Villa Reykjavik - a major pan-European endeavour to create a virtual art city in the Icelandic capital - comes to a close with a real splash by William Hunt. From Foksal Gallery Foundation's plastic-wrapped floors and "empty" projections by Raster's Zbigniew Rogalski and Michał Budny to glaciers, geysers, volcanoes and clover ice cream, the event made a statement on contemporary art in the globalised world still in the throes of a crisis. And it was a whole lot of fun...
"Villa Reykjavik," 2010, works by Cezary Bodzianowski and Piotr Janas at the Foksal Gallery Foundation exhibition, photo courtesy of Villa Reykjavik.
Villa Reykjavik - a major pan-European endeavour to create a virtual art city in the Icelandic capital - comes to a close with a real splash
Nearly everyone who comes to Iceland greets and bids the island farewell at Keflavik, the international airport originally built as a US airport base. American troops arrived on the island to replace the British during the Second World War. Throughout the earlier centuries Iceland had been part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but it was seized by the Germans in 1942. During the Battle of the Atlantic the island's geopolitical location made it an important strategic point, this remained the case until the end of the Cold War. The war turbulences speeded up Iceland's independence which was eventually proclaimed on June 17th, 1944. Today this date is the most important holiday in Iceland's calendar.
Thanks to the invention of aviation and to the presence of the US army not only did the island's isolation end but, what's more, its fate was transformed. Over half a century later "Villa Reykjavik" - a hub of artistic activity for several European contemporary art galleries, featuring exhibitions and concerts - was set not just in the context of Iceland's tradition, but also within the framework of globalisation, the financial crisis and the country's economic struggle. Even the idea of locating the galleries in empty buildings, including an uninhabited luxury apartment building near the port, was an indication of the very contemporary context. The building's interiors proved so sterile that Foksal Gallery Foundation decided to cover the floor with black plastic wrap. This gave the space a feeling of temporariness, as if it was in the middle of renovations. The statue of Guma, the Warsaw bum created by Paweł Althammer with youths from Warsaw's seedy Praga district, peeked outside from the window. Guma's sculpture cast in rubber was placed in Praga a couple of months ago. Something of an incomplete rubbish bin made by Monika Sosnowska stood next to the sculpture in the gallery. Nevertheless, the space was dominated by Cezary Bodzianowski's table with chairs put on it upside down, as if after class at school. Light bulbs stuck out of their legs and if anyone tried to put the chairs on the floor, they would inevitably snap.
As a whole, the project gave people a chance to break free from everyday life and to escape the troubles which for many months had been present in Iceland's headlines. Thus Zbigniew Rogalski and Michał Budny from Raster Gallery offered to view the picture (the world) as an "empty," fake projection. Janek Simon, on the other hand, searched for laws which rule over what seems unforeseeable (exhibition at Raster and lecture at Kling & Bang), adding a new context to Iceland's disasters - the volcano eruption and the financial collapse.
Young local artists from Kling & Bang who joined the week of events distanced themselves from direct references to the current problems. Although their performance Domains of Joyful Degradation potentially bore all the hallmarks of apocalypse, no one took that part of the action seriously.
Most of the previous events at "Villa" were concentrated in Hugmyndahús (The House of Ideas), an unconventional institution which opens its space to diverse cultural-social initiatives. In addition, the Centre for Icelandic Art initiated a day of open studios, the majority located in nearby buildings. At Hugmyndahús Kling & Bang showed Icelandic video art (Whirlpool). Later the Prinz Gholam duo gave a performance: two men froze in studied poses like live statues. The band Paula i Karol, who came from Warsaw, gave a concert in the casual atmosphere. They made the audience jump at the Bakkus club the day before.
The only offer which could be treated as an alternative to an economy based on imported goods and foreign capital was made by Kitty Travers, a famous chef and ice cream maker from London. In Reykjavik, Travers made ice cream using only local products and local flavours. Unusual ice cream was developed, including flavours such as clover, rhubarb, thyme, wholemeal bread and skyr, an Icelandic dairy delicacy.
The week of events, which the exhibition openings stretched into, was concluded with William Hunt's Friday performance. The crowd gathered on the rocky beach on the ocean to see the artist holding a guitar while sitting on top of a ladder placed in the water almost a hundred metres away from the shore. He fired maroons he was holding in his hands to signal that the concert was about to begin. After that you could hear the fading sound of his guitar and his own voice somewhere between the swoosh of the sea and the seaside grass. As a grand finale to the concert, Hunt set his clothes on fire and put out the flames with a spectacular jump into the waves.
This is not to say that you have to jump into the sea to leave Iceland. No one is chased by fiery volcanoes either. Nevertheless, the road between Reykjavik and Keflavik reminds one of a moonscape. Today the airport in Keflavik is among the most modern and most comfortable in Europe, but the moment you land there you feel that you have found yourself in the middle of a void. Still, the experience of "Villa Reykjavik" proves how deeply false this sensation is.
The majority of the guests invited to take part in the project decided to leave Reykjavik and have a firsthand experience of Iceland's magnificent nature: the hardened lava, the mountains, the glaciers and the geysers. Many went for a sea trip in quest for whales. Aside from visiting art collectors and artists from Iceland, the organisers, gallery owners and journalists went together to Stykkishólmur to see Roni Horn's famous Water Library. The artist gathered glacier water samples from different parts of the island. The building fit with glass and located at the top of a hill provided views of a picturesque town, the ocean and the rocks. I can tell you in confidence: some claimed that art could never win with nature. But neither in Stykkishólmur, nor Reykjavik, did any soul dare to try.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, Reykjavik, July 26, 2010
Translated by: Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer
More about Villa Reykjavik in Culture.pl: Villa Reykjavik - Introduction and Report from Villa Reykjavik