From Iceland — Perspectives of Cultural Night

Perspectives of Cultural Night

Published August 31, 2010

Perspectives of Cultural Night

Culture Night was full of cultural happenings. But it was also lacking in free waffles. If you missed out on the good times or just want to see how your culture experience stacks up, some fine Grapeviners have compiledindividual experience for your enjoyment.
Culture Morning
My Menningarnótt started bright and early at eight in the morning as I got a ride out to Árbær to get my hair done and put makeup on seven women. After two months of speculative vision and two weeks of frantic technical preparation, I was about to launch into my first ever performance in my adopted city of Reykjavík. On one of the biggest cultural events of the year. At one of the busiest intersections in the downtown area. RL
Culture of Sports

Ten o´clock sharp. I wake up to the sound of some live interpretation of Four Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” I get up, stand on the balcony for a while to locate where the music is coming from, but I can’t figure it out. Are these the death throes of last night’s rúntur? Or the first sign of life of this year’s Menningarnótt? My mission for today: exploring Culture Night in the morning. I leave the apartment and enter the city. What I need first is a large cup of coffee, so I visit the first Culture Night venue for today. At Mokka-Espresso- Kaffi on Skólavördurstigur, I find people sitting around, having breakfast and no one seems to take notice of the exhibit of black and white photographs by Karl R. Lilliendahl hanging on the walls of this little coffee shop. I feel like the only person in this place aware of the fact that it is Culture Night morning. Out on the streets I expect to see some drunks who couldn’t find their way back home. That’s the only reason I can think of for being on the streets this early on a Saturday morning. Instead I find rested-looking tourists, sporty-clotheswearing persons with numbers on their chests and others working to close streets and install cotton candy booths; preparing the city for its big day. After spending an hour in the Art Museum Kjarvalsstaðir, I go to an office on Ingólfssræti which, for today only, will be serving as a gallery. Chatting with the artist of paintings “inspired by other planets” as she explains, I try to feel the cosmic energy I am supposed to feel, but I fail. Yeah, this is a nice and odd experience. I want more of that kind. And I’m lucky! Getting to Lækjargata, I spot the next extraordinary event of the day. Hundreds of sport fanatics block the street, doing simultaneous aerobic moves on the pavement. A very blond aerobic instructor pushes the crowd to some very loud dance music. Now I know where all these sporty people came from (before I wasn’t sure, as a non-sporty, if this might be a regular Saturday morning ritual I usually miss). The masses get in motion, about to embark on the Fun Run, the short 3 km jaunt for everyone who sat out the Reykjavík Marathon, which started at started at 8:40 this morning. Watching a young girl dressed up as Superwoman run away, I decide to end my Culture Night experience at 1 p.m. WW
Building Culture in the Sky

Several hours of hairspray and glitter later, we somehow drove through the entirely barricaded city streets to our performance locale, the studio spaces of local designers Mundi and Bóas Kristjánsson. The streets were already bustling with activity as we loaded our storage bins and bags of material up to the balconies we would soon be transforming into a surrealistic rainbow-waterfall. Mostly a crowd of families, fellow performers and supremely hungover event photographers. Last minute scrambling to prepare went in the form of chopping and rolling up streamers, running next door to Prikið to steal their tape and makeup touch-ups. Finally our two dance teams, The Mighty Night Warriorz and Uppsteyt, were ready to get our show on the road – literally. I stepped out onto the upper-balcony with an arsenal of 20-40 metre long strips of coloured fabric, which would eventually make their way over to the balcony of the restaurant Sólon. As our ground team took their positions in the street, gesturing wildly, their sequined capes shimmering in the cold sun, the fun began and I started tying strips onto the balcony and dropping them to the balcony below me. The crowd in the street gathered densely below, looking up and around in confusion and amazement. No matter how things went now, it was worth seeing this. RL
Overwhelming Culture

