a system of operations that investigate, undermine and subvert the grand historic narrative

by Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas in collaboration with Group 4.333 at MIT

Hearsay House is a system of operations that investigate, undermine and subvert the grand narrative of one historic site in Reykjavik – Hofdi house, best known as the location for the 1986 Iceland Summit meeting of US president Ronald Reagan and president of the Soviet Union – Mikhail Gorbachev. This historic event marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

Hearsay House was a commission for the (In)dependent People – an exhibition curated by Jonatan Habib Engqvist for the Arts Festival in Reykjavík that investigates collaborations and artists initiatives and the illusive territory of authorship within collaborative artistic practices. Realized in collaboration with local communities in Reykjavík to produce a tactical media project deployed at Hofdi House in Reykjavík connecting it with remote sensing and viewing technology to the Icelandic National Art museum. Realized in 2012.

Hofdi house is the tangible physical embodiment of that grand monumental history. Hearsay House is trying to subvert the grand narrative with the proposals grounded on micro-narratives.

The grand narrative in the context of our operation, that is art festival, is the attempt for the cultural industries, and artistic practices in this case, to employ them to solve certain problems: problems of economy, problems of capitalism end etc. There is a hope in Iceland, that art festival can attract people and enhance tourism. In this case the grand narrative is utilization or employment of art, imposing certain function to art: this is what art can solve, this is what art can do, art can go to spaces of crisis and can help, art can go to places of disasters and mediate, re-mediate or mitigate. These are the functions of art that cultural bureaucrats try to imply to art to produce that function, or to commission artists and through that commission art, employing art. Of course our role as artists is to look for the place of resistance and expose that mechanism.

We are looking at Iceland like island. We know that historically island used to be testing grounds for different technologies. In this case we use Iceland to test the technologies of networked cultures. That is why we work with sensors and communities. We extend collaboration from Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas to 4.333 at MIT and further to partners in dialogue in Iceland. Then the operation is extended further to the viewers, who will be visiting the sites. Through their response they will conduct certain operations of experience, or operations of extended, responsive experience.

Iceland has history of artists run platforms and initiatives. Genesis of outstanding art scene in Iceland is marked by collaborative practices: it all started with Staina and Woody Vasulkas always working in collectives up to Living Art Museum and others. There are two sides of the coin: one is genealogy of Icelandic art and culture that was produced through cooperation and collaboration, and we try to test this energy.  Another side is that capitalist system is already tapping into these collaborative energies through the crowd sourcing trying to recuperate something that is understood as independent, as liberating and setting free. Trying to recuperate and bring it back, exploit and utilize it. Of course they are not just black and white sides. There are lots of grey zones in between.Hofdi house is our meta narrative. We suggest that the blueprint of the house is distributed through all different nodes of our network. Speaking in metaphors, we have meeting of two tectonic plates that Iceland is in between. “I” stands not only for the individual authorship that in this case has been suspended in brackets. It stands for Iceland as an international sign, as well as Icelandic identity in the book “Independent People”. “I” is also like a gap, it can be understood not as positive sign but also as negative space.  It is a meeting point between two tectonic plates. In this case, what are the independent stories besides the grand narrative of the house that can be reviled through that operation? There is monumental history of Gorbachev meeting Reagan and trying to discuss the end of the competition for nuclear armament and trying to reduce that. For us it is interesting what micro narratives could be unfolded?