Iceland, the Land of Fire and Ice

An Exploration of the Country's Landmarks, Heritage and Icons

Old crater Stóra-Eldborg, near Krýsuvík, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland. © 2023 Simaron from Flickr

To honor the Icelandic origins of Reinar Foreman, the artist showcased at the Galerie de Buci’s current exhibition LIVING GODS, we are delving into an exploration of Icelandic landmarks, heritage and icons. Join us to learn about the fascinating geographic characteristics of the country, from volcanoes and glaciers to the awe-inspiring Northern lights; the fascinating Viking heritage, which is preserved and looked after today in different ways; as well as contemporary icons such as world-known musician Björk and multi-disciplinary artist Ólafur Elíasson. LIVING GODS at the Galerie de Buci has the honor of being supported by the Embassy of Iceland in France, and it accounts for an exceptional display of contemporary Icelandic culture.

Fjallsjökull Glacier
Photo: © 2016 Wojciech Strzelecki "Wojtrix"
Iceland, with its otherworldly landscapes and rich cultural heritage, is a land of contrasts and contradictions. From fiery volcanoes to vast glaciers, and from ancient Viking sagas to contemporary artistic visionaries, Iceland's cultural and geographic icons offer a captivating glimpse into the country's unique identity. In this article, we embark on a journey through Iceland's diverse landscape and explore the lives and legacies of some of its most prominent figures, spanning from ancient times to the present day.

Nature's contrasts:
Iceland's volcanoes and glaciers
Iceland is a true geological marvel, defined by its dynamic landscape shaped by volcanic activity and glaciers. The country's volcanic terrain, characterized by rugged mountains, vast lava fields, and steaming hot springs, bears witness to its tumultuous geological history. Iceland is home to over 130 volcanoes, some of which, like Eyjafjallajökull and Katla, have gained international notoriety for their eruptions. These volcanic eruptions, while disruptive, have also played a crucial role in shaping Iceland's landforms and ecosystem, enriching the soil and fostering unique habitats. In stark contrast to the fiery spectacle of its volcanoes, Iceland is also known for its expansive ice caps and glaciers, which cover approximately 11% of the country's surface area. Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier, dominates the southeastern part of Iceland, while other notable ice caps include Langjökull and Hofsjökull. These glaciers, remnants of the last Ice Age, exert a profound influence on Iceland's climate and hydrology, feeding its rivers and shaping its coastline. However, Iceland's glaciers are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with rising temperatures leading to accelerated melting and retreat. As a result, Iceland's volcanic and glacial landscapes stand as both a testament to the forces of nature and a poignant reminder of the urgent need for environmental stewardship in the face of a changing climate.

Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010.
Photo: © Terje Sørgjerd 2010

Pride from the past:
the Viking heritage
Iceland's Viking history and legacy are deeply rooted in its cultural identity and national consciousness. The arrival of Norse settlers in the late 9th century marked the beginning of Iceland's Viking Age, a period of exploration, conquest, and cultural exchange. Led by intrepid explorers such as Ingólfur Arnarson and Erik the Red, Viking settlers established the first permanent settlements on the island, laying the foundation for Icelandic society. The Icelandic Sagas, epic tales of adventure and heroism written in the 13th century, provide invaluable insights into this formative period, chronicling the exploits of legendary figures such as Egil Skallagrímsson and Grettir the Strong. These sagas, passed down through generations, continue to shape Iceland's national mythology and collective imagination, preserving the memory of the fearless seafarers who first crossed the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic. Today, Icelanders take pride in their Viking heritage, celebrating it through cultural festivals, traditional crafts, and historical reenactments, such as the Viking Festival in Fjörður. The legacy of the Vikings lives on in the language, literature, and traditions of modern Iceland, serving as a reminder of the island's enduring spirit of exploration and adventure.

Ingólfshátíð the first annual Viking Festival of Reykjavik
Photo: © 2013 Helgi Halldórsson

The Northern Lights:
Iceland's Celestial Symphony
The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, grace the skies above Iceland with their mesmerizing dance of light and color. This celestial phenomenon occurs when charged particles from the sun collide with atoms and molecules in the Earth's atmosphere, creating luminous displays of green, blue, purple, and red hues. Iceland's position near the Arctic Circle makes it one of the prime viewing locations for the Northern Lights, offering visitors and locals alike the opportunity to witness this natural spectacle in all its glory. From remote wilderness areas to the outskirts of Reykjavik, observers can marvel at the shimmering curtains and swirling patterns of light that illuminate the night sky during the winter months. Whether seen from the comfort of a cozy cabin or beneath the open expanse of the starry night, the Northern Lights captivate viewers with their ethereal beauty, reminding us of the awe-inspiring power and wonder of the natural world.

