From Iceland — Dragons, Deities, Morphoclogs: Reykjavík Arts Festival’s Stellar Opening Day

Dragons, Deities, Morphoclogs: Reykjavík Arts Festival’s Stellar Opening Day

Published June 3, 2018

Dragons, Deities, Morphoclogs: Reykjavík Arts Festival’s Stellar Opening Day
Photo by
Timothée Lambrecq

There’s something strange going on outside Iðnó. A cluster of tall, black, bipedal reptiles stand with their backs to the wall, looking out over Tjörnin. They peer down over the heads of the crowd that has gathered for the spectacle. Their jaws gnash, their tails lash, and their blue-green eyes glitter until a gothic ringmaster yells out an indecipherable series of commands—then they’re off, striding through the streets of Reykjavík, emitting weird howling sounds, pulling at the trees around them, bickering with each other, and snapping at the heads of passers by. Children howl in terror and delight, and the throng follows them down Lækjargata as they occasionally cohere into a defensive formation, or charge at the shrieking bystanders.

The Close-Act Theatre’s performance, ‘Saurus,’ is an attention-grabbing start to the 2018 Reykjavík Arts Festival. This sprawling multi-disciplinary event—usually held over several weeks in May or June—has often announced its arrival with similar show-stopping street performances. While it was once an annual fixture in Reykjavík’s cultural calendar, the festival became biannual after the 2016 edition. Its absence left a hole in the summer of 2017, so it’s with no small sense of anticipation that we dive into the packed itinerary of the festival’s opening day.

The launch event is the festival hub at Hafnarhúsið. The space has been transformed, with flowers and plants decking the main hall, and masked dancers performing in the crowd. After some speeches from dignitaries, Gaelynn Lea performs a beguiling song. Born with the congenital condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta, Gaelynn plays a violin propped up next to her like a cello on her electric wheelchair. Her clear voice rings out and fills the room, leaving the audience murmuring about buying tickets for her full concert.

Next there’s a song by NYC-based Latin Grammy Award winners Flor De Toloache, whose colourful, joyous take on mariachi music sounds like it has wafted into grey old Reykjavík on a warm wind. As we head out towards the next performance, I do a double take: lurking casually in the crowd are legendary British art stars Gilbert & George.

In Grandi, the Fisherman’s Day holiday is full swing, complete with the opening of the new Grandi Mathöll food hall. Up at the Kling & Bang gallery in The Marshall House, Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir’s performance—one of three that will make up a series called ‘Peppermint’—has already begun. Her ensemble cast wander around in a roped-off zone, dressed in matching white robes bearing round insignia. Ásta reads out from what seems to be a 70s sci-fi script, sometimes repeating her lines in different tones of voice, as if preparing for an audition: “The Morphoclogs are coming… to detect and destroy. Detect and destroy. Detect… and destroy.”

She meanders slowly around the space, her face impassive and her icy blue eyes searching the “white weather, white weather.” Curver Thoroddsen manipulates electronic rumbles and synth sounds from stage right; a trolley is pushed around with three children filming the proceedings on mobile phones, followed by a tiny, hapless dog. Ásta sometimes breaks into song, and guitar chords ring out around the gallery. The nonlinear script slowly reveals that the cast are trapped together in this foreboding scenario, where dangerous radiation is a factor, and survival is uncertain.

Will Ásta escape the Morphoclogs? Unfortunately, we aren’t able to find out, because it’s time to head to Harpa for the opening of Daniel Lismore’s exhibition at Harpa. Entitled “Be Yourself, Everyone Else Is Already Taken,” this handsome show comprises a series of life-sized mannequins wearing Daniel’s heavily layered and sumptuously accessorised “looks.”

The show is partly sculptural and partly an autobiography-in-clothing, with the outfits constructed from pieces collected on the artist’s travels—or given to him by friends, family, celebrities and benefactors—mixed with Daniel’s own designs. Tangles of fabric, jewellery and assorted objects hang from each dizzyingly detailed piece. Some are loaded with pop art references, and others seem like poised monarchs, amplified club kids, or ornate deities. Daniel gives an emotional speech about the lows and highs of his career to date, and what it means to “live as art” and create his “army of me”; the audience applauds warmly, uniformly enthralled by his rich body of work.

The final stop is a set by fast-rising duo DJ Dominatricks back at the festival hub. Their characteristically fractured and explosive audio-visual set is staged in a seated area, rather than in front of a dancefloor, which mutes the party potential. After a vastly stimulating eight-hour feast of art and performances, we wheel out into the night, excited about what further delights the Reykjavík Arts Festival has to offer over the days and weeks to come.

Read more about Reykjavík Arts Festval here.

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