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Helgi Þórsson 1975 Iceland

Is it possible to speak of ‘typical’ Icelandic art in this time of globalized contemporary art? The answer is yes, something which the Icelandic contributions to this year’s OpenART show quite clearly. Iceland is a remarkable country, with a national population no greater than that of a mid-sized European city, a neighbourhood in Shanghai. It is a land of contradictions with an art history that is short and unlike that of any of the other Nordic countries.

Helgi Thorsson is, like his three co-exhibitors, a perfect representative for contemporary Icelandic art. When we think of an unconventional approach in this context, the artist Björk’s fantastic set designs and costumes likely spring to mind. And Thorsson’s work also, like that of so many of his colleagues and compatriots, incorporates an experimental avant garde music culture along with visual arts and other media expressions, with references to pop culture seeping in throughout.

He is a multimedia artist who, with a consciously style-less art, dismantles ingrained expectations about new experiences in a rich and thriving spectrum of expressions.

Here at Våghustorget square is a little kiosk that looks like a hybrid between a female torso and a dog head from an animated Disney film. In the kiosk, you can buy similar sculptures on a smaller scale to take home, along with other little bits and bobs. It is an ironic tribute to the two opposing poles of art: the aesthetic quality gauges of highbrow culture at one end and the money-hunger of commercial art manifested as keenly perceptive populism at the other.

Like his Icelandic colleagues, Thorsson works with an anti-aesthetic expression. Once strongly influenced by the modernist Fluxus movement, Icelandic art aims to break down the barriers of what is considered proper or possible. The kiosk is confusing in its amorphous, or formless, form. There is no classic tradition here, but instead a spontaneous transience and impulsivity that bear weak similarities to both animal and human.

Helgi Thorsson brings together inconsistencies with a cheerful disposition and a politically provocative but refreshing anti-aesthetic outlook. There is nothing ‘sweet’ in the prevailing sense of the word here, but rather a truly wonderful idea that ugly and beautiful are what you make of them – for yourself.