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Goddur Magnússon:
look for the answer in your guts

Guðmundur Oddur Magnússon – Goddur – has the gift of being able to spot and channel the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. He does this by connecting to beauty, which he sees as his closest contact to the future. As a renowned Icelandic designer, teacher and grandfather-type, he says the best way to pass on his knowledge is to befriend his students and learn with them. So he explores where we are heading, what is new in the air and how we can map it, starting with the answers in our gut.

Made by Jo Barratt and Gemma Mortensen, with Iris Andrews, Lily Piachaud and Hadeel Elshak.

Music by Kai Engel under a CC BY-NC 4.0 licence.


How do we begin, you begin by asking me something, yeah? good.

People sometimes say you can go really deep into this, my closest contact with the future is my sense of what is beautiful, beauty is my closest contact to the future.

The key is to trust your gut feeling and not be ashamed of it, never discuss or have a debate on taste of beauty or what is beautiful or not. Look for the answer in your guts and you would regret it, if you don’t follow it.

So many people think that if you ask them, do you think this is beautiful or not? I don’t know. I don’t know anything about this, but I know that the gods told them this is not beautiful.

I sort of have a very active inner map making what is going on, what is to become in the fields of, sort of the spirit of times or zeitgeist and things like that. Where are we heading, is something new in the air, is something, you know, what is it, how can we map it?

I am 67 years old, I am born in north of Iceland, I live in Reykjavik since more or less since my early twenties. I studied in the seventies in the local art school, I studied college of arts and crafts in the seventies. later in the mid eighties, went to Vancouver in British Columbia to study visual communication. And I have been, it was during time when we were changing the way of, making graphic design or visual communication from analogue to digital, more or less since the late, since in the beginning of, nineties, I’ve been sort of tied into schools and I’ve been teaching since 1992. And I have sort of been in schools and education institutions, the rest of my life. And I still am in a way.

I am in a way, godfather type, a grandfather type. And I cared for my students and I found out pretty soon that the only thing you can do with the student body is to become their friend and start to learn with them. And I have learned so many things, just being a student with my students and these things is that also is that the growing older is that you, and also when you look back and see all these people you have been acquainted with and you are watching them because you see generations coming out to school. 10 or 20 years later, they disappear. They’re not active in the world of creativity.

The thing is that in this period, when you’re a teenager, you start to look at your parents almost as an idiot or not really maybe idiots, but you start to distance yourself from them because there is a new problem coming up, which we sometimes call identity crisis. Who am I? Every generation has to do something different from their parents’ generation. We can’t, you can’t invent the perfect cheer. You just have to say differently and you can’t listen to the same music as your parents did.

Like one of my friends says, don’t start talking about how it was in Vancouver and stop using the word postmodernism. We are, we are beyond that one and it’s okay. So I have never heard anything how to, how to sort of capture what is sort of like, you know, expressionism, Renaissance, Romanticism, what the fuck? What, what is the, what is the sort of the concept that you use? And he said to me, very proudly, we call it meta-modernism or we’re going somewhere back to basics in a way and stop using you know, parenthesis and similes, and this, get serious, go to the real thing. Now we go back to the character, back to what is hidden inside you, stop using cut and paste, try to find something which is you, the genuine you.

We so often talk about earthbound people, earthbound people are people who know their discipline may be well technically and use of material, use of measurement systems and they can be really pretty good at this. They can even go to schools and learn something about critical, analytical thoughts. To analyse things and to do some research, which always end up with something more quantitative than quality. And it doesn’t have to do with the deepest forces of creativity, which is usually your emotive world, your emotions, how you prioritise things because you are you and you, you can only do a character with your emotions in a way and also what we call intuition and I think like in our times, like one observation until the end of the last century, we took science very seriously and we believed, we believed in him almost, they were just facts, but art was always like arbitrary. You choose what to use, there was maybe only 10% of what was done in the name of creative skills. So it was considered good and the rest was just junk. And now in the beginning of the centre in the last 20 years, we have stopped taking scientifical resources so seriously they’re again, they are arbitrary. We are picking up the one because there are so many things done in the name of science that is just junk. You know, not signifying anything. And we are beginning to be arbitrary on how we select, like we did with art. And I think art is starting to be more and more important also because this is not really about either or, it is about reflection of our right and left hemisphere in our brain. And it is about using both, not the other one. It’s about using both because analytical thought is a very bad driver under the steering wheel, but excellent backseat warning system, person who watch out for this, this could be dangerous. And they backseat drivers they always drive by the map. Whereas art knows your art begins where your knowledge ends.

