Reykjavik – the people’s voice

Today, day 2 in Iceland, we have a glacier cave tour planned. We have been told we don’t need to put our ski trousers which we brought with us as overclothes will be provided so we only add an extra, thin thermal layer. We arrive in plenty of time to meet our bus at the pick-up point and chat with a young couple waiting for a different tour. The sun is just barely up at 8:20am and it is freezing. Buses come and go calling out various names, some passengers are here, others not. Eventually, we start wondering if we are at the right meeting place. The young couple go off one way and we go another while new passengers arrive where we’d been standing. We find another meeting spot at the opposite end of the long curved hotel, about 400 metres away. People there are as confused as us, one elderly couple showing me their booking form and asking me if I had seen a bus with their tour logo – we hadn’t. I eventually return to Anthony who is at the first meeting spot and here comes that elderly couple’s bus. I run back to get them. After waiting 80 minutes and feeling frozen to the bone, we decide to return to the apartment and let Kristjan know. Apparently a bus came twice looking for us! We are obviously not cut out for organised tours. Kristjan is very disappointed for us but we had spotted some fantastic wall art on the way and I am now looking forward to discovering Reykjavik’s street art. It is all new to us so all’s good, we are more sorry for Kristjan.

A bit of research before I set off on my own, leaving Anthony behind to thaw out for a few hours.

I read about Council worker Jóhann “Jói” Jónmundsson, a warden of a tunnel’s toilets in the early 1990s, who used to dutifully clean and clear the passages of graffiti. Every time the walls were cleaned off, new graffiti would appear. One day, Joi noticed that some of the works were quality art and came up with a deal. He would allow artists to paint the walls so long as they followed certain rules: no violence and no porn. Since then, Reykjavik has had a few festivals that have delivered fabulous artworks such as the 2016 joint Berlin festival and Wall Poetry.

I love walking around cities, stumbling across unexpected gems, finding amazing artwork down little lanes or behind gates. I always learn so much about a place that way.

What became quickly apparent, from the artworks, whether wall art of sculptures, and from what I have read on various street signs, is how powerful the voice of the people is here. Icelanders not only speak up but have revolted on numerous occasions over recent generations. Of course, this free spirit and determination is not a recent attitude, descending from a people who fled Norway in the 800s and more recently decided to leave Denmark to form their own nation in 1944, it is in their DNA. Having read informative street signs on historic sites across the city and talking to Kristjan over the next few days – his knowledge of history, his own involvement in various issues, adding his account of the Pots and Pans Revolution (during the 2008-9 financial crisis when the people of Iceland rallied against bailing the banks out) to what I had read – is fascinating. I keep marvelling at how strong this tiny nation of just 330,000 inhabitants is and love how this tiny but mighty nation has fought for what it believes is right. Food for thought…

Here’s some of Reykjavik’s street art.

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St (Close up)

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St

Reykjavik street art, Ægisgata St (Close up)


Corner Laugavegur/ Klapparstigur streets, Reykjavik

Street art, Reykjavik

Street art, Reykjavik

Hafnarstræti, Reykjavik

Hafnarstræti, Reykjavik

Wall poetry 2016, Reykjavik


I didn’t expect to find a bit of Brisbane here, but here it is. Photorealistic murals by Brisbane artist Guideo van Helten based on photographic portraits of Icelandic actors:

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten works, Vesturgata/Ananaust St, Reykjavik

Guideo van Helten’s work, Reykjavik

Later that afternoon, Anthony and I meet up for a hot drink. Having walked the streets for the past 3 hours, there is just one shop I want to go into: a small pottery studio. It is good thing we don’t buy “things” anymore. I fell in love with Kogga Björgólfsdóttir’s works. It is also lucky we didn’t visit this studio later in our trip as I fear I might not have been able to resist bringing a little bit of Iceland back with me…

Kogga ceramics

Instead I left a little of my heart behind as you’ll understand in part 3 of 3 on our trip to Iceland.

– Anne

14 comments on “Reykjavik – the people’s voice

  1. Really beautiful street art -their canvases are larger than life. Love the wall poetry Such a pity to have missed the cave tour but hopefully there will be a next time. Keep warm xxx

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  2. Anthony, if you’d played your cards right you could have had Anne whisked away by a big Geyser ! (That would have been worth a picture or two !).
    Did you put some Aboriginal art up to show them how it should be done ? Keep up the missives, I’m dragging the armchair out of mothballs as we speak.
    Stay safe and warm.

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  3. Sensational Anne! Your photos are amazing. I find it amazing that they can work at such scale. Sorry you missed the Caves yet glad you had the opportunity to browse

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  4. very interesting reflection, the street art perhaps provides a unique picture into the way the people relate to their environment, the art is lovely and one can imagine how it lifts the street scene. big thanks for sharing this Anne

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  5. Powerful artwork! And the painted house : wow!
    Your mention of the potter reminded me of a Kanak potter whose work reminded so much of Alan’s that I jotted down his address to enquire about the possibility of purchasing a piece. And that was as far as I got.. xx

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  6. Just love wall art!! & what a way to transform a grey old factory building!! Some very creative and talented artists in Iceland then!!

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