the last 6 days were spent sleeping in a stationwagon and driving through the east and southern parts of iceland. highlights include: falling into the reykadalur geothermal river and then proceeding to swim in it, the westman islands with puffins and lava everywhere (not to mention their waterslide with a trampoline on the end), seydisfjordur in all its picturesque glory in the eastern fjords, seljavallalaug as the worlds best swimming pool, tucked into a canyon with waterfalls draping the mountains everywhere (pictured above). i have to admit, driving into reykjavik yesterday morning was a bit of overload of noise and people.
catching my flight home this evening. bless bless iceland! thank you for a fantastic month!
“Stuff that most people associate with devil-worship. A sheep’s head that’s been burned to remove the wool, cut in two in order to remove the brain, boiled, and either eaten fresh or pressed into jelly (Svidasulta, ‘sheep-head jam’). Despite the rather gruesome appearance, these taste quite good.
Even though they look quite serene and peaceful, some people can’t stand the thought of eating a burned head. Many people eat only the lower jaw and the tongue to avoid ‘eye contact.’
As long as anyone can remember, Icelandic children have then used the lower jawbones as playthings, usually pretending that it was livestock such as sheep. However, after the 1940s, the jawbone became a gun in children’s games, and cowboys and Indians became quite popular. Today the jawbone has been replaced by videogames.”
So, I had a lovely dinner last night.
The resident artists of Gamli Skóli invited our friends Júlli and Inga over for dinner with their family. They brought over a delicious lamb soup, the recipe being an old classic from Júlli’s family. We had bread, salad, fish soup too.
Then came the svið…
As you can see, some people were more excited about it than others.
It was Júlli, his son, and Kevin that were brave enough to take a head. I did try some meat from the jaw… which didn’t taste much different than any other meat. The tongue and eyeball are supposedly the best parts, I overheard a rivalry defending each piece as as the superior part of the head in the grocery store a few days ago.
During dinner, Júlli told us folklore stories about the island of Hrísey. Hrísey is a well known island for its bird life, and this is partially because the birds have no land predators such as arctic fox, mice or rats which would eat their young. Hrísey did once have a mice problem, centuries ago, and had their own pied piper who led them off the tip of the island.
The ptarmigan (our favorite bird on the island, which you can’t help but forgive for keeping you up all night with its strange puppy burps when you see it waddling all over peoples gardens and in the streets) has its main predator here: the falcon. The falcon and the ptarmigan are brother and sister, and the falcon has been put under a spell to not be able to recognize her. When the falcon dive bombs the ptarmigan, he makes a loud cry as he lands. This is because only at the last minute does the spell break, and he realizes who he has killed for his dinner.
(Depressing stuff, hey? Not to mention that the viking mythology and Icelandic ghost stories were deemed too scary, violent, and disturbing for the dinner table.)
Júlli and Inga moved to Hrísey about a year and a half ago. Júlli runs the island’s one grocery store and helps out the artist residents, and Inga teaches preschool. They’ve both given such a warm welcome since day one on the island, and it was great to meet their family and to have the opportunity to share a meal together.
(Thanks to Jennifer Lynn Sands, fellow artist resident, woman brave enough to eat blood and liver sausage, for the usage of the above photos.)
regional bus drivers in iceland are friendly and helpful, but not always on time. worries about if you’ve missed the bus or not can be generally calmed by calling the drivers on their cell phones and asking if they’re on their way.
yesterday was an escape from the island! jen, kevin and i went to akureyri for some culture and adventure. despite the fact we forgot the fact that art galleries tend to be closed on mondays (oops), the pool was indeed, open, and merited the two full hours we spent there. i’ve worked as a lifeguard for almost 5 years now, yet for the first time ever i’m frequenting pools as a patron, not as a worker. let me say: i get it. pools are fantastic. (akureyri’s 4 hot tubs of varying temperature may be swaying my opinion)
as jen, megan, kevin and i have less than a week left as the residency, it feels time for some pre-emptive reflection on the experience, as people begin to discuss flight trajectories and share september work schedules.
when i applied to gamli skóli, i had no idea what a frustrating, rewarding, and ultimately necessary decision i was making to attend an artist residency the summer after graduating from my post-secondary education in fine arts. it has been incredibly intense to have one full month to focus on my practice. this has taken form in various ways: whether it be full mornings of heavy theory, painting until midnight, obsessive drawing for hours, sketching in fields while arctic tern plan your demise above you….. or continued avoidance of the studio through sleeping, baking, movie watching, walking around, going to the swimming pool, etc. never have i been required to be so self disciplined. for the first time, there’s no critiques at the end of the month, no exhibition to work towards, no grades.
i think, at the end, no one decides if you had a fruitful residency except yourself. and yes, i dreamed of coming home with stacks of paintings, a full sketchbook, and a 10 page essay, cohesive and intelligent, outlining clearly the theoretical basis of my work.
but it doesnt work like that.
transitions are tough. always. and the transition an artist makes from an academic setting into the “real world” is a huge one. with four years of art history, art theory, critical professors, and critical peers, what does an artist make once they’re totally free to do what they want?
instead of feeling stifled by this question, let it remain open ended. and if i am lucky, i have the rest of my life to figure it out.
(or, at least until grad school)
i’ve been working with one image from the latrabjarg cliffs, drawing it and painting it in acrylics and watercolour. the most fun/terrifying part of the cliffs was getting on your stomach and crawling as close as you could to the edge to look down to the ocean.
some small painting sketches, seeing how little detail can go into an image and still create depth.
sea birds circling around hundreds of meters below you is a strange sight.
well….we’re back! this is how far we made it!
after a fantastic 4 days in western iceland and the westfjords, our poor volvo stationwagon, lovingly named murray, got a bit sick. he is getting looked at today, and hopefully kevin and i will be able to finish our tour.
the westfjords are fantastic. i didnt get to see them at all when i came to iceland the first time around. they are well worth the travel off ring road and the hours bumping down gravel roads. in the region we saw latrabjarg, the tallest sea cliffs in europe, along with puffins galore. the cliffs have some pretty ominous folklore:
“stories about blessing cliffs were very common in the past, and were ascribed to the days of bishop thorlak the saint, who died in 1193, and of bishop gudmund the good, who died in 1237. bishop thorlak is supposed to have blessed several cliffs where sea-birds nest, and to have driven evil sprits out of them. when he blessed latrabjarg in the west country, he heard a voice say from the cliff, in words which have since become a proverb, “the wicked do have to have somewhere to live’. then the bishop left a small area of the cliff unblessed, and no one ever dared go down a rope there. even so, one fool of a man did so, once; then there came a grey hand out of the cliff, and it cut the rope, and that man met with a sudden death.”
other westfjord highlights include an abandoned swimming pool next to the sea getting natural geothermal water getting pumped into it, as well as a tiny hot pot next to it. we filled up our waterbottles with glacier water above the waterfall dynjandi. and isafjordur, the largest town in the region, has a fantastic soviet-style swimming pool with the unheard of custom of giving the patrons free coffee.
back at the residency, time to get back to art making while we hope for murray’s quick recovery! the ptarmigan seem to have taken up residence around the building in the past few days, growling like sick puppies under our windows at 5 in the morning.