Any ideas our man Matthew Hull might have had of introducing the NICE Festival of Nordic Arts with a cheap joke about a Viking invasion of the North West was immediately deflated once the Director imparted his name…
‘It’s Ingi Thor. Like the god with the hammer. I know, how typically Nordic. Sometimes I think my parents were on something.’ We both laugh, but the fact that the organiser of the NICE Festival should share his name with the Norse god of storms (and let’s get this out of the way, the Marvel Comics superhero too) feels apt, given that the central theme of the festival seems to be the jostling co-existence between the traditional and the contemporary.
Across the broad reach of festival events our popular associations with Nordic culture are reinforced and up-ended in equal measure. In Chester, Viking-Festival-Heritage hosts a programme of family friendly activities exploring the area’s historical relationship with Norsemen. Yet in the Nordic contingent of City States at Liverpool CUC, the viewer is on less familiar ground, with film, art and performance focusing on subjects that range from the impact of the urban environment on behaviour patterns in Norway to the visual appeal of the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which caused so much disruption to air traffic earlier this year.
Whilst it does look at contemporary art and design, with an exhibition of sculpture at Islington Mill and pattern-work at the Whitworth Art Gallery, NICE seems to have no issue with celebrating the glories of the region’s rich artistic heritage. Expressionist master Edvard Munch is thus represented by a new lecture on his work while, only a few weeks ago, a festival preview in honour of another popular, and infinitely cuddlier, cultural export was the cause of great excitement. ‘The Moomins event at the Whitworth was such a huge triumph,’ says Thor. ‘It was totally sold out and everyone was telling us how much they enjoyed it – completely fantastic. There is such affection for the Moomins.’
It hasn’t all been such an unqualified success, though, and Thor is disarmingly straight about the challenges he has faced putting the festival together. ‘It’s difficult to run something like this in the current climate, and cuts have meant the PPP (Past, Present, Perfect) design exhibition has had to be cancelled, but we go on surviving.’
In spite of the hardships, Thor is convinced that NICE provides vital to exposure for Nordic artists. ‘The whole idea behind NICE is to create links between the arts in Nordic countries and the North West and that is extremely important if the scene is going to continue to thrive. A lot of artists think everything is in London, but I tell them that if they really want to succeed they have to come to Manchester and Liverpool. Sure, people will come to see your work in London but they will all be from the Nordic expatriate community, and where is the achievement in having these people see your show? The real critics are in the North.’
NICE Nordic Art and Cultural Festival, venues across North West, 18 November-2 December. Viking-Festival-Heritage, 18 September-16 December, Grosvenor Museum, Chester, free. City States, Nordic Pavillion, CUC, Liverpool. Until 28 November, free. Sculpture: 13 by Seven, Islington Mill, until 28 November, free. Design: Edith Lundebrekke, Whitworth Art Gallery, until 29 November, free. Edvard Munch and the Art of Scandinavia, 24 November, 1:30pm, Grosvenor Museum, Chester, free. Images (top to bottom): Kaerar Kvedjur; Parhain Terveisin; NICE festival.