Jason Gibilaro's " Iceland" at Subway Gallery

Intro by Si Baker

Jason Gibilaro's latest UK exhibition, Iceland is running at the Subway gallery from February 03-27th Feb takes as its focal point the global banking crisis which has decimated so many economies around the world, from its first cataclysmic impact in August 2007 until the present day. Jason experienced at first hand the ugly consequences of unregulated corporate cowboy capitalism spinning out of control when he was invited by the Icelandic Association of Visual Artists to be their artist-in-residence at Korpsstir (a former milk farm converted into a block of artists' studios just outside Reykjavik, in November 2008) just as the entire Icelandic banking system went into free fall. From the idyllic setting of Korpsstir, where he completed a series of water colour landscapes, he was also able to make a number of forays into the disjointed centre of the capital. As La Bouche reported in Issue 1, after the collapse Reykjavik was teetering on the brink of social anarchy as its shocked inhabitants - many of whom had been made both bankrupt and homeless overnight as a result of Iceland's financial meltdown - took to the streets to vent their fury. We ask Jason about his experiences of arctic chaos and how out of embers came art...

LB: So you happened to be on a residency in Iceland at the exact same time as the very historical Icelandic economic meltdown! You are quite unique to have captured these events artistically, didrnyou anticipate this may happen or were you expecting to be paintingrnglaciers and volcanos?

JG: I had been visiting Iceland since 2006 prior to the economic meltdown. I have always found the Icelandic Art Scene and Icelandic Culture very confident and powerful. I have regularly visited many galleries and talked and exchanged views with various artists. The interest I had in the contemporary art scene predominantly around Reykjavik initiated me to apply for the artist residency. I was in Iceland in 2008 and the application was handed in just before the 'economic meltdown' and  my application was accepted when it all started. It was strange timing.

I have always been interested in elements and icons of urban life, which I have used as reference in some of my paintings. A prominent aim has always been trying to translate the way it affects people in that particular social sphere.

In a lot of my paintings prior to the residency I had focused on certain aspects of the London Art Scene with the aim of documenting the social interaction of different types of people. These groupings were usually confined in one particular space and which could sometimes create a unique theatrical ambience.  My focus then was to try and capture a particular moment in time around artists and friends at various art events.  The majority of these events were based in the East End of London.

My original intent was to continue this line of work by documenting the social spheres of Reykjavik which could include elements of it own unique urban life as well as its social scene.  In terms of glaciers and volcanoes being my only source of subject matter; this was never my intention prior to the residency. Iceland's unique landscape was obviously going to have an influence on my work and it did. Also it is worth mentioning that there is a strong cultural belief in Iceland of the supernatural eg. Elves. The residence, Korpisstir, I was in was meant to be haunted. 

The actual events that were happening around the Banking Collapse and its aftermath I found left an all too clear visual presence that I never anticipate would happen (deserted building sites being an example). It did very much change my agenda when I first applied for the residency.

LB: Tell us about your experiences of this chaos and how you went about translating this to canvas.

JG: I actually remember attending demonstrations in Reykjavik back in 2006 about the Hydro-Electric Dams and the Aluminium Smelting Plants that were going to be built and the environmental damage this was going to cause. A lot of Iceland's population seemed unhappy with the government then. In a way I saw the events in late 2008 as a continuum, and gradual build-up, with the whole thing reaching a head. I remember staying up all night in Reykjavik during the election night, in April 2009.  It seemed a bit like the closing of chapter of that particular episode.

Some of the images of chaos that I paid reference to in a lot of my paintings and drawings, I think most people can relate to anywhere around the world. It seems that these sorts of occurrences are happening somewhere all the time when you turn on the news. These sorts of scenes were obviously unusual for a country like Iceland, which was why I was drawn to them; most of the people rioting were probably its own middle class. Images of demonstrations and chaos I find universal and everyone will have their own take or experience of them. I wanted to do my own take on that iconic imagery rather than just document the 'Icelandic Riots'

rnrnAnother thing that had a big influence on me was the Contemporary Art Scene that has been happening in Reykjavik since the banking collapse. I think it has got more interesting with a strong underground scene with a new generation of artists becoming more proactive and bold. Artist led Galleries, like the Kling and Bang in Reykjavik, were putting on interesting art events and exhibitions throughout my time I was there. There is obviously not so much Bank sponsorship now and it is more difficult for a lot of Artists who relied on that previously. On the positive side I think this has led to a new found freedom for many Artists where they are less answerable to authority figures and are producing more interesting work.

LB: Do you think we are the next Iceland?

JG: I do not think you can quite compare the UK with Iceland. Iceland has a population of three hundred thousand, with two thirds living in the Reykjavik area, and the UK  sixty million with nine million in the London area. Other than that I think the UK has probably already experienced a banking collapse that has contributed to the current economic downturn. Maybe it has not been as severe as in Iceland but it has been bad. What happened in Iceland has shown how fragile some elements of the Banking system are and I believe it could happen anywhere.

LB: You have a show coming up at Subway gallery, which is a very happy marriage, where will "Meltdown" go next and what's next for you?

JG: When I returned to UK in May 2009 it took me quite a long time to digest all the visual images I had gathered during my residency. I had done a lot of drawings and it had always been my idea to use this material for my studio in London.  It was not really until mid July that I felt more focused and was able to be more productive and start producing work again. The show 'Meltdown' at the NO:ID Gallery in September was very quick in terms of my usual working patterns. Past shows I had usually known six months to a year in advance. This has been more like 'sailing close to the wind' which seems to have suited this body of work. The show in the Subway Gallery in February 2010 will also have new work done since the last show. At present I am working on some larger pieces in the Studio that will probably conclude that body of work (meltdown theme). I have started a new painting where the subject matter is closer to home. I am doing an image based on the Council Estate in Brixton where I live. It' early days yet and I am not quite sure whether it will be a one off or a start of a new series. LB!

Leave a Comment