Published August 12, 2011
It wasn’t until two weeks ago when we decided to print a walking tour of some of Einar Jónsson’s statues that I started to pay attention to the various statues around town. And since then I’ve noticed people—well, tourists—noticing them, taking photos of them and taking their photos with them. It’s rather curious to think about people’s albums with photos of these statues and what it is about them that attract tourists.
I came across an interview on NPR in which Jón Gnarr suggests that the city build the ultimate tourist statue: “We should have this huge statue of Björk at the harbour like the Statue of Liberty” he told NPR, “and instead of a torch she would be having a microphone and she would shout out some information about Reykjavík in three different languages and she would be revolving, you know? And also there would be lights. Her eyes would shoot lights on interesting tourist spots in Reykjavík.”
It sounds incredibly outlandish, but then there are some pretty outlandish things (stuffed polar bears on Laugavegur) that attract tourists. However, the statues in Reykjavík, which often attract a superficial glance or a photo from tourists, are really worth a closer look. They say a lot about a place—its history and its culture. Representing our Viking inheritance, for instance, there are Ingólfur Arnarson and Leifur Eiriksson. Icelanders often consider themselves to be like these brave, heroic and testosterone-bulging males—an attitude that led to the ‘outvasion’ and the financial collapse.
Then there are our Independence heroes, Jón Sigurðsson and Jónas Hallgrímsson, who appear brave and heroic as statues, but were nothing like the brave Vikings. “It is often said that the pen was his weapon,” Egill Helgason wrote about Jón Sigurðsson in The Grapevine a few issues ago. And of course Jónas Hallgrímsson is perhaps one of the few historic Icelanders past Viking age to die a heroic death—he fell down stairs in a drunken stupor, broke his leg and died of complications.
Perhaps the cognitive dissonance between this ingrained idea of Viking heroism and historical fact of non-heroism is partly to blame for widespread dysfunction in the Icelandic society. Even Chuck Palahniuk could not have dreamt up a society in which 10% of all living males over the age of 15 have been admitted for inpatient alcohol treatment. And what about the women? And where are their statues?
We should pay more attention to the statues around us, as they really say more about us than the cursory glance suggests. And perhaps Jón Gnarr’s giant Björk tourist statue is not such an outlandish idea. It’s arguably a pretty authentic representation of what we are today… Now I encourage everyone to go explore Reykjavík’s statues, get to know them, and don’t return home with JUST another photo of a statue in Reykjavík.