Photo Essay: Villa Reykjavik

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Last week Villa Reykjavik, the second incarnation of an international art festival that first took place in Warsaw in 2006, held its opening ceremonies in the downtown harbor district of the Icelandic capital. Festival organizers invited 14 European galleries to install exhibits in various available spaces, and staged screenings and live performances in both public and private venues across town. The idea? To bring an international art community to a place outside of the traditionally established art districts of Europe, and in doing so, create a more fluid and stimulating dialogue between artists and the viewing public.

Though the festival was run by a small group of people — who could often be seen scrambling to pack up after one event, in order to make it across town in time to set up for the next — there was a stimulating variety of art media and events. And despite unnecessarily obtuse publicity, which may have decreased attendance, there were a number of good events to be seen every day of the week.

i8 Gallery, an Icelandic gallery that represents well-known contemporary artists including Olafur Eliasson, Katrin Sigurdardottir, and Roni Horn, mounted a solo show of young Icelandic installation artist Elin Hansdottir titled Trace. Hansdottir’s installation was both an engaging and appealing meditation on time, space, and the experience of the motion of time.

Her colorful two-dimensional images were reflected in the accordion like arrangement of mirrors on the facing wall.

Gallery goers saw themselves reflected from several different angles at once as they walked through the gauntlet of mirrors and photographs on their way to a screening room tucked behind the wall. The mirrors served as a transition from the two dimensional static images, to the moving images on film all the while reflecting the motion of the viewer through the installation.

The projector stood in the center of the gallery pointed into a small round mirror, which cast the light behind it and through a hole cut into the plywood wall that Hansdottir hung her mirror boards on. It was not immediately apparent what the projector was doing, and many people were interested in looking at the projector itself as an installation before discovering the projection hidden behind the wall of mirrors. See more of the artist’s work on her website.

Many of the foreign galleries installed themselves in buildings left vacant after the collapse of the Icelandic economy. One of the great successes of the festival was its transformation of derelict buildings into active and festive event spaces. Several galleries chose to embrace the rough-hewn aesthetic, and chose not to undertake superficial restoration of the gallery interiors, leaving holes in drywall and exposed electrical outlets and lighting fixtures.

Foksal Gallery Foundation, a gallery based in Warsaw, even put down black plastic on the floor in an attempt to counteract the sterile white gallery look and accentuate the gritty feel of the space.

Two women discuss the work at Foksal in front of Piotr Janas’ Poster/Picture.

Four galleries: Galleria Zero of Milan, IBID Projects of London, Raster of Warsaw, and Croy Nielsen of Berlin installed their shows in apartments in an empty condo complex on Vesturgata in the heart of downtown Reykjavik. Pictured above is a piece from gallery Croy Nielsen’s show Flotsam and Jetsam, a multi-artist collaboration exhibiting trash-like objects, recordings of music made with the objects, and a film documenting the musical recordings.

A painting from the Michal Budny & Zbigniew Rogalski installation Shot at Raster gallery.

A photograph of a man falling backwards from William Hunt’s installation A Gesture You Can’t Help but Make becomes part of the landscape at IBID.

One of the more engaging and pleasing aspects of the festival was the Havari Live Music Project. Gallery Havari invited three musicians to play live improv noise music for the first several days of the festival. Every day a diverse crowd would cram itself into the claustrophobic space and hold their ears to a wall of noise for an hour each day. This was one of the few venues of the festival that consistently drew people from outside the usual Villa Reykjavik participants.

In keeping with the festivals objective to create dialogue amongst artists from different countries, Havari invited three musicians who had never met before the openings to play experimental improv shows. The drummer Macio of Warsaw’s PARISTETRIS, guitarist Olafur of Reykjavik’s Stafraenn Hakon, and bassist Bergur of Sudden Weather Change (also of Reykjavik) dove right in and melded their sounds fluently from the start.

Reykjavik’s hometown gallery Kling & Bang was taken over by goofy and playful installation artist (and native Icelander) Arnfinnur Amazeen.

In it everything was forbidden, and “normality [became] the new avante garde.”

Kling & Bang also featured The Garden Project, an ongoing installation by Anna Hrund Masdottir and Sigridur Tulinius. In keeping with the current farming-in-art-galleries trend, the two artists installed a vegetable garden on the roof of the gallery. Some rogue art-goers were so bold as to help themselves to the fresh grown fare.

The party spilled over onto the lawn of art space Kaffistofa, which had a live DJ and barbecue food for all to enjoy in the rain.

For those not willing to brave the Reykjavik weather for a barbecue, Reykjavik Art Museum Hafnarhus held screenings every afternoon of video and film works. Here is a still of festival favorite Art Makes Us Drunk curated by Lukasz Gorczyca and Lukasz Ronduda.

On the final night of the festival London-based artist William Hunt performed atop a ladder out in the water of the Reykjavik seashore at Aegissida.

Hunt serenaded the crowd for the better part of an hour while the sun sat low in the horizon behind him. He ended his performance, and closed the opening week in a properly ceremonial fashion, by self-immolating before diving into the water.