From Iceland — Great Moments In Icelandic History: Flatus Lifir Enn

Great Moments In Icelandic History: Flatus Lifir Enn

Published December 2, 2022

Great Moments In Icelandic History: Flatus Lifir Enn
Josie Gaitens
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Probably The World’s Longest Running Fart Joke

On the road between Reykjavík and the North stands a wall that should be entirely non-descript. The vertical expanse of concrete was erected in the 1970s to protect the nearby section of Route 1 from a small gravel mine situated at the foot of Esjan, on the windy shores of Kollafjörður. For the first part of its existence, nobody gave this wall a second glance.

But at some point—and exactly when is just one of the many contested elements of this story—a curious phrase appeared, spray painted on the wall’s surface. “Flatus Lifir!” declared the words on the wall, in garish, bright-red letters.

The original paint job was covered up, but it quickly reappeared—this time as “Flatus Lifir Enn.” And just like that, a merry dance of public art, word play and mystery was born.

Farts or crabs?

But what does “Flatus Lifir Enn” mean? Well, it’s not very clear. “Lifir Enn” translates to “still lives,” but “Flatus” isn’t a word in Icelandic. People have speculated that “Flatus” was actually intended to be the word “flatlús” (the Icelandic word for pubic lice), whilst others have argued that it is the latin word for flatulence. The issue with both of these ideas is that neither “crabs still live,” or “farts still live,” make much sense to spray paint on a wall.

Perhaps the meaning can be better ascertained by looking into the identity of the author of the artwork—but once again this is the topic of furious debate. The issue has been the subject of discussions on every kind of platform, from TV shows aired by national broadcaster RÚV, to threads on internet forum Reddit.

Theories abound

Even serious art critics have weighed in on the argument. Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon, professor at the Iceland University of the Arts, posits that the original creator of the work was the artist, Róska, and that the spelling of “Flatus” was intentional. In an interview with RÚV in 2017, he stated that the piece first appeared in the 1970s, at which time Róska was the only person that he was aware of engaging in graffiti. What’s more, Guðmundur said that Róska, “understands Latin, as she lived in Rome for decades.”

But other people have conflicting views. One theory is that Flatus refers to a popular 80s band from Akureyri. Another attributes the phrase to a local man from Akranes, and yet another to a group of teenagers on a camping trip in 1991 who stopped en route to scrawl the humorous words.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Art lives on

Whoever or whatever Flatus is or was, it seems as if both the words and the mystery are here to stay. What began as an unassuming scrawl has now inspired a series of different artists over the years, who have all leant their particular style to pay homage to the great words of the wall.

Most recently, Edda Karólína Ævarsdóttir, an artist from the FÚSK collective, who trained in sign-painting in Scotland, adorned the wall with bright lettering and snaking pink tubes that cheekily hint to the Flatus’s potential intestinal meaning. So beloved is the graffiti to Icelanders that the project was even supported by the main hardware chain in the country, Húsasmiðjan, who provided Edda with the materials to paint the wall. And of course, once Edda’s work has weathered and faded, another artist will take up the mantle and make sure that none of us dare forget: Flatus Lifir Enn.

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