In my perception of Copenhagen, this city is a home city. It is not far-fetched to say that it feels like home here.
It was probably in the Golden Age when both “hominess” and “hygge” became important Danish virtues. In Danish culture “home” and “hominess” have been of symbolic, if not sacred, value. Their special place dates back to Biedermeier bourgeoisie, but links mostly to Protestantism and will also appear in the discussion about “hygge”. When you ask a Dane what hygge actually is, they would reply that only a person living here can understand. However – if we simplify hygge to how it has mostly been defined since its international commercial success, namely: by blankets, candles and hot chocolate – this particular idea of cosiness and hominess will appear common for all Northern countries, not only Scandinavian or Nordic, but also Canadian. Hygge is much more than a product form a lifestyle magazine. Is has been long studied by anthropologists and culture scientist as a concept, or phenomenon, that comes from, or was caused by, Danish national self-perception.
According to dr Jeppe Trolle Linnet hygge used to be perceived as an identity symbol in Denmark, but mostly facing historic “disasters”, such as losing political power or economic strength. Nowadays it can rather be defined as “quality of face-to-face togetherness, and the pleasurable ambience of certain places”, mostly save, familiar and comfortable ones. This is why hygge is mostly connected with home, a “shelter” protecting us from circumstances we tend to avoid. What is then “hyggeligt” (of hygge) is any sign of slowness, simplicity, relaxation, in contrast to stress, strangers and strict discipline. Hygge can be found in Copenhagen, but cannot be bought. You can find a hyggelig café, order a delicious drømmekage and read this article underneath a blanket, hearing the rain pelting the window. But it is not the place nor the accessories creating the moment of hygge. It is the overall atmosphere and your own attitude – these can be found elsewhere in the world. And it is true that only Danes can fully describe what is means.
When I said Copenhagen feels like home to me, I did not mean the real attachment I created over these several visits. What I wanted to underline was the home-like atmosphere of many places here. Take cafés or museum venues, filled with comfy armchairs, beautiful cushions, hassocks, dim light. You are welcome to stay longer, sink into the sofa, read a book or just enjoy the moment with a cup of coffee. The stuff is friendly and support you with their smiles. Authentic or fake, it does not matter to you. You will not experience it in any café in Paris, although the culture of hanging around in cafés is also important in France. But it seems that creating home-like interiors is a very Danish thing.
Take private art galleries, like Clausens kunsthandel&Banja Rathnov (Studiestræde 14). Once you are there, it feels almost like home, furnished and decorated like a private apartment. Size wise, it is far behind the biggest galleries in Copenhagen, yet its specific home-like atmosphere deserves your attention. Established in 1953, this gallery with traditions have sold graphic works, drawings, watercolours and oil painting by various Danish artists, but in its cosy art shop you may also find books and catalogues published by the gallery, along with CDs and videos related to the exhibited artists.
This place was described to be as hyggeligt, an adjective that derives from hygge. Both a verb and substantive, hygge means to enjoy the moment on many different levels. It is much more than blankets, candles and hot chocolate, as it has been defined by many lifestyle magazines published since 2016, the “discovery” of hygge. However, the concept of hygge had been an important part of the Danish soul way before the book by Meik Wiking conquered bookshops around the world. Anthropologists link hygge with feeling of safety, togetherness, simplicity and comfortable places just like one’s home. Experiencing hygge is mostly described as staying in a “shelter”, being surrounded by the familiar, the cosy, the safe. It can also be associated with childhood, nice time spent with friends, holidays in a summerhouse and free-time activities such as needlework.
Both hygge and hominess might be the key to understand the international success of Danish design. Warm light of PH lamps, upholstered Arne Jacobsen’s armchairs, comfortable chairs of all possible shapes by top designers of the 60s and 70s – all these projects had crucial influence on what we imagine now as “Scandinavian interior”. The tradition is still being maintained by contemporary designers (such as Louise Campbell and Søren Rose, definitely worthy your attention!), whose studios are located all over Copenhagen. However, you do not need to enter their ateliers to fully experience the diversity and creativeness of Danish designers. To start with, I highly recommend a visit to the Danish Design Museum (Bredgade 68), where you can both jump into the past and follow the current trends. On the way back from the Museum, you will spot eye-catching vitrines of the fanciest design shops: Carl Hansen & Son, Dansk Møbelkunst Gallery and KLASSIK, followed by several dozens of shops in the city centre. My personal favourite is a pop-up store The Apartment, a marvellously designed interior filled with hand-made rugs, fabric wallpapers, colourful coffee sets, lamps and other beautiful, yet pricy, items. After feeding your eyes, you can also improve your knowledge and attend one of events offered by Danish Design Centre (Bryghuspladsen 8).
When I think of Copenhagen, I think of bikes. I see swarms of cyclists waiting for the green light. They look like the most beautiful insects, with their metallic colours glittering in the sun.
I see their sudden movement when the light finally turns green and the inevitable loss of the nearby cars trying to turn. We tend to think that cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam have the so-called “cycling culture” which means there have always been more bikes than cars on the streets. Nothing could be more wrong.
A Canadian-Danish urban designer, Mikael Colville-Andersen, convinces that such culture was built and, what is more interesting, it can be repeated elsewhere in the world. It was just a matter of time when Danes changed their car seats to saddles. In the late 60s a Copenhagen urbanist Jan Gehl re-designed the city in order to make it more cyclist-friendly. However, it was Mikael Colville-Andersen who encouraged the people to ride bikes with his social movement “Cycle Chic” in the late 00s. Nowadays more than 60% inhabitants use this mean of transport in their everyday life and Copenhagen remains number one among cities adapted for two-wheels transportation.
Copenhagen has become a model city. Urban designers coined a term “Copenhagenization” to describe the strategy focused on making a city more accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians. It has even become an index to measure such facilities in other metropoles, “a real indication that people care about their cities and want them to be healthier, happier and more convenient”, as stated on the Copenhagenize Index website.
Developed cycle routes, such as Bicycle Snake, a long bicycle ramp designed by DISSING+WEITLING Architecture, are widely admired and regarded as tools to creating cities that are more “liveable”. Or “life-sized”, meaning adequate to the inhabitants’ needs. Not only can that be improved by cyclist-friendly solutions but also by decentralization of the city: with self-sufficient, walkable and car free neighbourhoods. I remember my amazement when I realised for the first time that building on a modern estate in Copenhagen have no parking lots but they share common bicycles instead.
Denmark’s metropole is definitely a friendly city. It is cyclist-friendly and pedestrians-friendly, with extensive public transport network connecting Copenhagen with Sweden’s Malmö. It is also eco-friendly, being the world’s greenest country according to Global Green Economy Index (GGEI) for consecutive years). It is children-friendly, regarding the number of playgrounds, multi-cultural, tolerant and open-minded. All these features can be found in projects by Bjarke Ingels Group, such as Superkilen neighbourhood in Norrebro. Here you can find facilities for both pedestrians and cyclists, culturally-neutral decorations and creative playgrounds.
Child-like imagination, colourfulness and esthetic value of such projects lead us to other important ingredients of Copenhagen’s uniqueness. When you come to this city, you really feel like staying longer. Is it possible to make a little Copenhagen in other places in the world? Jan Gehl was hired by the city of New York to implement his solutions on another side of the ocean, and the Copenhagenize project involves various cities perfoming lange improvement in making their urbanism more bike-friendly. So, it’s happening.
A dozen or so years ago the country of Iceland was just a paradise for admirers from southern Europe who were looking for an adventure in deserted landscapes.
