Compared to other countries, visual art in Iceland is a relatively new thing. As an island, isolated from the rest of the world, contemporary advances and movements were historically slow to reach our shores. The 1970s, though, saw the birth of a flourishing art scene to rival those of greater European powers. Decades of creativity and artistic development culminated in a decision from artist-run spaces in Iceland that there needed to be a platform to showcase domestic and international time-based art. Enter the Sequences real-time art festival.
The festival seeks to produce and present time-based art. Co-curators Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir and Ingólfur Arnarsson, and four of the artists who will be exhibiting at this year’s festival—Þóranna Björnsdóttir, Þorbjörg Jónsdóttir, Ívar Glói, and honorary artist Kristinn G. Harðarson—spoke candidly with the Grapevine about the festival and the Icelandic art scene at large.
How things change
Kristinn has been in the scene for over forty years, and has watched it change enormously over that time. “Although it’s still an island,” he says, “it was completely isolated when Ingólfur and I were starting. You didn’t have all these flights back and forth.” The scene was so homely, Kristinn explains, that when international artists would come, they would often stay in the homes of local artists, which is much less common today.
And of course, there was no internet forty years ago, let alone an online social network. As a result, the artistic community felt more like a grassroots movement. “There were no professional galleries and fewer artists. Everybody knew each other. It’s still small, but it’s bigger now,” Kristinn explains.
In spite of constant change, or perhaps because of it, Sequences has the potential to become something even more established than it is now. Kristinn believes, somewhat bleakly, that artist-run initiatives and grassroots movements either do that or fade away. “These things, I think, tend to either die or become more institutionalised,” Kristinn explains. “They often have their time, and then they fade away.”
“Sequences has been a nourishing festival within the artist’s community,” Hildigunnur says. Because it is an artist-run event, she emphasises, “there are things that are allowed there that might be a little more of a hassle in institutions.” The focus is on the art, she says, and subsequently what artists want to do.
Exploring reality and time
Sequences presents time-based art, or real-time media. This year, though, the curators decided to separate the two concepts, asking: What is reality? What is time? The curators specifically invited artists who they thought posed those questions through their work.
“It’s easy to see how every piece can be a real-time event,” Hildigunnur says. “Every piece exists in time, so every piece, every object, really is an event.”
What they do
Sequences begins on October 11th and runs until the 20th at numerous locations around Reykjavík. This year, the festival will explicitly aim to explore the deconstruction of real-time, and the exploration of reality and time.
Þóranna will explore this directly. Having collected sound bytes from people’s childhoods, she created a sound piece that hopes to explore the origins of memories and how sound triggers innate emotions. “So that creates a whole world. That is real time. It’s been real in their life, even though it’s a memory now. Of course, I can never recreate the memories, but it’s a fun experiment,” she says. Her Opening Work will show at The Marshall House on October 12th at 17:00.
Þorbjörg, meanwhile, will present a film about an indigenous Colombian shaman who works with ayahuasca, a strong hallucinogenic drug which allows the user to enter the spirit world. “It’s like a way to talk about another reality, and another time,” she says. The film is called ‘A Tree Is Like A Man’ and will show at Bíó Paradís on October 19th at 21:00.
Ívar Glói is presenting an exhibit using vintage-style LED light bulbs to give his space a warm nostalgic glow with a better energy efficiency for a new generation. It’s called ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ and opens at Reykjavik Art Museum Hafnarhús on October 12 at 16:00.
Kristinn will present his solo exhibition at Ásmundarsalur on October 11th at 17:00. His work encompasses both the real and the surreal. An artist book introduced at the same time will serve as its own independent exhibition space. His works will also be included in Exhibition A) at Kling & Bang, Exhibition B) at the Living Art Museum and at La Primavera, the Marshall House.
Numerous other artists will present films, paintings, photography, mixed media, and more. The curators are eager to showcase the artists they selected. Ingolfur hopes that people will walk away with their own ideas about what reality and time respectively are. “That’s our longing. That together this will make a package in the minds of the spectators somehow.”
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