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Gústav Geir Bollason

Gústav Geir Bollason is an artist and filmmaker living in the north of Iceland, in the small coastal village of Hjalteyri. He manages the local art space "Verksmiðjan á Hjalteyri", which—although remote—has gained attention and accolades especially for its film programs, video installations, and experimental music workshops.
Bollason’s own artistic practice is primarily a response to landscape and the life it harbours. Creating drawings, found-object sculptures, animations, videos, and films, he often combines these media in installations that give rise to fictional extensions of reality. In his filmmaking of landscape narratives—situated somewhere between art films, documentary accounts, and subjective fictions—Bollason works alongside other local residents in his interventions in situ and allows the settings to comprise an expansion of his atelier. Shooting mainly around the northern Icelandic coast where he lives, he also films in the island’s barren highlands and at sea, often focusing on liminal zones, wastelands, and ruins. These sites afford rich exploration of subjects including environmental change, energy and material use, and entropy as well as the stories and myths embedded in landscapes. In disorder and decay, Bollason highlights the opportunities offered by change and the passage of time.
Bollason studied at the Icelandic College of Art and Crafts (now Iceland University of the Arts) in Reykjavík and the Hungarian University of Fine Arts in Budapest. He graduated from L’École Nationale supérieure d’arts de Paris-Cergy in 1995, and lived in Paris until 1999 before returning to north Iceland.

His film Mannvirki was a finalist in the Best Experimental Documentary category at Experimental Brasil 2024.

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1- Can you share with us what initially inspired you to become an artist and filmmaker, particularly in the context of living in the remote village of Hjalteyri in Iceland?


It's been a long time, I was still a child when I wanted to be an artist. I think landscape, nature and its stories and myths shaped me already when I was at a young age, I grew up in the middle of it. So I always come back to my landscape which I'm part of from the very beginning. I work a lot in a studio but it's also very important to work outside, on-site.


2- Your artistic practice is deeply connected to landscapes and their inhabitants. Could you elaborate on how these themes influence your work, particularly in relation to your home in northern Iceland?


I think it's very important that I know these places that appear and are the subjects of my work so well and that they are close by. Especially for my film projects, both Mannvirki and previous feature film Carcasse, it really made them possible. The ideas, memories and the feelings for the landscape and sites could take shape and form over a very long period of time, visiting and revisiting. It was also practical and economic because my projects have always been low budget and then it makes everything easier to know the places and people and not have to travel too far to get there.

I can say that I'm connected to inhabitants in my nearest surroundings in many ways. I grew up among farmers and fishermen, therefore I also knew early on animals: domestic and others, on land and at sea. Stories of them and also visiting animals like bears and walruses.

I know generations of inhabitants living here, humans and nonhumans – and of course newcomers as well.


3- "Mannvirki" is described as a contemplative tale of adaptation to a ravaged environment. What inspired the storyline and setting of this film?


I usually work with or am interested in the «damaged» landscape, the idea of an altered landscape, by man and the beings he brings along with him. Both materials and animals, their entanglements, and the effects they have on their environnement.

As for the storyline it isn't linear, it's more like a mosaic of rather abstract stories and «micro» events. Sometimes references or arranged actions with performers, also real processes or developments in nature, erosion, animals, symbiosis and often almost invisible things or happenings.

It is therefore more like a visual and sonor poem, sparse and minimalistic.


4- In "Mannvirki," the disused factory serves as a central protagonist. How did you conceptualize and develop the character of the building throughout the film?


The factory has its own initial story that I know rather well, but I never really refer to it in the film. I think it's important that the viewers only feel or sense it but they don't have to know it.

It's post-capitalist ruins, and I think it's important that the structure is perceived as ruins. We tend to think about ruins as something from the past but they are mostly from the future – everything man-made turns into ruins, it's important for this notion of a circuit/loop or répétitions you notice during the film. It is also stated in the prologue.

