Published August 6, 2004


The disco-like magic of the exhibit was lost when a museum staff member unplugged the device, transforming the shimmering light into something resembling the late-night glow of a stoplight, but this unpleasant experience is easily avoided by arriving at the exhibit sometime before the museum closes. The room accomplishes enough atmosphere to give any native Icelander flashbacks to a winter disco wonderland.

The current exhibition, “Environment and Nature”, is an eclectic collection of 20th century Icelandic art which is divided into themed rooms, each containing a combination of paintings, installation art and photography. The curators have decided not to arrange the art chronologically, which has successfully enhanced the thematic impact on the viewers. The themes are not at all unexpected or unusual, as they spotlight subjects such as nature, language, and the tension between urbanisation and the upholding of environment.

The artists´ use of form is perhaps more inspiring, especially when standard media are replaced by local resources. Although not a terribly uncommon choice, Ásgeirsson´s use of lava rock is both instinctively beautiful and sharply evokes a common subject; his use of a blow torch on the rock creates a bubbling, melted quality, as though the artists has successfully brought the rock back to its previous, more generative state. The rock is transformed into cool glass-like strings which are reminiscent both of a glassblower’s work and of the inborn exquisiteness that arises in natural systems.

Although each room has a few stunning pieces, the upstairs room, “Nature and Culture”, has a more contemporary feel and is worth an extended visit. A piece by Hlynur Hallsson shows a photograph of a man in a field, standing next to a record player and shooting arrows into the sky. The text on the photo reads “While I listened to music by Grieg I shot ten arrows into the sky.” This photograph exemplifies the emotional creation of art, the plain longing for the expression of something personal yet universal. The picture portrays the seemingly desperate processes an artist can undergo, and how those measures can emerge to the viewer as basic or unsophisticated.

The English speaking visitor will be both relieved and amused to know that room-by-room guides to the artwork are included in the price of admission. The one-page introductions to each room effectively expand the experience of the museum, and also provide a few entertaining moments. When describing the “Aurora Borealis Bar”, for instance, the introduction guides the reader with sentences like, “In the present work, the darkened space where it is installed”, and advises that experiencing the rotating bottles is “…not unlike looking at the Northern Lights and coming into contact with the universe.”

Whatever your experience of it, the Aurora Borealis Bar is always open for a little reminder of the one of the many relationships between Icelanders and their environment. It’s a room for those in need of a little reminder of the sombre days of dimness, a real pick-me-up from the summer sun.

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