Wednesday, May 11, 2011


This morning‘s paper contained an article regarding a statue in Reykjavík that is about to be relocated, moved downtown from a rather remote location that is not worthy of its excellence. The statue in question is by sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) and depicts a woman carrying two buckets of water. The name of the statue is “Vatnsberinn” or the water carrier. The statue was provided the city of Reykjavík in 1948 and a big hoopla ensued, causing the statue to be located outside the trodden path. People were outraged as they found the statue ugly – the woman was too fat (in particular from behind according to contemporary accounts), her face unappealing, her shoulders not square enough and her legs were too short. Few people saw what was really on show, namely: hardship endured.

This is not the only misunderstood statue in Iceland. There is one particular statue of a labor leader named Héðinn Valdimarsson (1892-1948) that confuses the younger generation. They do not have any idea that this is the man who fought for affordable housing for the working class – instead they think his statue is of the first guy to ever send a text message.

Art is often controversial. Recently an artist here did an installation in which he took a book about Icelandic fauna and did stuff to it that upset the author and his publisher. The incident is likely to hit the courts where it will be up to a judge to decide if the author’s honor was intruded upon. He might find this to be the case or agree with the installation artist in that he has every right to do what he wants with the book as it is a mass produced object that carries no more honor than a steel pan produced on an assembly line. In a way I sort of see his point. It is not as if books today are handwritten manuscripts and that he destroyed a rare copy or edition. Much like the little prince’s rose, books today are not unique in all the world. But then again, much like the little prince’s rose, despite numerous doppelgangers, some books are exactly that. I would not swap my dog-eared and a bit tattered at the edges books from my childhood for new copies.

Here we have government stipends for artists making it possible for them to sustain a living, something almost impossible for people of that profession in a country as small as ours. Not all artist get a stipend, there is an application process where a committee goes over the artist’s previous work and so on. A certain number is chosen and the others can reapply the next year. This is a very good system. We don’t want just the art by artist that sell a lot do we? Any more than we just want the books by writers that sell a lot – and for this group Iceland also has a writer’s stipend that works the same way.

One thing that I think is a mistake and that is the statement I often hear artists make regarding the nature of art, i.e. what makes art art. The reply I am referring to is: “Art is whatever you say is art. Anything can be art.” To me this is not the case and I don’t like it when artist put themselves down in this manner. Everything is not art and if I say “me ordering a pizza” is art, that does not make it art. Artist should set the bar higher than that. I can actually see that an artist ordering pizza could be put in the context of being art but that would require some sort of explanation of some deeper meaning of this mundane purchase or something would need to be added to the equation aside from pepperoni and breadsticks.

I saw a documentary about young Icelandic artist that really put this into perspective. Some were really bad and some were really good. The good ones respected their profession and the artistic form and put effort into their work, no matter how strange some of it seemed. The bad ones seemed like slackers that believed it cooler to be artist rather than just plain bums – one for example said that his art project of the moment was growing his hair. Another went to old folks homes and stole flowers. A third made exact replicas of his own clothes and wore them. The fourth made porridge stacked up empty tin cans into a pyramid on his kitchen table and poured the porridge over them. I would like to emphasize that I am not making any of this up. Not exactly timeless is it?

Lastly – anyone going to Bristol for Crimefest next week? I highly recommend it – great fun and a very, very friendly atmosphere. Hope to see you there. But right now I am going to shut off my computer and devote the next 30 minutes to art by growing my hair.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. To me, art is not a glib tossing together of things-paint, stone, words-certainly not growing hair. Art involves a moment made bigger, by the representation of something that is universal, and shows the effort put forth by the artist. It has to affect the senses in some way and and touch us. I am enjoying your humor.

  2. Very funny, Yrsa. You must see the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

    Wish I'd read this earlier. I just destroyed several months of my own artwork. Or rather the barber did.