Share Share

Ásmundarsafn Art Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland

The photo is of a lawn light in the grounds of this art museum in Reykjavík. It looked so incongruous in the ground – a very artificial pink in a setting of straw-like grass.

I thought the lighting of the building must look spectacular in the dark which is ironic because a lot of the day in Iceland in winter is in darkness but we’d visited the art gallery in the small window of daytime as it was a bit of a walk from the centre of Reykjavík where we were staying.

It was the live/work space of renowned sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) who designed the gallery building, itself a beautiful structure. Also in the grounds is the famous Vatnsberinn (The Water Carrier) sculpture which divided opinion among Icelanders. It was meant to represent the hardship of water carriers in the city 100+ years ago but a lot of people criticised it for being ugly. I think it depicts the burden of such gruelling work while also being graceful in its lines.

The trip was part of a suite of celebrations for my 50th birthday and we went in December 2018 and so learned of the 13 Santa Clauses or Yule Lads. The story behind this amusing tradition plays to the overall quirky sense of humour of Icelanders.

I’d wanted to visit Iceland because I’d read it was a very egalitarian place, and cool – not just temperature-wise! And it is. The bars, the shops, the design ethic, the approach of Icelanders to their life. They like to have fun, think creatively and surround themselves with lovely-looking and well-made things and ensure things function properly. And while they pay an awful lot more income tax than in many countries they appreciate the benefit it brings in public services where, for example, education is free or cheap through to degree level; childcare costs are subsidised and crime is rare. They have laws to prevent all sorts of inequalities. They also benefit from the geothermal water which provides practically free and constant hot water and cheap electricity through hydropower of rivers and glaciers. Once they get transport off fossil fuels they’ll have a tiny carbon footprint.

Perhaps they simply don’t want to remember hardship.