But the situation has changed; now the island is the most fashionable and, unfortunately, one of the most expensive places to spend holidays. The area of Iceland amounts to only about 103,001 km2 ; however, the small country, remembering the expansion of the Vikings, the Danes, not to mention the American army, still deals with big groups of visitors from the rest of the world.
The Icelanders are the greatest example of a small population (not more than 314 thousand) with a big potential. The unfavourable conditions, such as uncontrollable weather, cataclysms and foreign power made the Icelandic nation strong, hard and proud so that they were able to create a united and modern society with a developing economy and rich culture. That is why they they regard themselves as the most extraordinary nation in Europe and they hate being compared to the Scandinavian countries, with whom, in fact, they have historically and culturally a lot in common. The vast majority of Icelanders work as fishermen, another half tries to save the country from the next economic disaster (the latest one expelled the president to the hospital because of the heart attack), the rest of the inhabitants are Polish immigrants. The Icelanders are regarded as originally selfish, proud and harsh, but also hospitable and open. They have fallen in love with their homeland completely, often asking tourists the question “How do you like Iceland?”, so that the only reason why they could let you into their house during the snow hurricane is answering “Yes, I love it”.
Traditions and culture
Let’s make it clear – it is not Iceland that has inherited the culture from the Scandinavia, its was Scandinavia that has stolen all the best Icelandic ideas while invading the island. At first, the language; Icelandic is a legacy after Vikings’ Old Norse, of which the transformed versions are now widely spoken by Swedes, Danes and Norwegians. After that, the sagas and myths written in Iceland and then taken to Copenhagen (these precious papers are still being kept there), were the fundaments of the present-day beliefs. They were also used by Tolkien, who dared to include Icelandic names writing his successful “Hobbit” (which definitely would not have been such a success without all these ideas).
The Icelanders like sports; they have the best handball team in Europe, they are the best supporters of the English football league, they are the best swimmers in their geothermal swimming pools and they are the best in whale-hunting. They love to drink. They are obligatorily drunk during the weekends, while they also have time to make music, maybe that is why Icelandic music is so bizarre.
Have you ever heard of Björk? Nobody know why her yells and whispers became that popular. The same thing with the music of Sigur Rós; melancholic violas, cellos and pianos accompanied with reedy voice trying to express something in Icelandic, which – unfortunately – none of us can understand.
Iceland produces thousands of movies per decade but less than 5% of them gets on the screens outside the country. The most popular ones are called “101 Reykjavik” and “Nói Albinói”, of which both tell about unenthusiastic youngsters thinking of life on Iceland is bullshit. But it does not really mean it is true, even though Iceland has the highest percentage of suicides.
Public HolidaysAccording to Gunnar Örn Tynes, “A year in Iceland is like 24 hours. A half takes a day, another half is a night”. Icelanders are that laborious while working, that even the lack of light does not disturb them. But the politics forced the people to relax, establishing public holidays (including national holidays recalling the bad times under the control of the Danes and protestant Christmas). During the rest of the year, the people celebrate every occasion to work and they worship nature on pagan feasts like Sumardagurinn Fyrsti (First Day of Summer), on which the temperature exceptionally raises to 15 Celsius degress). They also have special days like Bolludagurs (Bun’s Day), Bjórdagurinn (Beer’s Day) and Sjómannadagur (Day of the Sea People). What is more, Iceland is the only country in which Eurovision has a status of a national holiday, when everyone occupies the TV supporting Icelandic representatives (but hoping not them to win, because organisation of the contest would destroy the country completely).
Iceland is surely one of the strangest countries in the world, but paradoxically the island attracts the people; from the Norwegian settlers in the 10th century who did not bother about lacks of woods and natural resources, the American soldiers who were deployed on the island during the World War II protecting the country for free, to immigrants who accept severe climate and cool society. What is the magical reason worth visiting Iceland? – I do not know. But if you are a homeless Viking, a polar bear, a millionaire with no idea what to spend your money on, or a Polish immigrant – you should no longer ask yourself on going to the Land of Ice.
Iceland is attractive not only to the Polish people. Many, even from much warmer and nicer places, choose to live on this moody but wonderful island.
For unknowns reasons, I keep meeting all the most positive weirdos, whose stories are much stunning than mine. Although I haven’t met Mak Jürgen in person yet, we had one chat on-line and it clicked immediately. We contacted due to his exhibition “I miss the days chasing lights”, photography and poetry show in HART Hostel and Art Gallery in Wrocław. It started on the 22nd of March and will last untill the 5th of April. (This is Part 2 of the Interview with Mak Jürgen).
UT: Would you say that you don’t just take pictures, but a portrait of Icelandic lighthouses? Your own soul painted in this tiny piece of the Icelandic scenery?
This particular moment is very important. That’s also why I love photography, but I chose the analogue technique, though digital would have been closer to my education (laughter). You can take pictures of well-known waterfalls for hundreds of times, places you already know, like Kirkjufell. Those pictures you scroll on Instagram don’t make Iceland less beautiful, however I wanted to do different photography. When I go to the lighthouses, I absorb the surroundings: wind, rain. Once I went to the northernmost point of ‘inland’ Iceland. On that day, there was an orange alert in the south-east, but I thought it’s going to be fine in the north-east, it wasn’t. The road there was awful because of the weather, but shortly after I arrived, the rain stopped and the wind turned out not that bad. It was a very special moment. What I tried is to capture or reflect this feelings in photographs and words This is also where my poems come from. I take the phone, write down my thoughts and sometimes I like what I write, sometimes – back at home, I just think it’s not enough, but there is always the essence of what I lived this day.
UT: Emotional comment to your particular state of mind in the particular time and particular moment. You write in English, although it’s usually easier to put feelings in words of a native language. How do you deal with that?
MJ: I would find it too complicated to write in Basque/Spanish and then translate. My life in Iceland is based on English – I use it at work, I use it in conversations with friends, I rarely use my native language apart from calls with family and friends or talks with Spaniards living here. But it is a part of my being here. It comes therefore naturally, of course it’s not the same, but I try to write how I can, I do my best to express myself. Also, I have some help, a friend in Akureyri who studied English literature and she plays a role of some sort of an editor. She proofreads, comments what I write.
UT: I bet you know about Icelandic-Basque relation from the past. Both nations were related with the sea, fishery. When in Iceland, do you feel like there is something alike between your two homes?
MJ: I feel the distance, although Iceland is my new home. Basque people, or Spanish people are of course different from the Icelanders: open, direct, sociable, friendly. In Basque Country, however, it is hard to cross the line of making friends, but then you become real friends. I feel something similar in Nordic countries is not the easiest connection between people, but I don’t mean they are cold or unfriendly – I had very welcoming hosts and friends in Akureyri – but they won’t make friendships with you at once neither. If I say that I’m a Basque, a lot of people, especially the old, would react “Ay yes, Baskelandi!” and it makes me so happy because usually people from Europe don’t know what the Basque Country is. Here, on Iceland, almost everyone knows. They tell the stories, they have connections.
UT: Getting back to Instagram pictures. On your Instagram you post mostly clouds and skies, almost no lighthouses.
MJ: That was another project. I wanted to take pictures of the skies every single day, not only in Iceland but also of other places, and make an exhibition/ a show about it. But this comes later. I have plenty of projects, I can’t just stop on one idea. As for a creative person, continuity is sometimes hard. I start many things in the same time and don’t finish many of them. But I hope one day I’ll get back to them.
