Interview with Andri Snær Magnason

For the final part of today’s YAIC conference, British journalist Adam Webb chatted to Andri Snær Magnason about his best-selling book Dreamland and about the creative sector in Iceland.

Andri talked about how the themes of the book are relevant now, in the sense of how the creative scene became politicised around the time of the crash and the search for alternatives to government plans to sell off the land and build aluminium smelters etc.

Repeating the main thrust of Dreamland, Andri pointed out how these big plans to save the economy are generally based on shaky foundations and unsustainable, whereas stimulating local businesses is a much more creative and interesting alternative.

“Iceland’s creative spirit really buffered the crash, he said. “There were endless small initiatives that weren’t necessarily big or strong, but all together they gave a sense of hope and created necessary activity. There is a special virtue in doing something; it helps you keep a sense of dignity when you’ve lost your job.”

Adam asked about why Andri wanted to be a writer when he comes from a family of doctors and surgeons. “Before the Sugarcubes, everyone wanted to be a poet. If you came to a cafe in Reykjavik 25 years you would have been harassed not by musicians but by three young poets with their manuscript. Afterwards they wanted to be musicians and I missed the trend and didn’t learn any instruments.”

Of the country’s economic crash and subsequent attempts to selloff the land, Andri remarked that for many Icelandic artists it was “necessary to step out of art and into activism. Many visual artists saw these places in nature were greater than anything they could create so they took people walking, to give them a bigger life experience than they would get in a gallery. I personally did the same. I found it strange to try and write a novel. Why? To amuse someone? Someone who might destroy everything I think is holy?”

He also talked of his current “creative activism” project: with some other friends he has taken over an old coal fired power plant that had been empty for 25 years, and using it for all kinds of projects from creating underwear to building the world’s first electric racing car. “We have almost no finance, so we’re letting it happen on a day to day basis. But our project manager just got employed by a big company here in Iceland, which we’re very proud of even though we now need to find a replacement.”