To the casual observer there seems to be a multitude of small art galleries dotting Reykjavík’s interior. However, exhibition space in the downtown area is still limited for those looking to showcase work. Harbinger Project Space opened its doors two years ago, on what co-founder Steinunn Önnudóttir credits as a whim. And, although it was originally conceived as a space to present foreign and local work equally, the pressure to provide an inventive haven for Icelandic artists appears immutable. Despite this, Steinunn has worked hard at bringing in foreign artists: Harbinger’s current show is by the Swedish/Indian artist Chandra Sen. ‘Find Home’, the gallery’s first-ever painting exhibition, runs until June 11 and emphasizes Chandra’s talents as a colourist. The exhibition features a book of drawings and eleven tempera paintings, on either canvas or medium-density fiberboards. Although the dimensions of Chandra’s pieces vary greatly, the size of her paintings is usually inversely proportional to the scale of her subjects. “Chandra manages to display the vastness of her subjects in tiny paintings much better than had they been huge,” Steinunn says. “So she’s playing with scale in an intriguing way.”
What’s in a name?
A name did not spring fully formed into the creator’s mind when constructing the project space. Rather, Steinunn went through more of a process of elimination than a creative development to find a suitable title. She decided against the traditional path of naming galleries after founders. But the less formal practice of using onomatopoeias or humorous redundancies as placards didn’t appeal to here either. She finally settled on Harbinger after what she calls a “desperate Google chase.” In spite of this, there is method to the seeming randomness. Steinunn counted off several of the name’s attributes. It’s a word that is not instantaneously recognizable even to those who claim English as their native language. Because of this enigmatic quality the true meaning of the word can be adapted or ignored. Nevertheless, Steinunn is happy with the term’s actual definition and welcomes the connotations it brings. “Harbinger relates to the harbor, or a temporary shelter, which was the intent with setting up the space,” Steinunn says. “Its archaic meaning is a bit related to the avant-garde—the harbinger is the front-runner who goes ahead to provide lodgings for the ones who are coming.”
Keep keeping on
Steinunn has several goals for Harbinger, not least of which is fostering a greater artistic community. “Being an artist is a little narcissistic,” Steinunn says. “It’s putting your own need for expression above society’s most easily recognisable needs for useful subjects.” She’s quick to clarify that art has intrinsic value, to be sure, but that much of the time individuals are interested in themselves as artists first and foremost, and their ascension in the art world. Collaboration and community often play second fiddle. “I think it would be relieving for each individual artist to be able to shift that focus,” she says, “and I would love to see the art that could come out of it.”
Harbinger is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 14:00 – 17:00 and by appointment.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!