UT: Many projects, many ideas. Are you up for collaborations? Do you know some Icelandic photographers you think you’d like to work with?
MJ: As an artist, I was never used to work with other photographers. I’d rather be a bit aside, I don’t want to be in the middle of attention neither. Some Icelanders are also difficult to work with, they are kind of moody (I wouldn’t say that) maybe instead; I’m not quite sure how the Icelandic art scene works. There was a professor, for example, who shown us his studio very vividly and openly, naturally, friendly. Then we went to an exhibition in the Photography School in Reykjavik, the feeling there was quite elitist and close. Some people became famous, others are just nice and just normal nice people, doing what they do, I would say that the latest is my kind and Icelanders sometimes are quite like that, something I really like. I don’t know entirely if I am an artist or a photographer. Too big words to say.
UT: Would you say that Iceland is the land of photographers? Some say it has special filters already, whether it’s colour or the fog, that make it so photogenic and beautiful that you can’t take a bad picture in Iceland. You are more a landscape photographer, not thus interested in “typical” views of Iceland. Is it so that Icelandic photographers are already fed up with all these postcards landscapes and they’d rather make documentary photos instead? To tell the story about the place? Lighthouses as a figure of solitude. There is only one lighthouse and nothing else usually on your pictures.
MJ: I think it’s about the light. This is what Iceland has special. From the very dark to the very bright. I don’t know if it’s a matter of the latitude, but Iceland is special, on pictures. Iceland taught me about the attitude: it doesn’t matter if you’re and artist or not, you take pictures of what you see. It’s easier to be an artist here. What I mean is that here the sentence “I’m an artist” seems to be easily pronounced; from my point of view or understanding an artistic expression and therefore the self-definition as an artist – compared with other places I’ve been to, in Iceland is just easier and more openly accepted. Iceland is very inspiring. from the ground to the skies.
UT: Is Iceland your home now?
I don’t think I’d end up living the rest of my live in my hometown (UT: in the Basque Country). Iceland had been my home before I ever stepped on this island, or at least that’s how I feel. And it’s not that I have any kind of rejection towards the Basque Country (or any other place) – quite the opposite. Usually you realise that you love a place only when you leave or lose it; I do love my homeland, it’s just a feeling, and I let myself guided by feelings a lot. It’s hard to say that I will stay here forever, but I miss Iceland every time I’m away for a while. The future is untold, but I can say one thing: at the moment it’s hard to imagine me leaving heima.
This is part 2. Click here for part 1 of the interview with Mak Jürgen.
Iceland is attractive not only to the Polish people. Many, even from much warmer and nicer places, choose to live on this moody but wonderful island.
For unknowns reasons, I keep meeting all the most positive weirdos, whose stories are much stunning than mine. Although I haven’t met Mak Jürgen in person yet, we had one chat on-line and it clicked immediately. We contacted due to his exhibition “I miss the days chasing lights”, photography and poetry show in HART Hostel and Art Gallery in Wrocław. It started on the 22nd of March and will last untill the 5th of April.
Utulę Thule: How was the vernissage?
Mak Jürgen: It was a bunch of people. More than I expected, kind of surprising. I thought that younger people might come, but not all of them were young. Maybe young in the inside, but definitely not from the outside! (laughter). I’d say around their 50-60s. Very nice.
UT: There are many Polish people interested in Iceland. Wrocław is especially close to Reykjavik, as both cities are partners. There are also many Wrocław inhabitants involved in a Polish-Icelandic “ROK” magazine. How did you end up here?
UT: Tell me something about the whole project. Why Iceland? I know it’s a cliché question, at the end people don’t usually need reasons to move there, because it’s just amazing. Is there anything particular that stroke you?
MJ: Usually a lot of people ask me this question. Most of them are like: you come from Spain, where it’s so sunny and warm, many people want to live there, why Iceland then? Well, I come from the Basque Country, where it is not that hot as they think, of course not as cold as in Iceland either, but it was not the weather that brought me here (laughter). I have always been attracted by Nordic countries in general and Iceland in particular, so, one day I just took my car and I drove to Iceland, I took the ferry from Hirtshals in Denmark to Seyðisfjörður. This was three years ago, since then I worked in different places, and after spending two years in Akureyri, I moved to Reykjavik in October.
UT: How did your artistic career start? You say you have been creative since you were a child, but you can’t just be an artist on Iceland. Everybody needs to have at least two professions there.
MJ: I’m a graphic designer. Of course you can’t just make a living with art here. There is a place in Reykjavik called Andrými, It’s not a creative/art place persé but arts and creativity are a part of it. It’s truly more like a social place, an open house available for any kind of activity or event, where everyone is welcome and whoever can join and develop their inquisitiveness on any field. From social help and participation till more actively anticapitalist/anticonsumist aims or more creative related initiatives. Is a lot of things and everybody who is involved can have their perception and definition of this place. In the house there are different workshops or ateliers and one of them is a darkroom where I started my advantage with photography.
UT: Yes, you’re not a professional photographer, you use very artistic technique: analogue. Did you get the inspiration in Andrými?
MJ: I’m not a professional photographer but I rediscovered this media. I met a few friends and among them, Kordian, from somewhere between Katowice and Kraków, who is a former professor in the School of Photography in Kraków. He helped me, I learned a lot with him and with some other people that I’m grateful I’ve met in the dark room.
UT: So the project? Was it born in Reykjavik?
MJ: No, I had had the idea much earlier, I wanted to do it but didn’t have time at first. No real studio neither, so the project got a bit of stuck. I was travelling around Europe and the moment when I came back to Iceland, was when I got more and more inspired. Travelling, taking pictures and writing – all happened in a very organic natural way. The idea grew and I started taking it more deeply and working on it. Finally, I realised that I gathered some material, so I thought of publishing a book – which became much of a longer project.
UT: As for now, it’s a collection of analogue pictures of lighthouses with some examples of your poetry, written by hand and developed just like photos. When will the book be ready then?
MJ: The book will hopefully get published by the end of the year.
UT: But taking pictures is a thing that people usually do on Iceland. You know, there are thousands of accounts on Instagram, people just want to take similar pictures, to have their own “postcards”. But you decided to take pictures of lighthouses, which is both unexpected and characteristic for the Icelandic landscape.
Both in visual and practical way, I think lighthouses are very Icelandic. We have them everywhere, we are used to them in towns, harbours, but in Iceland they seem very special. For me they have a poetic and metaphorical value. They can inspire in so many ways, and I tend to have very emotional attachment to them.
UT: So you don’t see them as one of millions, some random buildings outstanding from the Icelandic skyline? Do you then own your own, favourite one?
MJ: Each of them has different, but evenly intense impact on me. Depending on the moment or the day, the same one can reflect on my (or it’s me reflecting on them) different feelings or emotion. That is why lighthouses are alive to me.
This is part 1. Click here for part 2 of the interview with Mak Jürgen.
Nowadays the Nordic region is often being imagined and aesthetically associated with the Vikings and their heritage. Some of the Scandinavian countries, like Iceland, has recently started to profit by presenting itself commercially as a ‘truly’ Viking place. As a matter of fact, this process of building national identity on the Vikings’ origins burgeoned in the 19th century, when especially Sweden, Denmark and Norway wanted to constitute their participation in heroic events of the Vikings Age (Varnedoe 1982:13). Though not always certain if produced by the Vikings or extant in its original form, art from around 8th-11th centuries has become a crucial inspiration for artists of following periods, thus can be regarded as a foundation of ‘Scandinavian aesthetics’.
