Posted by: jeanne | March 19, 2013

iceland: aesthetics

this is the third post on this topic.  see the first one and the second one here.

here’s a webcam in akureyri, gateway to the north (for my purposes).

as far as aesthetics goes, if you’re going to be staying in an art residence for a month, you want to be both physically comfortable, and sensually stunned out of your usual artistic headspace. so let’s take a look at the surroundings for these four residencies in northern iceland.


the picture above is part of a panoramic view from the island of hrisey, at least one side of the panorama.  i believe that’s the mystical mountain kaldbakur in the background.  from the middle of Eyjafjörður the mountains surrounding are remote but everpresent (except in weather).  but all you can do is walk around a pretty flat island, you can’t go climbing up to the snowline without taking a ferry.  and i kind of like mountain adventures (in a good way).


further up the coast, with a glancing reference to kaldbakur out of the mouth of its own fjord, olafsfjordur is right at the base of its own mountains, with more mountains across the fjord.  i’m guessing those stripes are frozen meltwater coming straight down the mountain because it’s just that steep.  it’s at the head of a long valley, and has several other long valleys branching off, so lots of walking.  which i find very compelling.  oooh little valleys and mountain streams oooh.  (bogs and holes eww.)


with siglufjordur, you’re in the first sheltered spot around a massive headland, in the shadow of a massive headland, facing another massive headland.  i might be sounding repetitive here, because they’re all lined with massive mountains.  olafs is very glacial, compared to siglu, which i need to describe as alpine, even tho i’m sure that’s just my own impression.  and added extra bonus, there’s a valley only just a walk over the gap at, oh, 700m, and you’re in a beautiful uninhabited hedinsfjordur.


hofsos is gentle and beautiful, there are basalt columns here, with beautiful glacial valleys running up the mountains behind you, and rolling headlands across the wide fjord.  you could walk forever up several steep-sided valleys with rushing streams and slumping turf.

here’s a panorama of hrisey.  of olafsfjordur.  of siglufjordur.  not of hofsos, however; sorry.

i had to go to google earth and spend time at ground level spinning slowly around with my eyes on the horizon to really see what it looks like there (and that’s a horrible thing to say because it looks nothing like and is actually very misleading).

the scenery is all wonderful.  there are u-shaped glacial valleys and glacial till (and/or mudflat) shorelines everywhere.  it’s most intimate in siglusfjordur, the most northern, with the mountains crinkling up all around you.  it’s grander in olafsfjordur, the valleys straighter and more significant.  it’s grander still on hrisey, because it’s a flat little island surrounded by majestic mountains far enough off that you can’t get there, which is in itself frustrating, because i love to walk.  and it’s grandest of all at hofsos because you’ve got it all in abundance – sea, sky, mountain, valley.

another consideration is which residencies are close to horses to ride, and which ones are near thermal pools.  because those are important things.

baer, in hofsos, let us remember, is on a horse farm.  there’s a pool in town.  they supply all meals, too.  i’m not as taken with the landscape, tho it is wonderfully picturesque.  the mountains aren’t close enough, or something.  bucolic rather than wild.  i’m afraid i’m looking for more untamed than gorgeous.

gamli skoli on hrisey takes 3 residents at a time. has a convenience store (do you have to go to akureyri for groceries? it seems so in all cases.)  there’s a pool.  doesn’t seem to be any horses to rent, tho.

herhusid in siglufjorder is probably more difficult to schedule because they only take one resident at the time, and there’s an indoor swimming pool.  no horses.

listhus in olafsfjordur takes 4 residents at a time, has a lovely pool.  no indication of horse rental their either.  that’s always something you could do in your days in reykjavik.

some of the residencies in iceland (not the ones i’m looking at) seem like vacation rental agencies that specialize in artists.  you can rent the whole house if you like aside from the residency program, or you can come in with a bunch of artists juried in by the administrator.  you pay rent at any rate, and (probably a legal thing) you lease your room.  i can imagine just how tough it is to make ends meet there, and good luck to them all.

rough guide has things to say about these places.  first, they claim there’s “at least one supermarket in all villages, towns and cities.”  but it’s not quite true.  there’s a bonus store in akureyri, but i don’t think they have branches in the towns, so they’re talking about little shops, i imagine.  rough guide loved the laidback fishing village air of siglufjorder as a town, and loved hiking around the landscape.  they loved the walking and birding on hrisey, they weren’t very taken with the town of olafsfjordur itself, but loved the scenery, and they absolutely adored the pool at hofsos because of its magnificent surroundings.

here’s a blog post by a baer resident travelling to siglufjordur.  here’s someone who’s been at listhus and hasn’t reported back yet.  here’s a post about the geology of iceland.  here’s a bunch of iceland maps, but i can’t find a single downloadable large-scale topographic map.  hiking maps is what i want, i guess.

topo1 topo

here’s another consideration.  the application fee.  some places charge one to weed out trivial applications, and make a little toward their expenses.  of these four residencies i’m considering, only baer charges a fee to apply ($50), and that’s because they don’t charge any room or board fees.  the other three residencies are self-catering, meaning you’re paying for it all, and they don’t charge an application fee because you have to pay your $400 upon (or soon after) acceptance, which again weeds out trivial applications.

so, what’s to stop me from applying to all three, four if i want to invest in maybe getting into baer?  nothing, and it would be easy to just cover all the bases and see what falls out.  but i don’t know, i’d kind of like to find out their availability first, rather than bother them.  who wants to review a submission by someone who isn’t really serious about staying there?  i did that once, in good faith i made arrangements for a wonderful residency in newfoundland, and in the end i didn’t have enough money to pull it off, and had to cancel at the last minute.  i felt so bad that i vowed i wasn’t going to do that again.

so i’ll send off emails and ask.  brb.  of course i’m going to have to wait for four answers, two by email, two by fb message.

see the next post here.



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