Interview with Saemundur Thor Helgason
A series of interviews with SPACE Art + Technology artists in residence
What were you doing in the year leading up to the residency?
Having recently graduated from the MFA fine art programme at Goldsmiths I was busy with getting by as an artist, looking at ways I could combine making art, with what I do for money. Since I did not make any money with my art I started thinking of ways of making money as art.
In the beginning of the year 2016 I had a solo show at the Reykjavik Art Museum entitled ÁVÖXTUN % (which translates into English as “Rate of Return %”) where I collaborated with banks in Iceland. Instead of using the budget that I got from the museum to produce art, I decided to invest it. I contacted Icelandic banks and received financial advice looking into different ways of return. I interpreted the banks’ advice and laid out their suggestions on large wall posters that were displayed at the exhibition. To avoid the material cost of the exhibition and maximize the return of my fee, I sought sponsorship from ARTIS market solutions, a company specializing in printing and labelling for Icelandic businesses. In return I offered the company a large part of the exhibition space for their advertisements, that in the end covered the pillars and the floor of the space.
My side job since graduating has been building and installing window displays in London, where I often work at night while the stores are closed. One of the displays that I helped building ended up as my own artwork. I got permission from the client (LUSH cosmetics) to exhibit the display as my own artwork, thus getting paid twice for the same labour; first as a freelancer and again as an artist. The work was an attempt of de-alienating myself as a worker by re-appropriating my own labour- displaying a readymade that I manufactured myself. The work was displayed at ‘Dissent as an iPhone App’ curated by Angels Miralda at Arebyte gallery in Hackney Wick, together with works by Daniel Keller & Ella Plevin and Debora Delmar Corp.
I teach a biweekly class: ‘Documentation & Online Presence’ (with HARD-CORE ), a course that we established for the fine art department of Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam in 2015. The classes are conducted through Skype where we only discuss the documentation of the students and the way we receive the works on screen/online. These classes tie in nicely with my artistic practice, and I find it inspiring to think about how one can produce a work with little means, but construct it so that it is strategically effective within the platforms that it operates.
I was invited to join the Not in the Berlin Biennale, an advertising campaign running alongside the 9th Berlin Biennale. During the build-up period of the BB9, the DIS team would send me behind the scenes material which I processed and squeezed into short videos for circulation on Facebook. I did not necessarily see this as an artwork, but more as a mutually beneficial promotion.
What are you working on at the moment?
I just organized a workshop at SPACE, where participants were invited to join a Socratic Dialogue around the topic of documentation and post-production in art. Miguel Harbers came over from Spain to moderate the dialogue. What I find fascinating about the Socratic Dialogue, is that it’s a format where people can collaboratively think together, and form a new collective mind which emerges from the people sitting together. This collective mind can become more creative and open than individual minds, which leads to unforeseen outcomes.
As part of the residency at SPACE Art + Technology I’m preparing a toolkit for post-produced exhibitions. I’m recording documentation of unrealised exhibitions which will happen in post-production. The toolkit will be available for anyone to download, and use for their own projects. I’m working with empty real estate speculations in London as a source material for the toolkit. At the moment I’m recording 4K videos with a camera motion control in a large empty real estate; originally meant for housing the tech industry in London. I’m using motion tracking markers in order for people to, later on, being able to insert their content into the footage, using various image editing softwares. The customized motion tracking markers simultaneously function as a way of inserting content into the footage in post-production but also as a way of branding the space, like an inserted watermark. The toolkit will most likely end up as an open source online exhibition space, that can be used for producing slick documentation of exhibitions with no budget. The toolkit, tailored for online circulation, can also be useful for enhancing portfolios, bios, CVs, funding applications, etc. Users can choose the city where their exhibition takes place based on what is valuable for their CV and career enhancement.
Together with Frederique Pisuisse, I recently established the Chinese European College for Accreditation (C.E.C.A international). People can apply to become a C.E.C.A international alumni, and get their own fake, just for fun, novelty student ID card. On their own risk, the C.E.C.A. international alumni can benefit from the discounts and concessions that are available for students.
How have you found the residency so far?
I find it incredible to get paid as an artist. It makes such a big difference not having to take on multiple side jobs in order to sustain my practice, and I feel much more focussed now that I can spend some quality time with my art. Also having such a large and warm studio over winter is rare in London, something I have not experienced so far. The SPACE Art + Technology team, Lou Macnamara and Oliver Hickmet, have been very helpful in developing the toolkit that I'm currently assembling. Getting feedback on the developments of the toolkit from visiting mentors was very valuable. I would like to thank my fellow residents Clara Jo, Eloïse Bonneviot, Johann Arens, Rachel Pimm and Jenna Sutela for an enjoyable time spent together in the residency.
What’s coming next?
I'm preparing a new online work for ‘Cloud dating in the age of (un)controlled precipitation’, a group exhibition curated by Valentinas Klimasauskas. That work will be purely post-produced from existing documentation found online. Later this year I've got a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Iceland which will be a mixture of a PR campaign and an on site installation.
Anything you’d like to add?
Saemundur Thor Helgason’s recent activities include; ‘Cloud dating in the age of (un)controlled precipitation’, vokai.io, Lithuania, (2017), R E V I S E D | Loewe auf der IFA 2016, Berlin (2017), ‘SuperFetish S/S’, Goethe Institut, Beijing, China (2016), ‘Not in the Berlin Biennale’, 9th Berlin Biennale (2016), ‘A Hat Trick Or A Theory Of The Plankton’, Podium, Oslo (2016), ‘ÁVÖXTUN %’ Rate of Return (2016), Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland, ‘CO-WORKERS – Network as Artist’ at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France (2015), ‘Vanity Fair | Demo Mode’ with Leslie Kulesh at Project Native Informant, London (2015).