Characteristics of the Viking art consist of typical ornaments divided into six different styles, classified in the 20th century. Typical for artworks from around 970-1050 and chronologically fourth, the Mammen Style is best represented in the so-called Mammen Masterpieces (Graham-Campbell 2013:111), including the Cammin Casket (il 1). Nowadays known only from copies, as it was destroyed or lost during the Second World War, it was a bowed-side casket made from wood overlain with twenty-two sheets of elk antler (Roesdahl 2010:151) and guilt with copper or gold. According to existing casts and pictures*, the metal parts of the frame were decorated with heads of different beasts (such as birds or wolves), whereas the carved antler depicted elements typical for the Mammen style: ‘Great Beasts’ with four legs and human-like masks (Roesdahl 2010:151) as well as foliate and interlace ornaments(Graham-Campbell, 2013:112-113).
The 69-centimeters-long casket with six short legs was house-shaped (Roesdahl 2010:151) or even, as James Graham-Campbell suggests, formed like a tenth-century Viking Age hall (2013:111), which makes it distinct from other ‘Mammen Masterpieces’: the Bamberg casket and the León Reliquary (ibidem). That is why it is difficult to say whether they were all three executed by one master, not to mention that the Cammin casket was “more elaborate in its wider range of designs” (Graham-Campbell 2013:114).
Still, regarding the rich ornamentation and sophisticated technique, the casket must have been produced in Scandinavia and by one of the Vikings masters. Moreover, it was not only inspired by the form of timber halls constructed under Harald Bluetooth (Graham-Campbell 2013:112), but also bore traits typical for subsequent stave churches: hog-backed roof-line and beasts’ head on the ends of the ‘roof’ (Graham-Campbell 2013:112-113). However, both Graham-Campbell and Else Roesdahl agree that the iconography of the carving has nothing to do with Christian themes (Graham-Campbell 2013:114; Roesdahl 2010:151), which can be regarded as another argument for a master deeply rooted intheVikings traditions (even though Scandinavia knewChristianity at that time).
Il.2: Carl Larsson, Midwinter’s Sacrifice (Midvinterblot), 1915, oil on canvas, 6,5 x 13,5m, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
As stated earlier, the Viking Age was an important source of inspirations to artists in the 19th and early 20th century, especially when it comes to the ‘National Romanticism’ and construction of national identity via art (Facos 1998:117). A Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853-1919) was clearly inspired by the Vikings, painting his Midwinter’s Sacrifice (il. 2) for decoration of the staircase in the National Museum in Stockholm**. As a subject for the never realised mural painting, he chose a ritual sacrifice of a Sweden’s legendary king, Domalde, of which he read in Snorri Sturluson’s 13th-century Heimskringla chronicles. But beyond the fact that the theme was of questionable credibility and broadly discussed in Sweden, what is most noteworthy in the Larsson’s composition is the design of the temple in the background, for it shows both the artist’s interest in the Viking art and how it was ‘transformed’ by the 19th-century imagination.
The temple depicted by Carl Larsson is the one in Old Uppsala, the central worship place in the past Scandinavia. According to writings by Adam of Bremen, it was “built entirely of gold” (Cavalli-Björkman 2007:15) with three figures by the entrance, depicting the Norse gods: Thor, Odin and Freyr. As the famous temple does not exist anymore, Larsson tried to reconstruct it in his painting; the first sketch from 1911 bears a caption “Uppsala Tempel” and shows the effect of his research in the National Museum in Copenhagen. However, his attempt was harshly criticised in press by an anonymous “Arkeolog” who claimed that Larsson mixed different styles and used motifs that were impossible to occur in Viking art (Isaksson 1983:37). Still, some parts of the architecture recall stave churches: wooden structure, beasts’ head terminals on the roof, a general form of the building, not to mention gilded ornaments below the niche. Though the whole image of the temple is not historically correct, it shows how the general idea of the Viking art influenced the artist’s work, as it seems that the visual attractiveness of objects seen in museums in Copenhagen (including fibulas used as inspiration for the Thor’s hammer, held by the priest in the middle of the composition) was more important than giving a decent and credible picture of the VikingAge.
Consequently, Larsson’s latest monumental composition can be considered in terms of ‘Scandinavian aesthetics’. Both form and contents of the painting, executed on the height of Swedish ‘Romantic Nationalism’, confirm how important the Viking’s heritage was in constructing the national identity. Carl Larsson got influenced by those ideas to that extent that he even suggested building a Swedish Pantheon in Old Uppsala, as the place with Swedish king’s tumulus is the most important for the whole Swedish nation (Larsson 1908:37). Description and drawings included in the article for “Ord och Bild” show that, despite the name, Swedish Pantheon was supposed to be a reconstruction of the Vikings’ temple rather than a neoclassical buildings popular in Europe at that time***. Therefore, Midwinter’s Sacrifice, with its nationalistic message and an interesting history of reception****, is a good example of Swedish, if not Scandinavian, art, not only in terms of aesthetics but also concerning the importance of Vikings’ roots in Scandinavia.
Il.3: Hákon Hertervig, Church in Ólafsvík (Ólafsvíkurkirkja), Iceland, 1967
If not in painting, the Viking architecture also had impact on buildings designed and erected in the ‘National Romantic’ period; one of the best examples is the church in Kiruna, built between 1909-12 by a Swedish architect Gustaf Wickman (1858-1916). The form of a stave church, though transformed through modernism, remained a major inspiration for contemporary architects, especially in Iceland. Icelandic modern architecture of the 20th century was basically made in concrete, representing “an eclectic combination of architectural styles, including classical, traditional Romanesque-inspired Icelandic and Functionalism” (Kent 2000:66). Local architects, such as Guðjón Samúelsson (1887-1950) or Sigurður Guðmundsson (1885-1958), both turning to the traditional Icelandic architecture elements in their late projects (Kent2000:326), influenced ondesigns of the following generation of architects.
Hákon Hertervigs’ Church in Ólafsvík (il. 3) can be considered as an example of a contemporary variation on the stave churches. Triangular forms of the walls and the slanted roof (Howarth 2016) with the overall construction divided into volumes of different sizes joined together show similarities to the Viking architecture (Stokstad & Cothren 2013: 443). Though built of concrete, the church seems to imitate the stave structure with the matching bell tower as a dominant element of the core. The interior of the church, especially the wooden ceiling recalling the Viking Age halls, also based on triangles, is rather small and gives the sense of ‘cosiness’ of the stave churches. Altogether, the Hertervigs’ project from the 1960’s shows an interesting combination of traditional elements of the Viking Age as well as functional and modern solutions; the compactness of forms, with the crucial role of light in the interior, as well as whiteness of the walls and a practical function of the slanted roof are also found in other Scandinavian buildings of the epoche, and can be regarded as typical traits of the Northern architecture, if not ‘Scandinavian aesthetics’ in general.
In conclusion, two examples of Scandinavian art of the 20th century show the importance of the Viking heritage in creating ‘Scandinavian aesthetics’, especially in the period of constructing national identity (turn of the 19th and 20th century) as well as re-finding the nation’s origins in later years*****. The motif of Viking architecture, having its early representation in the Cammin Casket, yet mostly associated with the later stave churches, has been used as a major inspiration for Scandinavian artists. Paintings depicting themes of the Viking Age, based on archeological discoveries, yet not always historically correct, and modern or contemporary architecture inspired by the extant examples of stave churches, still transformed by new ideas and practical solutions, represent the aesthetics having origins in the Viking Age but having also been re-established in the following epochs. As a matter of fact, the present-day image of the Vikings, being associated with the Scandinavians all over the world, is a product of both the 20th century art and of tourist trade in the 21st century. In other words, ‘Scandinavian aesthetics’ have been created not only by artists, but also by souvenirs’ producers and travel offices, trying to sell the ‘Vikingness’ of Scandinavia.
