Fading features in Seydisfjödður, Iceland

Of course Seydisfjödður is well known for a lot of reasons, like the beautiful Skálanes nearby, the fact that the Smyril line ferry arrives at its harbor every Tuesday in spring and summer and the marvelous old houses scattered around the East fjord town. Culturally it is also an important spot in Iceland with the Skaftfell cultural center — the most important one in East Iceland — inspired by the artist Dieter Roth, who lived and worked in Seyðisfjörður for a large part of his life. In july you can attend the LungA art festival when the whole town is turned into an open air museum. The Cultural Center is located at Austurvegur 42 in a historic building, comprising office, exhibition space, bistro and one of the three residency apartments. Next to the apartment they have two other houses that serve as a residency for artists who want to use the tranquil surroundings and inspirational atmosphere of this formerly thriving fishing town to create new work. Because of the yearly influx of residents from all over the world — most of them stay two months — you could be fortunate enough to be visiting Seydisfjödður while an artist is showing his or her work.

Judy-ann Moule, woman walking

During my stay I got lucky and was invited to the open studio of Australian artist Judy-ann Moule who decided to show an overview of the works she made during her stay.

Judy-ann resided in the last house on the exit road to Egilsstaðir, also known as the Höll house or the house with the red door. Upon my arrival I notice that the flyers the artist had made (and the “village grapevine” of course) did their work: Plenty of people crammed in the tiny house in socks, their shoes intimately flocking together in the hallway.

On her trip from Australia Judy-ann took a blue wetsuit with her, not to swim in it but to be a performative element that could accompany her on her walks around Seydisfjödður. The wetsuit is based on a work by Alberto Giacometti called ‘Woman walking’, a sculpture of a female body without any sensory capabilities. The artist tells me that she sees it as a surrogate for a travel mate that she took on her explorations. On the walls of her house are photo’s on display of the wetsuit at various locations in the fields and mountains around town, such as sitting in an old rusty truck or resting against a tree. The empty blue, headless, rubber body looks kind of cheerful in all these rural settings, as if she’s fooling the spectator in a tongue in cheek manner. I start feeling a bit blue myself because I wasn’t there to accompany her on her explorations.

Tough ladies

Judy-ann tried her best to mingle with the villagers by going to the local pub and paying visits to the very charming swimming pool. She befriended some women of her own (middle) age and got the impression that they seem tougher than her female friends back home. One of the works she made during her residency — a sculpture made out of fishbone wearing a tiny knitted bathing-suit — is inspired by a tale she overheard while taking a swim in the fjord. Swimming in the sea?! Yes, swimming in the ice cold North Atlantic sea….The lady that runs the local pool is a good swimmer herself and, after peddling quite a distance out from the so called ‘summer beach’, noticed that the people on shore where frantically trying to get her attention. When she looked back towards where she was swimming she saw a group of three orca’s gliding her way. She turned around and swum as fast as she could, ultimately safely reaching the beach. As mentioned before, to Judy-ann middle aged Icelandic women differ from their peers in western society. They seemed to her much more self confident, vibrant and taking care of their business or any business that needs to be done. The most intriguing difference the artist noticed is that they don’t seem to suffer under the (western conditioning) of aging and their ‘fading features’. They don’t see themselves as ‘over the hill’ or their slowly dissolving youth as a problem or a weakness. To honor these hundred twenty three women of over fifty (in a community of 668 inhabitants) Judy-ann also exhibits a collection of porcelain teeth that she covered in self knitted red tails. The colorfulness of the women, opposite to their fading features, are materialized in this piece.

Through the exhibition space a rope is strung from the front garden, through the building and outside again to the back garden. The wetsuit is also physically present during the show as it functions as an anchor for the rope while sitting outside looking over the river behind the house. The rope is made out of a fine gauze normally used in medical applications filled with hair from Australia and Iceland, collected at hairdressers in both countries. It symbolizes the special relationship that inevitably will develop between any openminded visitor of Seydisfjödður and its friendly and welcoming inhabitants.

More info:
www.skaftfell.is
www.skalanes.com

www.judy-annmoule.com
www.smirylline.com

© 2014 Philip Fokker (flux writer from Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Photo’s: Courtesy of the artist & Philip Fokker