Icelandic Art Advent Calendar 2021

As the year is coming to an end, we have prepared for you an advent calendar showcasing a different wintery Icelandic artwork daily.

Join us each morning on Instagram or Facebook for an artwork and some stories to kick off the day, or come back to this page where we will be adding each artwork.

Kicking off the month we have a work from Elín Hansdóttir‘s series Trichromatic where she projected primary coloured lights – which when combined form white light – into the snowy landscape.

ELÍN HANSDÓTTIR, Trichromatic, 2016. Archival inkjet prints. Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery.

Some of you might have your Christmas tree up already, some will set it up later or have none at all, but look closely at the branches of an evergreen fir and you will recognize the source of the work ‘Into the Wild’ by Carl Boutard – three upside down branches of a Christmas tree enlarged forty times and cast in bronze.  

CARL BOUTARD, Into The Wild, 2013. Bronze. Commissioned for the department of Architecture at Lund University

Like in the novella A Christmas Carol, spirits sometimes find their way into the works of Gjörningaklúbburinn / The Icelandic Love Corporation. Twice already they have enlisted a psychic to call upon a spirit during the preparation of a work. They call this method medium-medium.

Today’s artwork, Water and Blood, seeks inspiration in the life and art of painter Ásgrímur Jónsson, a pioneer of Icelandic visual art. Via a psychic they contacted the artist, who shared with them his views on the energy that inhabits art and artists‘ shared need to create, resulting in a work where past meets present, as creativity, intuition and nature play an important role in an enigmatic world.

Water and Blood was commissioned by The National Gallery of Iceland and exhibited in the museum in 2019 – 2020. They are currently working on a big scale multi disciplinary art work in collaboration with music composers and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, a work that will premiere at Harpa Concert Hall in 2023.

THE ICELANDIC LOVE CORPORATION (Jóní Jónsdóttir & Eirún Sigurðardóttir), Water and Blood, 2019. Video still.

Figures in landscape by Ragnar Kjartansson is a week-long video work commissioned by the Faculty of Health in the University of Copenhagen. For seven days, actors dressed as scientists explore seven scenes from midnight to midnight creating a living mural of interactions between nature and science. 

This scene was filmed on a Saturday like today and looks very much like the tree-less snowy landscapes we can find in Iceland in winter, so maybe it serves as an inspiration to go out and do your own exploring. 

For those in Moscow, today 4th of December there are two exhibition openings by Ragnar Kjartansson at VAC foundation. In ‘Santa Barbara – A living sculpture’ the artist recreates 100 episodes of Santa Barbara, the first American soap opera to be shown in Russia, in a set open to the public, completing one episode per day. This will create a massive living mural such as in ‘Figures in Landscape’, of nostalgic scenes for those growing up in Russia in the 90s. 

Accompanying Santa Barbara is the show ‘To Moscow! To Moscow! To Moscow!’ which shows other works by Ragnar Kjartansson alongside works by artists who have collaborated or inspired him in the past.

RAGNAR KJARTANSSON, Figures in Landscape (Saturday), a time piece, 2018. Video, 168 hours. Courtesy of the artist and i8 Gallery

As a blanket of snow is draped over the land, it creates an otherworldly landscape and brings with it a sense of stillness and minimalist beauty. Footsteps dig deeper but sound softer. Sunny winter days are crisp and painted in pastels while the white-coated ground brings light into the darkest nights. 

This peaceful serenity is perfectly captured in Hrafnkell Sigurðsson‘s photographic series tents, where a single tent becomes an abstract form centred in a flat, snowy landscape.

HRAFNKELL SIGURÐSSON, Tents (series), 2001. Colour photograph.

This time of year in the northern hemisphere the weather is perfect to turn your living space into a cozy den and hibernate like a bear. Polar bears, however, don’t hibernate. In fact, winter is when they can do most of their hunting since the ice in their habitat is thick enough to support them. 

It is only pregnant female polar bears who den. Winter is their birthing season, when they dig a den to give birth and take care of their cubs for the first few months. In today’s image we can see a glass scale model of a polar bear maternity den in Svalbard. The work is part of Bryndís Snæbjörndóttir and Mark Wilson’s exhibition ‘Visitations: Polar Bears Out of Place’ on show at Akureyri Art Museum until the 16th January 2022.

You can learn more about the three year collaborative research project behind Visitations here and also visit a retrospective of their work at Gerðarsafn open until the 9th January 2022.

BRYNDÍS SNÆBJÖRNSDÓTTIR / MARK WILSON, Matrix, 2016. A 1:20 scale model of a polar bear maternity den, measured on Svalbard (from a series) / Líkan 1:20 af hvítabjarnarhýði á Svalbarða (úr syrpu) / 90 cms. Gler / Glass 

A great way to create a cozy atmosphere in winter is filling the house with candles. The ability to control fire is the spark that fuelled the evolution of our species, and through the ages we have not only used fire as a tool but also as a symbol – hearth – of home, gathering, protection.

