April Flashback: Sequences VI, or: Getting Artsy in Reykjavík, Part 1

Every two years since 2006, Reykjavík has hosted the Sequences art festival, and we were lucky enough to be here during a festival year. Per the Sequences website,

The aim of the ten-day festival is to produce and present progressive visual art with special focus on time-based mediums, such as performance, sonic works, video and public interventions. An offspring of the dynamic art scene that thrives in Reykjavik, Sequences is the first art festival in Iceland to focus on visual art alone. New artistic directors are hired to reshape each edition of Sequences according to their vision, making it unique and different every time.

I’d like to say that I am so on-the-ball that I had been previously aware of Sequences and eagerly anticipating its arrival, but I hadn’t been. Rather, it came to my attention because Mark was asked to write a festival preview for The Reykjavík Grapevine. (On top of which I later got an email from a friend I hadn’t seen in quite a long time who was being sent to Reykjavík to cover the festival for an art publication she writes for. It’s not every day that someone sends you an email along the lines of “hey, I’m going to be in Reykjavík for work–let’s meet up!”)

It’s not perhaps timely anymore (as I’ve been moaning, I sort of fell behind with my of-the-moment documentation in April; there was a lot going on), but I recommend you check out Mark’s piece, as he was able to not only interview the festival curator, Markús Þór Andrésson, but also Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, whose ‘Self portraits from room 413,’ hung in the lobby of the Hotel Holt (where they were painted) during the festival.

One of Ragnar Kjartansson’s “Self Portraits from Room 413,” via Art Review

We saw a lot of amazing work as part of Sequences, my two favorites being the exhibition of the festival’s featured artist, Gretar Reynisson, and Hans Rosenström‘s sound installation “Blindsight,” which was set in a room at Hotel Holt throughout the festival.

Here’s a bit from Mark’s piece on Gretar Reynisson’s exhibition:

The festival’s featured artist is Gretar Reynisson, whose show, ‘The Decade,’ at The Living Art Museum and the adjacent Artíma gallery, represents ten years of his life, presented in public for the first time. At the turn of the century, Markús says, Gretar made the decision to withdraw from exhibition and, in essence, live his life as a series of systematic, repetitive artistic gestures. The piece “52 Shirts” is a rack from which hang the identical white dress shirts Gretar wore every day for a year, switching out one for another every week. The approach, Markús says, “is rigorous and mathematical, but also physical—you see that the shirts are worn out, with sweat stains and smudges.”

It will be quite a challenge, Markús allows, to accurately represent ten years of work in a ten-day festival, but in a sense that gap, between life as lived and as documented, or even as remembered, promises to weigh heavily on the show. Memory is a key concept within “Kept but Forgotten,” a tableau of small-custom-built boxes—“it’s like a landscape, like looking onto Manhattan”—each containing an object, like a dead computer mouse or inkless pen, which had exhausted its function in Gretar’s life. “He says that he stops remembering what’s in each box,” Markús says.

I found this exhibition truly moving. To see a whole life in its most minute details is intimate and beautiful for simply being mundane. Gretar exhibited the glass that he drank out of each day, the pieces of paper that he crumpled, videos from each month of a whole year in which he recorded a single minute of film every day. The takeaway that these installations underlined for me was that what really encapsulates one’s existence is not so much the major events and big moments, but the day-to-day habits and behaviors, the ephemera which gathers dust and layer by layer becomes your life. I took a few photos at this exhibition, so you can get a sense of what I’m talking about:

The other installation I particularly enjoyed was “Blindsight.” This was a sound installation in a hotel room at Hotel Holt, which was meant for one person to experience at a time. In order to get into the room, you actually had to go request the key from the desk, which certainly added to the experience.

Hans Rosenström is a Finnish artist who has staged this installation in hotel rooms in several countries. The narration was in Icelandic, so I only caught a bit of it, but the overall experience speaks for itself:

You enter an empty hotel room, in which the lights are on, but nothing else seems out of the ordinary. You sit in a chair under a set of headphones, facing a mirror. Then a voice begins to speak to you about (I think) the everyday experiences and acts which take place in this room. Then, the lights dim and the voice in the headphones drops to a whisper, moving from one ear to another. You hear rustling behind you, as if someone is getting into the bed, and you invariably turn around and check to see if someone is actually there, even though there is a mirror right in front of you. It is an unsettling experience, a bit like being in a haunted hotel room, but also one which conveyed, quite sharply, the inherent intimacy of a hotel room, a shared space which we all treat as if were ours alone as soon as we enter it.

Or that’s what I got, at least.

There’s a video teaser on Vimeo of the installation as it was staged in another hotel room.

This seems like a good place to pause in our recapping. So stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about the off-venue events we attended during Sequences.

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