'Neptún' Magazine Captures the Weirdness of Iceland
<i>Neptún</i> is a biannual print mag that surveys Iceland's most promising photographers. The co-editor talked with us about the publication and her favorite up-and-coming Icelandic artists.
If you really sat down and tried, you could turn a lot of pages in the space of 30 days. While we've spent over a decade providing you with about 120 of those pages every month, it turns out VICE isn't the only magazine in the world. This series, Ink Spots, is a helpful guide to which zines, pamphlets, and publications you should be reading when you're not reading ours.
Kolbrún Þóra Löve is a bit of a Renaissance woman, running and photographing nearly half of every issue of Iceland-based, biannual print publication Neptún Magazine. Although artists from around the world are regularly featured on its pages, Neptún's main concern is the local Icelandic scene.
Being a photo editor often means being able to connect amazing local photographers with interesting stories. When I see things like Neptún, I get excited about using it as a resource for future collaborations with artists from the region that I might not be familiar with otherwise. I recently chatted with Kolbrún about the creation of the magazine and some of her favorite artists coming out of Iceland.
VICE: Why did you start Neptún?
Kolbrún Þóra Löven: Basically, it grew from a desire to collaborate with friends and make something nice while I was at it. In 2013, we were all newly graduated from art school and looking for the next thing to do. My friend, Helga Kjerúlf, had been planning on making a publication with two of her friends, and I was really into the idea. That summer I quit my job in New York and decided to move back to Iceland. Then, little by little, things started to happen and Neptún in its current form was born. Currently, the two of us make it, working among Iceland, Amsterdam, and Berlin.
What was your goal with the publication?
There was, and is, a need for a publication that focuses on the creative scene in Iceland, especially on the younger, lesser-known artists. We also make a point of showing work from a wide range of artists, in terms of age, medium, and level of establishment—in order to show a spectrum of the work being made here.
For example, in our first issue we interviewed the graphic designer that created the Icelandic banknotes and passport. In our second issue, we interviewed my grandmother. She has worked as a crafts teacher in a retirement home for decades, but also makes amazing artworks. Her sculptures even made the cover of that issue!
In our third issue, we interviewed Steina Vasulka, an Icelandic artist based in America. She is one of the early pioneers of video art and founded The Kitchen in New York in the early 70s. Basically, we try to be really open to new ideas and expand our own notions of what the magazine can and should be.
How do you feel about independent publishing? Do you feel like it's making a difference?
Yes, I do think it makes a difference. I think it's important to be able to access publications that are not a part of big media, especially in Iceland. It creates a space for things typically not represented in the larger publications. Also, small scale galleries and exhibition spaces have been disappearing from Iceland in the past few years, basically because of hotel-building for tourists. So, in addition to all-around cuts to funding for the arts, this creates a certain dilemma for artists, especially the younger ones. So I think it's important to try to counteract in any way possible and provide some sort of space for artists to show their work and speak their minds.
What kind of editorial choices do you like to make with images in the mag?
I do a lot of the photography for the mag, while Helga handles the graphic design, and we both do interviews. We basically just trust each other to do our thing and then meet and talk about what could be better, or done differently, etc. I don't really go into shoots with a plan, I just try to be open for surprises and see what comes out of it. It works better for me than planning ahead. I don't use a lot of equipment, just my 35mm Nikon and a flash. I also like to make GIFSs from the images. I'm really interested in digital culture and how it can work with print, so I think it's a fun juxtaposition.
What's the photography scene like in Iceland?
Iceland is super small so the photography scene is small, as well. There is a bit of a divide between "photography" and "art" in Iceland. For me, it would be really exciting if that line would blur a little bit. In Iceland, photography has traditionally been considered a technical craft rather than an art medium—although that is changing. Basically, Iceland is a weird place, I like stuff that encapsulates that weirdness instead of just riding on clichés. That's what we look for in Neptún.
Below, Löven picked some of her favorite artists coming out of Iceland and explained what makes them so awesome.
Petra Valdimarsdóttir is featured in the third issue of Neptún. She is Icelandic, but mostly grew up in Holland, and now lives in Berlin. She is a graphic designer who also works with photography. Her project "A man is (not) a mountain" (a collaboration with Charlie Berendsen) is an interactive website that displays Petra's photographs of her uncle, his farm, and the Icelandic countryside.
Sunna Ben's illustrations are featured in the third issue of Neptún, but she works with photography, as well. Her photographs are nicely chaotic, candid, and playful.
Sveinn Fannar Jóhannsson
Sveinn Fannar Jóhannsson is an Icelandic artist that mostly grew up in Norway and now lives in Berlin. His book A Sudden Drop displays images of articles of clothing that he found on the street, photographed, and eventually turned into sculptures. I also recommend his book Portraits by Waiters.
Hallgerður Hallgrímsdóttir does a great job of capturing the weirdness of the everyday. Her project Fog Patches is "a collection of eternal moments, non-erupting mountains, and groundhog days. This is an attempt to show the unremembered stillness of a place, its textures, poetic reality, and the fragmented dreams of the people who inhabit it."
Björn Árnason is an Icelandic photographer, based in Reykjavík. He has a distinct style and his photographs are clean, minimal, and controlled.
For more on Neptún, visit the mag's website here.