It was in Nice airport on the way back from an art fuelled trip around the South of France that Vic and I decided to make our travels together a regular family tradition. Next on the list was Iceland. Famed for its breathtaking scenery, art galleries and nature, we knew it was going to be a big hit for two artists who love to giggle, explore and drink beer like vikings.
Landing in Iceland was like landing on another planet. The landscape is made up of waterfalls, geysers, active volcanoes, black sand and glacier-shaped forms. It didn’t surprise me to learn that NASA sent two training missions here in 1965 and 1967. The missions were a part of the Apollo program and were intended to prepare the astronauts with the harsh and alien landscapes and geological formations they might encounter on the moon. This excited the space geek within me, obsessed since visiting the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral as a kid – (now is not the time to discuss my love for Prof. Brian Cox).
I located the apartment in central Reykjavik, said hello to the resident cat, then made my way to Reykjavik Roasters coffee house on Kárastígur. Recommended to me by my good friend Sarah, this hipster hideaway was just what I needed after an early flight and no sleep. The coffee was delicious but the vinyl selection was even better! I loved the freedom of being in a new place, on my own for the day. The sun was shining on the brightly coloured houses as I walked to the Harbour where eager puffin and whale watching tourists awaited their boats. The famous Harpa concert hall where the likes of Bjork and Sigur Ros sell out in a matter of seconds came into view. The building is a sight and has distinctive architectural features inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. Noting a few art galleries on my return I had a plan coming together for Vic and I once she arrived.
As far as I’d researched, Iceland’s contemporary art scene has thrived with its capital Reykjavik serving as the place to be for the country’s art community. We visited larger cultural institutions and smaller edgier galleries in the City. Gallery i8 is one of the most popular and ambitious art venues. A kind Aussie lady took us behind the scenes, showed us around and even unwrapped a couple of Callum Innes’ works for me to drool over.
Close by, The Living Art Museum houses a number of galleries within its new premises by the harbour. It is a non-profit and artist-led organisation that was established in 1978 by a diverse group of local artists as a means of challenging the dominance of the National Gallery of Iceland during the 70s and 80s. The gallery focuses on art that explores different modes of production and display in order to challenge how audiences and art interact. We climbed on some odd wooden scaffolding, smoked on some Shisha pipes and visited Olafur Eliasson’s studio all in the name of art.
Reykjavik Art Museum, also not too far away, is the largest visual art institution in Iceland. With live performance, painting and sculpture there was a lot to consider. However, A Lot of Sorrow, a new single-channel video work by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson and American band The National hooked us in for at least an hour. The original six-hour video was filmed during a performance of the same name in MOMA, NYC. An idea that was conceived by Kjartansson and executed by The National. The band played their three-minute, twenty-five second song “Sorrow” live on stage, repeatedly and continuously, for six hours. The film making was intense showcasing multiple camera angles; the slightly altered vocal after every repeat became more and more noticeable, the durational musicianship was something special and the spatial encounter for the viewer all fascinated Vic and I. We didn’t stop talking about that piece of work for days, and the song soon got added to our Iceland Spotify playlist!
We booked on a few tours of Iceland, despite being pricey it was altogether cheaper than hiring a car. Horse Riding around a Volcanic crater – something I definitely recommend. Relaxation at the blue lagoon is also a must and a 9 hour tour of the Þingvellir National Park; the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur was not to be missed. Though Geysir has been mostly dormant for many years, Strokkur continues to erupt every 5–10 minutes. Other stops included the Kerið volcanic crater, the town of Hveragerði, Skálholt cathedral, and the Nesjavellir and Hellisheiðarvirkjun geothermal power plants. We drove through the Mid Atlantic Ridge whilst David, our happy tour guide, ‘forced’ us to sample Icelandic Vodka because he wanted to use it up!? Let’s just say he didn’t need to tell us twice.
David was a fun tour guide, he played Bjork on the mini bus loud enough for Norway to hear, forced us to drink Vodka at 10am and was keen to know how two women from Sweden and England could be related – he soon got the full family history. Obviously we had no qualms in singing ‘It’s all so quiet” – very very loudly’ much to the confusion of the French and Americans who joined the bus tour. It did however make David’s day! One thing he did say was how all Icelanders are currently prepared for the next volcanic eruption, speaking of how in 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull erupted and caused severe air traffic delays, he was beneath it playing a round of golf. Apparently all Icelanders have enough food in storage for such events and even own specialised volcanic dust masks. Katla in southern Iceland is very active; and is overdue an eruption by 19 years. A slight issue, I blurted out to the tour group, that Easyjet should warn you about when booking cheap flights.
The tour was full of treats, David was hugely passionate about his country and informed us about the ever prominent issues of climate change effecting Iceland and nearby Greenland, a concern I’m passionate about in my own artistic practice, creative endeavours and lifestyle choices….or trying to be better at!
My dear cousin and I not only had time to catch up, talk art and culture – including Vic’s new instagram project @thelook365, as well as experience the atmosphere that was this beautiful nordic island. We even pushed the boat out and had a couple of viking pints (£12 each), shopped for unique jewellery, ate the local delicacies and felt extremely welcomed into the most sparsely populated country in Europe.
Until next time couz.