Sunday, August 30, 2015

Iceland Day 6: Akureyri to Egilsstaðir

Goodbye Akureyri, little town of the north that I will spend more time in one day.

Hello Húsavík, cutest whaling village in the country and last view of the Arctic Ocean we would have. I bemoaned the fact that a boat trip would make me so seasick that I would not enjoy the rest of the day and settled for walking along the wharf instead.

This was the hottest afternoon (and by that I mean 59º which resulted in wearing a short sleeved shirt for a brief 30 minutes). 

An example of fancy housing in the neighborhood above the town center. Alas our brief stay in Húsavik did not feature a trip to this (just seeing if you are paying attention). Our time was limited as we were on a mission and it included the most powerful foss in all of Europe - Dettifoss!

The drive defined isolation as we charged through the basaltic terrain - dust trails followed the SUV for kilometers through a sparse landscape with little to no vegetation. Upon our arrival, there were no guard rails so I tested my limits on proximity to the edge.

This was the closest I dared despite my fear of heights. I still do not know if I was brave or foolish as all I primarily thought about was falling. I have never experienced a waterfall like this. It was so powerful that it vibrated the rocky surroundings. The sheer volume of the water was startling as the landscape driving to the source was nearly flat.

Donna is in the distance trying to decipher my unimaginative hand signals.

Here is where I touched the ice cold water thinking of standing over the top of Niagara Falls five years ago knowing that absolutely no one would survive the fall into this watery abyss. I was thankful we drove to this side as the view across the foss did not look as impressive. [Here is a decent link to see photographs from both perspectives.]

The pathway to the parking lot. Needless to say feeding wildlife is not a problem here.

We pulled off alongside the road after leaving the foss (this is a major thoroughfare) to document how crowded it was at the beginning of high tourist season.

I whipped out the binoculars to document my favorite tuya on the horizon:  Herðubreið.

There were few photographs taken of Egilsstaðir as we arrived late and were locked out of our hotel room due to the battery running out in the automatic key system. Here is a photograph of the dessert consumed for dinner instead. Passionfruit. Yum.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Iceland Day 5: From Akureyri to Mývatn (or Craters of the Moon to Mars)

Goðafoss, or Waterfall of the Gods, was pretty but its history kept me from liking it as much as the foss we would see in the coming days. The sun was not in the ideal location for decent photographs (oh the high noon light that lasts for hours upon hours when the sun hardly sets near the Arctic Circle).

In retrospect, I wish we had more time to spend at the pseudo craters in Skútustaðagígar. This is the view from the pathway behind Hotel Gigur. This geological phenomenon was formed when lava flows ran over the wetlands. The impending gas explosions created the smooth craters. This was also the beginning of the invasion of the midges.

One of the most memorable formations of the entire trip were the lava pillars on the Höfdi peninsula near Kálfastrandavogar on Lake Mývatn. If you look closely in each of these two photographs, you can see midges buzzing the camera (er phone) and my face.

This is bird watching paradise (as is most of Iceland) but we were not too keen on staying outside amongst the insects so our walks here were, unfortunately, short.

The view from the parking area shows both a natural and human made rock formation. Rocks are omnipresent in Iceland and not just outdoors. Butter is served on pieces of lava, artwork is hung with magnets decorated by porous pebbles, and rock salt is sold at every tourist location.

We finally arrived at a midge free location at Dimmuborgir or "The Dark Fortress." I am sure Donna was tired of me exclaiming, "this looks like Craters of the Moon National Monument" at every other curve in the path but it is true (minus the vegetation).

We took the Church route (AKA Kirkjuhringurin), wandering through the lava for over an hour. A few hikers were present but these images are an indication on how crowded the area was for most of the walk.

Craters of the Moon! I do not lie.

Next up was Námaskarð or "Hell's Kitchen" named because of the volcanic activity (insert Yellowstone comparisons here).

There were a few more people and even a tour bus or two (a crowd!). The first thing I noticed was a woman walking up to a fumarole and running her hands over the steam. This close proximity to potentially dangerous situations became a theme. There are very few barriers in Iceland and when they are present, they are often ignored.

