Friday, September 20, 2019. Reykjavik, Iceland.
Soundtrack: That Handsome Devil – Treefood
In the heart of downtown, at Reykjavik’s pinnacle, wedged firmly between Cafe Loki and the more practical landmark of Hallgrimskirkja, there’s a museum devoted to Einar Jonsson, Iceland’s first sculptor. Behind the museum is an elaborate sculpture garden, featuring some of the only trees available in Iceland and some truly bizarre metal sculptures.
Braxton set me straight on Icelandic soil composition. Apparently due to the severity of the weather, the soil depth sufficient for tree roots just kind of… runs off and gets ground away. In most of the country, the mountains and valleys are bare, or mossed a greyish green.
The majority of Einar Jonnson’s works explore his fascination with aging and mortality. The first one in the park came out swinging.
There’s an ubermensch vibe when Icelandic people talk about Thor. He’s not just a cultural hero, he’s an ideal in the same way Superman is, which is why he was the schmuck selected to grapple with Age’s weird, saggy cadaver.
The underbelly is filled with people, men and women, old and young, the faces and names that make up the bulk of a life, gathered over the course of Age’s body. He’s twisted in agony. His face is sallow and gaunt, a lifeless, expressionless mask on his broken neck.
And there’s Thor, supporting the weight on his shoulders, clasping the weathered hands, struggling to prop up the weight. There’s nothing antagonistic in this wrestling, aside from the stressful arm postures that define Jonsson’s work.
The King of Atlantis, with his stupid pyramid hat, vibed like a shoutout to Aleister Crowley. The choice of cows, native neither to Iceland nor Egypt, might reflect Moloch. There was a strong Christian sentiment in a lot of the sculptures that didn’t move me sufficiently to photograph (what a weird coincidence), and this dude with that context might be a warning about barking up the wrong tree.
Unless I’m overthinking it, and it’s just a dude in a stupid pyramid hat.
Ladygirl’s favorite sculpture in the park, Spring. Unsurprising, since it’s the only one with even an echo of optimism. The dejected angel with the twisted wing strains to crack open a skull and release the enthusiastic little dryads inside. Everything that died in winter gives way for the coming new, beautiful growth, even in Iceland, possibly including the angel.
The angel’s youth shouldn’t be glossed over here, either.
I deal with grief a lot in my line of work, and this about sums it up. The little fate-ling holds up a hand. Hard stop on this particular lifeline. The subject of the painting emotes overdramatically, twisting up his body and hiding his face. The grief is authentic, but there’s no range of expression that allows for it, so the subject dips into comic and caricature. He reaches for the corpse of the deceased, but it’s lifeless, an outline shaped like the one he loved. A bare scratching on the wall.
Simple, and a little opaque, but it still has its power. The bald-headed giant is Earth, and it’s doing its damnedest to support us. We see that strenuous arm position again. Try to hold your arms out straight like that for a minute, see how well it goes. Earth is doing that nonstop, bearing our weight with mountaing discomfort as we catch a nap, oblivious. The take-home is recycle.
More of the weird arm position, Spirit and Matter working together to push a squirming human being into human Being from between their shared legs.
The otherworldly little nude of the woman is quietly reassuring the contorted giant. Sleep will make it better. The giant’s doing all he can to shut out the world, clenching up painfully, but here he still is. Insomniacs will feel this one.
Memorializing the suffering of those that came before, caught and struggling in the whirlpool of the past but necessary sacrifice for the beauty of the present, the realization of the wave.
The End brings all these threads together. The pictures don’t do it justice. The first woman is young and attractive, sex distilled, her hands tangled up in her hair and her breasts thrust out, legs spread in invitation. The second is withered and aging, clenching her fists to either side of her failing body, eyes closed to what’s happening around her. The third woman is further into the decay, her face drawn and skeletal. No ignoring it now. She grasps at the chest of the big central figure in desperation, the way she might have two iterations ago, when she was young and hot and exploding with life.
The central figure, the largest, is stretched on a rack and writhing. He’s at the end of his line, as evidenced by the exposed skull, turned away from the pleading women, each pleading in her own way. The desperation of the last one tortures him, mars his flesh, but there’s nothing he can do about it. His hands are bound.
And on the other side of the statue, hidden from the women and the skull giant, there’s a young man. His upper body is positioned similarly to the giant’s, as though stretched on the rack, tortured, crucified. His head lolls, his eyes closed. Dead to the world, at a glance.
Look closer. In picture #3, we can see his feet are planted. He’s not dangling. He’s standing. He’s supporting the weight of the giant, and the time-lapse of womanhood that got dragged along for the ride. His feet are planted, and more than just euphemistically; one of his legs grows into the trunk of a twisting tree. He’s rooting them all there.
He is the dying giant, and this is his life. He is the architect of his own torment, and he plays the victim right until the end.
If I still smoked, I’d need a cigarette.