Faces of the Faroe Islands
We shouldn’t be here in the first place. There is no rational explanation for our settlement on these islands; they are far too remote, far too small, far too hostile for humans. They are perfect for birds of passage, not for tenants. And yet, here we are, 48,000 people, humanised, civilised, even globalised, having braved the adverse circumstances through the centuries.
Looking back at the history of the Faroe Islands there is little to suggest that we would have anything unique to offer the rest of the world other than our great skills in fishing and living off scarce natural resources. As for the arts, our country could never have fostered geniuses like Shakespeare or Mozart simply because circumstances and stimuli to nurture artistic talent were not present. Art was of no use. It was not a profession, nor a desired skill. Perhaps not even a word in the vocabulary.
However, the Faroe Islands were by no means culturally poor or deprived. In fact, the vocal traditions have been exceptionally rich and versatile, one reason being that the written Faroese language was not established until 1854, and not accepted in public by the Danish authorities until 1938. All stories, myths, songs and ballads were handed down from one generation to the next orally, and people had to learn by heart to take part in this exchange, which today sums up most of our cultural heritage. Again, remoteness played a decisive part in the development; as there were no musical instruments of significance until the mid 1800s the voice was the only music-making tool available, and as a result singing is deeply anchored in our national identity. One of the most unique cultural features is the chain dance, which originally was a mediaeval ring dance. Today, we call it the Faroese chain dance, and rightly so as it has only managed to survive in the Faroe Islands. The rhythm is quite quirky and the ballads about kings and heroes may have several hundred verses. The captain leads the singing and everybody joins in the chorus. The symbolic significance of the chain dance is the full circle of people from all walks of life who hold each other’s hands and meet face-to-face while sharing a moment of true common ground.
Today the artistic talent of the Faroese people seems to take everybody by surprise, even ourselves. The wondering seems to be linked to the question how creative and innovative ideas can possibly inhabit the mindset of a people whose feet are firmly planted on Faroese soil, and whose possibilities to seek new creative spheres have been next to none. Being physically isolated does not put people’s minds into straitjackets, quite the contrary; the mind craves for adventure as it is denied the body. The remoteness, smallness and lack of interaction even have their merits, because sometimes ideas become more unique and original far away from the interference of the established common consensus.
Art is a universal means of expression. The need to express creative ideas is as old as mankind. There is little evidence as to what exactly triggers creativity; is it the everyday impressions of nature, ocean, weather, light, colours, horizon, and mountains, that embrace us? Is it the chants, ballads, myths, stories, values, and traditions that are handed down to us? Or is it simply the urge of the individual to excel? Who can tell? Who cares? The essence of art is that it is not scientifically discoverable like dna. Rather, it has a life of its own; it sprouts in the creative mind, and once it has been publicly expressed it takes a life of its own in the mind of the receiver.
Much has happened in the Faroe Islands during the past 30 years. The world has become a smaller place; remoteness is no longer a hindrance to dreams being fulfilled or new territories being conquered. The benefit of being able to interact and benchmark with the outside world is that one becomes aware of one’s unique talent and the importance of being authentic. Although Faroese people have easy access to the rest of world via transport and internet networks, there is still enough delay to let the authentic artistic identity take shape.
There is new art to be discovered in every nook and cranny of the world. There are new faces waiting to be seen on the international stages every day. Some make it, others don’t, but to most of them it is all about the journey. Here are but a few of the home-grown Faroese artists who have started their journey and whose talent is inspired by a common point of origin and departure – the heart of the North Atlantic.
Teitur – singer and storyteller
“As a teenager, the darkness set in – as it does, he explains, when you live in a country where sunshine can give way to storms in a matter of minutes, and when your parents are going through a divorce. "I'd run home, and write lyrics, wake up early, write lyrics, every weekend, writing lyrics. It was my way of escaping." It helped him escape the country physically, too.” Jude Rogers, the Guardian, October 2009.
Eivør – spellbinding fairy
Eivør is driven by her passion for music, she is deeply rooted in her homeland’s strong heritage. What makes her so special is not just her inspiring and breathtaking voice, but the fact that she is an all-round artist – a painter, storyteller, poet and composer. All this creative energy combines into a spellbinding and remarkable expression on stage, which has the ability to touch the innermost and unexplored emotions in its audiences. www.eivor.com
ORKA – original beyond origin
The musical universe ORKA creates is unique, like nothing else, and their live
performances are as shifting as the weather of their homeland, at times like the whisper of a
summer day, and at times as the scream of a deadly December storm. ”Charismatic, absurdly talented, and possibly the most original band we’ve ever witnessed”. www.myspace.com/orkaonline
Lena – suitcase full of stories
Lovely and troubled at the same time you can say that Lena Anderssen is a mysterious hybrid of north meets west. With roots on both sides of the world, and a suitcase full of journeys and stories, this Faroese-Canadian songbird has gone from singing to pass the time as she worked in a coffee shop in the Faroe Islands to recording her latest album Let Your Scars Dance in London's Abbey Road studio. This year, she has voted best female singer at the Just Plain Folks awards in Nashville. www.myspace.com/lenamusicroom
Búi Dam – one of a kind
American R&B isn’t on the mind of Budam, a singer from the Faroe Islands, who’s taking part in the festival-long showcase of the Islands’ music at L’Aire Libre, an out-of-town theatre. He’s mesmeric, theatrically blending the Threepenny Opera with Billy Holliday. Nick Cave and Tom Waits fans will need to make room for him.
