Archive for Iceland

Introducing the Icelandverse

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , on November 13, 2021 by telescoper

At the end of another exhausting week this parody of Mark Zuckerberg and his “metaverse” cheered me up no end. It reminds me that I visited Iceland once in 2008 and enjoyed it enormously, but for some reason have never been back…

Riverbed

Posted in Art with tags , , , , on August 20, 2014 by telescoper

Yesterday afternoon I skived off the last session of the workshop I’m attending and took the train to the small town of Humlebæk, which is about 35 north of Copenhagen and is the site of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The purpose of my visit was to attend an invitation-only preview of a new installation by Olafur Eliasson called Riverbed. The invitation to this came relatively recently and it was only the coincidence of my being here at this workshop that made it possible for me to attend.

As it turned out, I arrived quite early and the weather was fine, so I took the chance to wander around the sculpture park before the main event. There are many fine works there. This, for example, is by Henry Moore:

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This one is by Henri Laurens

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And so to Riverbed. This is a large work featuring boulders and gravel, brought all the way from Iceland, which have been used to recreate a section of the landscape of Olafur’s native land. The distinctive colouring and granularity of the raw material produces terrain of a texture that must look very alien to anyone who has never been to Iceland. The installation is contained within a space which is contained within and divided by stark white-painted walls, with rectangular gaps where necessary to let the water through from room to room. These boundaries, with their geometrically precise edges, affect the experience of the naturalistic landscape in a very interesting way. The Riverbed itself may look “natural” but the structures surrounding it constantly remind you that it isn’t. Viewers are permitted to wander through the piece wherever they like and interact however they please, sitting down on a boulder, paddling in the stream or even just watching the other people (which is mainly what I did). I don’t know what’s more interesting, the work itself or the way people behave when inside it!

Here are some pictures I took, just to give you a flavour:

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Anyway, after that we adjourned for a drinks reception and a splendid dinner in the Boat House, which part of the Louisiana complex. Being neither an artist nor an art critic I felt a bit of an outsider, but I did get the chance to chat to quite a few interesting people including, by sheer coincidence, a recent graduate of the University of Sussex. The Boat House looks out towards the island of Hven, home of the observatory of Tycho Brahe, so naturally I took the opportunity to drink a toast to his memory:

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After that I had to return to Copenhagen to write my talk, as I was on first this morning at 9.30. This afternoon we have a bit of a break before the conference excursion and dinner this evening. The excursion happens to be to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (although we’re all going by bus this time); dinner is in the cafeteria rather than the Boat House, though..

Crash! There goes another one..

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 9, 2008 by telescoper

Another day, another bank failure.

Further to my post about the crisis in the Icelandic banking system, it now appears the third major private Icelandic bank, Kaupthing, has also been taken into admininistration over concerns about its liquidity (or lack of it). The UK-based online subsidiary Kaupthing Edge has, however, been taken over by ING Direct, another direct savings bank. ING claims that all the deposits it has acquired are now safe, but something tells me this crisis is far from over and I interpret “safe” as meaning “for the time being”. This is all coming very close to home, as I have savings in Kaupthing Edge.

At least I’m in a better position than someone who had savings in Icesave which was the second Icelandic bank to fail. The scary thing about this one was that the Icelandic government had given guarantees to protect depositors, but has now thrown away those guarantees leaving the UK government to step in to compensate those who have lost their savings. For once, I actually agree with Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s reaction to this. I hope Britain seizes any Icelandic assets it can to compensate the UK taxpayer. That is if Iceland actually has any assets left at all.

Iceland has also today suspended all dealings in its shares as its economy rapidly melts down.  Apparently the country now has debts totalling 12 times its Gross Domestic Product which makes it as near as dammit to being bankrupt.

Meanwhile despite massive intervention from central banks around the world, stocks and shares have continued to lurch around violently above and below a steady downward trend. All this seems totally irrational to me. And they have the nerve to award a Nobel prize to economists!

If only everything in life were as simple as the Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa theory.

Icelandic Sagas

Posted in Biographical, Finance with tags , on October 7, 2008 by telescoper

I read in the news today that the Icelandic government has taken over a second of its leading banks in an attempt to stop the total collapse of its economic infrastructure. Last week it took over the country’s third largest bank, Glitnir, to prevent it collapsing as a consequence of bad debts and this week it has nationalised Landsbanki, the second largest. This particular one brings Iceland’s imminent bankruptcy closer to home as hundreds of thousands of savers in the UK have cash tied up in either Icesave or Heritable, which are divisions of Landsbanki. The only private Icelandic remaining is Kaupthing, which also has a UK operation called Kaupthing Edge. This bank claims to have minimal exposure to toxic debt, but it remains to be seen whether it can avoid a run on its deposits that will surely lead it into oblivion too. I am an interested party in this case, as I recently bought some of its fixed rate high-interest bonds. This may turn out not to be the best decision I have ever made.

Iceland’s economy seems to be a microcosm of the current world situation. A decade of incredible growth built on speculative financial operations abroad led to growth beyond the wildest dreams of such a small country. With a population of only just over 300,000 – that of a small English city – most of whom live in the capital Reykjavik, this boom generated a huge increase in living standards for its own people and created a new generation of Icelandic billionaires. Now that bubble has well and truly burst. The country as a whole is on the verge of bankruptcy, its currency has fallen through the floor, and inflation is rampant.

Iceland may have a reputation as the one of the hottest destinations for a weekend of partying, but it seems to me that it’s about to suffer a sudden and very chill winter.

I had the opportunity to visit Iceland this May in order to participate in an event called the Experiment Marathon, which is one of those artists-meet-scientists events that are either excruciatingly terrible or intensely enjoyable. Held in the Hafnarhus – Reyjkavik Art Museum – the contributions included scientists talking about science or doing experiments live in front of the audience, alongside artists talking about or demonstrating their work.

I am really not sure why I was invited to take part, although I suspect it was some form of administrative error. Most of the really crap things that happen are caused by mistakes, so why shouldn’t the good things also happen that way?

Anyway, I gave a talk about the cosmic microwave background. My “experiment” was a television set that wasn’t tuned properly producing a screenful of static. I pointed out that some (actually not that much) of the buzz was coming from the beginning of the universe. Pretty lame as a gimmick, I know, but it seemed to go down quite well with the audience and I had some nice questions and comments at the end of my 20 minutes. But I also got to meet quite a few artists and other luminaries, including Brian Eno (who celebrated his 60th birthday at the festival) and Dr Ruth. I also had breakfast in the hotel with a noted performance artist called Marina Abramovic who I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of. I didn’t actually know who she was until much later.

Even better than this I had a sort of VIP pass which meant that I got to go to a couple of wonderfully boozy receptions, including one at the President’s house, and hang out with the in-crowd at some of Reykjavik’s nightspots, although at one of them I had to listen to some experimental music that sounded like what I imagined to be played to prisoners at Guantanomo Bay. Being so far North the nights are very long which definitely added to the enjoyment, especially since the few days I was there were blessed with lovely sunny weather. Perhaps even more importantly, I don’t remember having to pay for anything at all, drinks included. They even paid me a fee! (However, they paid it in Icelandic Krona, which I never got around to cashing, so it’s probably not worth very much by now.)

It goes without saying that I formed a very positive opinion of Reykjavik as a city full of energetic and creative people who know how to have a good time: it has its own opera house, countless restaurants and bars and several excellent museums and art galleries. But at the back of my mind I was wondering how such a small country can find the money to sustain such a level of artistic and musical activity as well as lavish personal consumption. Now at last I have the answer.

It can’t.