I am Sigurd Sigurdssonsdottirsson. THE Sigurd Sigurdssonsdottirsson. If that rings no bell, you are an irredeemable ignoramus.
I am an artist. An Icelandic artist. An Icelandic confrontation artist. What is a confrontation artist? you may ask. Well, isn’t it obvious, you less-than-useless secretion of sputum. A confrontation artist does confrontation art.
Confrontation art — I’ll use simple words and go slowly so you can understand — is not pretty pictures in a museum, but here-and-now, in-your-face. It is art because it says it is art, just as a milk bottle is a work of art when you realize it has a shape that somebody must have created. Confrontation art deals with the most basic and intense of our emotions — shock, rage, apoplexy — and with the physical manifestations of these emotions — scars, fractures, significant hearing loss.
My entire life has been devoted to the pursuit of these truths. At the age of one, I tried out my new tooth by biting my mother’s nipple so severely that she dropped me onto our dog, who, in turn, attacked my father, who, in turn, spilled hot coffee on my older sister, who, to this day, retains a small slug-shaped mark on her right shoulder that reminds her why she hates coffee … and me.
In the second grade, I willfully ignored the left-margin line on our penmanship exercise paper, and began each new entry at the absolute edge. I had hoped to provoke our teacher, but all I got was a simpering “My, that’s unusual.” Cretin!
In my twenties, I hacked into the Icelandic Bureau of Standards and Measures web-site and subtracted seven minutes from each day. If you were not so abysmally ill-informed, you would know the effect this had on Iceland’s stock market, international air connections, and watchmaking industry.
Though these were good, they were just pranks, not genuine confrontations. But, in 2007, I achieved a breakthrough. In early March, in over three thousand households, school children I had recruited and trained put their hands over their ears, jumped up and down, and screamed, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you,” when their parents told them to turn off the TV and go to bed. The effect was brilliant, beginning with a few outbursts at about 8 o’clock, reaching a climax at 9 o’clock, and subsiding to utter silence by 10:30.
As successful as this was, I saw that, to the parents, these were singular incidents. The children, to avoid even bigger trouble, kept the secret, and I could not betray them. So, no one else realized there was a design and a designer — an artist — behind it. To be art, those involved have to know it’s art, that someone has created it. A glorious sunset may be nature at its best, but it isn’t art until someone illustrates it, but I’m starting to repeat myself, which probably none of you is astute enough to have noticed.
By 2009, I felt I had found a solution. For the running of the Iceland Marathon, I recruited 40 native, male, thirty-somethings who looked almost exactly alike (in Iceland, this is not difficult), and dressed them exactly the same, featuring a purple shirt with a red tie — not too garish or obvious, but jarring enough to catch the eye. I stationed one in the front spectator row, at the starting line and at each two-kilometer interval along the entire race course. As the runners passed, each confederate would give the same, modest Queen Elizabeth wave until every runner had passed.
In the end, nearly two-thirds of the over-4,000 runners, including all the favorites, had become so bewildered and disoriented that they dropped out or, at best, finished in a dazed walk. Some had to be institutionalized for months.
Success! But I faced the same dilemma as before. Unless I acknowledged authorship, no one — not runners or spectators — would realize that they had been part of an elaborate public work of confrontation art, my confrontation art.
It was unthinkable that I should leave everyone in ignorance, but I knew, too, that I would suffer the consequences of my revelation. Still, I told my story and I served my time — six months for public mischief (with no time off for good behavior).
Interestingly, while I was in prison, opinion about my creation, and all my other art works that now came to light, began to shift from antipathy to admiration. Iceland was in the middle of a monstrous banking crisis (for which, public rumor notwithstanding, I bore no responsibility) and debate raged whether the country should thumb its nose at, or bend its knee to, its foreign creditors. Unwittingly, I became the symbol of the confrontationalist side.
How the country finally worked its way out of the crisis is unimportant here. But the situation convinced Icelanders that our reputation for Nordic niceness won us little influence in the world, gained us few international contracts, and gave no boost to tourism.
As a result, a new government cabinet position was created — Minister of Confrontation — with me its first incumbent. If you visit Iceland today, you will see the fruits of my initiatives: greeting signs at the airport: Iceland — Volcanic by Nature and Nurture, and, Putting the Ice Back Into Iceland; a new look for the ubiquitous Happy Face signs, and a modified greeting — Have a Day; a Bronx-like cheer — Yeah!? — from our newly-imported taxi drivers; and, in our many delis, a similar New York edge to our waiters, who steadfastly ignore your wildest gesticulations, but leap to your side the moment you have a mouthful of lox, inquiring, Is anything all right?