Sun Voyager (Icelandic: Sólfar) is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, located next to the Sæbraut road in Reykjavík, Iceland. Sun Voyager is described as a dreamboat, or an ode to the sun. The artist intended it to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.
In 1986, the district association of the west part of the city funded a competition for a new outdoor sculpture to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city of Reykjavík. Jón Gunnar’s Sun Voyager won the competition, and the aluminium model (42.5 x 88x) was presented to the city for enlargement. The full-sized Sun Voyager was eventually unveiled on Sæbraut on the birthday of the city of Reykjavík, August 18, 1990.
The work is constructed of quality stainless steel and stands on a circle of granite slabs surrounded by so-called “town-hall concrete”. It was constructed in accordance with Jón Gunnar’s enlarged full-scale drawing of Sun Voyager and was overseen by Jón Gunnar’s assistant, the artist Kristinn E. Hrafnsson. The engineering of the sculpture was supervised by the technologist, Sigurjón Yngvason, in close cooperation with Jón Gunnar himself, the building itself was carried out by Reynir Hjálmtýsson and his assistant.
In an interview published in the newspaper Þjóðviljinn on 11 June 1987, Jón Gunnar describes the genesis of the work as being part of the Scandinavian art project, Experimental Environment, which conducted various artistic experiments in Iceland, Denmark and other places in the 1980s:
There has been some dispute about the eventual location of Sun Voyager on Sæbraut in Reykjavík. Some people have complained that the ship does not face west, towards the setting sun in accordance with the concept behind it. The original intention had been for Sun Voyager to be situated in the west part of Reykjavík, for obvious reasons. Jón Gunnar’s original idea had been for the ship to be placed on Landakot hill, the prow facing the centre of Reykjavík and the stern to Christ the King Cathedral (Icelandic: Landakotskirkja). Another possibility was that it could be placed by the harbour in the centre of Reykjavík on a specially constructed base. The coastline by Ánanaust nonetheless eventually came to be Jón Gunnar’s preferred location for the ship. Unfortunately, changes in the town planning for Reykjavík came to rule out this location. In the end, the final decision was taken (with Jón Gunnar’s consent) that Sun Voyager should be located on Sæbraut on a small headland (which the artist jokingly called Jónsnes: Jón’s Peninsula). Jón Gunnar was well aware that when bolted to its platform, Sun Voyager would be facing north, but felt that that made little difference when it came down to it.
Sun Voyager was built in accordance with the artist’s hand-drawn full-scale plan. Its irregular form with the ever-flowing lines and poetic movement which are a distinctive feature of so many of his works make it seem as if the ship is floating on air. It reaches out into space in such a way that the sea, the sky and the mind of the observer become part of the work as a whole. As a result, Sun Voyager has the unique quality of being able to carry each and every observer to wherever his/her mind takes him/her. Few of Jón Gunnar’s works have a simple obvious interpretation. As he stated himself, all works of art should convey a message that transcends the work itself. It is the observer who bears the eventual responsibility for interpreting the works in his/her own way, thus becoming a participant in the overall creation of the work. Jón Gunnar’s works frequently make such demands on the observers, giving them the opportunity to discover new truths as a result of their experience.