Posted by: jeanne | March 24, 2013

iceland, a personal note

this is the fifth post in this series.  the previous post is here.  see the first and the second and the third posts.

at first the idea of going on an art residency was almost a joke.

the residency in cill rialaig started out almost the same way.  i wasn’t serious at first, but it ate at me, it called me, it made itself accessible to me, and haunted me while i attended to my daily life.  for months, years.

the idea of going to iceland came about because i’ve started working on the map of antarctica without ice.


in my story, i’ve only started telling about the mechanics of creating a videogame set in this antarctica without ice.  i haven’t yet put my characters into the story actually doing things on that antarctica.  at this point they’re only using the map of antarctica after the ice leaves and the bedrock emerges.

i’ve been looking at a version of this map for a year and a half now, and i’m starting to decide what will happen with each area, what will become of this newly uncovered land when the players finally start playing the game on this gameworld.  life will spread from the isolated islands on the (sort of) southwest of the archipelago, and by the end of the game there will be a great and powerful city on the northeast side, around prydz bay.

in looking at this map, i naturally want to zoom down to the surface and walk around in it.  it’s glacial, all of it.  i’ve been in glacial country, when i lived in upstate new york, when i lived in ireland.  i know carved valleys and boggy streams and steep gravel mountains.  i know nobody around you for miles and miles (watch your step, those bog holes are treacherous).  but this antarctica without ice also is volcanic, and it gets the midnight sun, and it’s far from fucking everywhere.

and to me that means iceland.

where else could i go that looks like antarctica?  greenlandnewfoundland.  there’s a residency planned for tierra del fuego, but it’s not functioning yet.  greenland sounds way remote, living with the inuits.  it’s hard to find the real northern (southern)most residencies because for some reason nobody seems to have put them on a map.  they also change all the time.  i’m seeing old lists of residencies with my more refined searches, and most of the old ones aren’t still active.  which makes sense, because it’s a lot more expensive than you’d think to run a residency, and times are hard for the art world.  and art residents are amazingly high maintenance.


i’ve been fascinated with iceland since i read the norse sagas back in the ’80s, and every few years i would think about it.  when the volcano blew up i wanted to get on a freighter and sail to iceland to see it for myself.  but nothing ever came of it.

so there i was, looking at my map of all the little fiddly bits in antarctica.  and checking the earthquake map of iceland.  and of course it occurred to me, iceland is just like antarctica without ice.  and there are artist residencies on iceland.  and if i can get myself on a fjord, and climb up the basalt mountains, and walk the streams, and maybe get a chance to go into a lava field, and maybe soak in a thermal pool, and maybe ride into the interior on an icelandic horse.  all these thoughts.  and then some research.  and i found residencies in the north of iceland, where the midnight sun, and the fjords, and the remoteness.

and suddenly whenever i’m writing my story, i’m thinking of iceland.  and suddenly it’s a serious proposition, and i really, really, want to go there for a month, by myself, fleeing everything (i have a life) to run off to a remote glacial arctic environment, and write about my characters living in just exactly such a place.  i was into my second or third post about this process of selecting a residency, that i became serious, and suddenly decided i would apply, and not just research it and forget about it after the blog posts were done (i’ve done that).

anyway, this is my reason for wanting to go to iceland, and the history of how something that once was a distant dream has become something i’m invested in, and for which i’ll spend the money i have saved painfully and over a long period of time.  because i have to do it in order to write my story, and because i’ve always wanted to do it.  i’ll get my money’s worth, and a dream fulfilled.  and the tugging little demand inside my head (inside my belly) that keeps nagging me to go.

the thing that will decide me which one of two residencies is the view.  at this point, after a good week or so of research and imagining how it will be, i have decided to eliminate herhusid and baer from my choices, because they have a yearly application deadline which i have missed.  in order to set my plans now (for next summer, not this one), i can choose from either gamli skoli on hrisey or listhus in olafsfjordur, which have a rolling application process.

what sets them apart from each other is that one is in a town, on a flat, boggy island, in the middle of a large fjord, with mountains all around that you can’t get to, and the other one is in a town, on a fjord, with mountains all around that you can walk up to (and its own share of flat and boggy).  there are lots of walking paths in both places, and you can always journey a little to take excursions for the scenery, so it boils down to what do i want to look at on my walks, when i look up from my work, when i go down to the shop for milk?  and how can i  know without being there?  the videos are beautiful, every one.  the google earth walkthrus i did were only approximate, and only confirmed what i already know from looking at maps, but it’s hard to get the essence of where you’re thinking of going without actually being there.

because every place influences the art you do.  the residency director, the other residents, the people in the town, the things people decide to do spontaneously, whether people make friends or ignore each other and just do their work.  the weather.  all these things.  and it’s a crap shoot, because even if you’ve been there before, this time is going to be very different from last time.

what are the people like in ^^^?  (they’re lovely.)  what is there to do in ^^^?  (nothing, go home and amuse yourself.)  where is there to go around ^^^?  (about your business, of course.)  i’m bored.  (blank stare.)

olafsfjordur town



hrisey island



oooooh, i can’t make up my mind!

midnight sun, here’s the calendar for the midnight sun in north iceland (akureyri).  if i want to do north to grimsey, a short plane ride, some longer time on the boat ($70 r/t, $30 guesthouse, ?? meal), i can see the sun that doesn’t even set from june 5 – july 10.  basically i have from may 10 thru july to experience the midnight sun (it never gets dark), and if i want to see it go full circle, that’s doable, at a price of oh another hundred bucks.  so put that on my dream list, and back to reality.

see the next post here.


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