What if you could start over, and build a new society from the ground up? That’s the central question posed by the Travelling Embassy of Rockall, a new art installation on the Reykjavík waterfront. To the unwitting passerby, the collection of empty shipping containers that form the installation might not look out of place in the harbour area, but the project has goals that extend far beyond Iceland.
“What it has a lot to do with is combating cynicism,” says Allart van der Woude, one of the project’s organizers. “A lot of people that I know, of all age groups and all nationalities, have lost faith in political and spiritual and social narratives.” At the Travelling Embassy of Rockall, visitors can image new narratives in a space that is free of any restrictions posed by existing structures or traditions.
Rockall is a small, uninhabitable rock off the west coast of Great Britain, and the island has caught many people’s imagination due to its isolation and harsh conditions. Over the years, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark and Iceland have all claimed sovereignty over the landmass. “Rockall is, in a way, sort of a game,” Allart says. “We pretend to be this embassy because we want people to imagine a different kind of place, a different kind of nation, where things can be started anew without them having to project that onto a space they know.”
The “embassy” is composed of eight old shipping containers that have been arranged in an empty lot between downtown and Grandi. In some cases, these containers have been turned into a library, workshop, bar or art gallery for people to visit from Wednesday to Saturday. Allart says they plan to host film screenings every Wednesday throughout the summer and weekly concerts on Friday, as well as other workshops or events as they come along.
“We want to offer an accessible level of inspiration,” Allart says about how they curated the event programme. “You want to be able to really identify with the person who is delivering the lecture or organizing the workshop.”
In the end, Allart says he hopes people leave the installation feeling inspired to tackle the social issues in their communities. “A lot of people want to feel like they have some sort of control or some sort of crafting ability in regards to their environment,” he says. “It really just takes a humble little thing to get people to feel better about themselves and feel as if they can contribute to the community.”
The artists behind the Travelling Embassy of Rockall come from all over Europe, from Portugal and the Netherlands to France and, of course, Iceland. Allart says Reykjavík was chosen as the first location of the installation because it has faced problems relating to resources and economic structures in recent years. “These are the themes that we would also encounter if we were to start a society in Rockall,” he says. After Reykjavík, the embassy will be travelling to Rotterdam and Aarhus.
The Travelling Embassy of Rockall will be open on Mýrargata until the end of September. For a full overview of their summer programme, visit their website.