Art lovers unite in Seyðisfjörður—it’s LungA time
In the middle of July, people from all over Iceland and beyond flock to Seyðisfjörður, an East Iceland fishing town that is unremarkable at first sight. The reason for the migration: LungA, an arts festival like no other. We chatted with Festival Director Björt Sigfinnsdóttir and Head of Music Simon Bergkjær about what makes the 2022 edition special. While the thing that first caught our attention was the waterfall gig, in reality, there’s so much more.
The evolution of LungA
Björt has been running the festival with her mother since she was 15. In 22 extraordinary years, they have witnessed LungA take on many forms and evolve tremendously. “When we started, it was just one weekend with 20 participants,” she shares. Today, it spans more than a week and brings together 2000 to 3000 people. “We started out very, very small, calling out to people and begging them to participate. And then in 2005 or 2006, it all of a sudden exploded,” Björt recalls.
The festival is based on four pillars: workshops, art-related performances and exhibitions, a youth exchange with Erasmus Plus, and the music programme. “To us this is kind of the big bang of the whole thing,” says Björt.
Every year, LungA picks up a socially relevant topic as the main theme of the festival. “A topic that we think is needed to talk about in a bigger setting from a social perspective,” explains Björt.
In the past, the festival centred on such topics as gender and empathy, and this year it will revolve around equality. “For most people, the first thought is probably ‘whoa, that’s a big topic,’” Björt admits. But the team chooses the main topic with the intention that the artists can take it in whatever direction they want—whether it’s equality for the LGBTQIA+, equality on the dancefloor, or whatnot. “That has not been decided beforehand, as we don’t want to direct the conversation in a certain direction,” says Björt.
Refuge for art lovers
The more we speak with Björt and Simon, the more LungA starts to sound like a utopian paradise. But who is it for, exactly?
“I think we might represent a crazy microcosm,” says Simon. “We have almost the entire spectrum,” Björt adds. “We have people who are coming here to take the first steps into any kind of art interest. And we also have people who have done masters and have long-term careers in art.”
“I feel that as a festival in East Iceland, we also represent some sort of a cultural hub, a meeting place for a lot of people who live on opposite ends of a very large geographic country,” Simon adds. “It makes a lot of sense to talk about differences and celebrate differences and maybe break down some stereotypes. Seyðisfjörður and LungA is a very good place to do that.”
“In December 2020, a big mudslide hit Seyðisfjörður which devastated a lot of the town and affected everyone living there,” recalls Simon. “It rendered our festival site useless for hosting LungA going forward.”
The situation, however, didn’t leave the team disheartened. Instead, it pushed them to explore other options. “We kind of took it as a gift that we were forced away from one of the only obvious festival sites in town,” Simon admits. “We sat down and started to brainstorm where we would like to take this. What do we have that no one else has? We found that what we have is Seyðisfjörður.”
“Seyðisfjörður is a magical, beautiful place. It’s overwhelming in its natural glory,” continues Simon. “We thought that we wanted to utilise that more.”
For the 2022 edition, LungA will feature smaller events spread around town—inside the ecosystem of Seyðisfjörður. “We want to utilise the waterfalls, we want to have a concert in the meadow, we want to do a little party on the beach,” shares Simon and you can feel his palpable impatience for the festival to kick off. “All these kinds of things that were before restricted a little bit to a more classical, one or two-stage festival site.”
Final countdown to LungA
“We have a high-quality international event programme, where most of the things that you will see here for free, cost a lot of money if you see them anywhere else,” says Björt. “This has also been a part of our philosophy—to keep the prices down to a minimum to ensure access to art and cultural experiences for everybody, unrelated to status or background.”
Björt recounts her personal highlight at the upcoming festival: “We’re having a memorial exhibition for Tóta Van Helzing who was a long-term LungA family member.” Tóta, an Icelandic designer and artist, died last year.
“This year, we’re very happy to bring an American ambient producer called Huerco S—he doesn’t play a lot and he really wants to come to LungA and play one of his rare sets with a Scottish electronic musician called Perko,” adds Simon. “Those two are coming up to make a completely unique once-in-a-lifetime live set that’s going to take place a little bit up the mountain next to a waterfall. We’re gonna use underwater mics to mic up the waterfall and use nature as part of the instruments to create this performance.”
As if the waterfall gig wasn’t enough to get us excited, Simon adds: “DJ Sexy laser is going to do a DJ set—Saman Sauna—a beautiful event down on the beach on Saturday.”
All roads East
“I think a lot of our audience comes for an experience that is a bit deeper than maybe most festival experiences,” says Simon. “Where you actually take time out of your normal day to deep dive into issues that maybe you’ve thought a lot about—or maybe you haven’t thought a lot about before.”
Simon and Björt agree LungA not only has a lot of good places to see art, dance, but also “good places to go sit quietly, in retrospect or in introspect and have a think.” You can’t really plan how your festival experience will turn out—and that’s the beauty of it. “The sky is pretty much the limit in Seyðisfjörður and LungA,” Simon concludes.
LungA takes place July 10th-17th in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland. Find out more and buy tickets at lunga.is
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