationally with their craft. Their first outing was in March 2013, when six members made their way west to Ísafjörður; a trip to Stockholm, Sweden, followed in 2014. Sigmann remarks that his favourite trip was to Hjalteyri’s old herring factory in August, 2014.“The place was so beautiful, and we had great weather,” he says. “And a lot of people showed up, too.” Þórdís adds that it was also a surreal experience. “It stank of shark,” she says laughing. “There we were, creating a carnival-esque experience, and I even made a popcorn mountain from 40 kilos of maize, and the smell was everywhere. But it was great.”
At the end of 2014, the building owners notified the group that the rent was going up by more than 50%, which the collective quickly realised they couldn’t afford.
Dream come true
Lucky for them, Hafﬂór Yngvason, the Museum Director of Hafnarhúsi›, contacted the group to offer them space in the museum, which he felt hadn’t been used well enough. Sigmann notes there used to be a café, and then a soup restaurant in the spot, but they hadn’t been financially sustainable, so Kunstschlager were instead asked to create some kind of hangout area. “We were absolutely speechless,” Þórdís says. “We didn’t even allow ourselves to dream that we would get such a great opportunity
so soon after graduation.”
They made colourful furniture, brought in their mascot, and made a programme filled with events, including audio and video installations. Then this summer they were given free use of the D-hall in the museum, a one hundred square metre room usually earmarked for younger artists. They decided to divide the three months they have there between six members who were free to do what they wanted; but in keeping with their ethos, each member had to invite at least one other artist to join them.
They just finished an exhibit called ‘Still Life’, which featured the works of nineteen artists, and now the only shows left in that hall are Sigmann’s (plus four other artists) and Þórdís’s (plus one other artist), who are respectively joined by four and one other artist. And then on Culture Night, August 22, the group has been given free rein over the museum itself.
Change is a choice
Despite changing space, Þordís says Kunstschlager hasn’t changed much.. “There are of course more people involved, and we’re in a bigger organisation with a better budget, but it’s still just work,” she says nonchalantly. “At Rauðarárstígur we picked our own opening hours, and we often had parties late at night, but now we have to abide by the museum’s hours.”
have special needs, and Þórdís working in healthcare wholesales. “And then at the end of the day,” Sigmann says, “when you’re physically and mentally exhausted, that’s when you start creating art.” Þórdís says that she spent around 27 hours on an installation she did the other week at Gerðarsafn. “You use your weekends and free time,” she says, “so you have to manage your time well.”
Sigmann feels it’s fairer to say they’ve adapted rather than changed. “We’re not running our own shop any more, and we’re technically not working for ourselves any more,” he says, “but we’re still really enjoying what we do.”
On September 20, the group’s time at Hafnarhúsið will come to an end. After heading out to the Culturescapes Art And Culture Festival in Basel, Switzerland in October, where they will exhibit alongside heavyweight art institutions Kling & Bang and The Living Art Museum, Sigmann says the group will have a long overdue discussion about what happens next. “We’ve never had the space to think about what we want to do, which is maybe not a bad thing as it allows us to be in the moment,” he says. “Realistically though, we’re unlikely to look for another exhibition space unless we start applying for grants.”
In their minds, they’re more likely to continue finding other places to exhibit their art together as a collective. When asked where they’d like to do that, Þórdís jokingly said: “The National Gallery! Or Perlan!” Sigmann instead suggested that “maybe we can have a performance art piece at Parliament, where we wear suits and deliver long speeches.”
Ongoing and upcoming exhibits
‘Wiolators’ by Emilia Bergmark (SE), Þórdís Erla Zoëga (IS), Maria Gondek (DK), Christopher Holloran (GB), Kristinn Guðmundsson (IS), Peter Sattler (AU), Nadja Voorham (NL), & Andrea Zavala Folache (ES)
This international group formed in Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, and hosts yearly exhibits in different countries.
August 8-31, Kunstschlager chamber
‘Neither Nor’ by Sigmann Þórðarson, Bjarni Þór Pétursson, Emma Heiðarsdóttir, Klængur Gunnarsson, & Una Björg Magnúsdóttir
These five artists tackle existential questions about mundane life, purpose, definitions, transformations, anxiety, impossibility, and nothing. There is a special opening party on August 15 at 15:00.
August 15-30, D-hall
‘MIX’ by Þórdís Erla Zoëga & Þór Sigurþórsson
This mixed-media exhibit uses mirror installations and other works to play with people’s perception to reflect on issues such as intimacy, balance, and one’s sense of right and wrong. There is a special opening party on September 5 at 15:00.
September 5-20, D-hall
The Artists Are Present
To the untrained eye, Reykjavík appears to be a city with no lack of space devoted to art. For emerging artists, however, it can feel like a bastion for the privileged. One group of recent graduates from Iceland’s Academy of the Arts transformed their frustrations about the inaccessibility of the art world into their own haven—a multifold space including a gallery, an art bazaar and studio space which they called Kunstschlager.