The boiling mud pots were as gray as ash and the sulfur infiltrated our nostrils.

Insert Mars comparisons here.

I took many photographs along the edges of the pool after immersion in the Mývatn Naturebaths. Little did I know that this would be the only time I would swim in Iceland. I am still trying to find the words for why this was not the experience I expected. Generally speaking, it was the weather. I was cold most of the trip and jumping into water (even if it was a geothermal bath) was not at the top of my list.

This was one of the busiest days in Iceland because there was so much to see (and art to make) and we had to return to our hotel all the way back in Akureyri. Fortunately, the days are long and there were no worries about missing the scenery because we were driving in the dark. We stopped at the Hótel Laxá which we saw on the horizon earlier in the day. The modernist architecture from the distance was intriguing but proved to be ominous and impersonal up close.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Iceland Day 4: Hellissandur to Akureyri

A couple things to note about the above photograph: 1) the road in the background is a main thoroughfare (dirt) and 2) the economy of one pole functioning as a sign post, stop sign and mailbox holder. After leaving Hellissandur and backtracking over territory explored the previous day, we reached Breiðabólsstaður (pronounce that quickly). Our road atlas mentioned that Holger Cahill, the national director of the WPA and the briefly the acting director of the Museum of Modern Art, was born in a church here. This fact fascinated us because it was such a remote area so far away from the art world in the United States during the Great Depression.

The church was closed but we were able to experience the full force of the wind. I am standing next to a flag pole where the metal cord never ceased hitting the pole. Soon after, my brain was bouncing in unison with the noise that created.

We covered a lot of territory this day. We learned about tuyas here at a rest area overlooking Hunafjordur and Skagfjordur. They are flat topped volcanoes formed when lava erupts through an ice sheet (frosted angel food cake).

My first view of the Arctic Ocean was seen through a bathroom window in a coffee shop in Dalvik.

I didn't get the impression that much English was spoken here. It was a charming place and produced the most interaction with locals that we had experienced thus far.

We drove to this peninsula to see the Arctic Ocean and after a much needed cup of tea, we headed north to Ólafsfjörður. I obtained a clear water sample and tossed another chunk of Camden's Rock here.

It took a long time to talk myself into walking into the sea (one of the most intimidating experiences with water). [Photo by Donna Goedhart]

I never expected to collect water from the Arctic Ocean when I first began this project. It opened up a whole new avenue on how to finish the remaining bottles (hopefully completed by the end of 2016).

Cold and sandy feet (the things one does for Art).

It was also in Ólafsfjörður where I channeled my inner Alexis Pike and documented a mural in less than ideal light before departing.

Snowy mountains near Dalvik on the way to Akureyri.

If I had to do this trip all over again, I would have stayed an additional night in Akureyri. It was a charming city (second largest in Iceland) but we never broke the surface. It was used as a departure point and roaming around after sunset was all we were truly able to do. This bowling alley was a happening spot late in the evening and one of the few places open after 10 PM.

The letters H•O•M•E were popular window decorations throughout the country. I spotted them in the larger cities and smaller villages, always pointing to the living room inside.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Magdalena Jetelová's "Iceland Project"

While updating a Photo 1 lecture, I rediscovered Magdalena Jetelová's Iceland Project (rather I researched an image I thought I knew a lot about and was very surprised that its source came from Iceland, the country I am currently enamored with). All the images featured in this post come from Jetelová's website and are from 1991. The information below comes from this article written in 2014. The photographs were made with lasers, visually retracing the continental shelves.

"The Central Atlantic Shelf is an approximately 15,000 kilometer-long mountain range, mostly hidden at the bottom of the ocean. From the geological point of view it forms the dividing line between Europe and America. This is a seam along the place where millions years ago two continents were torn apart. Today we know that the Central Atlantic Shelf is part of a bigger system which circles the entire globe for nearly 70,000 kilometers. It goes from Iceland to the north between Spitzbergen and Greenland, continuing through the Arctic Ocean to the mouth of the Lena River in Siberia. In the southern direction, it goes from Iceland eastward along the southern end of Africa, continuing to the north through the Indian Ocean. Iceland is the only place where the Central Atlantic Shelf goes above the sea."