Today we present to you a clip from the work ‘Night Blooming Mock Orchid’ by Una Björg Magnúsdóttir: two candles in one candle holder, one short and one tall. The shorter candle gradually burns the side of the taller candle causing it to collapse. This scene develops slowly, sometimes it even seems as though nothing is really happening, until suddenly the candle collapses in a quick motion.

The title of the work refers to the movie Dennis the Menace (Denni Dæmalausi). Denis’ neighbour  Mr Wilson has cultivated a special orchid that blooms only once and just for a few seconds. Him and a crowd gather in anticipation to watch the blooming of the orchid which only happens every 40 years, only to be distracted by Dennis and miss the few seconds of the flower’s life before it wilts. Just like with Mr Wilson’s orchid, blink for too long and you will miss the key seconds of the work when the candle warps into an arch. 

UNA BJÖRG MAGNÚSDÓTTIR, Night Blooming Mock Orchid, 2013. Video, four clips, 22.28 min. Full video here.

Every year the Yule Cat, a giant vicious cat, roams the streets of Iceland to find and devour those who haven’t received new clothes for the holidays.

In the site-specific installation ‘Cat’ by Tumi Magnússon we see a different kind of giant cat: Three enlarged photos of an orange cat in different postures displayed in corners of three gallery rooms, accompanied by the sound of the cat’s purring. View the full installation and listen to the purr recording here.


TUMI MAGNÚSSON, Cat, 2003. Pigment prints on self adhesive paper. Sound in an earphone.

Most people have heard of the thermal footbath in Seltjarnarnes but what some might not know is that this is actually an artwork called ‘Bollasteinn’, or Cupstone, by Ólöf Nordal. From the cupstone there are stunning views of Esja and Snæfellsjökull on clear days, making it the perfect place to stop, warm up, and enjoy nature on a winter walk.

There are a few other Ólöf Nordal public artworks in Reykjavík you might have stumbled upon on a walk around the city: Þufa is the small grassy mound at the end of the harbour, which can be seen from Harpa or walked up to find out what’s at the top. There is also the Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir Memorial in Downtown Reykjavík: a memorial to the first suffragettes in Iceland disguised unassumingly as a small public garden with a floor mosaic surrounded by benches to spark a conversation, or maybe a revolution.

Find out about the rest of her works at olofnordal.com

ÓLÖF NORDAL, Bollasteinn, 2005. Basalt and thermal water. Photographed by Charlie Welch.

Hildur Bjarnadóttir uses plants from the piece of land in Flóahreppur where she lives and works to dye wool thread and silk fabric which she uses to make woven paintings such as today’s artwork, or large silk installations.

The work ‘Early and Late in December’ is dyed using Northern bedstraw: a rhizome with small fragrant flowers which is edible and has some medicinal uses, but was traditionally used as a stuffing for pillows and mattresses, hence its name.

HILDUR BJARNADÓTTIR, Early and Late in December, 2021. Northern bedstraw, acrylic paint, wool and linen thread. Image courtesy of the artist and Hverfisgalleri.

Many of you will recognize today’s image from our advent calendar: a watercolour by Muggur (Guðmundur Thorsteinsson) of princess Dimmalimm from his popular children’s book ‘The Story of Dimmalimm’. 

Dimmalimm was a princess who grew up within the confines or the palace walls. One day she was allowed to go out, and she found a pond of swans which she befriended. Currently you can visit an exhibition of Muggur’s work at Listasafn Íslands, which just so happens to at the shore of Tjörnin, Reykjavík’s Pond, where you too can enjoy the company of the beautiful swans. 

The original Story of Dimmalimm, which he wrote for his niece and was then published posthumously in 1942, was exhibited at Listasafn Islands alongside works from the span of his long career. You can now see it at the show ‘To Moscow! To Moscow! To Moscow!’ at V-A-C Foundation.

MUGGUR, Sagan af Dimmalimm, 1921. Watercolour.

For the 12th of December we present you Steingrímur Eyfjörð’s work ‘The Sheep Pen’ from the exhibition ‘The Golden Plover has Arrived’ at the Icelandic Pavilion for the 2007 Venice Biennale.

The exhibition showed 14 new works which brought together different aspects of Icelandic culture and folklore. For this particular piece the artist visited a medium to get in contact and purchase an elf sheep from an elf, which he then brought to Venice, as seen here.

Today is also the day in which the first jólasveinn, or yule lad, comes to town. Stekkjarstaur likes to annoy sheep but with his stiff peg-legs he probably wouldn’t make it all the way to Venice to catch this one.

