„Our Town Faces“ exhibition in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland 2015
September 3rd. – November 8th. Reykjanes Art Museum, Tjarnargata 12, 230 Reykjanesbær, Iceland.
THE AESTHETICS OF ACCUMULATION
One of the things the arts and the sciences have in common is a drive towards completeness, which manifests itself in an attempt on the part of its practicioners to accumulate everything relating to the field under investigation. Natural scientists seek to gather information on all living organisms, on and below the earth‘ s surface, astrophysicians collect data on all galactic bodies in the known universe and geneticists will not rest until they have access to the genome structure of every single animal in existence. In the field of arts and culture in general, scholars feel the need to have at their disposal the total output of all significant artists: every bit of paper with markings by artists, all musical notations by composers, all extant manuscripts by writers.
This relentless gathering of information is driven by the conviction of many serious scholars that „completeness“ alone will reveal „essential truths“ about the subject matter they happen to be researching. However, there are those who maintain that these „truths“ are not necessarily discovered by perusing the finite collection of species or objects, but by focussing on a choice selection of these species and objects. The pioneers of mass surveys, the Gallups of this world, have turned such selections into significant indicators of public opinion.
To be sure, going for „completeness“ is bound to fail, for no gathering of information can ever be finite or conclusive.
Yet the drive to complete a task or research it exhaustively has inspired many scholars and artists. In no task have they „failed better“ – to use Samuel Beckett‘s parlance – than in their efforts to cover „everything“.
In the visual arts there is even an „aesthetic of accumulation“, where the effectiveness and aesthetic charge of art works are measured by the amount of facts or objects they manage to incorporate. For pratical reasons, artists using photography have been at the forefront of this aesthetic. It is one of the premises of conceptual art; see f.i. the industrial cooling towers that artists Bernt and Hilla Becher photographed throughout Germany in the 1970s. This aesthetic also surfaces in Pop Art, notably in the work of Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha‘s photographs of all the houses on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.
The aesthetic of accumulation has at least one important proponent here in Iceland. In the 1980s, German-Swiss artist Dieter Roth, resident in Iceland from the late 1950s until the mid Sixties, hired a young artist to photograph every single house in Reykjavik. To Roth, this „complete“ record of the city was a work of art in itself. It is now preserved in the Living Art Museum in Reykjavik, accessible to scholars of art and architecture.
A book of photographs by Alda Lóa Leifsdóttir that came out in 2012 can be seen as a kind of epilogue to Roth´s „accumulation“of houses. Entitled „The people of Þórsgata“, it featured photographs of all the people living in the street in question, her own family included.
The ambition of photographer Björgvin Guðmundsson and the „Ljósop“ club of photographers in Reykjanesbær is even grander. Originally they intended to put together a general celebration of the people of their home town in the form of portraits of a few select men, women and children of all ages. They have now expanded their idea considerably. The exhibition which is presently being opened during the „Ljósanótt“ festival is the first stage of a vast project, which involves photographing every single inhabitant of Reykjanesbær, current residents as well as those who have moved away.
This is obviously not an easy task. Should Björgvin Guðmundsson and his collaborators succeed, wholly or partly, they will be laying the foundation for an epic piece of „accumulative art“, as well as for a a documentary archive of immense value to future historians, sociologists and anthropologists.
The Town Faces
The idea came up in the beginning of 2015 when Ljósop decided to do a small project for The Weekend of Museums in Reykjanesbær. At first, the goal was to take 5 – 10 portraits of some strong characters, and in late January we started testing with photo samples and developing the postproduction style.
In the Weekend of Museums that was held last March we exhibited about 20 photos in Ljósop‘s workshop and we also photographed visitors that dropped by to see the exhibition.
Soon, we realized this was a project that could go far. After The Weekend of Museums we decided to take it to the next level and try to photograph a larger group of people and capture like a scan of all the people of Reykjensbær. The project expanded and shortly we had over 500 portraits.
The town‘s participation increased a great deal after it was decided that ,,The Towns faces“ would become the years Light of Nights exhibition in The Reykjanes Art Museum. On the last open house day where people were invited to come and get their picture taken, we photographed over 160 people. Not everybody could participate but the project will continue next fall and winter. We have also visited the nursing home Nesvellir and the rehabilitation center where we photographed the staff and residents who could not visit us.
The Light of Nights exhibition is funded with grants from institutions and firms in Reykjanesbær, and also with the profit of sold photographs on the club‘s website. We want to thank the Reykjanes Development fund, Reykjanes Art Museum, the Duty Free Store, and Merking ehf, who printed the 300 photos in the exhibition.
Ljósop, a group of amateur photographers from Suðurnes was formally founded in 2006. Members are about 20 people who meet every week in the club’s workshop in Vatnsnes where the town’s local history museum used to be. The club has a sponsorship contract with the cultural department of Reykjanesbær who provides them with a grant every year. Instead they commit to a photographic exhibition each year on the Night of Lights festival.
Many members of Ljósop are professional photographers or are studying photography and most have many years of experience. We try to share our knowledge and experiences by meeting and talking, by taking trips together and so on. Along with the yearly Night of Lights exhibition, the club publishes a book every year with the members work.
The club is open to everyone who is over the age of 18 and is interested in photography. Annual fee is 10.000 kr. For more information go to our website www.ljosop.org
Björgvin Guðmundsson was born in Keflavík in 1977. He studied multimedia design and has worked in that industry for the last 14 years.
Björgvin´s interest in photography began to be serious in 2000 when he started studying digital multimedia in the Technical school of Aalborg, Denmark but photography was a part of his basic education.
After that Björgvin got into digital photography and postproduction photography which right away became a big part of his job.
In 2007 Björgvin moved back to Iceland, joined Ljósop and became the club’s chairman in 2008. Since, Björgvin has learned more in the artistic and technical part of photography.