Icelandic art collective góðgresi talks about eating creatively
Góðgresi is a collective founded by Viktor Pétur Hannesson and Bjarki Sólmundsson with the purpose of producing food from Icelandic herbs normally considered inedible by mainstream industry. Hence its name, ‘góðgresi,’ which is the literal antonym of ‘illgresi,’ meaning weed or “bad grass.”
“Many of the herbs we use are considered weeds, though they are actually nothing but good for you. We want to emphasise those herbs and plants, and change the way people think about them. There is so much food in nature and in our immediate surroundings,” says Bjarki, who now runs the project along with Anne Rombach out of the East Iceland town of Stöðvarfjörður.
“For instance, we make juice from the herb sweet cicely [Myrrhis odorata], a plant that has mostly been considered inedible, but is actually quite healthy and has medicinal value. We also make a pesto called ‘fardagamauk,’ from the herb njóli [dock in the Rumex genus], a plant that is widespread in Iceland and matures during ‘fardagar,’ the time each year when workers traditionally moved from one farm to another.”
Food And Art Intersect
This summer, the group plans to build a completely sustainable house in Stöðvarfjörður with the help of their friend and architect Baldur Snorrason. “The sustainable house is an idea derived from permaculture’s concept of sustainable architecture,” he explains. “We will have to take the environment into account and research how various materials will work—like the fact that it rains sideways here in Iceland, which is definitely not good for structures made from clay. This is the sort of thing we have to figure out.”
Volunteers will be joining them from as far as South Korea. “We recruit volunteers through an organisation called Worldwide Friends,” he says. “This summer, we’ll get about eight volunteers every two weeks, so we’ll have a lot of people working with us. I like to think about the project as a sort of seminar, although we don’t really act as teachers or the volunteers as students—it’s more a collaboration. Góðgresi just provides the framework for it to take place.”
Bjarki also sees it as an art project, which is perhaps not surprising given that he has a background in the fine arts. “I believe that art should be an integral part of life, rather than something that is isolated and just sits on a gallery wall,” Bjarki explains. “I can’t really separate art and life, which is why I consider a project like Góðgresi to be art.”
The decision to settle in Stöðvarfjörður also makes sense in this context. Despite a population of only a couple hundred people, the town’s cultural life is booming. This is partly thanks to the local cultural centre, which was established in an abandoned fish factory.
“The founders of the cultural centre, Rósa Valtingojer and Zdenek Patak, have created a setting for people to come and create art, and the centre is well on its way to becoming completely sustainable,” he says. “They’ve even created their own turbine that produces electricity. Also, the locals in Stöðvarfjörður are totally open to new experiences, which makes working there a lot of fun.”
Eating And Thinking Smart
Ultimately, Bjarki says Góðgresi aims to get people thinking about what they eat and how food is produced. “There are more options available than food produced in large factories,” he says. “We want people to be more involved in making their own food in creative ways. All of our recipes are available online for those interested in making the products for themselves. Also, the packaging won’t be labelled, so people can reuse the jars and bottles for their own products.”
Although the group plans to enter the mainstream market in the future, hopefully selling their products at a store like Frú Lauga, Bjarki stresses that they won’t lose their DIY aesthetic and philosophy.
“We will still make our products the same way as before and we’ll still operate our pop-up bazaar like last summer so that people will be able to try our products and decide for themselves what they want to contribute to the project,” he says. “Our goal is to get more people interested in participating in local food culture, and to find ways for us to become even more sustainable.”
Góðgresi, meaning “good plants,” was founded by “a chef and a traveler” who met at the Iceland Academy of the Arts.
The collective is dedicated to highlighting the beneficial qualities of locally-growing herbs and plants which are typically thought of as weeds, or ‘illgresi.’
Find Góðgresi on Facebook.