* Until the 20th century it was known as a reliquary of St Cordula and kept in the cathedral of Kamień Pomorski, where it presumably ended up as a gift of the Viking chieftains to Polish princes or as an imported goods (as a nearby settlement of Wolin was an important place on the Vikings trade way), vide:Graham-Campbell,2013:112, Roesdahl 2010:152.
** Having decorated the walls with scenes from the 17th-century and 18th-century Swedish art history, as well as the motif of Gustav Vasa entering Stockholm in 1523 in years 1895-1907 (vide: Facos 1998:170-175), Larsson decided to paint the last empty wall, despite the fact that he was not officially commissionedbytheNationalMuseum’scommittee.
*** Such as Walhalla designed by Leo von Klenze for a Bavarian prince Ludwig,built in 1830-42.
**** All sketches of the painting were rejected by the committee and criticised by the audience, which led to resignation of realizing the monumental decoration. The final oil sketch was eventually bought by a Japanese collector and, after more than 70 years of public debate, brought back to its original place and hung in the National Museum’s hall in 1997.
***** With a special case of Iceland; having regained independence in 1944, Icelanders had to ‘reconstruct’ their national identity. Located halfway from Europe to the USA, with great influences by American culture (American soldiers were stationed on the island from the 1950’s), Iceland was seeking for its Scandinavian/Vikings’ roots in both popular culture and architecture, yet the American impact is still very visible.
Cavalli-Björkman 2007: Cavalli-Björkman G., “Carl Larsson and Midwinter Sacrifice” inSesslerG.(ed.)MidwinterSacrifice,Stockholm2007.
Graham-Campbell 2013: Graham-Campbell J., “The Jellinge and Mammen Styles” in: Vikingart, Thames&Hudson,London,2013,pp.82-115.
Facos 1998: Facos M., Nationalism and the Nordic Imagination. Swedish Art of the 1890s, Berkeley1998.
Howarth 2016: Howard D., “Eight of the most majestic modernist-influenced churches in Iceland”, De Zeen (5.09.2016); accesed on 27.11.2017:https://www.dezeen.com/2016/09/05/eight-majestic-modernist-churches-religious-architecture-iceland/.
Isaksson 1983: Isaksson, „Röster om Midvinterblot” in: Isaksson O. (ed.) Midvinterblot. Historia i fick format, Borås 1983.
Kent 2000: Kent N., The Soul of the North: A Social, Architectural and Cultural History of the Nordic Countries, 1700-1940, Reaktion Books, London, 2000.
Roesdahl 2010: Roesdahl E., “Viking art in European churches (Cammin – Bamberg – Prague – León)” in: Skibsted Klæsøe (ed.), Viking Trade and Settlement in Continental Western Europe, Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen, 2010, pp. 149-164.
Stokstad & Cothren 2013: Stokstad M., Cothren, M. “Art History”, 5th ed., Pearson, Boston, 2013: pp. 441-444.
Varnedoe 1982: Varnedoe K., “Nationalism, Internationalism, and the Progress of Scandinavian Art” in: Varnedoe K. (ed.), Northern Light. Realism and Symbolism in Scandinavian Painting 1880-1910, TheBrooklyn Museum, 1982,pp. 13-34.
Dagur Kári’s first full lenght film, and at the same time his directorial breakthrough, Nói the Albino (2003) is often regarded as a big internationall success of Icelandic cinema at the beginning of the 21st century (Nordfjörd, 2010:7). Listed as one of the best Icelandic movies ever (Lutton 2016) it both creates and reflects common idea of Icelandic landscape and its inhabitants, being a good example of ‘Icelandicness’. Yet the story of a teen weirdo dreaming of breaking free from the claustrophobic place of his birth can be seen as universal and appreciated by foreigh audiencies unfamiliar with the typical Icelandic conditions of living.
A 17-year-old Nói (Tómas Lemarquis) lives with his grandmother (Anna Friðriksdóttir) and is sometimes visited by his father (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson). As an exeptionally recalcitrant student, Tómas hardly ever appears in the school, prefering to spend time with his older friend, owner of a local bookstore (Hjalti Rögnvaldsson) or to hide away in a basement den in his house. His melancholic and relatively meaningless life is interrupted by the fact of meeting Íris (Elín Hansdóttir), a girl working in a gas station. The protagonists live in a remote village somewhere in the West Fjords of Iceland, having their everyday routines and occupations, but seemingly fullfiled with melancholic and hopelessness. Nói and Íris decide to run away to Hawaii, but when Nói steals a car and asks his girlfriend to join him, she refuses. The main character becomes arrested for the theft and, when having returned to his house, he goes to his den. There he experiences an avalanche, that kills all the other characters. In the final scene Nói goes to the ruins of the house, takes his View-Master and watches a photo of an exotic beach with palms, a symbol of his unfullfilled dream.
I chose the culminating scene of the avalanche, because it appears as the most relevant one and a turning point of the story. Luckilly, the scene was described as “key” by Björn Nordfjörd (2010:71) and it was also analised in details in his book Dagur Kári’s “Nói the Albino” (2010:96-98). Despite his meticulous examination of the scene, with special focus on editing and camerawork, I decided to extend the analysis to other stylistic devices and my own interpretation of the passage. Yet, I wanted to take advantage of cinematic terminology used by Nordfjörd.
The sequence starts with a view on Nói’s house, with a stately mountain in the background. The simple building of corrugated metal with cement underpinning, typical for Icelandic architecture, is shown „from a low and slightly unbalance angle” (Nordfjörd 2010:96) in a worm’s eye view, making the Bolafjall mountaing bigger than it really is. The winter mise-en-scène is filled up with cold colour pallete (a blue hue that appears in every other outdoor scene, giving a feeling of eternal freeze and twilight of Icelandic winters); probably created by a blue filter. The sound, similar to an engine wirring, is presumably non-diegetic, but can be also made by Kiddi’s car who drove his son back to the house.
Next scene presents Nói opening the hatch and going down to his basement den. It is a medium shot, with natural, but yet blue-like light inside the house. The sound consists of opening and closing the hatch, with a background subtle wailing that continues to the next shot and stops immidiately in 1:16:56. Another medium shot shows Nói sitting in a badly-lit basement filled with simple objects: a bed, a wooden shelf with small objects, a fan. The protagonist lights up a cigarette, making additional sound and lightning. His neutral costume, a pale-blue T-shirt and light jeans, fits the ‘cold’ millieu of the scene and the rest of the movie.
While Nói is smoking his cigarette, a cut takes us to a blue-lit living room, where the grandmother is working on her jigsaw. The sound of putting the elements together is interwoven with silent shaking and the quick cut takes us to Kiddi’s dining room, also cool-lit by a window with a view on the mountain. Kiddi stops eating and starts listening to the increasing sound of shaking. Then we get back to the grandmother, who – shown in a medium close-up – raises her head and listens to the sound. The sound continues and another cut shows Þórarinn (Þorsteinn Gunnarsson), the headmaster of Nói’s school, who is being interupted by the sound while playing with a Rubic’s cube. Another medium long shot shows Íris reading a newspaper and facing to an invisible target, presumably a window. Next cut takes us back to Nói’s den and shows him sitting on the bed and listening to the sound in surprise. In the same medium shot, the basement starts shaking and things are falling down from the shelves.