Feeling overwhelmed after reading through the Culture Night event listings in the paper, I decide to venture into the peoplepacked streets of Reykjavík without any set plans for the day. As I step out the door my friend calls to ask if I plan on going on a tour of the Icelandic Freemason’s temple. What?! Yes! Immediately, I hurry to Skúlgata 53-55 before the temple closes. I run up Laugavegur, by-passing the many lava rock jewelry stands, hotdog vendors, artists selling homemade crafts, and racks of Icelandic sweaters. EB
The concept of time seemed to disappear as I became engrossed in the physical work of the installation while maintaining character and delivering the performance. The two-hours we had given ourselves to complete the task passed in the blink of an eye, things actually started to take shape exactly as planned. While I simultaneously built and watched our piece, techno duo Karíus & Baktus started loading into the studio to take over the balcony after me. This was a relief since I couldn’t handle the delta blues-rock vs. acoustic twee mash up any longer. I put shiny streamers on the balcony for the finishing touch, the dancers over at Sólon’s balcony tied the last strips of fabric on their end and our water-rainbow-laser-fall was done. And the crowd was still gazing up in amazement. RL
Freemason Culture

After a twenty-minute speed-walk, I spot a group of elderly men dressed in black tuxedoes and bow ties. Must be the Freemasons. I walk up to the temple and they welcome me inside along with a massive crowd of people eager to get a glimpse at the headquarters of the secret society. No cameras allowed Pictures of distinguished members covered medallions and pins, that would make any boy scout or rap star jealous, hang on the walls. Glass boxes holding cufflinks, gavels, pendants and other jeweled trinkets with Masonic symbols such as the square and compasses and the eye fill the corners of the main rooms and hallways. Many of the smaller rooms are roped off with a handful of Freemasons patrolling every area. Although friendly, the tuxedoed Freemansons with their watchful eyes come off as a little intimidating. I wander up a winding staircase where a few people trickle out of a room. Just as I decide to by-pass the room, which I assume is another boring office, one of the Freemasons whispers to me, “Do you want to see the meeting room?” Slightly curious and a little weirded out, I answer, “Uh, urmm…I guess?” I walk up a few steps and turn the corner into the main meeting room. It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The ceiling is covered in glowing constellations. I see about a hundred fancy blue chairs and what looks like a stage or alter at the back of the room. I ask one of the Freemasons what the fake stars are all about and he tells me it’s a view of the sky on the night the building was founded in the 1800s. I peak into to a few rooms afterward, but the meeting room remains the highlight of my tour. I leave the Freemasons temple no more informed about the organisation than I was before entering, but definitely more curious. Later on, Culture Night turns into a haze of fun and debachaury, but the Freemasons temple tour remains my favorite activity of the day. EB
 Culture By Night

We arrive at the Sykur concert to see house duo Captain Fufanu play, after we had surrendered the plan of having a performance alongside the concert seeing as all the jailbait “skinkas”, whom we had asked to show up and dance, didn’t venture to come. However, passers-by and concert attendees are confronted with something even more bizarre (and symbolic for Culture Night): an afro’d woman is dancing madly on the top floor balcony of a building across the street. She throws down a stuffed falcon and candleholder and then a middle-aged man keeps appearing and disappearing next to her, wearing nothing but underpants. The police come and put her in her place, but after they leave she starts dancing again. Eventually, the woman is arrested and spends her Culture Night in a jail cell. Later I read that she was actually arrested for indecent exposure, which is total bullshit because she was on a stone balcony so you couldn’t see anything. It’s either a racist thing with the police or they simply think dancing is criminal. Considering this come-uppance, what strikes me as symbolic for Culture Night is that almost everyone present isn’t minding the concert, the ACTUAL cultural event, but gazing at a drunken woman dancing. Culture Night is a night of debauchery, amidst seemingly highbrow culture and arts. Do we go downtown to experience our culture and be stimulated by it, or do we go downtown to get wasted? We watched the fireworks from a whale-watching boat by the docks. ÞIJ
Culture Morning

Later, on walk home, there are still people looming around. ÞIJ

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