On June 14, I walk down a misty Austurstræti to get my daily skyr from 10-11. The sky is overcast, there is a couple smoking cigarettes on the front step that I squeeze by, a cat crosses the road. There’s nothing to pull me out of my workday daze. That is, until I round the corner to Pósthússtræti and something catches my attention: a full kitchen, a dining room table complete with stools and flowers, and a cake stand full of waffles and cream. The setup is right in the middle of the sidewalk, everything but the waffles drawn with chalk. Pleasantly surprised, I stop by for a bite and a chat with the creator of the street side kitchen.
Ólöf Stefánsdóttir is one third of the team behind a Hitt Húsið sponsored Creative Summer Group. Along with Áugústa Sveinsdóttir and Magnús Dagur Sævarsson, the trio is taking to the streets of Reykjavík this summer to brighten its grey concrete with colourful chalk and three-dimensional illusions.
The idea was inspired by a trip to India that Ágústa made three years ago. She was struck by a colourful nuance of the local culture in the form of flowers drawn in chalk that greet arriving and departing visitors to homes and businesses.” It gave you something pleasant to look at, despite the state of the run-down surroundings,” Ólöf relays to me that Friday, as she wipes the blue outline of a stove off of the side of the Landsbanki wall.
Their project, Operation Creed (a play on the Icelandic word ‘krít’ which means ‘chalk’), is one of nine Creative Summer Groups, sponsored by the cultural centre Hitt Húsið. As participants, the young artists are provided a regular salary for eight weeks of the summer to take a break from their day jobs and focus on creating art. “People say to us, that’s stupid, or that’s strange that you are getting paid to go out and draw with chalk on the streets” Ólöf says, “but it really adds something to the day. A couple stopped by today on their way to the airport and sat down for a waffle. It was such a nice good-bye meal! It just adds a little colour to the day that otherwise wouldn’t exist.”
While some are put off by the spontaneous creative use of public space, like the bank whose outer wall was transformed into a temporary kitchen, most receive the group pleasantly. “It’s cool to see how everybody relates to our work” Ólöf says. “The tourists were most fun, they are really willing to sit down and participate. The Icelanders, they’re a little shyer. They just take a picture and run off,” she laughs.
And it doesn’t end with waffles, which is just the first of a number of other chalk-based ideas. On June 17, for instance, they hit the front walkway of Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík with chalk embroidery. And in the weeks to come they want to start experimenting with 3-dimensional structures and projections, anything that will surprise the pedestrian and make them look twice. “We want to pick places that people visit regularly, on typically boring occasions, and make it a destination,” Ólöf says. And that’s really what this project, and all of the Summer Creative Groups, is about: injecting some colour (or some music, or some theatre) into the day of the unsuspecting passer-by.—
Operation Creed is one of nine Summer Creative Groups sponsored by Hitt Húsið this summer. Be on the lookout for spontaneous musical acts, art installations, and theatre performances!