A lot of people head into a new year with grand plans for a fresh start; to do things differently. But a lot of the time that’s little more than talk.
That’s not the case for artist Sigurður Ámundason. His year really started with a bang, with his work exhibited on 450 digital billboards across the capital area. Everywhere you looked, there were Sigurður’s signature graphic illustrations. The artist (and longtime friend of the Grapevine) was chosen out of 40 applicants to showcase his art through the Auglýsingahlé (Commercial Break) project — a collaboration of Billboard, Gallery Y and the Reykjavík Art Museum.
City-wide exhibition? Check
Sigurður’s work “Réttermi” replaced the usual carousel of advertisements bombarding the sightlines of Reykjavík residents with his illustrations, consisting of “egoistic meaningless brand names that think highly of themselves, including strings of numbers and Icelandic letters in arbitrary rows.”
As if a city-wide digital exhibition wasn’t enough, Sigurður also wrote, directed and acted in the play “Hið ósagða” (The Unsaid) at Tjarnarbíó in December and January, while hosting another exhibition in Ásmundarsalur with his fellow artist Gunnar Jónsson (it runs until Feb. 12, so catch it if you can). I sat down with Sigurður for a hot chocolate on a cold evening to talk about his eventful year (so far).
“The billboard exhibition was crazy,” he says. “Maybe almost too much, actually! I was very proud and humble, I kind of felt like an old person.” With that, he breaks out in a bout of charismatic laughter that makes it impossible not to laugh along.
“When the whole city is your gallery, that’s just magnificent, I’m still getting my head around it, to be honest,” he continued. “It definitely has a good effect on you as an artist. But you have to be humble — the minute you become arrogant, you become unremarkable, in my opinion. Everytime I meet a person that I admire and I find out he or she has a big head, I am so disappointed. It’s like going to a fancy restaurant and it smells like shit!” The laughter resumes.
Sold-out theatre performance? Check
It must take a bit of work for Sigurður to remain humble these days. “Hið ósagða” got rave reviews in December, with all three performances selling out. That prompted the decision to add one January performance to the run to quench the public’s thirst for more.
The idea for the performance had been brewing in Sigurður’s head for a while. In fact, it started as a shorter piece of performance art before expanding into an hour-long play.
“I like to do something not knowing what happens next.”
“It’s kind of about my philosophy to make fun of as many types of people as I can,” he said of the play’s content, which touches on passive aggression and the unsaid, human connection and varied types of violence. “There is dishonesty in all kinds of people and violence can take many forms, it can be very subtle. You can, for example, know somebody and decide to humiliate them by pushing all of his or her buttons, knowing their weaknesses. It’s very mean, but it happens,” says Sigurður, the laughter giving way to a more serious demeanour.
According to Sigurður, the play is based on his own experiences, covering his temptations, weaknesses and some of the things he really dislikes, like passive aggression — behaviour he decided a long time ago to never participate in.
Sigurður describes himself as being a big time movie nerd and says he’s long wanted to get into cinema. In that vein, one aspect of “Hið ósagða” is inspired by a scene in one of his favourite movies, “Mulholland Drive,” in which a singer falls on stage during a dramatic performance and stops singing, but the song goes on like nothing happened. That inspired Sigurður to pre-record all the dialogue for the performance and have the actors lip syncing on stage — a quirk that caught the attention of theatre-goers.
“I like this method and I wanted to see it. And if you want to see it, you can assume that some other people also want to,” he rationalises. “But if not, at least I have shared something I wanted to do.”
“You have to step out of your comfort zone, out of the box from time to time,” he professes. “It was a lot of work; it took me countless days and nights to edit what was recorded beforehand, but it was fun. I love theatre and I want to have the dialogue perfect and by doing it this way, the actors can also focus on their posture and body language.”
Novel and short film? In progress
Though Sigurður wasn’t sure when he was younger what he wanted to do when he grew up, he was interested in movies and visited his aunt in Hollywood as a teenager seeking inspiration. His path took a turn away from the cinematic after receiving advice to direct his efforts elsewhere.
“I went to see a healer at some point, who told me to put this movie thing on pause and focus on fine art. I registered for Myndlistarskóli Reykjavíkur and later Listaháskóli Íslands and did what she told me,” Sigurður says with a glint in his eyes.
Drawing came very naturally, and Sigurður tells me he drew a lot in his childhood and teenage years. Painting was more difficult, though he was mesmerised once introduced to classic paintings. But his teachers told him that everything had already been painted, so he decided to make drawings based on the classic paintings he loved.
“I want to do a lot of things — if I get bored with one project, I can have an affair with another one.”
“Drawing is my base, I will always be a visual artist,” he said. “It’s similar to an Icelander who goes for three months to the south of France, but he always comes back. When I’m bored of one medium, I use something else, like a chef that uses different ingredients.”
“What is on my mind is human connections — what is uncomfortable and difficult to talk about? Both with the billboard exhibition and the play, the communication is unclear, it’s vague, and that’s the purpose. In my visual art I try to express everyday things in a drawing that is not at all ‘everyday.’”
It’s clear, listening to Sigurður speak, that he enjoys juggling many projects at once — did I mention he’s currently writing a novel and plans to shoot a short film?
“This novel I’m writing is the most difficult project I have faced other than parenthood,” he says. “If I would have published it two years ago, it would have been despicable. It would still be despicable if I would publish it today, but I still want to publish it soon.”
“I want to do a lot of things — if I get bored with one project, I can have an affair with another one. I want to be on the edge, in the dark, in the mud. I want to make a play that is half movie, half play; to make a drawing that is also a painting. I like to do something not knowing what happens next.”
Whatever Sigurður does next, he’s already achieved more in January than most will tick off their to-do list all year.
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