Immersed in my studio.
The Listhus residency contains a gallery, studios and accommodation for four artists. There is another building that houses four artists, and a young couple are living in the oldest house in Iceland, opposite the supermarket. It's in the north of Iceland in a small fishing village called Ólafsfjörður, which sits on the side of a fjord that branches off a bigger fjord. The nearest airport is at the bottom of this bigger fjord in a town called Akureyri, so I flew from London to Keflavik, near the capital Reykjavik, caught a bus that drove for almost an hour, over flat, brown land - no snow! Then another bus to the domestic airport in Reykjavik, where I boarded a small plane to Akureyri that landed at 7.30pm.
Kata and Halli, Icelandic friends of my friend Ollie Farrell, very kindly picked me up in Akureyri, took me out for dinner, then to stay overnight in Dalvik, halfway between Akureyri and Ólafsfjörður. In the morning Halli drove me to Listhus. He is a retired marine engineer, and his well-equipped workshop in Dalvik had me enthralled! He is also an erudite and knowledgeable man, if shy about his English (so much better than my non-existent Icelandic!) so the half hour drive was memorably informative. It hasn’t snowed here for several weeks, and Halli told me about the dangers inherent in this. The snow settles, is rained on, the rain freezes into an icy surface, and a fresh fall of soft snow brings the increased danger of avalanches. There are 46 words for snow in Icelandic. I asked so many many questions!
And I had arrived!
The offer to participate in this residency came in late June 2018, so it's been quite a long time of being excited and trying to be as prepared as possible, talking with the many people I know who have been to Iceland, some even to this same residency. Nine artists, from varying disciplines, are here at Listhus to make work that responds to this landscape in the darkest and coldest time of the year. At the end of February our work becomes the Skammdegi Festival.
Having a studio has proved to be an essential that I have deprived myself over the past year, and the absolute delirious joy that has had me absorbed from waking to sleeping tells me I need to make sure I have a studio all the time! Apart from some small excursions to help locate myself in this remarkable place, and daily excursions to the local, and immaculately clean, swimming pool, I have been drawing. And while I have a multi disciplinary project in mind for the festival, drawing has been my way of beginning to find ways to interpret this place; its majestic physical beauty, the energy of the land here, the strong living connection Icelanders have with their mythology and how that impacts their relation with their place.
My plan for this residency, outside of making work, is to write this blog, update my website, develop an online shop, continue reading into phenomenology, and reflect. So far so good. Though these objectives must remain secondary to making work - there is a festival to prepare for!
Drawing is a way to reconnect with my practice, my ability to interpret what I am seeing and experiencing, re-familiarise myself with the use of pen and ink, as well as exploring the multitude of ideas pouring into me now that the floodgates have been opened. It’s also the most direct way for me to observe how the phenomenology reading influences my work.
Part of the joy of a residency is the total immersion in all of the above. And the headspace to observe the diverse and often quite subtle responses, that open up from leaving the rest of one’s life behind. In trying to allow the impressions learning more about phenomenology is having on my thinking, and therefore on my work, I’m keeping open to ideas. The Spell Of The Sensuous by David Abram investigates the fluid, participatory nature of perception. What do we perceive at the outer edges of each sense? This has led me to a series of explorations into the imagined microscopic within the apparent vastness of this landscape. From gazing in awe at the imposing monumentality of the mountains surrounding Listhus, I have started to think about what the ice holds.
One morning I woke up with some thoughts about the microscopic and the circular, so made some speculative circular drawings. They inhabit the wall of my studio waiting for the moment to speak to me!
Abram also writes about horizons, observing that the horizon line holds an inherent fascination for us humans. He suggests that beyond the horizon is the unknown, the invisible; the future. This side of the horizon is known, visible; the past. And the horizon line itself is the present, the place where we stand influenced by the past, anticipating the future. These thoughts are powerful in this place of dramatic horizons.