After that comes complete darkness, which lasts for 22 seconds, accompanied with ‘dead silence’ (Nordfjörd 2010:99) that changes into a slight buzz. Then the darkenss and silence are both cut off by a lighter in Nói’s hands. The only light of the fire reveals the protagonist in a medium shot. As Nordfjörd notices, next scenes seem to be a single one, but they are divided by „the cuts hidden” (2010:97). We see as following: a close-up of Nói’s face heading to the hatch; a medium shot with him presented from the back, trying to push the hatch; a medium close-up in which Nói is knocking the hatch and then returning to his bed; plying with the lighter, the only source of light in those scenes Nói is shown in an extreme close-up, the focus of the camera is on the lighter and his blurred face in the background; next cut shows him „in a close-up from an extremely low angle” (Nordfjörd 2010:97), shouting „Hallo” thrice; last shot shows his face again in extreme close-up with the camera frist focusing on his forehead and then blurring the view (the light of the lighter pulses, giving warmth to the scene, then the screen goes black again).
In the darkness, a slight sound of scratching can be heard, dogs starts barking and we hear the sound of opening the hatch. Camera shows a rescure worker from the worm’s perpective and, with a quick cut, a figure of Nói lying on the bed, shown from another angle than the rescuer would probably see him (Nordfjörd 2010:98) and lit partially by the outside light. He rises up and next shot shows the rescuer from Nói’s perpective, who is calling his colleagues and enters the basement. Then we see him helping the protagonist to get out and another shot with two rescuers putting a blanket on Nói panting from the cold. His pale-blue T-shirt contrasts with orange uniforms of the rescue workers, as to emphasise the difference of temperature. The light is dim but yet stray, produced by lamps in the middle of the night. Next medium long shot shows rescuers warming Nói and next one, an overall long one, depicts other rescuers working in the house’s ruins, lit partially by the lamps. The final shot is a vista on the street with barely-lit houses in the night with a fire enging coming from the right corner and some rescuers crossing the street. The sound in both scenes is diegetic, with their voices and engine’s whirr.
In general conclusion, the ‘tour de fource’, so the avalanche itself, is not depicted even once in the movie. However, Nordfjörd gives several examples of foreshadowings of the catastrophe,, such as a local medium’s prophecy about death or scenes of Nói working as a gravedigger (2010:93). While I agree with Nordfjörd that the opening scene with Nói cleaning the doorway completely blocked with snow is a good ‘ouverture’ to the final tragedy, I am sceptical about other prefigurations of it (splashing blood, Kierkegaard’s philosophy). In my opinion the only direct foreshadowings of the avalanche are the repeating views on a mountain and a scene of Nói shoting to its icicles. Still, the sequence of twenty-five shots, kept in bad lightning and diegetic sound, can have a stronger impact on a viewer than showing an actual avalanche destroying the village.
As stated in the first paragraph, Nói the Albino is a very Icelandic movie. Not only it presents the mise-en-scène characteristic for this remote island in the north but also focuses on a natural phenomenon of the region, especially the West Fjords represented by the mounting in a town of Bolungarvik chosen for the scenography. This sparsely populated part of Iceland has experienced many avalanches, of which two that happened in 1995, in Súðavík and Flateyri (Nordfjörd, 2010:71) are still vivid in Icelanders’ collective memory and therefore the local reception of the movie could be different from the international one (idem, 2010:74). As shown in another Icelandic movie, Cold Light by Hilmar Oddsson (2004), avalanches make Icelanders to live in ‘a state of emergency’. Still, the movie can be regarded as ‘Scandinavian’ for, as indicated by Nordfjörd, it features both ‘Nordic melancholia’ and ‘dark Scandinavian sense of humour’ ( 2010:22-23). The motif of humility towards powerful nature, also avalanches, is present in Scandinavian cinema (shown in Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure, 2014), likewise the stylistic devises typical for ‘Nordic noir’ can place Nói the Albino among good cinematic representations of Scandinavian culture.
Nordfjörd, B. (2010), Dagur Kári’s “Nói the Albino”, Copenhagen, Museum Tusculanum Press
Lutton, S. (2016), “10 great Icelandic films”, BFI, 9 February, http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/10-great-icelandic-films Accessed 26 September 2017
Praca zaliczeniowa na studia, poświęcona udziałowi Islandek w życiu politycznym oraz dużej partycypacji w protestach wobec dyskryminacji kobiet i seksizmowi obecnemu w dyskursie publicznym (#FreeTheNipple, #metoo, Klaustur scandal). Język: angielski. Pod spodem załączam również wersję PDF.
In 2018 Iceland took the first place in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for the tenth time in a row (WEF GGGR 2018). It means that for the last decade Iceland has been a forerunner in terms of establishing gender equality, by minimalizing differences between men and women in many sectors. This led to painting an idealized picture of Iceland as a “paradise for women” or “the best place in the world to be a woman” (Hertz 2016). Although Iceland can be regarded as a role model for gender equality in many ways, it is still far from being an ideal. Regardless numbers in official reports, Icelandic women themselves claim that the situation still needs improvement, if not a serious change.
2018 was also a crucial year for Icelanders for other reasons. They celebrated the 100th anniversary of independence and sovereignty, with culminating festivities on December 1st, the exact day of the centenary. However, the main celebrations in Reykjavik, the capital, were disturbed by protests against women discrimination in political discourse, provoked by a so-called “Klaustur scandal”, which exposed blatant sexism in private male politicians’ talks (The Straits Times 2018). Reaction to the recordings, together with popular movements of the previous years, such as #FreetheNipple and #metoo, prove that real condition of gender equality in Iceland is no better than in other European countries.
In this paper, I would like to juxtapose historical facts and contemporary numbers with “mythical” views on Icelandic gender equality. My aim is not to compare Iceland with other countries, but to analyze to what extend does the conviction of Iceland as a “women’s paradise” stay in relation with actual situation. To do this, I am originating from a historic perspective, giving a brief summary of Icelandic women’s role in the country tradition, which will be followed by its contemporary aftermath and already mentioned scandal up to date. By focusing on Icelandic women participation in power, I would like to confront the myth of gender equality in the public sphere.
To do this, I am analyzing press material from the period of 2015-2018. Sources chosen consist of articles in English, written by both non-Icelanders and Icelanders, women and men. I am also referring to various academic papers on the subject, as well as official reports (The Global Gender Gap Report of 2018) and analyses given by the experts (mostly Icelandic).
Herstory. 100 years of women in Icelandic politics
In press material and/or academic papers about Icelandic women’s share in power and politics, authors usually start with the Vikings times (circa 890-1000). For example, Thorgerður Einarsdóttir relates to medieval sagas and Nordic mythology describing women as strong and independent, which helped establishing the gender equality contemporarily (Einarsdóttir 2005, 182). Magnea Marinósdóttir and Rósa Erlingsdóttir underline that women had to take care of the household when their men were absent (gone on viking), not to mention that many women held priests positions and were respectful rune-readers in the pagan times (Erlingsdóttir et al. 2017).
Despite this promising ouverture, situation changed with the Christianization of Iceland and women’s authority disappeared for following centuries. No sooner than in the beginning of the 20th century could Icelandic women participate in public life again. In fact, suffrage movement was very vivid already in the 19th century; widows and unmarried women above 25 gained their right to vote in 1882, and the Icelandic Women’s Association, created to fight for universal rights, was founded 12 years later. Thanks to involvement of such women as Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir, who since 1907 used her Kvennablaðið (The Women’s Magazine) to reinforce the suffrage movement, next groups of women acquired right to vote. In 1908 married women gained the right to participate local elections and thanks to so-called “women’s slates” they could also be elected (Einarsdóttir 2005, 134).
