Ekkisens is a small art gallery hidden away in the basement of a normal-looking downtown house on Bergstaðastræti. After crossing the lawn, a discreet doorway leads to a small series of rooms that still bear the marks of their former use as an apartment. But in its current life, it has evolved into a well-regarded creative space focussing on work by young Icelandic artists.
Its founder and director is Freyja Eilíf, who emerged from the chrysalis of Iceland’s Art Academy in 2014, brimming with energy for new projects. “I had been scouting around for somewhere to organise an exhibition,” says Freyja. “I realised that the apartment had been empty since my grandfather passed away. I made an agreement with my family to finish sorting through all of his things—and to use it for one exhibition.”
That first show included several of Freyja’s close friends, who were aware of the circumstances. “They all knew the story,” says Freyja. “My grandfather’s bed was still there, and all the kitchen appliances, so we responded to the space in a site-specific way. That was one of my favourite exhibitions—it really captured the spirit and history of the place.”
Experimental and spontaneous
30 events later, Ekkisens now runs a continuous exhibition programme, providing a much-needed avenue for young Icelandic artists to road-test their ideas. “In my opinion, there aren’t enough art spaces that are experimental and spontaneous, and open for a group of artists to show work,” says Freyja. “The established galleries seem to exhibit the same artists on a loop, rather than taking chances on new artists. It’s important for the audience too, I think. If I were in the audience, I think I’d want more galleries like Ekkisens.” She pauses, smiling. “And for them to be well funded!”
Running the gallery also provides participants with a chance to get hands-on experience of organising exhibitions. “Ekkisens is artist-run,” says Freyja, “so the artists are the curators and supervisors. There’s no capital. Nobody is being paid. It’s nice to realise what forces are behind it—it’s so much work, but people still do it, driven by passion and belief.”
“It can be so powerful when people come together. It helps to activate creativity, and create an important dialogue in the community.”
The approach has yielded some impressive results. “We did a show called ‘Gender Play’ last autumn curated by Heiðrún Gréta Viktorsdóttir and Sigríður Þóra Óðinsdóttir, which then travelled to City Hall and Tjarnabíó and became quite notorious,” says Freyja.
“The arts are often aimed more towards a solo career, but I’m fond of these more collaborative shows,” she continues. “It can be so powerful when people come together. It helps to activate creativity and creates an important dialogue in the community. Instead of competing, it’s a group effort. That’s what Ekkisens is about—making a space where artists can do what they want.”
In 2016, Ekkisens will once again broaden the collaboration, crossing borders to include like-minded organisations outside of Iceland. “This year we have our first international collaborations,” says Freyja, “with art spaces in Tallinn, Leicester and Berlin. It’s really important for Icelandic artists to leave the island, get out of this small scene, keep growing and keep learning. It’s nutrition, for artists.”