STEINGRÍMUR EYFJÖRÐ, The Sheep Pen, 2007. Mixed media.

In 1906 a submarine telegraph cable was brought ashore from Scotland to Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland, finally bringing Iceland into telegraphic contact with the world.

At the exact site where the cable was brought to land we now find a working telephone booth made of rusted iron with the illuminated words “How are things…?“ on its floor in braille and roman letters.

This mysterious booth is today’s artwork for our advent calendar: ‘How are things…?’ by Guðjón Ketilsson, commissioned by Síminn and installed for the 100th anniversary of the cable being brought. It can’t place calls but it can receive them on the number +354 566 1906, so we are sharing it as an invitation to call a loved one, a friend you haven’t spoken to in a long time, or maybe call the artwork and see if a passerby picks up!

GUÐJÓN KETILSSON, How Are Things…? / Hvernig gengur…?, 2006. Cast Iron, glass. 100x100x270 cm. Seyðisfjörður, Iceland.

Today’s artwork is a painting from Hulda Stefánsdóttir’s series Event Horizon. Hulda’s practice revolves around experimenting around the subject of time and the impossibility of experiencing the present without traces of its past.

Thin layers after layers of paint create a final image where parts of its past iterations are visible, all the way to the canvas. The works are non-representational – a capture of time itself. This particular work reminds us of the beautiful snowy evenings we had in the last couple of weeks.

HULDA STEFÁNSDÓTTIR, Untitled (from the series Event Horizon), 2019

Today’s advent artwork is a different kind of star than those we see at the top of the tree or decorating house windows during the darkest months: Ólafur Elíasson’s Future Memory Star.

Light orbs and hanging light artworks are a format to which Ólafur Elíasson returns to and reimagines over the years. Though they are smaller than his iconic, large scale installations, bright light bursts out from the orb’s core –  designed to create particular light effects which turn these smaller pieces into an enveloping and mesmerising experience.  

In fact, the facades of Harpa Concert Hall are built using modular structures (quasi bricks) – designed by Ólafur Elíasson and mathematician Einar Thorsteinn – which also exist as individual hanging light pieces. The perfect example that nothing is too small to become monumental. 

ÓLAFUR ELÍASSON: Future Memory Star, 2020. Smoked oak, brass, colour-effect filter glass (yellow), LED light, ballast, wire. Photo by Jens Ziehe 

A constant stream, snow and the winter light create a harmony. In the distance a man attempts to find a balance.

The video work ‘Balance’ by Sigurður Guðjónsson transports us to a snowy day surrounded by the quintessential elements of Icelandic nature: water, ice and black rocks. 

However, if you look closely you can see that the ledge where the person is walking is actually a man made wall which continues to some stairs on the other side of the waterfall, all the same colour as the natural surroundings, finding himself literally on the edge of nature and human construction.

Sigurður Guðjónsson will be representing Iceland in next year’s Venice biennale April 23–November 27 2022.

SIGURÐUR GUÐJÓNSSON, Balance, 2013. HD video, stereo sound, 10 minutes 48 seconds

Two years ago around this time of year, the trio Lucky 3 of Filipino-Icelandic origins took us on a journey converting the halls of Kling & Bang into a nostalgic interpretation of Filipino culture. 

A basketball court, sportswear hanging on a clothesline, a brick wall topped with broken glass and more set a stage with the ‘Lucky Me?’ store at its heart – a sari sari store displaying Filipino instant noodle brand Lucky Me! packets and other products. 

This show turned the tables on a predominantly white audience who entered as an outside observer to be influenced and gain insight into the reality of Iceland’s Filipino community, whilst creating a sense of home, familiarity and celebration of the Filipino immigrants in this country.    

LUCKY 3: Dýrfinna Benita Basalan, Darren Mark, Melanie Ubaldo, Lucky Me?, 2019 – 2020. Mixed Media. 

The artwork ‘Dropping by Jon Gunnar’s’ is one of Hreinn Friðfinnsson’s first conceptual pieces. Jón Gunnar Árnason was an influential Icelandic sculptor who together with Hreinn Friðfinnsson was one of the four founding members of the art collective SÚM.

This work was made by Hreinn Friðfinnsson for SÚM I, the collective’s inaugural exhibition held at Ásmundarsalur and Cafe Mokka in 1965. The door belonged to Jón Gunnar, which Friðfinnsson took and punched through twice before painting three bits of the door’s debris with the primary colours, a symbol of ‘pure colour’, and reattaching them to the holes.

Today is also the day Hurðaskellir, the seventh jólasveinn, comes to town. He loudly slams doors, waiting for people to fall asleep to wake them up for maximum effect, so if a door wakes you up with a slam it is either Hurðaskellir, or if you’re lucky your door might end up in an art exhibition.

