Staging Reality

Ragnar Kjartansson Death is Elsewhere

Before Ragnar Kjartansson became an artist exhibiting around the world, he was one of Iceland’s best-known musicians, most notably playing in electronic punk-pop band Trabant in the early 2000s. His music career has since been almost completely eclipsed by his career as a visual artist, with shows at the Venice Biennale, the Barbican Centre, and the Tate Modern. His most recent work, Death is Elsewhere, just premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. All this makes him a frightening figure to mull over – but when I meet him in person at his colourful central Reykjavík apartment, Kjartan is welcoming, cheerful, and effervescent. It also helps that our interview is repeatedly interrupted by his attempts to keep his one-year-old from crying or sticking her finger into electrical sockets. Ragnar himself is hardly seeking recognition. In fact, he says that he appreciates that in Iceland, artists are treated just like everyone else.

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First Horned Grebes Settle in Reykjavík Pond

horned grebe

Two horned grebes have settled in Reykjavík Pond in the city centre, RÚV reports. It is the first time the species is found nesting at the location. At the turn of the century, the horned grebe population was placed on a watchlist due to its decline, but it seems to have made a recovery since.

The horned grebe is a small waterbird named for the large patches of yellowish feathers located behind their eyes. The birds can raise and lower these patches, known as “horns,” at will. Though the species has been multiplying in Southwest Iceland in recent years, this is nevertheless the first time the birds have settled by the pond in the heart of Reykjavík. The horned grebe is the only bird in Iceland that builds a floating nest.

“Horned grebes have not laid eggs by Reykjavík Pond since people started observing the birdlife here,” says Snorri Sigurðsson, a biologist for the City of Reykjavík. “They haven’t yet laid eggs, we don’t know that for sure, but it’s not unlikely that they are a couple.” Snorri says it is very unusual for the species to settle in the middle of a city.

“For a long time [the species has nested] by Ástjörn pond in Hafnarfjörður but now they have multiplied so that one couple has clearly decided to come all the way here to [Reykjavík Pond].” Snorri says it’s surprising that the birds are attempting to settle at the location, as the area doesn’t fulfil the conditions horned grebes prefer for nesting. “It’s a bit lacking in the shoreline vegetation that the horned grebe wants in order to be able to fasten the floating nest it makes, but they’ve been sticking to the little islet here, maybe they see some opportunity there,” Snorri observes. “We haven’t seen any nest yet but we’ll be monitoring this.”

At some lakes in Iceland, man-made nesting sites have been outfitted to encourage horned grebes to breed. “This has been done at Vífilstaðavatn and Elliðavatn with very good results, the horned grebes showed up right away and took advantage of it.” Snorri says no such plan has been implemented for the new residents of Reykjavík Pond, though it could be considered if the need arises.

Third Energy Package Debate Postponed Indefinitely

Steingrímur J. Sigfússon

A 134-hour filibuster on the Third Energy Package has finally come to an end, though it may be temporary, RÚV reports. Debate on the topic, which was scheduled to continue in Parliament at 10.40am this morning, has been postponed indefinitely. Centre Party MPs have filibustered on the package for over a week, forcing parliament to set aside all other matters, including dozens of bills, parliamentary resolutions, and pending questions scheduled to be dealt with before June 5, the end of spring term.

Sitting party chairmen met this morning to discuss Alþingi’s progress. At that meeting it was decided that party leaders would meet at 11.00am to try to find ways to break the stalemate in the parliament that the Centre Party filibuster had caused. Due to this decision, the Third Energy Package was taken off the schedule, and MPs began debating a parliamentary resolution on health policy instead. The heavy mood of recent days lifted from the chamber and some laughter was heard among the MPs.

Read More: Third Energy Package

The main goal of the European Union’s Third Energy Package is to strengthen the internal energy market for gas and electricity in the EU in order to decrease the cost of energy. The Package was passed within the EU in 2009.  A decade later, Iceland is the only country that has not agreed to the package. Though the package enjoys majority support in Parliament, the Centre Party filibuster has delayed voting on the topic.

Second-longest debate

At 134 hours and eight minutes, the debate on the Third Energy Package is the second-longest in Parliament since 1991. It is just one hour shorter than the Icesave debate and one and a half days longer than the debate on the EEA Agreement.

Heavily Vandalised Hafnarfjörður Cave to Be Protected

Leiðarendi cave graffiti

Unrestricted access to Leiðarendi cave has led to heavy vandalism and damage to the site, RÚV reports. Graffiti covers large sections of the lava cave’s walls; most of its dozens of stalagmites have been broken; and at least one visitor left behind human excrement. Árni B. Stefánsson of the Icelandic Speleological Society says the natural formation should be monitored to protect its fragile and unique contents.

Located near Reykjavík, Leiðarendi stretching 1,000m (3,280ft) long. It sits on public land within the town of Hafnarfjörður. The cave was discovered in 1990, but it’s not until the last few years that traffic to the cave has boomed. Its walls are host to patterns created by unique micro-organisms, but many are now covered by graffiti. “It’s like the underpasses in the suburbs of a big city,” says Árni, describing the scrawls in the cave. “It was completely untouched at the turn of the century. The first graffiti appeared here around 2006 or 2007 and then there was an explosion in tourism and simultaneously in the graffiti. It’s just awful to see it.”

Stalagmites broken, skull stolen

Leiðarendi, which roughly translates to “final destination,” got its name from a lamb skeleton which lies deep inside the cave. The lamb is believed to have gotten lost there some 100-200 years ago. Its remains have not been left undisturbed by visitors. “[The skeleton] has been moved a lot and the skull was taken at one point, but it was returned again, fortunately,” says Árni.

Around ten years ago, Árni set up a chain to protect the cave’s stalagmites – rock formations rising from its floor – but the measure has not been successful. Once featuring dozens of the formations, the cave has only a handful left.

Tourism companies profit

Árni says that hundreds of thousands of visitors have been to the cave in recent years, either on their own initiative, or as part of organised tours via tour companies. “These are many billions that the cave has brought in for the community and for these tour companies. These are very sizeable sums,” Árni says, noting that none of the profits have been used to protect the cave from damage. He says it is essential to start monitoring admission to the cave – such natural formations are simply too sensitive for traffic to be left unchecked.

Protection in process

Helga Ingólfsdóttir, chairperson of Hafnarfjörður’s environmental and development council, says the town is now taking such measures. According to Helga, the process was delayed because it was not clear whether the cave was under the jurisdiction of Hafnarfjörður or the neighbouring town of Kópavogur. The uncertainty has since been cleared up, and the town is ready to take action.

“We will start inside the cave to try to fix what has been damaged,” Helga stated. She says the town will also look at ways to improve visitors’ experience, by for example placing lighting in the cave. Other planned measures include restoring the entrance to the cave, constructing a staircase, and counting the number of visitors. “The counter will give us an indication of what steps need to be taken next.”