The parliamentary vote was gained in 1915, which is the official date of suffrage in Iceland (in relation to the franchise introduced in Denmark, having power over Iceland since 14th century). However, Auður Styrkársdóttir (2006) points out that this would concern only women over 40 years old. 1915 was regardless an important date for women wanting to take part in religious power, as since then they could officially hold priest positions in the Lutheran church (Erlingsdóttir et al. 2017). As for seculars, the franchise limits were lifted in 1918, when Iceland entered personal union with Denmark and regained sovereignty. Only two years after Icelandic women acquired national suffrage and the right to hold office (Kvennasogusafn 2017).
Last 100 years of women in Icelandic politics was much of a prolific time. According to Styrkársdóttir, women participated actively in both government and local elections of the 1918-1922, maintaining the tradition of Women’s lists (1998, 109). In 1922 the first woman was elected to the Icelandic Parliament (Kvennasogusafn 2017) but later on women’s participation declined and in the period of 1915-1983 the Althing consisted of only 2%-5% women (Erlingsdóttir et al. 2017). Although little participation in the public sphere, another milestone took place in 1957 when the first woman was elected a mayor in an Icelandic municipality (Kvennasogusafn 2017), and in 1970 first woman held a minister office in the cabinet. Regardless, Icelandic women did not have their actual representation in power and the atmosphere of the 1970s was very tense. In 1975 90% of women went on strike due to disproportions of wages between women and men, and the day of October 24th went down in history as decisive for the following changes.
The strike consisted in taking a day off, regardless the character of employment. Women gathered on the streets of Reykjavik and other cities to debate, claim their demands in public, or take a coffee (Brewer 2015). The organization of the strike was ascribed to the Red Stockings, a feminist association founded in 1970 which was presumably inspired by such group founded in New York in 1969. The Red Stockings was a radical feminist organization attacking traditional image of a woman, which since the 1930s had been related to an ideal of a “perfect housewife” (Brewer 2015). During the strike, the demand for more woman in political representation was postulated, which fulfilled in 1980 with electing Vigdís Finnbogadóttir for the president of Iceland.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was not only the first woman elected president in Iceland, but also in the whole democratic world (Einarsdóttir 197). She had been involved in the feminist groups of the 1970s, later becoming part of the Women’s List of 1983. Re-elected three times, her presidency lasted sixteen years, making her the longest-serving elected female head of state of any country to date. Followed by Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, an active Red Stocking member, elected the mayor of Reykjavik in 1994, Vigdís consisted an inspiring role model for next generations of female politicians (Einarsdóttir 2005, 197). In fact, at the turn of the 20th and 21st century number of women in Icelandic politics rose; from 9% of female ministers in 1990 to 33% in 2000 (Einarsdóttir 2005, 197). Futhermore, since Women’s list and Finnbogadóttir’s victory, the proportion of female members in Althing increased from 5% to 15% and culminated with 35% in 2000 (Einarsdóttir 2005, 199).
Next decade was also in the name of women in power. In 2009 first women in Iceland was elected a prime minister, and she had to get through the most challenging period in the contemporary history of Iceland: financial crash in 2008. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was chosen to assume the then prime minister, Geir Haarde, who – accused for the crisis – was forced to resign in January 2009. The election of Sigurðardóttir was confirmed by Icelanders in April 2009 and she remained on this position despite various political changes in following weeks. Under her cadency, she tried to overcome the crisis, by among others making decisions about Icesave. She was not re-elected in 2013, yet remained a very important figure on the women’s political stage, also due to the fact that she was the first politician talking openly about her sexual orientation (Moody 2009).
2011-2018 seemed also very promising for women’s situation in power, to mention first female nomination to a bishop in the Lutheran Church in 2012 (the consecration of Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir took place in Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik, Lutheran World 2012). However, in past 10 years female shares in politics dropped, “the proportion of men to women – 33 to 30 in the previous parliament – is now 39 to 24, the lowest tally of women MPs since 2007” (Morgan 2017). Still, the prime minister elected in 2017 is a woman, Katrin Jakobsdóttir, chairperson of the Left-Green Movement (Martyn-Hemphill 2017). Moreover, the number of women holding CEO positions (with Halla Tómasdóttir as the first female CEO of the Iceland Chamber of Commerce, Murphy 2018) or becoming authorities in professions traditionally linked to men, such as police (with Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir becoming head of the Reykjavik Police Department in 2014, Euronews 2018) did not improve much in the second half of the decade.
Gender gap. Icelandic women’s empowerment facing men
As mentioned above, for past 10 years Iceland has been number 1 out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, with the score of 0.858 in 2018 (WEF GGGR 2018, 121, Figure 1). What exactly a “gender gap” is? According to Cambridge English Dictionary, it is “a difference between the way men and women are treated in society, or between what men and women do and achieve” (Cambridge Dictionary 2018). The Global Gender Gap Index is measured by four criteria, subindexes: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, political empowerment. In other words, differences between women and men in each of 149 analyzed countries are defined by measurable factors: access to education, participation in politics, economic performance etc.
Although Iceland has closed its overall gap in more than 85%, and remains on the first place in the political empowerment subindex according to the Global Gender Gap Report for 2018 (WEF GGGR 2018, 121), the recent situation of women’s participation in politics is worse than before. As stated in the report: “Even the best performer in this subindex, Iceland, still exhibits a gap of 33%, and this gap has widened significantly over the past year (WEF GGGR 2018, 8). The number of women’s share in parliament dropped, together with their economic participation and opportunity, “due to an increased gender gap in the number of women among legislators, senior officials and managers” (WEF GGGR 2018, 18).
Also, by comparing data given by a platform Statistics Iceland (statice.is 2018), the difference between women and men having influence and power generally dropped drastically in 2017. First of all, it is noticeable that women’s interest in politics has been relatively even since 1897 (between 40-50%, see: Candidates) while their actual share in power has had its ups and downs. Since 1983 (the Women’s Lists) the growth of women in politics was linear until 1999 and then dropped in 2003, slightly increased in 2007 and then reached over 40% in 2009 for the first time, but dropped in 2013 in order to rise to 48% in 2016 and slid to 39% in the following year. What caused this drastic drop?
One of Icelandic activists, Sóley Tómasdóttir, replies:
Despite the feminist waves of recent years and decades, and despite the government disbanding over sexual violence and secrecy, we still got an election campaign based entirely on traditional male-centric terms (Morgan 2017).
Styrkársdóttir describes how men in power (and media) would manipulate public opinion already in the 19th century. The idea of women’s suffrage was debated in Althing already then, however, once women got together to make their first steps in politics, supportive encouragement turned to attack. No sooner than the franchise limit of age was put into debate in 1911, had media changed their view on giving power to women, doubting in their skills (Styrkársdóttir 2006). Not much has changed since then; Halla Tómasdóttir, who ran in the presidential election 2016, was excluded in official graphs in newspaper and TV debate, because – as she understood it – she is a women (Tómasdóttir 2016).
