My Icelandic adventure

I came from New York looking for a change of pace. What I found was nothing short of remarkable

Topics: Hyperallergic, Reykjavik, Iceland, Europe, New York,

My Icelandic adventure
This article originally appeared on Hyperallergic.

Artist residencies are designed to fulfill creative minds that find themselves lacking in time, motivation and inspiration; residencies can be fundamentally important for any creative professional. As the price of graduate schools rise, salaries remain steadfast and art sales for the average artist are nonexistent limited, residencies can be increasingly valuable experiences.

Hyperallergic Writers, musicians and artists have infinitely varied practices and inspirations. Some artists want nothing more than to live in NYC, work all day in the studio, and rub shoulders with collectors and critics in Chelsea at night. The residency I have spent the last month at in Iceland was not a residency for that type of person.

I came to Iceland at the beginning of August for a monthlong stay at Gullkistan, a residency for creative people in Laugarvatn (pronounced something like Lurrahgahvaht-n) in southern Iceland. The residency fell into my lap and was perfect for what I wanted. Much as I love New York, I wanted to spend a month in a setting that couldn’t be more different — I wanted sublime natural beauty, peace and quiet, relaxation and simplicity — a reset button for myself. Gullkistan was an ideal answer.

I flew into Iceland and spent two nights in the capital city, Reykjavik. Needless to say I was blown away by the small city’s culture scene; the fashion, art and music are worth a visit to Iceland alone. (I have already covered one of Reykjavik’s museums and the city’s fantastic street art for Hyperallergic). But I had come to get away from city life, and after two days I made my way inland to Gullkistan.

My home away from home. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Gullkistan is a simple residency in the best sense. It is a small farm house with a good kitchen and a dining room and a beautiful reading area that overlooks a grassy field and a nearby mountain. There is a large studio for all the residents to use at their leisure. The town of Laugarvatn is an incredibly small town just a 10-minute walk away, and although it had a pool that the locals frequent, a luxury spa, a delicious (albeit, by American standards, expensive) restaurant, a small cafe, a gas station with the bare essentials available for purchase, an apartment building that Gullkistan residents can also rent and a few houses, well, that was it. The urban distractions most of us deal with on a daily basis were gone.

You Might Also Like

Our studio.

There were no artist visits, guest lecturers or planned critiques. We simply had a home base and a studio. If you are looking for a residency with a hip nightlife, that is walking distance to museums and major attractions, if you are looking to make hundreds of new connections, then you are looking at the wrong place. Gullkistan provides a simple place to find a clean slate to dive into work.

I arrived to Gullkistan the same day as Gabrielle Vitollo, a painter with an impressive list of international residencies for having just graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art this May. My stay briefly overlapped with a Canadian-New Zealand writer and photographer, Miriam Ward, Australian painter and sculpture Loris Quantock and LA-based painter Joan Perlman.

With Vitollo, I spent most of the residency with Amy Clay and Alex Strada. Strada is a Brooklyn-based photographer who came to Iceland to assist with a workshop by Mary Ellen Mark last year, and returned to do the same and also to continue working on a photo-series of depressed towns and trailer parks in Iceland. Clay is a visual artist and textile designer by trade and is loosely based out of Boulder, Colorado. I say loosely because Clay has for the last three years been residency hopping her way all over the world as a nomadic artist-adventurer. Artists Sophia ArriolaVictoria ArriolaRebecca Rutstein also passed through the residency for shorter stays.

View from atop a mountain of the lava flow and surrounding mountains at Landmannalaugar.

As an added perk, we had a house car which we could use for short day trips around southern Iceland and this was crucial, because the local town, although possessing a simple beauty, was not a tourist destination. Although we all chose Gullkistan specifically for various personal reasons, getting to see the natural beauty of Iceland as a whole was undeniably a major draw for all of us. Many of us made it to jaw-droppingly beautiful natural landmarks like Landmannalaugar, Dyrhólaey and Jökulsárlón (Glacier Lagoon). Glaciers, a textbook of geothermal activity, waterfalls, puffins and the northern lights! Iceland could not have a more sublime landscape. All of our work was affected.

Puffins at Dyrhólaey.

As I said, Laugarvatn’s scenery was more subdued, but not without perks. We spent many hours picking berries for jam and a pie. The mountain overlooking the town and calm lake was a great climb with several ascents. What Laugarvatn lacked in some of the best of Icelandic landscapes, it made up for in location; the residency was just an hour drive to Reykjavik, four hours to Glacier Lagoon and a short drive to many other must-see natural attractions. We could be undistracted in the studio for days and then pool money to take the residency car on a trip to any one of these landmarks. It was a great balance of intense travel followed by intense studio time.

Foraging for berries and mushrooms is common, but we kept to the berries.

The two founders and directors of the resiency, Kristveig Halldórsdóttir and Alda Sigurðardóttir have been unwaveringly helpful, supportive and welcoming. Although Kristveig lives in Reykjavik and Alda in nearby Selfoss, they both frequently visited the farm and answered our every question. They believe in a hands-off approach to residencies, allowing each artist to chose their experience, always willing to offer guidance along the way.

Beginning my last week here, I was up late on the computer — busy socializing on social media and blogging, when I looked out the window. The sky was clear, but looked a little … weird. I remembered; I’m in Iceland, there is a slight chance of Northern Lights this time of year, I can be on Facebook anywhere. I put on my coat to go out and take in the sky, which had finally started to actually get fully dark. Slowly, as my eyes adjusted, I could make out faint hints of the Northern Lights.

There was a long line appearing and disappearing slowly over the nearby mountain, I woke up the rest of the house to come out and enjoy the light show. We were really in Iceland, we had so many uniquely Icelandic experiences and we would undoubtedly be changed by our stay. Whether or not you could see it in our craft, the landscape and adventure would change us. This is why we travel or explore museums; to experience something new, something unplanned and beautiful. Although this is my first residency, it seems like a great way to do both.

Hailing from Indiana, Ben Valentine moved to Brooklyn a year and a half ago. Now working for Tara Donovan and Allan McCollum, interning for Creative Time and Hyperallergic, Ben has immersed himself in the contemporary art world. Ben is interested in public art, the Internet's potential and in learning how to write and think about art without becoming a snob.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>