It looked like a small town summer art festival. Dozens of interestingly dressed, mostly young people loitering in the middle of the street, passing bottles of rosé back and forth, laughing and chain smoking. From an open door nearby, the loud sound of high-energy indie-electronica filled the air, making even the passing children dance in the street. Cars carefully cruise past the revelers, avoiding honking as to not disturb the party at hand. But this was no festival—no, rather the grand opening of Flæði, a brand new arts venue run by three intrepid young women.
Terrible for capitalism, perfect for art
Flæði, which translates to ‘Flow,’ is run by photographer Brynja Kristins, ceramicist Antonía Berg, and multimedia artist Sunna Axels, who became fast friends in the last few months after meeting through mutual acquaintances. The three had their first joint foray into curation at the beginning of July, throwing together a group exhibition in twenty-four hours at a vacant shop space at Laugavegur 74. By the third and final day of this exhibition, Brynja had secured their new space–for free.
It’s a modest sized storefront space on Grettisgata, in a location well-known for doomed commerce, with several businesses opening in the space and promptly shuttering over the past few years. The space was donated thanks to an anonymous benefactor. “Through a big group exhibition I put on, a guy came and he loved it and he got me in contact with the guy who owns this place,” says Brynja, “He was just like, ‘Dude, give this girl your space. She needs it and you don’t need it.’”
Serendipitously, the owner’s sister happened to be an art historian, which gave an extra incentive for them to hand over the keys. They got the space at the beginning of July but then Antonía and Sunna trekked off to the LungA art festival in the East. Upon their return later in the month they immediately got to work cleaning, painting and setting up the space. On August 1st, after barely a week of preparation, Flæði officially opened its doors.
Subverting the elite
The main goal of Flæði is to be an open social space with a diverse range of events and an emphasis on more marginalized artists. “We want to have a nice strong female energy,” says Sunna. “That’s why it’s called Flæði, because it’s an art venue where there can be exhibitions, performances, concerts or pop-up shops or workshops. We’re going to have a balance so it’s not only art exhibitions or only concerts.”
Their aim is to create a space that counters the bourgeois elite gallery culture that tends to favour well-known Icelandic artists, primarily men. “This space is just supposed to be a platform for the smaller groups in society, because usually galleries here are a bit sterile,” says Antonía. “Not all, of course, but the main galleries in town, it’s a lot of older established artists. This is basically a space for anyone who wants to showcase anything, really.”
Presenting the fringe
The group has now put out an open-call for submissions through their Facebook page, which they hope will reach beyond their friend group to people who have never exhibited before, queer and trans folk, refugees, people of foreign origin, and generally anyone on the fringe.
“As a white Icelandic female, I have more possibilities of showing my work than a refugee,” says Antonía. “In Iceland, I feel, if you are talented in art people praise you, but if you’re on the fringe, it’s almost taboo to show in a gallery or do something official. So I would love to see more diversity in art galleries.”
“I would really love to see more diversity,” echoes Sunna. “Not just to be like PC or whatever. It’s just genuinely an interest.” However the three do feel like they currently lack direct contact to the groups with whom they hope to collaborate.
“We don’t have a lot of contact in marginalised or smaller groups, but I really hope we can start working with someone who does, who is interested in art and wants to reach out,” says Antonía. “I want to get the information. I want to get more people involved who have interesting ideas. Flæði is very much an artist collaboration space.”
Their hope is that people who are otherwise shy about their work and do not feel like they have a place to shine will take the leap to apply, as they feel it could be a good stepping-stone and help artists break through the initial anxiety of their first exhibition. The anxiety factor will also be greatly reduced by the fact that they plan to make every opening a very social event, including music, drinks, and a lively atmosphere. They will hold their openings on Thursday nights, to avoid turning into all-nighters that would disturb their neighbours. Luckily, they are smack dab between two main bar streets that should pick up the spillover.
At this early stage, the three are very grateful for the overwhelmingly good reception they’re getting. “There’s been so much excitement for this space to open and there have been many people reaching out offering help and to loan us equipment,” says Sunna. “There’s obviously excitement for this kind of concept, which is really good. Also, people just walking by have been excited. It’s just so nice that the community is taking interest.”
Hopefully, they will reach far beyond and the community will grow and flow.
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