May 31, 2012

Home and Away. Hreinn Friđfinnsson's House Project

Hafnarborg - Centre of Culture and Fine Art in Hafnarfjördur, Iceland 
May 12 – August 19, 2012

Hreinn Friðfinnsson, House Project, 1974. Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery

Being abroad it can be fascinating to hear how people imagine your home place to be and to see the reality-creating effects of these imaginations. In the Icelandic paper I read A Day in the Life of the blogger Alda Sigmundsdóttir. In the afternoon Alda Sigmundsdóttir likes to chill at Kaffismđjan in Reykjavik, which makes her feel “like I'm a cool bohemian hanging out at a café in Berlin.” Curious to know what that' s like I went there together with two other Berliners, Wolfgang Müller and Stefan Juliusson, on a Monday afternoon. Unfortunately the café was closed – an arbitrariness in opening hours that stroke us indeed as typically Berlin. One block further at Skólavördustigur we came upon the roof café Babalú and we ended up getting the authentic Berlin experience anyhow. The bartender was German-speaking and barked at us in Schnauzer-style. She ruined our good mood and we felt far from being bohemian. The day before I had encountered my other Heimat in a similarly unpleasant way. Sitting in a bar I was confronted with a young and hansom Belgian man telling a woman about the political situation in Belgium in a most simplifying way. There is an excellent German word for the painful condition I was in: it's called fremdschämen.

There are some things that are inexplicable about a country, for instance why Brussels has a little peeing man as a symbol. That's what Wolfgang Müller answered me when asking him about the phenomenon of hringurinn – the driving around in circles. He wrote about hringurrin in his book Blue Tit. Das deutsch-isländische Blaumeisenbuch. In Reykjavik, on Saturday nights, people polish up their cars, or even better jeeps, and drive down the main shopping street Laugavegur to the downtown square past the parliament and back up the hill. This track is repeated again and again. It is an activity you don't want to do on your own unless you are a pervert or an egoist, so it was explained to me. You go with your family or friends and drive slowly; it's the game of seeing and being seen. To have a nice car is of high importance in Iceland. The artist Ásta Ólafsdóttir told me that many icelanders are driven by two ambitions: buying a car and building a house.

In 2012 the German hardware store Bauhaus opened in Reykjavik. Six percent of Iceland's population visited the store on the opening day. People even camped outside the night before the opening. 

Hafnarborg - the Hafnarfjördur Centre of Culture and Fine Art is showing an exhibition titled Hús (House). Hafnarfjördur is a port city near Reykjavik, built on lava ground. It is in this region that elves are believed to have their homes in boulders. On show at Hafnarborg are three houses that also merge fiction and reality. The houses were constructed by and documented through photos by the Icelandic artist Hrein Friđfinnsonn. In the House Project Hrein Friiđfinnsonn negotiates the relationship between inside and outside, interior and exterior, domestic and public, home and abroad. The three houses destabilize in different ways the human urge to distinguish oneself from an outside, from that what is considered to be foreign in order to create a sense of self.

Friđfinnsonn's House Project is inspired by the 1938 novel Icelandic Aristocracy by Pórbergur Pórdarson. It tells the story of Sólon Gudmundsson, a free spirit who in older age sold his house in order to build a small one, but then inside out. The iron sheets were supposed to be inside whereas the wallpaper on the outside was for everyone to enjoy. Gudmundsson never made it but Friđfinnsonn did in 1974, building the house in a desolated area near Hafnarfjördur. Its desolateness might have been chosen to heighten the greater realm of the House Project. It can be seen as a subversion of both bourgeois and modernist architecture and world views – an anarchitecture similar to Gordon's Matta-Clark's. In the First House the outside is enclosed by the four walls and the roof. The inside serves as the shelter for the whole world, except for itself.

In 2008, Second House was constructed in France, now reversed and thus turned back to normal: the outside facing the external, the inside facing the internal. From the windows the visitor can see three photographs of the first house and a miniature model of its skeleton made out of metal wire and placed on a meteor hovering in the air above a mirror. The universe is brought into the house, and found shelter together with First House. The transformation of the First House into a metal skeleton in the Second House is a forebode of the Third House. Build from stainless steel on a hill outside of Hafnarfjördur the Third House consists only of a framework. Interior and exterior have been dissolved. Yet, their invisibility does not mean they are absent. “Every soul,” the artist writes, “should feel the difference between standing within the house or outside of it.” The Third House is there to stay until even the steel frames, subject to weather conditions, will waste away. The final result of Friđfinnsonn's House Project is no house.

The book House Project - First House / Second House / Third House is published by Hafnarborg and Crymogea publishing ( Wolfgang Müller's Blue Tit book, in German and Icelandic translation, was published in 1997 by Martin Schmitz Verlag ( About Hafnarborg:

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