Posted by: jeanne | March 31, 2013

iceland residency: the decision

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

it’s official, i’m going to be staying at listhus, in olafsfjordur, i’ve applied and been accepted in the space of a day, and this is an exceptional thing,  because it’s usually many weeks until you hear back, and by then you’ve forgotten you’d been wanting to go.  but i know i’ll be getting bedroom 2 and studio 1 (which has a window, and i need ventilation for my encaustic painting, so this is important to me).  unfortunately, it’s over a year away, but i have this great webcam to inspire me, and have already printed out old topo maps to cheer me along.


this is the first residency i’ve applied to where they have rolling applications, and the two residencies i’ve been mainly considering have had what they call ‘open call’ applications.  you send it in, and they approve or deny it based on your request, and the slots fill up as requested, basically first come, first served.  most residencies i’ve gone to have several reviews a year, or one review.  applications are taken up to a particular date, and then available slots are filled all at once.  otoh, there are the residencies that just happen, or that turn out to have taken place afterwards and you only realize it later, but we don’t need to go into that right now.  spontaneous residencies are differently striped.

it was a series of coincidences and happenings that determined where i was going to apply.  i became interested in a residency in iceland only after the deadline for the residencies i was considering, which was february 1.  rather than wait to apply (and hear about it) until next year, i decided to apply to someplace a little more flexible.  it’s just a choice.  i could have waited until next fall to apply, and had no economic consequences (plane tickets will cost just as much if i buy them a year and 3 months in advance, or 3 months in advance), and actually had an advantage should my plans have to change (because they sure as hell could.  a year and a bit out?  i could be dead.)

of the many reasons for a residency, my reasons have to do with the location.  as you may know, i am in the middle of writing a novel that takes place in an antarctica without ice.  it’s a videogame antarctica, to be sure, but it involves global warming (and all sorts of other things).  i am not currently writing about antarctica except as an abstract, but i will soon move the action to antarctica proper.  and that’ll be about a year from now, because i’m still setting up the actual videogame, and we won’t be going there for another dozen chapters.

so my search for a residency led me first to iceland, and then to the other arctic alternatives, which are a stint with the inuits in greenland, several northern scotland and norwegian residencies, including time on svalbard, some alaska and canadian residencies, and on the other pole, a not-yet-established residency in tierra del fuego.  so, altho not limited, the pickings aren’t as good as if i wanted a residency somewhere near the equator.

but i want glaciers.  i want moss and lichen.  i want basalt mountains crumbling into the sea.  i want u-shaped glacial valleys, and turgid braided streams, and bubbling geothermal pools.  i want arctic birds (there are skuas on iceland, and terns, which are probably just as mean).  i want midnight sun.

so altho there are over a dozen residencies on iceland, and some quite famous ones, even a village full of residencies, i wanted to get as far north as i could get.  so i found four residencies on the troll peninsula in north iceland.  as a firm believer in fairies, i ascribe significance to mountainous areas with fjords that are named after trolls.  two of these residencies were in rather sedate, low areas with massive views of distant mountains, two were in small fjords with the mountains very rudely staring you in the face.  two deadlines were fixed in february, two were rolling.

so for the past two weeks or so my dilemma has been to choose between these four residencies.  the more famous one i discarded right away, as it is well established, very comfortable and well structured, and competitive mainly because they don’t charge any fees.

(i must say that before deciding i simply had to go to iceland, i had with one exception always balked at paying for a residency.  i’m a working artist, that is to say i’m a professional starving artist, and i don’t have money to pay for a residency.  i need the time off from financial obligations in order to paint, i don’t need to have to get a job to be able to afford to take time off to paint.  that doesn’t make sense.  the you-pay residency is backwards, it’s for hobbyist artists, it’s for artists with day jobs.)

it sounds strange to discard a residency because it’s well known and very comfortable.  but i’m not looking for comfort, or collegiality, or a prestigious residency for my bio.  i’m looking for creative inspiration.  i’m looking for landscape to be in every day that will inspire me to explore it in my imagination as i’m scrambling around trying to avoid starting a rock slide.  i’m looking to walk out the door and be alone in the mountains in a matter of an hour’s hike.

for scenery, i ached to be in siglufjordur, the very northernmost fishing village on this island, and the one where the mountains come in all around you.  when i first looked at the four places from ground level on google earth, i was boggled by how overwhelming those mountains are.  but that’s one of those residencies that would be hard to get accepted at simply because of the numbers (only 12 slots a year, deadline in february), so i reluctantly gave that up.

and there followed a real debate inside of myself  (because who else could i take this to?) – do i want to be on an island in the middle of the grandest view on god’s green earth, yet unable to walk up into the mountains?  or do i want to be in a fjord where i can just start walking and end up looking down and out to sea or into the interior, depending?  looking at it from just the end of the decision process, it looks like a no brainer to me, but i was drawn to the island.  i’m no birder, and i don’t relish having to carry an umbrella or wear a helmet.  and i was on the edge of nowhere in kerry, the last time i did a residency, and had to look at the mountains over the bay, and beyond the bay, and the only view of the mountain i could get close up was staring up the skylight at the hill directly behind the cottages.  so i had some struggle to decide which one to apply to.  the flat island in the longest fjord in iceland, or the tiny fishing village anchoring an enormous system of tunnels thru once inaccessible mountains (a place rough guide panned as ordinary (fuck them)).

here’s the google earth screenshot, the most impressive view from hrisey.  you can’t get there without a great deal of trouble and a ferry ride.


followed by the best view of olafsfjordur, except that there is no best view on google earth, and i’m just going to have to wait a year and three months to pick it.  you can walk to it.


the view aside, what really decided me was the response i got from the manager of listhus, which was very helpful and warm.  that, and the multi-view webcam of olafsfjordur, which makes me feel very comfortable with the place already.

there are more posts i’m going to be doing on this process.  it’s not over just because i’ve applied and been accepted.  there’s a lot of planning to do.  next, i’ll be looking at all the things i would do in iceland if i were fully funded.

here’s the next post.



  1. […] is the eight post in this series. here’s the seventh post.  see the first and the second and the third and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth […]


  2. […] the next post […]


  3. […] is the eight post in this series. here’s the seventh post.  see the first and the second and the third and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth […]


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