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Saemundur Thor Helgason - The Fellowship of Citizens

Fellowship of Citizens
Saemundur thor Helgason

Fellowship of Citizens is London-based artist Saemundur Thor Helgason’s first solo exhibition in London. The exhibition will formally launch the interest group Félag Borgara (or in English ‘Fellowship of Citizens’) founded by Saemundur Thor Helgason in Reykjavik in October 2017, which aims to lobby for basic income in Iceland through apolitical means.

Part of arebyte’s 2018 programme Islands, the interest group seeks to demonstrate the feasibility of a financing scheme which operates as an economic island, a microcosmic financial system, lobbying for basic income in Iceland. The work operates on a national scale due to legal restrictions, but financially supports  BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network), an international organisation that advocates for basic income [1] worldwide.

Fellowship of Citizens aims to fund BIEN with regular payments raised by a national lottery called ‘Happdrætti Listamanna’ (or ‘Artist Lottery’), open to all citizens of Iceland. In Iceland, the Listamannalaun (or artist salary) annually awards a given number of artists a monthly basic income for 3 months to up to 2 years. If we imagine (as Joseph Beuys did), that everyone is an artist, in some ways this could be seen as analogous minimum basic income. Bearing this in mind, the lottery campaign will address all citizens as if they were artists. Slogans include “Who creates more masterpieces at dinner, you or Warhol?”, “Embrace your inner artist”, “Are you a good cook, by Duchamp’s standards?”, “Who’s the better karaoke queen: You or Marina Abramović?”.

Happdrætti Listamanna does not pose as a micro pilot for basic income but serves as a tool for hype – promoting the idea of basic income. Due to legal restrictions on small-scale lotteries in Iceland, the first prize cannot be money, or quasi-money, but must be a commodity or a service.

Thus, for the inaugural lottery draw, taking place later this year, the first and only prize is I’m feeling lucky, a 100g, 18K gold artwork by the London based artist Anna Mikkola, commissioned by the interest group.

Fellowship of Citizens aims to finance its activities through the lottery and generate artworks, essays, articles, films etc in collaboration with various agents in the creative economy. Rather than being a symbolic gesture addressing the lack of economic value of marginalised types of labour, the organisation aims to provide systemic change.

As part of the exhibition at arebyte, excerpts from a new short film written and directed by Hawk Bjorgvinsson, Wilma (2018), will be showcased. The film is produced by Fellowship of Citizens, together with Chanel Björk Sturludóttir and Katrín Arndísardóttir. The director has been given carte blanche to make a film of their own choice, on the basis that excerpts from the film may be taken out of context to serve as non-illustrative visual material for the interest group and the lottery.

Accompanying the short film, a new sculptural body of work has been produced in collaboration with photographer Berglaug Petra Garðarsdóttir and type foundry Gnax Type. Photographs, depicting behind-the-scenes of the making of Wilma, are eclectically displayed on monolithic lottery sculptures slightly elevated from the floor and which turn slowly synchronously in the gallery.

The exhibition also features a new written contribution by Nick Srnicek on Abolishing the Distributaries of Value (2018).

[1] A basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement

[2] Participation in the lottery is open beyond the borders of Iceland on the basis that the winner is able to collect the prize at their own expense

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