"The geological border between Europe and America can be seen with the naked eye for about 350 kilometers in the form of a range which cuts through Iceland in a north-eastern direction. Both land masses are still moving, shifting and bumping into one another."

"Therefore the whole area is seismically active with a number hot springs and active volcanoes. The light line of the laser beam draws the border between the two continents. The form of the exact direct line is all the time freshly defined by its touch with the terrain—it goes through the raw landscape along the lava fields, through cracks disappearing in the mist of hot steam from geysers. The computer-determined precise line of a geological event in ancient time that has formed our world of today."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Roni Horn's "Library of Water"

"Big enough to get lost on. Small enough to find myself. That's how to use this island. I come here to place myself in the world. Iceland is a verb and its action is to center."  Roni Horn

For Library of Water, Roni Horn selected 24 glaciers throughout Iceland (many of them came from the rugged interior). Drivers traveled to the locations and chipped off the ice. In Stykkishólmur, Horn melted the chunks and poured the water into the columns. Today, sediment collects at the bottom of the golden hued bases. The floors of the space are rubber and contain adjectives in English and Icelandic describing the weather. There is also a library containing many of Horn's publications.

Horn was quoted that she wanted the space to be "a lighthouse in which the viewer becomes the light." This is most evident in the empty circular room overlooking the small town on the wharf. This is the domineering view that one has once removing shoes and quietly padding around in white slippers. It was also here that I wondered whether or not the landscape outside the windows overwhelmed the artwork. At first I thought it played an equal role but the more time I spent in the space, I wanted to view the sea beyond the building through the glass windows or the columns themselves. The tall containers were secondary and a more subtle presence.

The shape of the columns and the front window are also reminiscent of the curvature of a lighthouse. I would soon think of the clear pillars as beacons, warning humans of global warming as the land they approach becomes more distant.

The glass columns are illuminated from underneath drawing attention to floating matter that one might not want to spend considerable time examining. "Chilly," "brisk," and "frigid" were three words I gravitated to photographing most. Ann Hamilton's commission for the Seattle Public Library also came to mind in terms of an installation in a similarly functioning locale with text on the floor.

The tops of the cylinders were mounted like this. The reflections were deceiving as they made the ceiling look as soft as cushions. I wish I could have seen photographic evidence of Horn pouring melted glacier water into a structure this tall.

I took many photographs of the distortions the water caused with the view outside.

The above photograph was found in a press notebook in the room designated for Horn's publications (forgive the reflections as everything here was difficult to photograph). It features Horn sitting amongst the containers of glacial melt before they were installed. This image screams isolation (yet indoors) and contemplation. With that in mind, Horn's quote found in the Library of Water catalog is fitting to reproduce here:

"I go north. It's in my nature. But it turns out that the vast majority of people go south. To the sun and the heat and perhaps the more social nature of life in southern climes...."

"... The desire to go north is an attraction to solitude, open space, subtle expressions of light and time. Vast expressions of scale and horizon. Sometimes going north is about whiteness..."

"...Sometimes it is about darkness. I'm attracted to the darkness, it relieves me of the incessant call to visual attention - it opens interior spaces that offer untold possibilities of discovery..."


"...This darkness is really another form of light."

More than anything, I wanted to visit the Library of Water to see how the water specimen was treated as an art installation. How did it function with its surroundings? How much text was used to describe the intent? How was it constructed and with what materials? How did viewers walk through the space and interact with the forms? I wish I could say it was this summer's transformative art viewing experience but sadly it was not (Akhob still wins that prize). It was important to see in person, however, as it answered many of my questions above. I will never forget peering through the glacial melt to see the whale watching boats depart from the wharf below (always longing for what lies just beyond and never fully satisfied with what is at hand).