by Maj Hartov
A celebration of art and creative practices, the LungA festival on the east coast of Iceland invites attendees to partake in a full week of activities during July each year. Set in a small town called Seydisfjördur, at the end of a long fjord between snow-capped mountains, the festival is in the middle of a spectacular surrounding landscape. The brutality of the mountains is, on one hand, daunting; and on the other, incredibly comforting. There's nothing else there, so nature manages to soothe the soul and and nurture the creative mind. With over a decade of success and a permanent school founded on LungA principles on the way for 2014, we were excited to attend this year's events for a closer look at the dynamic program.
The festival centers on five days of workshops hosted by a wide array of artists—each an expert in his or her field who were tapped by LungA to facilitate the week's creative processes. This year's workshops included "Dance the Pain Away," dancing for body and soul by Ásrún Magnúsdóttir; "Waves of Ether," a radio workshop exploring audio as a creative medium by Marteinn Sindrí Jónsson; "Personal Space," exploring its possibilities and limitations by Adalheidur S Eysteinsdóttir; "Improv," an improvisation theatre workshop by Dóra Jóhannsdóttir; "High on Mountains," the creation of a mural in the centre of town by Anika Lori and Tusnelda Frellesvig; "Video Work," an investigation of the video as an art form by Máni Sigfússon and Lilja Birgisdóttir; "The Expansion of the Oscillators II," a sound and instrument making workshop by Arnljótur Sigurdsson and Ulfúr Hansson; and "Frontal Brain Damage for Beginners," involving a car, the spraying of dyed foods and masked men by OD Roth and DP Jónsson.
Throughout the week, as the workshops progress, the town begins to buzz as individual projects are brought to life—explorations, excursions and provocations, all happening at the same time—and it becomes difficult to tell everything apart. Here and there, little art projects from locals appear, and visitors are constantly challenged and invited to participate. Alongside the workshops, the program consists of many other events, including lectures, art walks, stand-up comedy and more. An annual favorite is Lunch Beat, when the dining hall is turned into a full on party venue with heavy beats and loud tunes, dancing and eating all happening alongside each other.
As Thursday rolls in and workshops are nearing their end, more people pour in from across the country and around the world to join. The evenings fill with parties, the bars are jam-packed with people, and the streets are busier than ever. By the end of the week, when art pieces are finished, final adjustments have been made and performances have been prepared, the evening calls for the annual fashion show. In years past the show has reeled in quite the crowd, and has been attended by the Danish designer Henrik Vibskov—who also has previously hosted a favorited workshop at LungA. The fashion show this year was set in an old fish factory right by the fjord with designers Agla Stefánsdóttir, Elísabet Karlsdóttir, Ziska and Lærke Koldskov. Collections ranged from specialty sweatshirts and prints from Soviet times to mysterious creatures and contrasting layers of colored textiles.
On the last day of LungA, the most prized fruit of each artist's labor is finally exhibited. Attendees were invited to laugh with the brave souls in the "Improv" workshop at the small theatre in town, the mural on the front of the LungA center was unveiled and a tour of town courtesy of the "Waves of Ether" radio workshop was offered. Various dance performances appeared along the street, Expansion of the Oscillators II put on a concert with instruments they had built themselves. And at the harbor, a crazy display of "Frontal Lobe Brain damage for Beginners" was witnessed. To end it all: "Personal Space" as an installation and performance, and through film and photography. Only at LungA could all of this organized creative mayhem be possible.
By the old fish factory, where the fashion show is held, are two stages and a bar in an old boat. The fog came in early that evening and made the festival's closing concert appear as though in a cloud. The line-up carefully complemented the week's experience and featured Ulfúr Ulfúr, Mammút, Grísalappalísa, Rangleklods, Ghostigital and FM Belfast. There was one fantastic set after another and another and then the sun disappeared behind the mountains—for just a few hours, only to appear again before the whole show is over, lifting the fog and revealing the vast fjord nestled between the mountains.
LungA festival is an enchanting experience that is well worth the trek to its mystical location. The powerful combination of the surrounding nature, the town, the people and the art have created a little gem at the edge of the world.
LungA has announced that they are opening a school in the autumn of 2014. Based on the principles of LungA and inspiration drawn from the Danish tradition of folk high schools' "education for the people," students of all ages can apply for a semester of creative workshops. A four-week Beta version of the school is open for applications now and commences on the 10 March 2014. Check out the LungA site to register.
Images courtesy of LungA