We had our first snow day this week, and right now, the last ferry of the season is outside our window, dropping off hundreds of visitors at the Seydisfjordur dock for the last time. With the snow on the mountains, it has become harder to get in and out of town. Most rental cars aren’t equipped for the heavy snow, making the trip over the mountain and down to the fjord much less accessible. The coordinators of Heima, the residency program we are a part of, also have an MFA program (The LungA School) here in town, where artists from around the world come for an experimental arts education. As the students settle in and the tourism decreases, the attitude in Seydisfjordur has changed. It seems as though the community has opened up, everyone is more engaged and I have been able to meet so many new people.
With only two weeks left, I am finally making strong connections with the community and feeling invested here. When I walk down the street, I see people I know driving by, I pass homes of people I have met- people who have invited me for coffee and shared their stories with me, I know the local store owners and I feel like I am finally a part of this precious community. I have a routine here- I am volunteering in the kitchen at the community center and working in the Major’s office, helping to organize “Haustroði”, the Autumn Feast hosted once a year.
When I first arrived here I felt conflicted- as an artist in residence you are only visiting for a short time, there is no way to leave fully understanding the community and culture you are visiting. Here in the small town of Seydisfjordur, artists are constantly coming in and out, either through the residency program or through the school, and unintentionally demand resources from the town. Despite how good your intentions may be, in such a small community ( with a town population of 600, many of whom are only here for the summer season) it is hard for 3-month visitors to accurately glimpse the culture without intruding upon or taking from the community. There is also the same issue you see everywhere; the divide between the conservatives and the liberals. It is lovely that there is a growing artist community here, but it functions separately from the working community, and when the two overlap, often times one side feels cheated or misunderstood.
The people I have met in town are often surprised that I’m not vegan, it’s usually one of the first things they ask me. The history of food in Iceland is so tied up in animal products; dairy and meat are a core part of the Icelandic diet. Some of the town residents are upset that, after they shared their culture with visitors, they were critiqued for what they eat (in particular, whale, lamb head and fermented shark). Many of them say that it is unfair for someone to judge their history and tell them how to live, particularly as most people do not understand how barren Iceland is and the challenges they face every year, just to survive. Because of this, they assume all the artists are vegan and ready to judge their culinary history.
All this being said, I do not expect any of the work I create here to accurately represent Iceland or its culture, rather, to represent my experience and interactions. I intend to document my experiences and observations, knowing that they are inherently biased but trying my best to remain nurtual and respectful. I want to give back to the community, because I know I am asking a lot of them and I am so appreciative to their generosity and kindness, which I know not to expect but to cherish.
It feels good to be so invested in a place and to be able to give back to my temporary home.
Along with volunteering, the bulk of my time was spent foraging in the mountains and practicing the recipes that I have picked up in the community kitchen - using them to activate an environment and take the form of a performance.
I had my second installation this weekend, at the Net Factory. Walking there, I am always amazed by the natural beauty of these fjords and the perfect location of the factory.
Snapshots from my walk to the Net Factory. The snow from the mountains runs down the the sea, where the living algae meets the seaweed.
I made Ragga’s famous Rugbraud recipe. I have started keeping a recipe log, with all the different recipes I have learned while I have been here and the stories behind them. I am so interested in Rugbraud and its significance in Icelandic culture. Everyone I have met has told me a new story about Rugbraud. I can’t wait to share it all, soon.
The food was served as a performance and installed in the space. The room was physically divided, on one side, my living algae farm hung, with two interactive, installed food samples. On the other side, the space was empty with the exception of a table where two woman sat. In Iceland, bread, butter and jam are common place. The intent of the performance was to highlight this everyday ritual (of slicing and buttering bread) as well as to introduce unique ingredients that are native to Iceland: Bread and Butter and both imported.
Suspended- Icelandic Moss, Sea Lettuce and Milk soup in black sand // Skyr with Hardfiskur and Dulse, in a bed of moss.
Reflecting on the installation, one thing that I found particularly interesting was the social line that separates food and performance, leaving me with the questions: When is it okay to touch? When is art immersive? Does one have to end for the other to begin?
People had a more formal response to the performance, perhaps because it was separated from the installation space. I was surprised by how attentively everyone watched the bread be cut, buttered and placed on the table, as well as the hesitation people had to take and eat. The room was silent, and then, after the first piece of bread was picked up and eaten with the respect and delicacy of a communion, people began to come out of the trance that is often created by a performance, as they began to interact with the space; emboldened to touch and taste.
Last week, I asked participants to help make the food; digging and burying the fish, pulling it out of the earth and sharing it. This week, the food preparation was performed in front of an audience, physically removing them from making the food but intellectually including them in the process; they were seeing how the food was prepared. Participants had a vested interest in the process without needing to physically butter the bread. This was possible because everyone has buttered bread; we can all connect with the tender ritual.
I have also been thinking about how, and if, the projects I have done here will transport. Are they fully time and space dependent? Can they be moved and reinstalled? Can they only happen once or can the moment be replicated and recreated in another environment?
I am also left to think about community, food and culture. What differentiates the three?
I had all these thoughts and questions on my mind as I closed the exhibition. I turned the lights off, shut the door, and walked slowly back in the light rain. On my way home, lost in thoughts, I passed an unusual occurrence- two makeshift barbecues sitting out on the street- roaring with flames. I stopped and talked to the cook, who was putting lamb on the grill. He invited me to return in three hours, when he would take the lamb off the grill.
When I returned I was invited to a party- the volunteer rescue team was meeting to celebrate the start of the winter season. A common saying is, “Theres always food in Iceland”, they said this as they pulled a seat to the end of the table for me and insisted that I spend the evening with them. I sat at a table of old and young woman, representing almost every household in the community. We ate, drank and celebrated the changing season. I heard harrowing stories from the rescue team. Every winter, volunteers help to patrol the fjords and save people who have been stranded or injured in the snow. They also prepare for the possibility of a volcanic eruption and help support the community, who is stranded here for most of the winter, when the roads close.