It is midday when a Grapevine photographer and journalist get on board a plane heading to Egilsstaðir on the east coast of Iceland. The day’s objective is a simple one. To visit the cultural centre Sláturhúsið (Slaughterhouse) and take part in the Days of Darkness, a local art and culture festival, celebrating the return of winter with an ambitious program by both local and visiting artists.
Originally built in 1946 as a slaughterhouse for sheep and cattle raised by the surrounding farmers, Sláturhúsið closed its operations around 2000. In 2006, a group of ambitious people seized the rather large empty building to house a production by the local theatre group, in the sizeable freezing room, where the meat used to be stored until it was shipped off for production and packaging. Subsequently, the municipality bought the house, and it has since been used for cultural events, art exhibitions, concerts, plays, an annual shorts and video film festival, and other events of culture. The house has also been used by the local youth centre and is open every night for young people with extensive programes on a regular basis. Inside, there is a recording studio and practice facility for musicians, and a fully equipped studio for video production.
“The role of the house is to encourage cultural life in the region,” says director Kristín Scheving. “The building is ideal for this operation, there are many spaces of different sizes that serve different opportunities, so it is just as easy to house a small exhibition as it is as a bigger event in the “Freezing Room.”
From the outside, the house looks very much like a slaughterhouse or another industrial complex, rather than a cultural centre. Inside, the house has been extensively restored, but the raw nature of an industrial building is inescapable. The raw character of the building serves as a great backdrop for the displays, but work still remains to further restore the house to better accommodate its current role.
We arrive in time to enjoy an exhibition opening by the local photography club on the upper floor, just where I imagine the kill floor to have been. In the adjoining space, the arts club is exhibiting their works. The night’s programe also includes a performance by the visiting metalcore band Celestine from Reykjavík, joined by a local hardcore band called Chino.
The concert is a great success. The pitch darkness of the Freezing Room creates the perfect surroundings for the post-apocalyptic sounds of Celestine, and local heroes Chino surprise the visitors with a killer performance.
- Daily flights to Egilsstaðir are available from Air Iceland. www.flugfelag.is