Shopping street Laugavegur, the only shopping street in Reykjavik, has its ups and downs, though of course ups and downs depend on what you’re looking for and where your interests lie. The average tourist can find his puffins and mini Vikings in one of the many souvenirs shops, or his books on elves and trolls in the bookstores. A rich old lady with her husband’s Platinum credit card can buy her fur coats and jewelry in countless stores along main street, and those who long for a skull on a T-shirt can also find it if they look in the right places, in our case, in the cellar of Laugavegur 11.
In the cellar is the recently opened “Nonnabúð” shop, owned, run and named after the 35 year old Jón Sæmundur (Nonni is a pet name for Jón), who’s legally an artist by trade and lives up to his title with a colourful career spanning numerous art shows and happenings making him quite well known for his work, at least in Iceland.
But why open a shop one might ask? “I was tired of doing manual labour to get by while trying to concentrate on my art in my spare time “ says Jón Sæmundur “I had been working on, among other things, my own T-shirts and I had even sold 1000 pieces to Japan under my own label, Dead. But selling my labelled t-shirts in Reykjavik’s stores wasn’t worth it, since my piece of the pie was almost too small to mention unless I sold them in my own store.”
So you decided to just start a business? “Well, I look at it more as a part of a happening, I designed and built everything myself, and sell mostly clothes and stuff I design myself too. Well, almost everything, but I also sell Bad Taste LP’s and postcards (Sugarcubes and Björk) and t-shirts designed by the coolest label in Iceland at the moment designed by two cool sisters, Bára and Raven.”
What about your Dead label, why death? “I think a lot about death, I’m a little obsessed with it, especially the moment when you actually pass away. It’s something everybody will eventually go through but nobody has a clue how it feels until it happens. I think people should think a little more about death than they do. Death is a part of living and one dies eventually, such is life. People shouldn’t be so afraid to talk and think about it but to be at ease with it rather than fear it,” says Jón.
So are you going to be a clerk in your store forever? “No! Not really, I think what I want to do next, though I’m not sure when, is to go abroad and learn how to stuff animals. I want to be able to do this, not for economic reasons, but for the purpose of art. I had this idea to stuff a horse, full scale, and give its face and figure a human expression of fear. This idea is related to Shamanism and bringing people back from the dead… (…he rambles on about this for a while, and starts drawing explanatory diagrams, which leave Grapevine none the wiser).
But you just recently opened so you’re not quitting for something new just now? “That’s true, the store just opened on my 35th birthday, the 16th of June, so I’m not retiring from this right away” says Jón, and adds, “also, I’m starting a new label this fall called Rock ‘n Roll” and exporting both that and the “Dead” label to London.”
Any famous last words?
“Yeah! Rock ‘n Roll”
I bid farewell and return from the head of Dead still, it would seem, alive.