From playwriting to installation art, painting to photography, books to documentary film, he´s done it, and nearly all of it will be featured June 11th through August 8th at the Reykjavík Art Museum. “I Didn’t Do It” will display various works created by Þorsteinsson in the forty-three years of his life, ranging from early sketches and texts to newer pieces of sound, video and photo installations. But for Þorsteinsson, the exhibit isn’t simply a retrospective of one man’s life.
“These pieces are a part of me as someone from Akureyri or someone who grew up in the 60s and 70s,” he said. “It’s not so much about me as it is about my generation.” Þorsteinsson is perhaps best known in Iceland for his play “And Björk, of Course…” and the Betterby books for children. But he attributes his desire for using art forms other than writing to living in Iceland. “It’s a great advantage to grow up as an artist in Iceland,” he said.
“Iceland is a perfect breeding ground for people who can’t decide what they want to do. It is so small you can literally walk into whatever you like and try things out.” While Þorsteinsson modestly asserts that the central theme of “I Didn’t Do It” is “to have fun,” many of his pieces offer insight into more serious themes. Jesus is Closer to Home is a documentary about people from Amsterdam’s Red-Light District. Icelandic Art compiles TV stills of Icelandic politicians and officials being interviewed in front of traditional Icelandic paintings. Most Real Death is a video project of people enacting their own deaths.
Through its interaction with the audience, much of Þorsteinsson’s work suggests a discussion about the role of the artist. And it seems this is a question Þorsteinsson wrestles with often. “I have a problem with art that is masturbatory, when artists are ‘generous and kind’ with others to ‘allow’ them to be artists for a day,” he said. “I am still searching for a form to trigger the awareness of people’s own value and possibilities of being creative, without having to bring them to a museum or act ‘artistically’.” But Þorsteinsson hasn’t given up completely on using the museum as a tool for his art. “I Didn’t Do It” includes a piece called Verkaskipti (or Work Exchange) in which personal valuables are displayed alongside stories about the objects in exchange for something in the museum.
“The piece is not only about ‘what is art’ but the social context of the person or her story. Its value is tested there,” he said. “My role as an artist is simple: to point out things and show what is already there.” The words “awareness,” “value,” and “possibility” are terms Þorsteinsson uses often. Perhaps they are words he has picked up through his experience as a mentor with Fully Alive Coaching, a program in Los Angeles started by Guðni Gunnarsson that teaches holistic medicine and yoga. “There is a close link between my life as an artist and as someone doing yoga and teaching spiritual things.
It’s all about the awareness and responsibility of someone who has the power to create what matters,” he said. “I see it more and more as one big art piece, or one whole idea of simply being alive as a whole person.” “I Didn’t Do It” runs June 11th through August 8th at the Reykjavík Art Museum located in the Hafnarhús, Tryggvagata 17, 101 Reykjavík.