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Sequences Real-time festival 2011

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To uncouple Sequences Real-time art festival 2011, held in the opening week of April over various venues and outdoor spaces in and around Reykjavik, from the recent political turmoil that Iceland has been, and continues to go through, would be disingenuous. Iceland’s economic crash and political unrest has been well documented and discussed. Rather than labouring the point here, suffice to say it was an interesting choice by the curator and director of this year’s smartly and imaginatively programmed festival, Þorgerður Ólafsdóttir (co-director with Kolbrún Yr Einarsdottir of the Æringur festival, this year in Bolungarvík and which opened 2 July) to choose Hannes Lárusson as the festival’s honorary artist.

With a solo project He and She – I and Them at Kling & Bang gallery running the length of the festival and with the controversial show he was co-curating, Koddu, at the Living Art Museum scheduled for April but postponed (due to as yet unclear political reasons), Lárusson’s politically charged work and social standing in the close-knit but lively art scene of Reykjavik seemed apt given the social and political context. (The day after I left Reykjavik, the country voted in a referendum on whether or not the country should accept the terms of the pay-back to the British and Dutch governments of the $5 billion loan made after the collapse of the Icesave accounts owned by Landsbanki bank. The result was a comprehensive ‘No’.)

Unsurprising then that a mood of hostility towards the political and economic situation and a sense of activism permeated much of the work in the this the third iteration of the performance festival showcasing both local – mainly young – Icelandic and international artists. Lárusson’s opening performance at Kling & Bang where viewers were encouraged to pelt the artist and an accomplice strapped to spinning boards like magician’s assistants with paint bombs, set the tone of the festival. Engagement, activism and the political potential in performance and live art came through in many of the works and the choice of many of the artists participating.

After the boisterous high of the opening night to Lárusson’s much quieter take over of the gallery space, turning it into a makeshift studio where the artist spent just over a week carving wooden ladles, setting himself the timeframe of making one piece every hour for six hours a day – a total of 60 objects over the course of the project. The splattered paint from the opening night remained in the gallery throughout his temporary residency, a colourful reminder of the fun of the opening night clashing with the studious repetition of the craftsman at work. (A quiet craftsman until you start him on the political situation and his views on the place and role of artists in the process.)

In the main venue by the dock the Útgerðin – a large space on the dock formerly used as a fish warehouse – housed a number of intermittent performances through the course of the festival starting with musically based performances by Nils Bech and Bendik Giske, and The Whole Picture by Christian Falsnaes the following evening. Falnaes takes the implicit charm and appeal of pop music and sees how that translates into motivating social action. The star of his own music video inside a toy-size house, the audience accompanying with synchronized dancing, and singing his his own pop song (the content a paradigm of generic cheesy innuendo and teenage heart ache) made up of the pieced-together lines from popular chart hits. From cutesy collaboration to a call for social action: the house spray painted, torn down, painted with slogans, paraded to the side of a main road and rebuilt.

Dominating one end of the vast warehouse space of the Útgerðin was a piece you smelt as well as saw.  A miniature recreation of the Icelandic Parliament building stuffed with rotting fish and accompanied by posters urging ‘Do Not Do Nothing’, the building was partly demolished by the time I saw the piece – the artists responsible Intrum Justitia inviting visitors to the opening to take out their frustrations on the fish-filled piñata.

A highlight for me was a much quieter performance by young Icelandic artist Örn Alexander Ámundason, now based in Malmö, Sweden. Working through a Reykjavik phonebook and calling numbers at random, the artist would strike up a conversation with the person at the other end of the line all the time kneeding an increasingly large lump of clay. A surprising number of people stayed on the line and were happy to talk honestly about themselves. This was a charming and intriguing insight into both the artist and the Icelandic psyche.

Taking a different musical path to the artists performing in Útgerðin, composer and artist Páll Ivan Pálsson’s solo show at the aptly named Dwarf Gallery, presented a selection of playful biographical video shorts and a Fischli and Weiss The Way Things Move-style kinetic sound sculpture where rolling a ball down a series of interlocking channels tripped audio software. Visitors were encouraged to accompany the piece with a ‘Guitar Hero’-style audio programme displayed on a monitor. (Pálsson is also a founder of a group of experimental musicians the Artistically Obtrusive Composers Society and working collaboratively uses software to develop animated graphic notation.)

Elsewhere Friðgeir Einarsson gave a lecture at the Nordic House on the Large Signification Collider (LFC) – a thought experiment playing with the seemingly parallel relationship of semiotics – words as the fabric of the world – to the ‘real’ essence of things, and physics – particles as the fabric of the world – to trying to understand the nature of the universe through the Large Hadrogen Collider (LHC). Materialists might note that the lecture came with the text from the lecture in an accompanying book.

Back with the political and this time the role of public monuments in fashioning personal and collective histories. Two outdoor performances created by Anthony Marcellini And Summoning Spirits from the Gut showed a more muted register than most of those in the Útgerðin (the typically unpredictable Icelandic weather played it’s part in this – with a violent rainstorm just before the first performance) at the site of two public sculptures in Reykevik, the Sæmundur a Selnum monument built in 1970 and the Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir Memorial (2007), both performed in Icelandic by the actor Magnea B. Valdimarsdóttir. The artist created scripts taken from interviewing locals about their own personal memories of each sculpture. Like Lárusson’s insistence on recreating the artisanal practice of the craftsman, the feeling was one of nostalgia for a past very different from the turbulent present and even more uncertain future.

As well as the Útgerðin – which also contained an interesting film programme They Don’t like Our Jokes Because They Are So Stupid curated by Camilla Robinson, director of Dapper Films with Squid and Tabernacle, London and 1646, Amsterdam – an accompanying lecture programme moderated by Gunnhildur Hauksdóttir at the Iceland Academy of Arts presented talks by participating artists in the festival as well as lectures by invited participants. An interesting talk was given by Norwegian artist Silje Silden, representing the performance art blog Nordic Tantrum, highlighting the possibilities created by encouraging collaboration between artists that the website provides with user-generated artistic content and collaboration.

Despite the economic grey clouds that still persist over Iceland and the world at large, a festival such as Sequences at least provides a platform for young artists to explore differing means of expression and experimentation without the fear of failure and importantly a place where they have their voices heard. Given the feeling of powerlessness in the face of uncontrollable forces in Iceland recently – be they economic, political or geological – such a platform can only be a good thing.