The title Mannvirki means structure, also fortress and everything that's made with the hands of man. I think about the edifice as an entity and a fusion of a manmade structure and nature in the center of this story and its landscape. The film is a landscape narrative. In the process before and in the making of it, the structure served very much as an observatory, even a laboratory for me. You start to see so many happenings there: symbiosis of algae and fungus, little islands of moss forming on the rooftops, and the passage & visits of animals. An assemblage of vibrant matter and living organic, animals – small and big - the weather and the erosion.

A part of the building is already into water and it's possible to see some of its structure there as well but enveloped in kelp and wrack.


5- How do you approach collaboration and working with others in your artistic projects, whether they be fellow filmmakers, artists, or community members?


I write down my ideas, and I both write and draw the scenes I film with actors. It's to explain to them the ideas, the use of the tools - which I make – and also to show them the frames and the movements of the camera.

When I work with my editor she reads my notes and texts and looks thoroughly into the footage and we talk about the ideas and the tempo, the methods etc. It's similar when I work with a sound-designer, musician etc. They are all artists so it's more a discussion about the project and how to proceed. It's important that their creativity and style is respected.
I usually like to be presented as an artist and filmmaker rather than director.


6- The film features both human and non-human characters interacting with the factory ruins. What message or theme were you aiming to convey through these characters' actions and interactions?


Most of the characters' actions and interactions are quite prosaic and banal, even when they seem totally absurd. They make compost and garden, they hunt mushrooms, and they gather. What they do with it isn't very constructive though, it's all in vain and becomes part of the entropy and erosion. It's similar for other beings or non-human.


The human characters are secondary in the story, but that often happens for example in documentaries where the subject, in focus, is something else. The most important though is that I didn't want this film story to be anthropocentric, I wanted to have its beings all a bit on the same level or on a similar scale.


I didn't think of a message or anything in that terms, but we know there is much more than humans in the world.


7- "Mannvirki" is noted for its observational cinematography and deliberate compositions. Could you discuss your stylistic choices and how they contribute to the film's overall tone and narrative?


Probably it's a bit like a painting - as it is conceived and composed. It is made to perceive, look and hear.
I think I rather appreciate a minimalistic approach toward films, but likely it's also the landscape I know and appreciate that is sparse, desolate and emotional.


8- The film explores themes of environmental change, entropy, and the passage of time. How do these themes intersect with the characters' experiences and the setting of the film?


I think I observed and pictured the characters and other beings and matters as a living assemblage in an ocean of time.

The most visual and emblematic examples for environmental changes and entropy are the two biggest structures: the concrete building partly in water and the traveling iceberg seen in the beginning, which we can imagine slowly melting away along the story.
They talk for themselves.


9-As a filmmaker rooted in the Icelandic landscape, how do you navigate the balance between documentary observation and speculative fiction in your storytelling?


I think the landscape, weather and architecture were filmed from a certain documentary angle and with such intentions.


It's all based on observations in situ, also many of the scenes with characters that are written and directed. Tools they are using are made out of material found on-site and they interact with them directly on the surface of the building and it's surroundings.


Three scenes at least are references to artworks and such stories, but they are about monsters, ghosts and transformations Some of them like the oarsman on the lake show birdlike movements on water some others insect-like metamorphosis.


I think/hope it's all in balance, fits the same ideas


10- Finally, "Mannvirki" seems to evoke a timeless dreamscape, oscillating between past, present, and future. What do you hope audiences will take away from this journey through your film?


It's maybe timeless but not really because I wanted to have there all times, or all notions of time and somehow look through or behind it if possible.

We live within the space of artificial time or mechanical which is fictitious. I wanted somehow to pull out of it by showing the seasons and the animals, in water and visiting on the wing. The people, sometimes as in the beginning of it all. With stones and rubble reconstructing, working with primitive tools etc and turning the "telluric" hourglass.
But in the distance at the horizon big cargos are passing by.

I think I would want audiences to think of/remember Mannvirki as a dream.

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