Some might know him as the art scene’s exponent for the relationship between language and perception; others as the great influencer and portrayer of Icelandic culture and national identity. For the director and screenwriter Kristján Loðmfjörð, a meeting with the renowned Icelandic artist Birgir Andréasson would turn out to be a starting point for the making of ‘Blindrahundur’ (“Seeing-Eye Dog”), a documentary that discusses Birgir’s life and how his marginalised upbringing with blind parents has permeated his artistic and authentic artwork.
When Kristján was studying art in Holland back in 2003, his teacher offered him an alternative to submitting a written assignment: to create a movie. So, when he returned home to Iceland for Christmas break, he had his friends introduce him to Birgir. After spending three days alongside the artist in his studio, Kristján created a twenty-minute video interview. Though not featured in ‘Blindrahundur’, the interview aroused an interest in Kristján, not only about Birgir’s work, but about the character behind the art as well.
“Birgir was very well-received, he had a huge group of friends, you know,” Kristján explains. “But he also had this very raw side of his character. He was working with this Icelandic heritage and this old concept of Iceland, but he was also a country man himself. He was very genuine, and I think that’s why people liked him so much, as well as for his straightforwardness.”
Stories, art and a thoughtful visual language
And that’s what we get to witness in this documentary, on which Kristján started work after Birgir’s death in 2007. We meet individuals who played a role in Birgir’s life one way or another, and see the artist through their eyes. It was not only the fact that Birgir grew up with blind parents, but the whole life in that community that fascinated Kristján. The visual language of ‘Blindrahundur’ was very important to get right: it’s the main connection between the stories and Birgir’s work. “It was quite challenging, and important, to keep the balance between not imitating Birgir’s work but at the same time not making his art into something completely different,” Kristján states.
The aesthetics of the documentary are a bit like how Kristján describes Birgir’s character: raw, and genuine. One gets a feeling for rural Iceland in former times, and it feels quite distant from the colourful, tourist-friendly pictures we’re fed by today’s media. It also puts things into perspective—Birgir’s atypical approach to life leaves you with some interesting food for thought.
Asked about the most important thing he learned through this process, Kristján reflects for a second. “I think I never will do a documentary about an artist again, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but it was very difficult. But it was also very pleasant, Birgir was kind of present the whole time and it was constantly a dialogue whether I could do this or that. It’s very different from making a documentary that’s free-based and that you can direct completely.”
‘Blindrahundur’ is expected to premiere this fall.