HREINN FRIÐFINNSSON, Dropping by Jon Gunnar’s, 1965-1992, wood and paint (reconstruction). Courtesy of i8 Gallery.

These days we have been encountering some of the half-troll sons of Grýla and Leppalúði with very particular interests.

Today we would like to introduce you to two other trolls with a much broader scope of talents: Ügh and Bõögâr, born from the mind of Egill Sæbjörnsson. They have done everything from perfume and jewellery design to recording an album and running a coffee shop. Their career in the arts skyrocketed when they took over the 2017 Icelandic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which was originally intended to exhibit Egill’s work.

You can see the work Five Boxes by Egill Sæbjörnsson currently on show at the exhibition Abrakadabra in Reykjavík Art Museum – Hafnarhús. Ügh and Bõögâr don’t have any exhibitions on at the moment as far as we know.

EGILL SÆBJÖRNSSON: Out of Controll, 2017. Installation.

The 20th of December is the day that the yule lad Bjúgnakrækir comes down from the mountains and hides in the rafters to steal sausages being smoked, so for today’s advent calendar artwork we are sharing with you Litla hafpulsan – The Little MareSausage.

Litla hafpulsan was Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir’s contribution to 2018’s Cycle music and Art Festival: Inclusive Nation, and the 100 year anniversary of Iceland’s sovereignty. She was nominated for Iceland’s Artist of the Year Award in 2019 for this work. 

The sculpture references the famous Copenhagen landmark ‘The Little Mermaid’, replacing the mermaid with Iceland’s unofficial national dish – the hotdog – sitting on a little yellow bun. 

MareSausages might not be a part of Iceland’s traditional folkloric creatures, but I think both us and Bjúgnakrækir can agree that they should be.

STEINUNN GUNNLAUGSDÓTTIR, Litla hafpulsan, 2018. Photographed by Valgarður Árnason.

Today is the Winter Solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year. 

Darkness is typically a condition in which an object finds itself, in the absence of light, but through the work ‘Crumpled Darkness’ Haraldur Jónsson gives it a physical form creating a mass of volumes and textures to be explored. A reminder on this day that the dark isn’t something to be avoided, but an entity in itself to experience and embrace. 

HARALDUR JÓNSSON, Crumpled Darkness, 2008, Crumpled black sheets of paper.

Today’s artwork is the installation ‘Fire, FireFire, FireFireFire’ by Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir

Two video projections of flames are projected on the walls and make a shadow effect of the sculptures. Sound-reacting cold cathode lights are piled on top of a home theater surround system, 5 speakers and a subwoofer. 

The songs are chosen for their names and played repeatedly. The first one called Fire the next Fire Fire and the third Fire Fire Fire.

Hopefully this brings some warmth into the coldest months. 

HEKLA DÖGG JÓNSDÓTTIR, Fire, FireFire, FireFireFire, 2006. Installation view Liminality Nýlistasafnið / The Living Art Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland 

As our advent calendar is coming to an end, we invite you to travel through your mind’s eye to a planet covered in snow: cold and monochromatic, ethereal and beautiful – the coated reliefs taking abstract forms. 

You can base it on today’s artwork ‘Artik Moon’ from Shoplifter’s planet series. Each round planet is made of hair, her signature material. This particular one is made of meandering white braids in different sizes, creating a lunar landscape of mountains and valleys and craters. 

SHOPLIFTER / HRAFNHILDUR ARNARDÓTTIR, Artik Moon, 2020. 

Today is the 24th of December: the last day of our Advent Calendar and the day in which Kertasníkir, the last jólasveinn, comes to town. He follows children around to steal their candles and eat them, since they used to be made from sheep tallow – edible rendered animal fat.

Historically in Iceland candles were an expensive commodity. Traditionally sheep tallow was used in homemade candles for Christmas celebrations but was otherwise too valuable a food source. Children would rarely own such a precious gift – a welcome source of light during the long Icelandic winter nights – which explains how Kertasníkir’s theft of choice was much more beastly then than it appears to us today. 

Anna Júlía Friðbjörnsdóttir’s work Dimmumót is also made from tallow. The tallow casts are the hands of labouring women and children. Inspired by, and dedicated to, the part of the populace in “vistarband” a form of serfdom in 15th-20th century Iceland and the complex interrelationship of faith and the church with regard to their extreme poverty, hardship and survival.    

Thank you all for joining us in this journey through Icelandic art. Have a great winter holiday!

 ANNA JÚLÍA FRIÐBJÖRNSDÓTTIR: Dusk / Dimmumót, 2018. Tallow, wick. Made for Earth Homing: Reinventing Turf Houses, curated by Annabelle von Girsewald.