And so many things we could not really speak about on the last century which is much easier to do now ad n0w you can go to homes of elderly people and everyone is doing yoga. It is unbelievable to see this how it took maybe maybe 30 years to become sort of because in cooperation to western traditions of fixing your body with, it seemed to be in the origin of sport. Seems to come from the days of, when we were just military and we had to use weapons to fight and we had to do exercises to fight and that seems to be so much the core of Western civilization is to exercise your body to prepare him for fighting. And Western people they so often think about the best living environment in the world. But when you think about it, it’s all about conquering and the nature has to be submissive and including, you know, all kinds of controlling systems seems to be how to, how to suppress.

Whereas in, in the older culture, it is about understanding nature and do co-work with the nature and learn and study how the nature does it and use it to help you instead of always conquering with bigger equipments, bigger caterpillars, bigger power stations, and not thinking with deep and understanding how the nature works and I think this is opening banks used to have a, a huge hole with lots of authoritative material, big paintings on the walls to show their, how powerful they were. But they don’t exist in houses anymore, they are all on the net or the web and there’s so many things that has changed the way we do things between this generation. There is a totally new generation gap, and I’m not saying that all of it is good, but this makes space for doing other things and I think this also opens for creative forces.
There is one interesting observation about the difference between spirit and the soul. And, it just came to me somehow, spirit is something which is charged by people in a sense that there is a spirit in restaurants. There is spirit in schools. There is spirits in towns and cities, and we all sense it. We all sense it if it’s a bad spirit in some restaurant or shop or whatever it is. And usually there are these people behind this, sometimes just one or two, sometimes a group of people, sometimes a whole movement of people who creates this spirit of times because they found something in common or something, and it just pops up

Spirit is something which is sort of, which we make, but the soul is a different nature. The soul is the feeling. When you have something, what we sometimes call a butterfly in your stomach, there is a direct connection between the butterfly in the stomach, and the soul. It is in a split second, you know, before you start to think logically or consciously, you know, immediately what is right and what is wrong, what is beautiful. What is ugly?. What is exciting and not exciting. You know this all before you use your analytical skills in the butterfly, in your stomach, your gut feelings. It’s in your guts and where does this come from?

You get this guts feelings many times over the day. Some things really matter. Some things does not really matter. You have to prioritise this and you always regret it. If you don’t follow this, guts feeling is important ones. You will always regret it, I should have listened to myself.

The nature of being in an island like this one is that we are always prepared for crisis. It is only edge of being possible to live here. We got earthquakes, we got volcanoes, we got icebergs, we’ve got everything, which sort of makes it difficult to live. And so the only form of controlling this kind of a living conditions is constant crisis management. We cannot make plans for the future because we know it that sometimes the ocean that is giving us, lots of, food, sometimes the fish disappears, or we are even trying to have our living stock surviving the winter, but there is a volcano that spreads ash all over the island, and we cannot get anything to, for the living stock, they kills the living stock. All plans, like five year plans about how to survive in this island state just means nothing because we have to be able to exercise crisis management all the time.

So we know that the nature is in the end so much stronger than, although we are probably never been close to destroying mother earth than our contemporary times. But on the other hand, nature is very, very strong. And so many people don’t realize it and the nature shows no mercy. It is no mercy. So this is sort of part of the nature of people living in these kind of environment. Plans don’t work.

