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So What’s This “Controversial” Art In City Hall I Keep Hearing About?

So What’s This “Controversial” Art In City Hall I Keep Hearing About?

Photos by
Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir

Published September 29, 2015

Reykjavík’s City Hall currently hosts a large exhibit celebrating the hundred year anniversary of women’s right to vote in Iceland. This exhibit includes a feminist art show, ‘Kynleikar’ (“Genderplay”) by fourteen young artists, curated by a downtown gallery called Ekkisens. Some of the works of art were put on display in the staff cafeteria, where they put a few people off their lunch.

The bourgeoisie cannot stomach the power of revolutionary art!

In this particular case, the art given pride of place where people went to have lunch included video art which cut together scenes from pornography with non-pornographic material. Few people want to mix sausage munching with eating lunch. Though, to be exact, the porn scenes in question depicted people getting sperm on their face.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a dick ejaculating on a human face—forever.

One might contend, that one point the artists might have wanted to make is that humans are confronted with pornography in their daily lives, whether they like it or not. And the people working in City Hall did not like being confronted with pornography. So they turned off the video installations. If that had been the end of the story, it would not have been news. However, since this was City Hall, it became a political issue.

Politicians and pornography. Now there’s a thought to put me off my lunch.

The media storm began properly when Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir, who sits on City Council for the populist Progressive Party, took to Facebook to complain that the offensive art exhibit had cost the City of Reykjavík fifty-two thousand Euros. In fact, the total cost for the city was around two hundred Euros. She quickly removed that Facebook post.

I was going to say something about “egg on face” but suddenly that’s not very appetizing.

What she perhaps should have been shocked by is that fourteen artists can exhibit in City Hall without getting paid. It is odd to have to say that the City of Reykjavík should not be exploiting young artists. To add insult to injury, the city has not done anything to safeguard the works of art. According to a report in the newspaper DV, there is suspicion that the most controversial work has been sabotaged.

Hopefully not by… you know. By… uh… you know. Spooge.

The DVD containing the video piece was scratched beyond repair. Thankfully, other copies exist. However, parts of another less controversial work were torn down. The word “píka” (that means “vagina”) was written on pieces of paper and plastered on the wall around the entrance of an elevator and inside it. Some of the papers were torn down. Despite the obvious need, the remaining works will not get more protection, according to Halldór Auðar Svansson, city councillor for the Pirate Party and member of the majority coalition.

Don’t be such a downer. Why focus on the two damaged works of art when twelve remain unsabotaged?

To add insult to the insult that was originally added to the injury, City Hall has no staff to take care of the art it is exhibiting. The artists have said on Facebook that they have had to go in person to City Hall to turn the works of art on and off. Which could only be excused if no one in City Hall knows how to use a DVD player.

That might explain how the DVD got damaged.

In an interview with DV, visual artist Ásdís Spanó said: “[In Iceland] it is usually not assumed that visual artists get paid for the exhibition of their works.” She is working with The Association of Visual Artists in Iceland to change that. That no one in City Hall gave any thought to paying these fourteen young artists for their work is sadly not an exception. It is one thing when a non-profit arts organization or a small museum asks people to work for free, but another when a city with a budget of almost six hundred million Euros does it.

If those fourteen young artists don’t just quit art now and enrol in a stockbroking school, they should be given medals.

Medals made out of bundles of cash, preferably. If it is any consolation, and it probably is not, they have joined a pantheon of great artists whose art has been vandalized, from Rothko to Da Vinci to Picasso. Their works were repaired, of course. Which is what you do when an artwork in your care is damaged. Which City Hall has, as of this writing, not announced it will do. I guess the artists should feel lucky their works have not been turned into urinals, like reverse Duchamps.


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