Sometimes going on a vacation can have the strangest of consequences. A summer-fling with a spectacular art-festival in a little charming town in Iceland, turned into quite a project for Jonathan Spejlborg from Team 17, and several of his contemporaries at Kaospilot. Only half a year after graduation he is deeply involved in a fresh new take on art education, and as if that isn’t enough, he is also the proud co-owner of an unique freshly renovated artistic workspace far away from his roots in Jutland, Denmark.

KP: Since your graduation just half a year ago, and while you where studying at Kaospilot, you have been very busy with this operation in Iceland. What is it you are doing up there?


JS: I’m doing two things with other alumni from the school. The first thing is setting up an art-school called “Lunga School”  together with a wonderful Icelandic woman, Björt Sigfinnsdóttir from Team 16.  The other thing is that we are starting up a hybrid between an art residence and a art-collective. We call it H-e-i-m-a Collective. That one involves Lasse Høgenhof and Andreas Lemche from Team 16 and 17 and Björt as well. Both projects take place in the same town on the east-coast of Iceland called Seyðisfjarðar.


KP: Lets talk about the school first. I know it has an interesting back-story…


JS: Yeah. It started 14 years ago in the year 2000 when Björt was 16 years old and really bored. So her and some of the other people in Seyðisfjarðar went together and started an art-festival – “The Lunga Festival” – which has been an annual event ever since. Then in 2010 we started to talk about how we could develop the concept further. It was starting to grow every year and people was very happy about it and it seemed to create something unique.We came up with the idea of also turning it into a school that would be a mix between the festival format and a folk-high-school (education-model that originates in Denmark red.) that doesn’t exist in Iceland but is well known in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries. I joined the project more formally in 2012. Björt and I have been working on it intensely ever since. It has taken some twists and turns into what it is now, but the 10th of march this year we are running the first 20 students through a one month test program. We then open officially in the fall, late august, with the full program which lasts four months. Is has been really important to us to keep the spirit of the Lunga Festival. Its workshop-based and has a very experimental approach to the arts and focus on the artistic expression and communication rather than purely the techniques.
We met various obstacles along the way that has challenged us to change our design, but so far it has only lead to a more fresh approach. We base it around experience-design and peer-to-peer-learning. A learning commune that is based on a group of 20-30 people living together, cooking and eating together, learning together and creating the learning experience for each other. There will also be a long row of guest-teachers, but It will be really interesting to see how it all goes because its a different relation between student and institution that is normally seen.


KP: Tell us about the other project, H-e-i-m-a?


JS: Like the school-project it started in 2010 when Lasse, Andreas and I – together with some more people from the Kaospilot – were invited to the Lunga-festival. We just fell in love with Seyðisfjarðar, the people and the festival. In 2011 we ended up buying this old 400 sq m house in the town together, so suddenly we had a more permanent connection to the place, and we needed to figure out what to do with it. We ended up with creating this membership based art-space with normal 1-3 months long residencies combined with a collective where its more people coming together for a common cause. So its a hybrid where 30 artists at a time can be members for one year. We can then create different sorts of collaborations like publications and exhibitions. We have been renovating the house ourselves since June last year and spend quite a lot of time laying the foundation for how the place works. I feel we really got something special going here with a great potential.


KP: When will it open?


JS: Its already open for sign-ups and applications. The collective will begin the first of may. Right now we have some artist living there in residence to test it out – some good friends of ours with interesting ideas. A group of Copenhagen-based artists are going there to finish  an installation where they have been working together as a cult, and now they are going to kill the cult for one month in Iceland as the end of their spring-exhibition.


KP: What is it that is so powerful about that small town it that small country?


JS: We always talk about it but we cant really figure it out or pinpoint it. But its so far away from where we are coming from. It feels like you are at the end of the world. It lays between the mountains so there is often this cover of clouds over your head, and sometimes you are not sure that there is a world outside that fog. You quickly forget it at least. You are very isolated and not remotely close to the things you normally have to deal with in your danish everyday life. In that sense there is very few concerns that exist there.
It might also be a romantic idea of ours to go to Iceland. It feels like there is a certain connection to the nordic spirit; stories, rituals and myths that we don’t really experience anymore. Because its so close to nature you completely feel the seasons. When the winter comes everything dies, there is no more animals or plants and its just snow all over – time stand still. Then suddenly it starts again in the springtime and when its finally summer everyone is just all over the place. You feel the circles of the seasons every year from the complete darkness to 24-hour sun. It has a profound impact on you as a human.


KP: How is the town reacting to this group of energetic danes?


JS: They are very curious. The are really good people and I think this town has something special. It was really doing well when the fishing industry had its best days, but when it started to go down in the late 80’s the population started to decline as well from app. 1100 to app. 600.  At the same time there was different artists moving there, so since then they have created an identity around cultural initiatives; artists and artistic practices. So there was a foundation we could tap in to. The whole idea of cultural institutions and artistic events wasn’t that strange to the people so they embrace it quite a lot.


KP: We have heard that you have quite an innovative way of using the local resources. For instance there is not going to be a Lunga-school-building. How does that work?


JS: That is correct: we have no buildings that are ours. We are collaborating with the town so we can use the local community-center as our main school-building. Right next to a sports-hall and a library. There is a theatre-group who uses the same space so we are essentially going to share with them. Its a wonderful old theatre-hall that we will be using for lectures and to screen movies and so on. Regarding the dormitories where the students will live, we are collaborating with the local hotel and hostel. They don’t have much activity during the winter, so when we start late august we basically rent all their facilities and have them until may. That way we can do both a fall and a spring program, before they have their high season in the summer. Its a wonderful arrangement that make it possible and affordable for us while they are kept busy all year around.