Iceland-born multimedia artist-architect Gudjon Bjarnason’s sculptures are on show at Lalit Kala Akademi. He talks about what brought him to India, his design philosophy and work

Finally, I have met a truly global citizen. Gudjon Bjarnason, Iceland-born international multimedia artist and professional architect, studied law/philosophy in Reykjavik, art/architecture in the U.S. and worked and exhibited in the U.S., South America and Europe for decades. “The fashion industry brought me to India three years ago, and I got to know Roopa Shetty (Asharaa),” he said. Living in Puducherry and Chennai, he has been collaborating with Roopa on several projects — luxury residences, hotels, resorts and cultural buildings like exhibition halls. And his architecturally-informed sculptures are on show at the Lalit Kala Akademi.

Playing a word game

Talking to Gudjon Bjarnason is like playing a word game. You pose a question and he picks up a keyword for analysis. You can’t get a word in as he takes you through its etymology, usage, interpretations, history and quotes. The dissertation ends each time with “framing sentences using the word.” In these pieces of linguistic discourse lie his philosophy of art and architecture, his idea of building, observations of life, artistic achievements, ambitions — and reasons why his designs have won awards and cultural grants. You begin to see the artist/architect, why, Iceland itself, in a new light.

Word one is “architecture”. It's being modern, contemporary, open and liberated in form, he said. It is about refinement, innovation, breaking the shoebox. His is dynamic architecture, representing the 21st Century, with sharper surfaces — simple, but with exciting combinations of forms. They are dynamic designs for contemporary times. Well-made architecture is planning to suit environment and climatic conditions. “I aim to merge art and architecture into one entity. It's a sell-off for open, creative thinking.” Phew!

On “traditions”: “I do respect tradition, but I want to move ahead. I see myself as a forerunner of change, of new aesthetics, new ways of living.” Vaastu will be part of the evolving traditions. New structures will “play tango, dance around a standing partner.” It is an amalgamation of old and new, a dynamic conversation with history. Like yesterday and today, they can co-exist, but not mingle. It's following rules/codes but creating something anew. Lyrically put, I said. Iceland is a literary country, he said. It’s isolated; 3 lakh people have to learn to live in a common world. And architecture is about communication; it has a psychological side to it.

Of India, he's politically correct. “I had a sense that spirituality matters here,” he said. “I'm curious about its culture, mythology and the openness of the Indian mind.” His India portfolio shows large, open designs — farm houses overlooking water-bodies/mountains/backwaters. There's this beach villa in Mamallapuram, farm villa in Pollachi (‘agriculture’ includes a Latin word for ‘creativity’), museum and hotel in Pondy, spa on the East coast… The one in Meghalaya is shaped like a snow crystal: “Everyone living beneath the Himalayas will identify with it.” It's “ordinary” turned into “interesting”.

India is ready for “liberation”, he insists. People are ready for experimentation. People want to live differently, informally. Small, un-regimented families take decisions quickly. There is a great emphasis on health and well-being and an appreciation of novelty of form. They understand living is not about being confined; living spaces must be open to natural elements. My plans use green energies visually, democratically. The spa, with its loudspeaker-like units, has a public pool. “Be the change you want to see.”

Cities have no space! To create a sense of space in a small area is a challenge, he agrees. You work against the impossible, create poetry out of a stale situation. Treat small as a spiritual entity. Engage gracefully with Nature, let the light in. Breathe, be calm, comfortable. Create something uniquely yours. Allow architecture to transform the way you live.

Twin interest

On his two lives: His artistic exploration goes beyond the conscious mind. It's chaotic, but results in “unexpected” forms. It is architecture in the embryonic state. Art is the interplay of light/shadow; architecture is the product of artistic thinking. Art is the dream, architecture the underlying reality. It has to meet client needs, “but we offer creative solutions to basic requirements.” The project is a journey, “we won't take it up if we feel it won't work.”

The dissertation ends with “optimism”. “Optimism is the main feature of architecture,” he says. It is the core of making. Plans are grouped around optimism, they should inspire optimism. Does optimism come...? He guesses the question. “Iceland has no trees, nothing is hidden from view. You have to create cleverly.” India's teeming millions form a contrast to his country, but “I love extremes. That's when you're most alive.” Weather? “I lived in a fridge for seven months, I enjoy the warm climate.”