Furthermore, the female elections’ ups and downs can be related to the general mood in the society. For example, the increase of women in power in 2009 may be caused by the financial crisis, which was generally a “men’s fault”. As the then elected Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, suggests, women were important for overcoming the crisis:
Women also proved to be wiser than men as the financial crisis unfolded. There were hardly any women among the managers of the Icelandic banks that defaulted in 2008. In fact, it was banks run by women, such as Audur Capital, that provided the best examples of how to weather the financial storm. In contrast, the chief executives of companies that were hardest hit by the crash were predominantly male (Sigurðardóttir 2018).
Both 2016 and 2017 parliamentary elections were based on political scandals. First was related to resignation of Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who was accused in Panama Papers scandal, and another was held exactly a year after, because the then Prime Minister, Bjarni Benediktsson got involved in a pedophilia scandal. Despite the overall drop in women’s share in the parliament, a woman was elected the prime minister. Since then Katrin Jakobsdóttir has fought to improve Icelandic women’s situation, not only by closing remaining gaps (such as pay gap) but also struggling with unmeasurable problems such as discrimination, sexism and violence against women (Jakobsdóttir 2018).
No such a feminist paradise. Icelandic women toward inequalities
2015 and 2017 were important years for putting women subjects into public debate. Both arose on social media and attracted international interest. First, called #FreetheNipple, was a grassroots initiative of teenagers and young women who claimed “freedom” for their breast, and another, #metoo, came to Iceland from the United States. Along with the recent Klaustur scandal of 2018 and its aftermath in social media, all three put the “Icelandic paradise for women” in doubt. International media were particularly interested in such “breaking news” from the country that is officially “the best place in the world to be a woman”. Despite reports and figures, it is still a patriarchal country.
In fact, an unofficial slogan of the #FreetheNipple initiative was “Fuck patriarchy!”. The movement went viral in March 2015, when many teenagers started posting pictures of their naked breast to fight with sexualization and pornification of female body. (Jóhanssdóttir et al. 2018, 133) The movement spread to topless marches and involvement of female politics in posting their breast on social media (Iceland Monitor 2015). The protest was aimed at patriarchy and double standards concerning male and female bodies. As Heiður Anna Helgadóttir, chair of the Feminist Association of the University of Iceland, explained, breast is “just a body part. Boys have breasts and nipples and it’s fine for them to expose them. The same should apply to us” (Dicker 2015). The movement had its continuation in the following months of 2015, yet came back to discussion in 2017 after a girl was shown out in one of the pools for having no top bikini (Iceland Monitor 2017). Regardless, the #FreetheNipple movement was called a revolution (Jóhanssdóttir et al. 2018, 140) and exemplifies grand participation of young women in the fight against social inequalities, admitting that social media can be another mean for women’s empowerment.
Treating female body instrumentally, which leads to violence and sexual abuse, is a key argument for Iceland not being a paradise. This is confirmed by both a gender studies professor Gyða Margrét Pétursdóttir (Bjarnason 2017) and Guðrun Jónsdóttir, spokeswoman for Stigamót, the Icelandic Counselling Centre on sexual violence in Reykjavik (Pelaez 2018). The former suggests that as long as there is any percentage of violence, there is no gender equality. In fact, Iceland has one of the highest rates of reported rapes per capita (Pelaez 2018) and has recently faced serious cases confirming bad situation in this area. For example, Bjarni Benediktsson resigned after a scandal that burst out when his father applied for special treatment of a friend accused for multiple pedophiliac rapes on his stepdaughter (BBC News 2017). Light sentencing of sexual crimes in Iceland was also discussed due to #metoo declarations of over 5000 women, together with politicians, female priests and celebrities, who claimed having been sexually abused in their workplaces (Iceland Monitor 2018a). Still, the #metoo reaction increased awareness and encouraged more women to take action and claim justice from the perpetrators, such as a former Prime Minister, Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, accused by 150 women for sexual harassment (Iceland Monitor 2018b).
Last, but not least, the recent events deform the idealistic picture of Iceland’s women paradise. The Klaustur scandal, which burst out in November 2018, revealed serious flaws of the “female-friendly” country, as discourse used by Althing representatives is definitely unfavorable to women. Deputies from the Central Party, among others: former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson and Bergþór Ólason, were recorded while having private talks in a bar in Reykjavik. In the talk they use crude and sexist language to gossip about their female colleagues, usually by commenting their appearance or “fading charm” (Peter 2018). The most shocking comments concern Freyja Haraldsdóttir, a former MP and an activist for disability rights (Haraldsdóttir 2017), who was called “an animal” due to her brittle bone disease. The tapes put the society in shock and provoked numerous protests in December 2018, gathering not only feminists, but also people standing up against discrimination of the disabled and immigrants (Mörtudóttir 2018).
As piteous as it looks, women’s empowerment depends on men in large part. Starting with the Viking times, women had chance to make decisions on their milieu as long as their husbands were away. First vote rights were given to single women and widows, similarly, Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir’s achievements were only possible due to the fact that, as a widow, she was a master to herself (Styrkársdóttir 2006). Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was a single mother, and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir – gay. And this is not a feminist statement that women can only make carriers when not limited by men on their sides; many examples prove that women had greater chances to make politics when their male colleagues got weaker politically, not to mention that franchise was given to women from men.
However, gender equality does not claim women’s superiority but ultimate cracking down the patriarchy with its misogyny, discrimination, sexual abuse and sexism. Even such “women’s paradises” as Iceland have to struggle with these problems, and many believe that closing the gender gap completely is only possible when women have their actual representation in politics and other influential institutions.
By far, Icelandic women can be proud of their achievements. Some, like Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, claim that had that not been for women participating in politics in the 1970s – 1980s that Iceland would not introduce female-friendly bills (Topping 2017). In other words: women in power make other female citizens’ everyday lives better. “Maternal politics” is also flattered by Thorgerður Einarsdóttir 2005, who points out that they created the foundation of the welfare state system (Einarsdóttir 2005, 197). As seen in Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir’s and Katrin Jakobsdóttir’s performances as Iceland’s female prime ministers, the “maternal politics” is still needed; thanks to the former the parental leave was introduced in 2000, the latter managed to pass the bill about the equal pay.
Is Iceland a role model for gender equality? On one hand: yes, as proved in numbers and social facilities developed in past decades. On another: no, because in many cases female representation in power is limited by general attitude to women in the society. By far, Iceland surely is not a “women’s paradise”, yet it is a promising island of opportunities, with hope for closing the gap in the future and giving lesson to other countries in the region.
Dzieje Midvinterblot Carla Larssona jako przykład szwedzkiego stosunku do tradycji i nowoczesności (w języku polskim)
A Swedish painter of the turn of the 19th and 20th century, Carl Larsson is well-known nowadays because of charming watercolours depicting his family living in the summerhouse Lilla Hyttnäs in Sundborn. However, his greatest achievement, according to Larsson himself, was a project for the staircase of the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm – Midvinterblot. Th is painting was meant not only to crown his oeuvre, but also to show the nationalistic views of the artist. Th e oil project on canvas 640 cm high and 1360 cm long was rejected due to the nudity of the object of the titular sacrifi ce – a legendary king of Sweden, Domalde, who died to save his people. Th e composition itself started a big discussion on historical painting in Sweden and on how to represent history in art in general. While the artwork of Larsson was harshly criticised at that time, a few decades aft er it was considered to be hung at its original place eventually. Th rough analysis and interpretation of the artwork, I will try to point out its role in the Swedish culture. Th e debate on appropriateness of the composition and its original subject matter proves that tradition, regarded as references to Scandinavian history, and modernity were both under consideration in the art of the turn of the centuries and that the idea of “the national painter” in Sweden was clearly defi ned by its society.