Interview – Time-Based Art in Reykjavík
Real Time Festival
Last October saw the first "Sequences: Real time festival" in Reykjavik, an extravaganza of time-based art, video, performances and installations that spread out from the museums and galleries into the streets, shops and bars of the city. There were works by 140 artists in the festival which was organized mainly by artist groups and institutions with the help of CIA.IS. Jón Proppé met with Christian Schoen of CIA.IS and Nína Magnúsdóttir, festival coordinator.
Christian Schoen The original idea was to involve not only the established galleries and museums but also to invade public spaces, not only open spaces but also stores in the city centre, bars and cafés. And, of course, we wanted to do this with a particular kind of content, namely time-based, sequential art.
Nína Magnúsdóttir This included projections on outside walls in the centre, including the house of parliament, Kira’s sound piece projected from a tower down town and many others. These were my favourites, situations where people were just hit with art in unexpected places.
CS The same happened with Magnús Pálsson’s performance piece in the windows of Safn, the museum on Laugavegur, where the audience stood outside, blocking the street so there was a traffic jam on Reykjavík’s busiest shopping strip. But I also liked many of the smaller interventions in fashion stores and other venues; they were really nice. We wanted to start out with the museums and galleries who have to show something anyway, especially as we didn’t have much money to put into individual projects, but to build on that and expand.
NM The museums participated to a different degree, some just ran their shows but Safn, for example, did a lot of work, organising several performances.
Jón Proppe Did the festival grow bigger than you expected?
CS Definitely. But one thing I found interesting was that we didn’t get a lot of requests from artists trying to get on the programmed with art that wasn’t time-based. I had expected people to want to get in simply to get the exposure that goes with a festival. We didn’t exert very strict curatorial control but the festival turned out to be self-curating to a large extent. When you don’t have the money to actually commission works or pay production costs you ask for the engagement of the artists but you have to leave it up to the artists who want to participate. Here it worked very well.
NM Of course there is always some curating going on in terms of who you approach but when I came to the project I already knew it would be like this, with artists making their own decisions.
CS It worked very smoothly and when artists whom we hadn’t asked came to me I just stated our goal of showing time-based art in public places and said that if they could fit their work to that, they could participate, but if they were just going to show their paintings in a gallery, then they probably shouldn’t. In the end we didn’t actually have to say no to anyone.
JP You had no money or very little. Do you think we can do more projects like that or, if this is to happen again, will it need a bigger budget?
NM Obviously. We could do it now because we want to establish Sequences as a recurring festival and this was very clear to the artists: They took part in it without any financial help because they want to help create such a festival but to keep it going we will need a budget to cover expenses and pay for the work people put into it.
CS It will have to grow but it will grow gradually. It’s not realistic to think that already next year we will have enough money to pay for all costs and pay everyone a fee for participating, but we do hope to be able to strengthen the framework, produce a catalogue and pay for professional technical support ... something that’s very important in a festival like this. We also have the experience now so we will be able to start earlier next time, approach the artists and perhaps help them find ways to finance their projects elsewhere. It will be a step-by-step process.
NM We hope to double the budget next time and then double it again and eventually we will be able to cover all costs.
JP Sequence spread art into places where it normally isn’t shown, shops, film theatres, etc. How did the people running these places respond?
NM They were great! This is something we still have here in Iceland and I know it well from working with Klink & Bank. Everybody is willing to lend a hand, provide a space, supply materials. They say: How can we help? It’s a wonderful experience and everyone. Another great result of the festival was being able to bring art to Tjarnarbíó, an old film theatre in the centre of town that hasn’t been used much in recent years but that was just perfect for our screenings and performances. There are more places like that which we hope to bring to life and use in a new way.
CS It’s also wonderful for the audience, to find art wherever they went, and this is what we set out to do. We also planned to festival to run concurrently with Airwaves, the progressive music festival in Reykjavík that every year attracts audiences from all over the world. We had a combined programme with Airwaves during the long weekend of the music festival and the streets were crowded all day and especially at night and there was music and art everywhere, wherever you looked. It was a great experience. People were asking each other where to go now, where the next performance was and what they had seen.
NM This was a very successful collaboration and something we want to continue. The two festivals can help promote each other – though Airwaves obviously has the jump on us – and we can coordinate events and time so that the audience can get to see as much as possible.
JP Time-based art is still new to a lot of people. Do you think the festival helped new audiences come to terms with it?
NM Definitely. Especially the performances and works in public places. As I was going around to the different events I kept witnessing this, people who would perhaps not go to a museum to see this art but were able to tune into it easily on the street on in the shops. It was wonderful to see. We were bringing new art to the public and the public loved it.
JP What are the plans for next year and to what extent is the Center for Icelandic Art involved?
SC CIA.IS helped to get this project started but the festival is really an independent unit. We are now working to strengthen the infrastructure and get out applications for assistance and funding. We have had very positive responses from both the public and private sector so now we are going to see how well we do in bringing that support in. CIA.IS charged with helping to set up platforms for promoting Icelandic art and this was one project we thought we should definitely support. It’s actually a kind of project that would be difficult to produce anywhere but in Iceland, an arts festival run mainly by artist-based institutions and groups but able to involve museums and galleries and all sorts of institutions and businesses. If you tried to do this elsewhere you would immediately have a top-centred bureaucracy and all sorts of political interests to contend with. This makes it really attractive from my point of view.
NM It’s true that you can do things here that would be difficult in bigger countries. The Invasionistas, as group of artists from New York who showed in Kling & Bang and had performances around town, even got six motorcycle police to help them stage an invisible parade in the centre of the city. There were police riders clearing the way and bringing up the rear of the parade but there was no one marching. We got this kind of support everywhere. The atmosphere was great and everyone in the museums, galleries and the shops – and the artists, of course – worked hard to make it a good experience for the audience.
CS From the CIA.IS point of view, this is a good way of promoting Icelandic art, of getting people to come to Iceland for the art and establishing October as good month to do it – and you can experience Airwaves at the same time. There were a lot of media people who came from abroad, from Germany, the United States and the Nordic Countries and there was a lot of coverage. They’re already calling to ask for the dates for next year’s festival. This is what we want to achieve, to tell people about Icelandic art and encourage them to come here to see it. The subtitle of the Sequences Festival says it all: It’s a Real Time Festival and you have to be there to experience it.
LIST Icelandic Art News. Page last updated 10 December 2006. Texts and images copyright © by the authors. For inquiries and contact information see about us.