Týr - tradition with a twist
A distinctive trademark that sets TYR apart from most other bands of the “Viking Metal” genre is the authenticity of their music: “Traditional music dating back to the Vikings, that is not preserved anywhere else in the world, not even in Iceland, is passed on in an oral tradition here and it is still alive and well. That is what we build our music on and draw great inspiration from”. Almost every song is based on Faroese or Norwegian lore, and is riveted in the garb of the Folk Metal genre. Its approach unmistakably creates very true Viking Metal. www.myspace.com/tyr1
Tróndur Bogason – curious contrasts
The music of Tróndur Bogason has a distinctive and ghostlike character - filled with temperament and primal force. His music contains a dramaturgy in which the use of spatial and visual aspects often play a dominant role, and where the music creates an absurd theater like world of great contrasts. He has won several 1. prizes in composition competitions and his music has been performed by wide selection of Faroese and international performers around the world. www.composers.fo
Sunleif Rasmussen – raindrops in notes
“One of the first things I remember is the sound of water. The endless rain on the iron roof in my native village, a sound reminiscent of distant clapping after performances in the world's concert halls, the sound of water in overflowing gutters and splashing down-pipes running into the gravel and out into ditches and streams.” The composer knows about idyll and threats along a frontier of indefinable yearning, which may well be an image of a particular Faroese feeling. Sunleif Rasmussen says that his upbringing in this special place in the world has been of decisive importance to him, ever since he first began to think in notes. Sunleif Rasmussen is the first Faroese composer to have been performed outside the Faroes to any significant extent. He has a significant international career. www.danishmusic.info
Heiðrik á Heygum – multitalented film maker
Heiðrik is a musician and film director and at only 25 years of age Heiðrik has great experience in different types of artistic genres for instance photography, scenography, moviemaking and music. Although a film industry is practically non-existing in the Faroe Islands, Heiðrik has chosen to work in the business. Heiðrik is therefore quite a pioneer, which also means that he has to do most of the work himself as there are no professionals on the islands. But Heiðrik takes this as a challenge and it enables him to gain an insight to all the areas of film making. www.nuff.no
Sámal Blak – visual wizard
One of the young up-and-coming visual artist who has just won the Linbury Prize for Stage Design in the UK is Sámal Blak. He has been commissioned to work on Birmingham Opera’s Othello. Samal graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2009. www.cvenues.com
Tróndur Patursson – recognizable abstracts
Tróndur Patursson is ‘nature-inspired’ in the sense that he feels inspired to render visible that which is essential – the metaphysical and spiritual dimensions – behind nature’s visible forms of manifestation. What is especially characteristic of Tróndur Patursson’s artworks is that the artist has animated them with his distinctly cosmic sensibility about nature. This has always been a vital part of his being. Even more than this, he has nurtured this sensibility in his mind through participating in a number of extraordinary expeditions across the globe’s vast oceans with the Irish seafarer Tim Severin. Tróndur Patursson’s overall artistic profit from his sea travels with Severin manifests itself as a strengthening of the "ocean feeling", which means to say, of that cosmic sensibility about nature that constitutes his true basis of his artistic work. www.trondurpatursson.dk
Hansina Iversen - colourful canvas
Hansina Iversens works have strong roots in the Faroe Islands, in the North Atlantic. Her big strong-coloured surfaces weaves their way across the canvas; they carry some connections with the concrete painting, but figurative they are not. Against the trend of the day with lots of figurative traffic on the canvas, Iversen has her own style. The painting have a deep tranquility, a viewpoint that is unusual for a young artist. Undaunted by contrasting colours, form, hints of figuration, she lets color be dominating. Her refreshing approach to art is probably due to her Faroese background, and to her professional training and teaching at the academies of Iceland, and Helsinki, Finland, where art traditions are different from those of the Danish academies. www.bie-vadstrup.com
Rúni Brattaberg – meets the Met
The Faroese Bass Rúni Brattaberg first graduated as a documentary photographer in Copenhagen, before he trained to be a singer. He studied at the Sibelius Academy Helsinki, the International Operastudio Zürich and privately with Wentzeslav Katsarov in Bulgaria. In 2008 he made his debut at the Paris Opera Bastille, and in April 2009 the Metropolitan Opera New York engaged him as cover for Hagen in the Ring. www.musicaglotz.com
Guðrun & Guðrun – silent inspiration
Guðrun & Guðrun is owned by two Faroese women and the creative process of their design is very closely linked to the isolation of the Faroe Islands. “It’s good to come to Europe for input and inspiration, but it’s crucial to come back home to the silence and not be disturbed by the hectic life of fashion” the designer concludes. Most of the pieces are handmade by Faroese and Jordanian women, not to mention mostly organic. Most of their sweaters are made from 100% untreated and un-dyed Faroese wool from sheep living on unfertilized grass in the mountains all year round.www.gudrungudrun.com
Barbara í Gongini – aesthetic mastermind
bARBARA Í gONGINI creates clothing, which is at the leading edge of the trade. bARBARA Í gONGINI furthermore participates very actively in the artistic debate in the Nordic countries. During the work, interdisciplinary co-operation with other artists within music, photography, film, etc, is emphasised and this co-operation nourishes inspiration during the design process itself. www.barbaraigongini.dk
Pál Joensen – works wonders
He has just created a sensation in three different international swimming championships and won three medals in the last 20 days. How can this 18 year old swimmer who’s training has taken place in a 25 m pool in his home town Vágur win three medals and set three new Nordic records? Talent is one thing but the exceptionally strong will and determination to use one’s potential irrespective of poor circumstances, in the end, is the biggest make-it-or-break-it factor of all talents, in sports and arts alike.