An early appearance of aurora borealis at dusk over a glacier lagoon in Iceland

Photo: © 2013 Moyan Brennn

Iceland's global superstar
Iceland's Björk Guðmundsdóttir, known simply as Björk, is a global icon in Iceland due to her groundbreaking contributions to music and her unique artistic vision. Born and raised in Reykjavik, Björk first gained international recognition as the lead singer of the alternative rock band The Sugarcubes in the late 1980s. However, it was her solo career that propelled her to global stardom and solidified her status as an icon of Icelandic culture. Björk's music defies categorization, blending elements of electronic, pop, avant-garde, and experimental genres to create a sound that is uniquely her own. Her innovative approach to music production, coupled with her ethereal vocals and thought-provoking lyrics, has earned her critical acclaim and a dedicated fanbase worldwide. Beyond her musical achievements, Björk is also celebrated for her bold and avant-garde fashion sense, as well as her visually stunning music videos and live performances. Through her boundary-pushing artistry and unwavering commitment to creative expression, Björk has become a cultural ambassador for Iceland, inspiring generations of artists and musicians both at home and abroad. Her influence extends far beyond the realm of music, making her a symbol of Icelandic creativity, innovation, and independence.

Björk at Big Day Out 2008, Melbourne Flemington Racecourse
Photo: © 2008 Deep_schismic

The art of Ólafur Elíasson:
light, landscape, and legacy
Born in Copenhagen, Ólafur Elíasson may not have been born on Icelandic soil, but his artistic vision and familial connections have firmly rooted him as a cultural icon for Iceland. As an internationally acclaimed contemporary artist, Elíasson has captivated audiences around the world with his immersive installations, sculptures, and architectural projects, all of which often draw inspiration from Iceland's raw, elemental landscapes. It was an early exposure to Iceland's stark beauty—the sweeping glaciers, tumultuous waterfalls, and brooding volcanoes—that left an indelible mark on Elíasson's artistic practice. His work frequently reflects his fascination with natural phenomena, exploring themes of light, perception, and the relationship between humans and their environment. One of Elíasson's most iconic works is "The Weather Project," which was installed in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London in 2003. This monumental installation transformed the cavernous space with a glowing artificial sun and a mist-filled atmosphere, inviting visitors to contemplate the sublime power of nature and their place within it. The ethereal quality of the light and the immersive experience created by the installation evoked the vast expanses of Iceland's landscapes. Beyond his individual artworks, Elíasson's impact on Iceland's cultural landscape extends to his role as a cultural ambassador for the country. He has championed Icelandic creativity and innovation on the global stage, bringing attention to the country's vibrant arts scene and fostering connections between Icelandic artists and the international art world.

Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, 2003
Photo: © 2007 wonderferret

Reinar Foreman:
contemporary Icelandic painting
Reinar Foreman, born in 1993, discovered his passion for art at the age of 22, embarking on a journey of self-discovery as a self-taught artist. Encouraged by his parents to pursue his creative instincts, Foreman's artistic talents blossomed. A pivotal moment came after a transformative trip to South America, where he painted his inaugural portrait—a creation that swiftly found a buyer. This initial success provided him with the means to procure more canvases and materials, fueling his burgeoning artistic endeavors. Characterized by a vibrant and almost surreal palette, Foreman's work bears the influences of artistic luminaries such as Francis Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol. His paintings vibrate with energy, exuding boldness in their colors, shapes, and the dynamic interplay between his subjects and their surrounding spaces. Today, Foreman's artistic journey has taken him across Europe, with his works showcased in prestigious galleries in cities like Reykjavik, Berlin, and Moscow, and now, Paris. With each exhibition, he solidifies his presence on the international stage, garnering attention and acclaim from collectors worldwide. As his artistic footprint expands, Foreman's pieces find homes in numerous private collections, leaving an indelible mark on the contemporary art scene.

Reinar Foreman, The Abduction of Proserpina, 2024
Photo: Galerie de Buci

From the fiery depths of its volcanoes to the crystalline expanse of its glaciers, Iceland is a land of stark contrasts and boundless beauty. Through the ages, its people have drawn inspiration from the land itself, forging a rich cultural heritage that continues to evolve and inspire. Whether through ancient sagas or avant-garde art, Iceland's cultural and geographic icons offer a glimpse into the soul of this amazing island nation, inviting us to explore its depths and discover its secrets. At the Galerie de Buci, we are thrilled to showcase the work of Reinar Foreman in the exhibition LIVING GODS, with the support of the Embassy of Iceland, which is on display until the 16th of May.

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