“It’s such a big and small world!” Steinunn Önnudóttir says of the art book community. She’s standing in the newly opened back room of Harbinger Gallery, where she and Halla Hannesdóttir have set up “Books In The Back”—Reykjavík’s only art book shop. Two and a half years ago Steinunn opened Harbinger Gallery, the skinny-doored single-room art space at Freyjugata 1. “It’s been an idea of ours for a while,” Steinunn says. “To make something of the back room. Halla was always encouraging me to open it up.” When Halla moved back to Reykjavík from Australia, where she was working on her master’s degree in product design, the two decided to set up shop.
Books in the Back fills a gap that opened with the closure of Útúrdúr and Kling og Bang, two art spaces on Hverfisgata that were once the city’s carriers of small, independent publishers. The lack of a proper space to showcase and sell these books was apparent as soon as Steninunn and Halla committed themselves to the idea. Solely through word-of-mouth, their project spread through the streets. Almost immediately they started receiving submissions. “These were just sitting in a box somewhere,” Steinunn says, and holds up a Gamli Sfinxinn publication with a string of well-known Icelandic artists down its cover. “They’re just waiting to be sold!”
Besides being an outlet for the independent and self-published pieces around Reykjavík, Steinunn and Halla visited the Stockholm Art Book Fair and have turned their gaze onto Instagram and internet sources for the small, the strange and the special edition. “I think the most inspiring thing from Stockholm was going to this studio—“ Steinunn says and points at the wide, textured “Moon Space One” on the top shelf. “His studio isn’t much bigger than this space,” she says. “And they’ve put out maybe ten, twelve books…” She moves to the middle shelf. “This one [also by Moon Space] is something he did for a painter friend, and this one is his girlfriend’s book…” she says, picking up a third book.
It is clear that the network is nuanced but expansive. Book in the Back fills a narrow yet deep hole in Reykjavík’s art and literary scene. And the size does not hinder its content. Tucked neatly behind Harbinger’s gallery front, Books in the Back is a big and small world.
The shop is open weekdays from 16:00-20:00 and weekends from 14:00-18:00. For updates on the selection and submission guidelines, check out their Facebook page.