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An Ambitious Art Festival in Iceland Goes Back to the Future to Explore a Planet in Peril

SARAH BELMONT - November 8, 2023 7:00am

Iceland may not be a country most associate with biennials and big art commissions, but it does have at least one cutting-edge art festival, Sequences, which returned to Reykjavik last month with works by 45 international artists.

Founded in 2003 by Kling & Bang, the Icelandic Art Centre, and the Living Art Museum, Sequences has gained popularity and grown in ambition, and was helmed by Marika Agu, Maria Arusoo, Kaarin Kivirähk, and Sten Ojavee, who help run the Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art in Tallinn. It may seem strange to bring in four Estonians to curate an Icelandic art festival, but part of Sequence’s point is to highlight connections between Baltic nations and Iceland. This festival does so convincingly.

Their exhibition, titled “Can’t see,” explores the ever-growing threat of ecological destruction. Divided into four chapters—”Soil,” “Subterrain,” “Water,” and “Metaphysical Realm”—their show was spread across the Nordic House, the Living Art Museum, the National Gallery, and Kling & Bang.

For the show, site­-specific installations are placed in dialogue with preexisting works and institutional loans, including a painting by Jóhannes Sveinsson Kjarval (1885–1972), Iceland’s national hero. “It was important that we allow ourselves to travel back in time,” Arusoo said. “We wanted to look into the local history, to avoid pinning artists, whose works may echo through time, to a specific period.”

Below are five must-see artworks at Sequences, which runs through November 26.

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