I think my whole life has been uncertainty in the sense that I am a college dropout. I was kicked out of art school in the seventies. But this does not mean that I have, I have education in different ways. When I was in college, I was so busy in school politics and making posters and designing school newspapers and living this wonderful life of being in year, from 16 to 20 or something like that. And also, I had always had problem with authority and when people, when I get this resistance or experienced adversity, it is such both uncertainty you don’t, you’re not following the leader. And also that usually makes you, makes uncertainty when you don’t go with the flow and you feel, you feel this, this always, it has been sort of a drive for me. I love that kind of situation because also if you, if you make a circle about everything, which is certain, and we know, nothing new will happen, you have to go outside to a place which is not never secure, but you better use only the half of the day for the travelling into an uncertainty, because you have to have a chance to go back into safety. If you don’t find anything to survive off, you need to find some living sources as you just, water and the air and things to eat or something.

If you don’t find it, if you go into that kind of uncertainty, which you don’t have a shelter, you have nothing to eat and you are out of everything. You need to be able to find some kind of a way to go into certainty. But you have to be able to have the guts and the sort of also maybe both the guts and also have your experience behind you to go out outside of the circle of certainty.

You see all kinds of people who have got the guts and they’re usually the people you respect mostly. And they can be just people who are catching fish from the seas in bad weather conditions.

And there’s no certainty, but you do it because you’ve got the guts to do it. And there are all kinds of examples about these people who got the guts to go into uncertainty. But for sure, so many things would never happen if you’re always inside the ring of certainty.

I’ve always been on guard against medical science and, and doctors and, and medical systems really under guard, don’t trust them. There’s always something another, that is wrong than you think you are a really good liar to yourself in a way. But the fact is that our body was designed some thousand years ago to last for 40 to 50 years. People did not get old after 40 to 50 years old until last century, 20th century. Then we got an extension of 20 to 30 years, at least. And there is no guarantee from the Creator for this extension, everything can happen. And the medical doctors and the health system is about, fixing this and extending our lives for these 30 years, because there are so many things that can happen, which are not designed to last for such a long time. And also after living in a civilization of industrial food and drug use and alcohol abuse and, and this crazy life, lifestyles of endlessly wanting to entertain yourself probably from teenage years, all the way up almost, and you crash totally crash.

I thought, honestly, after all my smoking habits and drinking habits, some years ago, I got what is called pneumothorax. One of the lung of two fell apart. And it was because of some tar which came out and left a wound, which made an open hole and lung collapsed. I thought this was again happening when I could not breathe anymore. 66 years old and I was forced to go to hospital and I told them this was probably a fallen, the lung has fallen apart again. I know the symptoms and I really regret smoking and they took an image of my chest. And they came out and said, well, we have seen more beautiful lungs, but they’re not a problem. The problem is your heart, it is too big. So I got a big heart. Hmm, wonderful. Uh, you got something we call heart failure. Well, what does it mean?

Then it ended with an open operation. They cut my chest bones and changed something which is sort of a gate for one of the veins that goes out of the heart and carries oxygen around the body. They put me into sleep and I was not aware of what was going on. I accepted this of course.

Anyway, I wake up from this and I had to be in hospital for six weeks, the first period. And I started to talk to these medical doctors and the heart experts and things like that. I can be quite good in communication skills. I’m a Gemini and, and, also I’m a kind of a public figure in Iceland and so many of them, people who were treating me, they knew me before I came to their working space. And I started to have a, yeah, not exactly a debate, but, I realised how, how much they could do and how much this, how contemporary medical science are on a level, like I had no idea and everything I thought about me was wrong, but it was all kind of a consequences of the way I live it. Knowing this that my system was designed thousand years ago to last for 50 years. And I’m 67 now that you could extend this for some definite and also they can, they, they really told me that with successful operation, you will be like a reborn person after three or four months. And this has been coming true, but in a sense that when you didn’t get oxygen around your body and you get a full stream of oxygen, now you feel the huge difference of what has been done to you. And you begin to sense so much fear of how you, how you behave and sometimes learn and sometimes someone taught me that for the word fear, F E A R. Fear. You could either use fuck everything and run or face everything and recover. And I had to face this fact and I wanted to recover. I was always running away from my body. I was always running away from a living habit. I was not facing them. And now I’m much more aware of how to face the reality of the way I have been living in my sort of private life.

You are not the expert master of your life, unless you surrender and open yourself for that.

We have to, whatever we call it, I like the star was Yoda, may the force be with you. I like to consider my concept of higher power, just as a force. I like that.