Running from June 17 to September 15 in Egilsstaðir, Sláturhúsið’s exhibition is a window open onto the politics of violence on people, animals and environment.
When I meet Icelandic artist Freyja Eilíf in her eclectic downtown apartment cluttered with books and paintings, she has just returned from a short trip to East Iceland, where she’d been working with fellow artists Katrína Mogensen and Berglind Águstsdóttir on a collaborative project organised by Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir.
There, they worked, lived and slept alongside five other artists from countries like Germany, Syria and Madagascar in Sláturhúsið, Egilsstaðir’s former slaughterhouse now turned culture centre. The brown lake Lagarfljót and its dead waters, the result of the recently built Karahnjukar dam, sparkled melancholic in front of their windows.
Unsurprisingly, pollution and violence ended up being the very essence of their projects. “There was a constant environmental debate going on around us,” Katrína explains. “People around here want to talk about the dam, and that makes you think. It’s by mirroring yourself in other people that you can have a discussion and evolve.” After a week of waiting for a dream that would show her the way, Katrína’s clay sculpture rose and lay directly on her own mattress, just like everything that rises and sleeps from the earth itself.
“I am hardly ever political but I also think the personal can be very political without aiming for it,” Berglind adds. Her project for the slaughterhouse explored the idea of human greed and its effects on people through the concept of water, its availability and its increasing pollution. Violence towards the environment becomes violence towards people, and the artists didn’t shy away from its consequences.
“I had a mountain of balloons filled with feathers and red paint, and when I shot the balloons with a gun it all exploded so the red colour created an action painting on the floor,” Freyja tells me in her soft whispering voice. “It was like a silly fun act that left a violent scene in this security worker’s stage I made.”
Reykjavík’s creative descent
Freyja’s work was unconsciously triggered by the recently arming of Icelandic police recently at public gatherings. Her most vivid inspiration, however, came from the slaughterhouse itself—“this huge house of death that’s now very beautiful and peaceful,” she describes. “We are missing spaces like this in the city, so I think there will be a cultural uprising in the east because of this cultural crisis in Reykjavík.”
In the past few years, Icelandic artists have in fact been witnessing Reykjavík’s dreadful metamorphosis from creative space to grey business centre. By cutting funds, raising rents and taking away spaces for social interactions, the powers that be are making the once blossoming art scene into a stale shadow of itself. Opportunities to bring artists together, however, are the basic necessity that artists are lacking.
“It’s really about creating more power in the art society and for art in the society,” Freyja explains. “Working together… this is how people discuss ideas. This is how culture truly evolves.”
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