Part One: USA
Part Two: Dartmoor
As usual, this is a best-bits version of the trip, where “best-bits” = anything that stayed still long enough to be sketched. You should be able to see a larger version of the pictures by clicking on them, which in most cases will take you through to their Flickr page.
And so: Iceland.
The Light Grey Art Labs residency was wonderful: small, active (very physically active!), interested, entertaining. And Iceland was… I couldn’t process it at first.
I spent my day before the residency looking around the Culture House and worrying about whether I would be able to work out how to process the lava fields I’d seen that morning on the way from the airport.
Because Iceland is, above all, an exceptionally new country. It is horrifyingly young, geologically and in terms of its civilisation. Journey to the Centre of the Earth makes sense here. We all got the theme for Jurassic Park stuck in our heads. Parts seemed like a recently terraformed planet, the rocks are raw and rough and new, steam pours out of the ground.
They didn’t get people until 800AD (give or take a few hermits), and didn’t use wheeled vehicles before the late 19th century.
We looked at sulfurous pits of boiling mud and climbed down lava tubes studded with ice and alive with spectral mists.
There were geysers, and everywhere people made little piles of stones.
Brown stones on clifftops, white stones in niches and arranged in little standing spirals below basalt cliffs.
(This evidence of people marking, decorating, understanding, playing was one of my favourite things).
The lakes steamed. We scrambled over crevasses and into ravines.
We marvelled at the pleated fans of basalt columns, drew volcanic plains and details of moss. Climbed. Watched. Took photos. Thought.
It was wonderful travelling with other artists. Learning from each other over wine in our cabin on Blueberry Hill.
We all approached work and landscape differently, but it was grand to be with people who understood spending half an hour recording the texture of a rock.
Or marvelling at light, or pointing out the rare welcome smoothness of a glacial stone after the raw sharpness of all the others.
We fell in love with moss.
It wasn’t like a fairytale.
Fairytales feel older than Iceland does.
It has fairytales, of course, but we had to learn to look at the land differently. And you start to understand where fairytales come from.
Growing up in Euro-centric Australia, you know there’s ancient and continuous human history but don’t really see it. We’re not taught to see it. We see European history, barely over 2 centuries of it, and then we go to Europe and envy them their castles and forts and standing stones.
Then to go to Iceland, and see their European history is longer than ours, but not by that much, relatively.
And before that? There’s no weight of human story.
I hadn’t realised that I was aware of that, until I came home.
But Iceland was exceptionally beautiful, full of curious microcosms and great raw new-birthed slabs and extrusions of uneroded mountain.
Sheep and puffins.
Then I was back in Reykjavik for one more day: museums and movies.
Then on to Oslo.