Frosty glaciers and hot springs, dark winter days and bright summer nights – Iceland is a country of the extremes. Not only the nature in Iceland is astonishing: ancient sagas, crime stories, eccentric video art and enigmatic music are a testimonial for the country’s unique art scene. The small island in the Atlantic Ocean is not just a geological hotspot, but also a creative one.
In times like this, with the impacts of the global financial crisis visible everywhere in Iceland, the values of these cultural resources become evident. The bubble of fast money burst, but people still have their fantasy, their poetry and their ability to tell a good tale to hold on to. After all, it was Icelandic sagas that gave birth to the hero, the story of an individual human being, long before the first European medieval romance thought of it.
Eleven hundred years ago Iceland was a forgotten island in the Atlantic Ocean. Birds migrated into the volcanic landscape and it wasn’t until the 9th century until the first human settlers joined them. They tried to find a new place to settle down, despite the harsh weather and hostile nature. The settlers brought their stories about their gods ruling over heaven and earth – ike Óðin, who travels the sky every morning with his two loyal ravens Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory) sitting on his shoulders, discovering the world.
Then, in the middle of the 12th century, the astonishing thing happened: The Iceland-Sagas were born. Until the early 13th century, almost three dozens longer prose pieces and numerous shorter texts were created. They tell the story of the first settlers on Iceland, about their lives and blows. Written on calfskin, they are at the very basis of all Northern European Literature and today they are considered a UNESCO World Documentary Heritage.
Even in today’s cultural life in Iceland, traces of the ancient myths are visible everywhere. There isn’t a single child who doesn’t know the sagas and the streets of Reykjavík are named after the age-old heroes. Small anecdotes taken form the sagas have found their way into the colloquial expressions of everyday life and contemporary literature, music and arts feed off the rich mythical heritage.
The documentary “Iceland – Creative Hotspot” not only gives an insight into the creative energy of the country; following the steps of some of Iceland’s most famous artists, writers and musicians, it also explores the very nature of this creativity that drives and defines an entire country.
Guðbergur Bergsson, Writer
Driven by a longing to leave the coasts of Iceland behind, the writer Gu.bergur Bergsson went to Spain. He lived and studied in Barcelona, mixing with the local literary scene. It was there where he met Jorge Luis Borges, who became a friend and admirer of Icelandic literature. The love for his own culture brought Bergsson back to Iceland and the ancient myths of his home country. In the 1970s he dedicated his poems to the pagan god of fertility on the island of Flatey, capturing it all on his Super8-camera. The collection of poems “Flatey-Frey” dating back to this period was published in German.
Gabríela Friðriksdóttir, Visual Artist
Born in 1971, the Icelandic artist Gabríela Fri.riksdóttir challenges the boundaries of art. She uses video art, sculpture, drawing, performance, painting and writing to demonstrate the strong cultural heritage of Iceland. Drawing on ancient Nordic mythology and the Icelandic sagas, she creates a world of dreams, where the boundaries between the natural world and mystery are blurred. The ancient world of the sagas is picked up in the materials she uses: from mud to hay, bread dough to fur, plaster to old pieces of wood. Gabríela Fri.riksdóttir uses the ancient sagas to demonstrate their modern heritage. Old manuscripts are transformed into new sensual experiences, locked up under domes of plastic, overgrown with moss. She creates new landscapes, confusing and surreal, waiting to be explored by each of us as naïve travellers.
Erna Ómarsdóttir, Dancer/Choreograph
She dances, she screams, she cries and she whispers: Erna Ómarsdóttir holds nothing back on stage. Often called the shooting star of the Scandinavian dancing scene, Erna Ómarsdóttir founded the Ekka Dance Theatre in 1997. We watch Ómarsdóttir as she dances a scene from „Òfaett“, set against the backdrop of the black coast of Vík í M.rdal, the impressive embodiment of Iceland’s archaic power. We listen to her talking about the close connection between art and nature, the ferocity and unpredictability of the Icelandic landscape. In her choreographies
Dóri DNA (Halldór Halldórsson), Stage Artist
The prose of Friedrich Schiller and hip-hop are not a contradiction for Dóri DNA. Using his iPod for back vocals, the multi-talent performs his poetry with a rap-attitude and a book by Schiller in his hands. He worked as the stage director at “Theater Nordpol” in Reykjavík. There simply seem to be no boundaries to the creative output of the grandchild of the Nobel Price winner Halldór Laxness. “You always have to be willing to try something new and if it’s fun, why not?” He is the very embodiment of the young Iceland, a modern crossover between tradition and the contemporary. And he also is a big fan of the sagas: “I love the Njáls-Saga. Great, interesting and intrigues. My favourite hero is Skarphedin, he reminds me of modern-day action heroes. He kills someone, says something clever and laughs… I like this kind of black humour!”
Hallgrímur Helgason, Writer
The grotesque, the opulent, the comic – Hallgrímur Helgason’s novels combine it all. His works are called “101 Reykavík”, “Things Are Going Great” or “The Hitman‘s Guide to House Cleaning” and are usually about an insecure and megalomaniac hero living in an unhinged world.“ We have a special tradition for difficult types in Iceland. Probably because Iceland itself is a harsh country. ... The landscape itself keeps us active. Iceland is creative. Every ten years there is a volcano eruption overtopping the last one. Every ten years there is a new mountain or even a new island waiting to be named.” The development of names and words has a special tradition in Iceland. Expressions seeping in from foreign languages are considered a threat to the Icelandic culture.
Steindór Andersen, “Rímur”-Singer
It is the love for his home country that drives Steindór Andersen, master of the practice of “Rímur”-singing. Working closely with the Icelandic band Sigur Rós in 2001, he produced an album that captures this feeling of being at home in Iceland. Andersen likes to keep traditions alive. He works as a fisherman and is the president of the Icelandic “Society for poetry”, at the same time he is the most famous performer of the traditional Icelandic poetry (“Rímur”). They tell the stories of the ancient Icelandic heroes and the wars they fought – an oral tradition passed on from generation to generation ever since the 14th century. Steindór Andersen uses the “Rímur” to give a voice to Iceland, his home country, and to give new live to the age-old traditi– a very Icelandic version of contemporary pop music.
Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Composer
In his daily life, Hilmar Örn is a musician composing film music. In his other life, he is the Allsherjargoði of the pagan community Asatruar. For his work as a composer he received several international awards – in 1991 he won the European Film Award for his music in the film „Children of Nature“, to name just one. Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson often collaborates with the big names of the Icelandic music scene, making albums with Sigur Rós, Psychic TV, Current 93 and Einar Örn, lead singer of The Sugarcubes. In his role as an Allsherjargoði which he took up in 2003, he is head of a recognised religious group, practicing the Germanic pagan believe and keeping an old tradition alive.
Ursula Giger, Translator
From the very beginning, Ursuals Giger was fascinated by the “innocent and natural” relationship that binds the people of Iceland to their sagas and myths. People reading them out loud; a farmer, a car mechanic and an orchestra conductor discussing the sagas, all on eye-level. Turning the fascination into a profession, Ursula Giger studied in Basel, Zurich and Reykjavík and learned Icelandic. She works as part of the translator-team at the S.Fischer-Publisher, Germany, translating the sagas into German. “Translating the saga-verses, I’m always surprised at how present and alive the stories still are today. I know the places where the sagas are set, even though it all took place 1000 years ago. Time works differently in Iceland and somehow history never is a thing of the past.”