The Optimism of Collective Virtues


The Optimism of Collective Virtues

Review by Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine, photos courtesy of and

I have not attended every single Reykjavík Arts Festival since its establishment in 1970, but I assume it would be a safe bet to say that the grand scale of this year's visual art project, “(I)ndependent People”, with its 29 artist collectives and over 100 participants, is one of the largest so far.

Motivated by the financial crisis in Iceland, the focus of “(I)ndependent People” is on collaborative effort. “If everyone pitches in with what they've got, we might pull through,” the Swedish curator Jonatan Habib Enquist declares as the underlying message of the project in its accompanying booklet.


“View from the Other Side” (2011) by the artist collective IC-98 from Finland. A screenshot from the video-work, courtesy of their website

I am still overwhelmed by the gigantic mess of listed exhibitions, public spaces, museum, galleries, individual artists and group names, and I have not quite figured out how they relate to each other (or maybe they don't).

So I decided to take my time examining the exhibitions and events spoonful by spoonful. Quite purposefully, I have still not seen all of them to avoid visual overstimulation and mental overdose.

What led me to the ASÍ Art Museum was curiosity. I wanted to see the latest work by Icelandic veteran artist Rúri (b.1951), “Future Cartography”, made in collaboration with the geographer Gunnlaugur M. Einarsson (displayed on the second floor).

I reviewed her giant retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Iceland in March and wondered beforehand whether the experience would be a pleasant surprise or disappointment. It was not a disappointment, perhaps a mild surprise, but not mind-blowing.

True to herself, Rúri expresses a passionate environmental concern by creating post-apocalyptic topography in quite a literal way, as the title suggests.

It must have required a heavy workload to execute this ambitious concept in such scary pedantic detail in a wall-size artwork, but the work falls a little flat with the hammer-on-the-head message and lack of subtle nuances. My expectation for hidden layers of interpretation was left unfulfilled.

Instead, my attention was taken away, mesmerized and hypnotized by the two unrelated video-works downstairs: “A View from the Other Side” (2011) and “New Life Horbelev” (2010) created by the artist collectives IC-98 from Finland and Wooloo from Denmark, respectively.

I was smitten from the very first glimpse of “A View from the Other Side” (70’00”), and didn't want to leave. It felt like looking at an etching of a Victorian building with an undefined function by a riverbank. The atmosphere is nostalgic, aided by slow organ music.

It takes you a while to realize that you are not looking at a projected still-image as you gradually notice the subtle changes which occur: a curling smoke, shadow of a passing ship, wind blowing in the trees.

Next you deliberately start seeking those hidden changes, as if in a game of comparing two almost identical images with ten errors to be found.

The fine realistic style in grayscale makes you wonder whether the image is based on a photograph of a real place transformed into the imitation of an old-fashioned drawing or whether it is a computer-generated illusion of a bygone reality.

It turns out that the building is real: a fish market called Gyllich Stoa in Turku, Finland, which has also served as a café, restaurant, gas station and at one time been totally vacant.

The early 19th century design is inspired by ancient Athens, which neither seems particularly Finish nor Greek, but rather a timeless and unspecified portrait of passing times.

As the authors IC-98 explain in the Portfolio section of their website,, that it is a site-specific animation which creates “a virtual ghost image of an actual place.”

The animation hits the right cord with the audience because it truthfully resonates the moving experience of looking at a yellowed photograph of painfully familiar places and deceased beloved people, who suddenly become vivid in your memories and imagination, as if being instantly brought back to life in loud motion right in front of your eyes.

“A View from the Other Side” is only one work out of 42 which IC-98 has created from 1998 to 2011.

The collective explains on their website that they are interested in the in-between process of becoming and creating an expressive virtual language of incomplete collages in a state of constant flux.

Although the link between individuals and society may not be directly apparent in “A View from the Other Side”, the following quote about their general aims provides a familial bond with the Danish group Wooloo and their work “New Life Horbelev” (11'15'') in the next room on the first floor:

“Most of the group’s interest is directed towards the ways a society of living and thinking individual bodies organises itself (...) How the multitude is defined, how it defines itself in action and how it is put into work? What is the relationship of individuals and groups to a larger whole, be it the state, the market, or simply architectural space?“


“New Life Horbelev” (2010) by the artist collective Wooloo from Denmark. A screenshot from the video-work, courtesy of their website

The inhabitants of the declining town Horbelev in Denmark provide the answers to these questions in the documentary of a challenging art project where the Wooloo group was hired to revive communal team spirit and public interest in culture.

The town’s residents were asked to lend the group their television sets for one week in order to build a public sculpture, built by the local people who donated their time and materials, as a symbol of change and collectivity.

The true story is inspiring with the people’s skeptical opposition at the start and proud triumphant end.

The best lessons learnt by the people of Horbelev are: 1.“Even if we won't become new and different people, we need to do things together," 2. “After 24hrs (…) one does not have energy to keep it up. So this is when we really start to get to know each other," 3. “It's OK to be negative at the start if you manage to change your mind."

Being forced to participate in plenty of public events in my childhood in Eastern Europe, I thought I had developed a life-long allergy towards such organized activities but the works “A View from the Other Side” and “New Life Horbelev” rekindled my faith in the virtues of collaborative effort.

Wooloo has existed since 2002 and have produced fewer works than IC-98 (ten diverse projects so far), but I recommend looking at their website in detail, especially their forum for promoting artists and open calls.

“(I)ndependent People” runs until July 1, 2012. Admission is free.

The ASÍ Art Museum is located on Freyjugata 41, 101 Reykjavík.

Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine – kremenan (at)

Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine is a passionate collector of art books, dedicating every spare moment to learn more about art while dreaming about having an exhibition of her own. She studied graphic design at the School of Visual Arts in Akureyri from 1999 to 2002. In college she realized that she didn’t want to be a designer or commercial artist but rather an illustrator and writer. At the moment she’s experimenting with her first graphic novel.

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