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Mental Energy & Sunsets: Armchair Travel in Iceland


Bookmark: Mental Energy & Sunsets by Jón Gunnar Árnason

Waypoint: You’ll see many in this post!

The name Jón Gunnar Árnason might not mean anything to you at first, but if I mention the Sun Voyager (or Solfar) in Reyjkavik, Iceland, the image will more than likely immediately come to mind. Perhaps one of the more outstanding man-made sights in Iceland, the Sun Voyager (64.1473281,-21.9224787) stands proudly in downtown Reyjkavik, not too far away from the Orchestra hall and overlooking the sea. The Sun Voyager was actually one of the few things I did manage to see in Iceland after a series of weather related travel disasters. While it looks like the Sun Voyager is a modern interpretation of a Viking Ship, it is actually meant to be a “dreamboat” or an “ode to the sun” by Jón Gunnar Arnason. Arnason won a competition in 1986 to design a sculpture to celebrate Reykjavik’s 200th anniversary.

The sculpture was installed and opened to the public in 1990 even though Arnason sadly lost his battle with cancer the year before. There were rumours floating around that the sculpture was actually a representation of his soon-to-be voyage into the afterlife, and a way of his coming to terms with his own death. While touching and oddly devastating, this wasn’t true. The sculpture was meant to evoke light and hope, encompassing dreams, progress, undiscovered territory, and the warmth of the sun.

If you take a step further and try to find other works by Arnason you’ll inevitably get disoriented. His complete work isn’t cataloged online (for those who like to plan their travel itinerary down to the minute), From 1978, Arnason retained a sun & cosmic energy theme throughout his work although he had a few seemingly divergent periods prior to this. It can be argued that those eventually fed into his cosmic energy work. There is a book that exists entitled “Mental Energy and Sunsets”, but from my armchair, the only version I could find is written in Icelandic.

With the help of various sources (see note below), I was able to cobble together some of his cosmic energy related work and perhaps one of the most fascinating results was seeing the motley crew of locations where his work ended up. Below, I’ve listed 5 of his works, their known GPS and the Google Maps screenshot, and a brief history of the location / sculpture.

Apart from the Sun Voyager, his work can be found at:

Location: a Shopping Mall
Name: Sólarauga
Coordinates: 64.1082864,-21.8450889
Located in the parking lot of the Mjoddin Shopping mall, the Sólarauga (translated as ‘Sun Eye”) is a 23 x 16 ft metal sculpture created in 1982. The flat circle near the top of the sculpture is meant to evoke the sun with the pipe shaped arms stretching from and around the cardinal points representing the rays of the sun. It is meant to represent energy and the circle of life and the power of the sun.

Location: a Government Agency
Name: Loft
Coordinates: 64.142298,-21.9133964
Entitled “Loft” (translated as ‘Air’), this sculpture is located within the compound of the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs and part of it is visible from the street. There isn’t much information online about it but it measures 25 x 15ft and was created in 1982.

Picture taken from the website of the Reykjavik Art Museum

Location: Everywhere?
Name: Sólvagninn
Coordinates: Unknown
The origin of this sculpture is taken from the collection of stories in Norse Mythology called Snorra-Edda. In the story, there were two siblings, a brother and a sister. They were so beautiful that their father named them Moon and Sun respectively. This angered the Gods who took them both and put them up in the sky. Sun was forced to drive the horses and chariot that pulled the sun that the Gods had created to light the worlds. The Sculpture is a representation of this story, and was created with the intention of it being a movable exhibit and not created to stay in one location (especially not inside). The Sculpture has been displayed in various outdoor locations and sections are mirror-plated. It is meant to incorporate external elements (like the rays and reflection of the sun) as part of the sculpture, giving it an actual cosmic energy element. As such, the look of the sculpture changes as its location changes due to the angle at which the rays of the sun hit it.

Photo taken from Snorri Freyr Snorrason

Location: Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city
Coordinates: (Original) 65.681095,-18.0881669
Name: Sigling
Translated into English as “Sailing”, this work was created in 1986 installed in Akureyri in 1990 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative of Eyafjöður, the name of the fjord at the end of which is Akureyri. It is often referred to as a sister to the Sun Voyager. Originally located at coordinates listed above, the sculpture was moved in 2014 (Google Maps image is 2013) to a spot along the waterfront as it was felt that the beauty was hidden in its original location. Additionally, with the name and design of the sculpture it seemed only appropriate to have it moved to somewhere that overlooked the water.

Location: Reykjavik Art Museum
Coordinates: 64.138499,-21.9132067
Name: RTS 17 – Homo Technicus
Homo Technicus is the description for the next stage in Human Evolution. In 1969 Arnason created a work with this name, which was exhibited at the Reykjvaik Art Museum as part of their exhibit “Yearning for Space.” The Gallery descrbed the Exhibit by noting that “Although mankind is constrained to the earth, the same cannot be said for technology or the flight of imagination. The exhibition presents Modernism’s dreams and nightmares of a future hinted at in the dramatic technological advances of the 20th century. Exhibited are works where the artists aim to give physical shape to the concept of technology through idea and form.” Arnason’s general themes fit into this quite neatly.

Picture taken from the website of the Reykjavik Art Museum


In today’s instant gratification culture, its rare to have to put too much work into deep research. You’ll type a phrase in, and in .02 of a second (depending on your internet speed), you’ll have a listing of hundreds of relevant results. My search for Jón Gunnar Árnason was nothing like that and yet I feel all the richer for it. My interest in Art comes and goes. There are few works that actually evoke a reaction from me, and the reaction likelihood is far increased when I know the meaning or backstory of the artist. I also think that its possible to react retroactively, which is what happened to me with Arnason. In writing this article, I was bowled over by the assistance and works of a number of people. I’d like to thank and credit the following people:

– Rosa at the National Gallery of Iceland. She was able to direct me to a listing of some of his works. While he is most known for his sculptures, he dabbled in art as well, and you can find a listing of his works on the Gallery website.

– Júlía from The Association of Icelandic Visual Artists / Samband íslenskra myndlistarmanna, SÍM. She was incredibly helpful and even translated some text written in Icelandic for me.

– A fantastic paper written by Snorri Freyr Snorrason in 2011. If you interested in some of his earlier works and more details on the concepts I’ve touched on here, this is the paper for you. Note: It is written in Icelandic.

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